Friday, June 29, 2012

Breaking Down: Breaking Bad - Season Four, Episodes Five Through Eight

The build-up to the last several episodes of Season Four begins with Jesse falling into the good graces with Gus via desert roadtripping with Mike. Walt continues his state of panic, trying to find a way to get to Gus, as he asks Jesse to do his dirty work again, resulting in more failed attempts to use poison. As contempt flairs between Jesse and Walt, Hank's spidey sense has led him to Gustavo Fring, as he petitions Walt to chauffeur his off-the-books investigation. To end these few episodes, a flashback into Gustavo Fring's past reveals a brutal history with the cartel that he continues to battle.

Gus likes his chicken spicy.
Stan Earnest: We fire this puppy back up with the only episode this season that could be considered the character building one, "Shotgun". This time around it's Jesse with Mike, a nice change of pace. Mike is the anti-Walter, although when he clocked him in the bar he didn't implode or spontaneously combust or anything. I think Mike may have mystical powers; he definitely entertains for as little that is said.

Craig Scholes: The more this show goes on, the more I just despise Walt. Dude just needs to shut his hole and keep well enough alone. The idea that Gus is molding Jesse against Walt is fantastic, which, by the way, I totally knew was what they were doing; those shenanigans seemed awfully staged.

SE: Season Four is teeming with style. The weird Mexican techno/rap song during the Pinkman-waiting-for-Mike sequence (apparently he had to hold each pose for a minute to film that), lab vat cam, shovel cam, speeding-out-of-control-Aztek cam, the intense backing score, I love it all, and Gilligan remains cryptic with the show titles having dual meaning as "Open House" refers to both Marie's klepto adventures and Jesse's methed-out abode, along with "Shotgun," which I just realized likely also refers to Pinkman's front seat ride with Mike.

CS: I have a confession, I don't know the name of a single episode. I don't think my acquired episodes even list the titles. Do you think Gilligan is making a conscious decision to say, "Hey, Walt isn't a good guy, so lets make everyone hate him." Walt pretty much throws a four-year-old hissy fit at every turn.

SE: After Season Two's "737 Down Over ABQ", I now make sure I know the episode title before watching the episode, playing along with the game, searching for any clues. The upcoming Season Five starts with an episode titled, "Live Free or Die". If I can deduce anything from that, I must say that someone will likely die in that one. I will confess myself that it is hard for me to critique anything Breaking Bad because the writers have taken the game to such high levels of drama entertainment for me that I now have a hard time finding much wrong with the show. I was only slightly annoyed by Mike exiting the Pollos truck without a sweep or even a peak outside to make sure there were only two cartel muscle-heads and not a third one or a driver. I remember watching The Game with Sean Penn and Michael Douglas and (spoiler alert) thinking that it was a game the whole time, even the fall at the end didn't convince me. That ultimately tainted an otherwise spectacular movie for me. With Breaking Bad, it's different. I don't really care what comes next as long as it sticks to a credible plot line. The writers have sent me down paths that I didn't realize were even possible, such as the Tuco lair destruction, Jane's death and the subsequent plane crash, and Gale's death, so when Season Four rolled around I felt as if it didn't matter if I knew what came next as long as it was executed flawlessly, and I haven't been let down yet. I appreciate not having forced surprises crammed down my throat.

Romancing the clown
With that said and in regards to the Walt hatred, I just think that Gilligan & Co. are weaving the most intriguing story they can whilst keeping some form of reality in mind. They have to turn Walter into a beast to fulfill the mission of the show. Like I've iterated before, Walt letting Jane die in Season Two really bugged me out; I didn't know if I could ever get behind Walter going forward. It is the give and take, the Clockwork Orange effect as I've labeled it: hate, love, and back to hate, a binding of gut responses. There are times when I hate Pinkman and Walter and times when I have a rooting interest in them. The great thing the writers have done is to never sync those two guys up, leaving them in a constant state of flux, which makes for great drama and keeps the emotions of the viewers tangled. At this point, I feel like I am in on the joke and am fully on board with Walt becoming the most disgusting, vile excuse for a human being that ever walked the earth. The writers have put him in situations that have explained how a person could get to this point, and not only that, have created the rare prideful underachiever that would actually be in the situation to act out his hatred towards his previous life failures. Walter is tired of watching the nice guy finish last, and he is clearly celebrating his new role by antagonizing Hank and scaring the bejesus out of his wife. He is no longer afraid to let Skyler know he is the "one who knocks" because telling her he drinks her milkshake just sounds like a mammary fetish.

CS: I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't like the way the show ends, but then again I feel that way about most shows.

How can Walt be so independent yet be so fucking helpless?

SE: My biggest fear is that the show will either whimper to its finale or just go bonkers, jumping the shark in a lead fridge. What was the last great show that ended well? They all go either too long or southbound and down in the second season. Even The Wire's last season was likely its weakest.

As far as Walt being so strong yet such an emotional weakling, I think that comes from his juxtaposition as a married man. I am happily married, but it comes with patience, tolerance, and a lot of bitten tongues. There are so many times in a marriage where the man is just stripped of his masculinity. It seems every year I miss the NFL draft for a baby shower or wedding or something. This may sound like a complaint, but it is what makes her happy, which makes us happy. As much as Walt thinks he is a bad ass, at this point he is still commanded by Skyler. He may try to wave his supposed dominance around, but he knows without Skyler and his family he is nothing.

CS: Friday Night Lights, fantastic last season, phenomenal last episode. But if this is the case with Walt, why doesn't he just walk away? He clearly has passed the tipping point of ever going back to normal life.

SE: He may be so depraved that he now wants his cake and some ice cream too, and some caramel and chocolate and glazed pecans, maybe some chocolate-covered pretzels. Then again Walt probably rocks the fro-yo, or at least Skyler probably keeps it as the only frozen treat stocked. You see, I loathe Applebee's and my wife loves it, so guess where we eat? I prefer Casey's pizza to Pizza Hut by a long shot, but guess where we order from? But you leave me to my own vices, and I'm eating Casey's slop and waking up face down in a pool of stale popcorn too. Walt wants to be Heisenberg full-time, but he has to be a father to a new-born also and that requires Skyler's happiness, so he drags his sorry ass back home and changes some diapers.

CS: You kinda get the feeling that Walt doesn't want to move back too. He's gotten a taste of being free out from under Skyler and he doesn't seem like he wants to go back. Not to mention all the Beneke mugs to remind him of his wife trying to hurt him.
SE: Man, I really want to see a Beneke vs. Walter cage match, although Beneke would probably just run in circles struck by fear while Walt chased him with a metal chair. Maybe Saul could be special guest referee. One of my favorite television show characters of all-time is Larry David, either as himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm or as his character on Seinfeld, George Costanza, played with flawlessness by Jason Alexander. Cranston seems to have the Larry David anti-charm down, like when he convinces the ladies working at the laundry mat to clean the lab equipment. That scene gave me some old school chuckles.

CS: I think Beneke can take him to be honest. 

SE: Walt has spent days in desert heat while undergoing chemo and survived. He made the pilgrimmage out of Tuco's desert shack without water also, and let's not forget that he punked that high school kid teasing his son in the first season. I don't know about Walt, but if Heisenberg shows up, my money is on him.

To switch gears, please tell me you found some joy in the Dodge Challenger subplot.

CS: Oh definitely, and for the record I do love that car, it’s the anti-Aztek. Flynn played Walt like a fiddle, too. I am a little disappointed that Flynn didn't stick with a fastback Mustang though. Two seasons ago, Walt would never have tried to slip something like that past Skyler; Walt clearly has no fucks left to give.

Of course the scene I got the most joy out of was Jesse handing the tweaker a shovel and basically telling him to dig to China. The only thing that would have been more entertaining would have been if he just gave him one of those cards that said, "How do you keep an idiot busy, turn over."

SE: It was like Christmas as a kid waiting to see what vehicle Skyler switched Junior too. The writers drew the wait out too; it doesn't even happen in these four eps. So, how far did your jaw drop when you realized Hank had fully connected the dots on Chilean national Gustavo Fring?

CS: To be honest, I wasn't that surprised. Over the course of the run Gilligan and his crew did a fantastic job on the slow reveal of Hank not being a complete moron. So when you combine that with Hank literally having nothing elae to do other than shitting himself, especially once Hank had the realization of it being adored that Gale had the Pollos napkin, it was inevitable.

SE: Yeah, it was a slow reveal; I was being a bit dramatic. I just loved the scene that ended "Problem Dog" where Hank throws down his sleuthing skills at the DEA office. Gomez is now sporting the Walt beard; at this point I don't trust him or the director.

CS: I don't trust either of those guys as of right now. I don't trust any of them other than Hank to be honest, especially since we still haven't found out who the cartel's connection is in the police department. I love how smug Hank was as he was dropping the truthitude on the fuzz.

SE: Moving on to "Hermanos", we have a lot to talk about here. The episode brings us the back story of Gus and contrasts it with modern-day Gus. Once again, the writers inject a sense of humanity into a stone-cold killer. Giancarlo Esposito really shines. If you ever think you are going to be questioned for a crime, just study the scene where Gus makes the DEA his bitch.

CS: I wish that when they film the pure Spanish scenes that they would do them in the style of those wacky, super cheesy, over the top, ridiculously amazing Latino soap operas. Breaking Bad has done a fantastic job of establishing how each character got to where they are. Gus clearly is an amazing business man with a very savvy mind... and he's definitely gay.

Not even oxygen can stave off the spicy chicken flatulence.
SE: Yeah, you stole my thunder. He is totally Boy-George-sipping-an-appletini gay. I suspected it from the beginning, then it was reinforced by having Walt over for dinner in his huge house without any family presence, and then a non-stroked Tio confirmed it with his subtle jokes before Don Eladio terrifies the "hermanos". One doesn't put in 20-hour workdays running both above-ground and a below-ground businesses with a woman at his side, a big reason Walter is having trouble competing with Gus. The backstory definitely provides the motive for Gus to seek revenge on the cartel. I love that he taunts old man Tio in the nursing home. I imagine that if you wrong my family, I'm coming at you every bit a filthy as Gustavo Fring.

CS: To be honest, I never saw it coming until a coworker pointed it out to me, I even swore he had a family in that house of his. Boy was I wrong. For what its worth, I have access to a hog farm, I'll just leave it at that.

SE: Fun fact: Gus's partner, Max Arciniega, is the name of the actor that played Krazy 8 in Season One. Are you picking up on all the dualities Season Four is pushing, or am I just a homer? The aforementioned "Open House" and "Shotgun" meanings along with "Hermanos" meaning more than brothers--and the obvious chicken joint reference-- the Walt/Skyler conversations on how to commence with criminal action that mimic the Walt/Jesse conversations of Season One, Skyler saying she needs "complete honesty" and then taking the Walt White route with Hank and Marie and eventually Walt, the contrast of Walt telling Junior about the choices he has made and then seeing Skyler flip a coin and make a choice at the Four Corners--harkening the "flip a coin" line from the recent ending of Boardwalk Empire. Hell, even the sandwiches the cartel chow on from the Pollos truck driver to the Pimento sandwich Mike offers Jesse later in the same episode, everything comes in twos in Season Four, and I like the meaning that isn't so subtle but isn't over-the-top.

See you next week when we discuss Gus's warfare with the cartel and a renegade Walter White at the same time. 

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