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Breaking Bad – Problem Dog

With this episode Breaking Bad’s
fourth season is halfway over, and the series marked the occasion
with a brilliant installment. The other characters didn’t stand a
chance of competing with Jesse’s storyline, but Hank did give him a
run for his money. “Problem Dog” not only had the incredible
character development that has made up most of the season, but also
pushed the plot along into the setup for what one of the characters
themselves called, “a perfect storm.”

Showing Breaking Bad isn’t above
a little product placement, the cold open still did an excellent job
of portraying Jesse’s mindset. Gus’s evil empire must extend to the
gaming world, as that is the only way to explain Jesse getting his
hands on Rage before it’s been released. Well that or the
production deciding they needed a little extra income(just as likely
it was a move on AMC’s part, who has been known to encourage their
shows to include more product integration). Jesse’s guilt naturally
took the back burner when he began working with Mike, but it’s still
there, in fact, it has developed. Now his most pressing concern
isn’t the pain over what he did, but that he hasn’t felt enough.
Jesse wants the pain, he wants to be punished for what he’s done.
And since no one else will, he does it himself by reliving the moment
of Gale’s death with a video game. Not the most subtle message the
series has sent out, but one that was necessary in setting up one of
the most emotionally powerful scenes the series has given us this

However, before Jesse must come Walt –
that’s certainly how the self-centered chemist would see it anyway.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say the general reaction to last
week’s episode was something along the lines of, “Heisenberg is
back!” And I’ll admit, I still have chills a week later from, “I
am the one who knocks!”
outside of that explosive piece of dialogue, I never felt like we saw
our favorite porkpie hat wearer. In fact his name never came up; and
it was much the same feeling with “Problem Dog.” This isn’t
Heisenberg. This is Heisenberg’s petulant child having a tantrum
because his chemistry set isn’t working the way he wants it to. If
the events of “Cornered” didn’t convince anyone of that, than
Walt’s joyride had to. All it takes to send Walt off into his new
alter ego -let’s call him Heisenberg Jr.- is Skyler asking him not to
“tangle with anyone”
at the dealership. Well, Walt sure shows her; he doesn’t need anyone
else around to make a mess. The callback to his last car explosion
in “Cancer Man” seemed appropriately twisted to fit this more
reckless, but less resolved version of himself. No explosion over
his shoulder as he walks away, no quiet cool either, just a cocky
one-liner to the cab dispatch as he looks on to the result of his
$50,000 hissy fit. All that being said, watching Walt pull donuts
and requesting a cab while a sports car detonates is a fun way to
spend a few minutes.

Even once he
stopped joy riding and started becoming more proactive about his
situation, Walt still couldn’t shed Heisenberg Jr. It wouldn’t be
enough to kill Gus, Walt has to have the extra victory of knowing he
cooked up the means of demise in Gus’s own lab. Much worse was how he
convinced Jesse to do it in the first place. Ensuring that Jesse
hasn’t forgotten all of Gus’s crimes, while at the same time bringing
all the pain back up, would be shockingly callous in anyone but
Walter White. The first of two brilliant performances from Aaron
Paul came in this scene. Jesse’s silent fuming and watery eyes were
expertly portrayed as he is practically bristling with anger over
Walt thinking he is dumb enough to let himself be played that way.

Whether, as Mike
said, it’s for the wrong guy or not, Jesse is loyal; which is how he
ends up carrying Walt’s vial of ricin to Gus’s meeting with the
cartel. The irony of the coffee turning out to have been the perfect
opportunity to poison Gus was overshadowed by the very reason it
would have been Jesse’s best chance. The cartel obviously wanted to
send a message by only sending a single emissary, and though Gus
hides it well, the message achieved the desired effect. The cartel
wants their cut, not a payoff, and this man(who ripped off the
shipment in the opening of last week’s episode) is just here to see
if Gus is going to give it to them, or if they have to take it. With
outright war now looming, it seems Jesse questioning where his
loyalties lie couldn’t have come at a better time for Gus, or a worse
time for Walt.

Jesse was too
distracted with his own issues to decide what team he is playing for
though. Telling his old NA group about Gale through a story about a
dog may at first seem like Jesse wanting to unburden himself. But
this isn’t confession for Jesse, he isn’t after forgiveness for his
sins. He wants damnation, a punishment that fits the crime. He
wants to be judged and found guilty, not “accepted.” The low
angle shots were the perfect way to capture Jesse, as he breaks down
demanding to know why his quilt can be obfuscated no matter how many
“problem dogs” he kills. Paul’s performance outshone any
cinematic touches though, and with the scene he guaranteed he will
once again be a top contender in the supporting actor category come
awards time.

Though Hank only
had a couple of scenes, they both went far in making “Problem Dog”
an enjoyable episode. I couldn’t help but wear a smile throughout
Hank and Walt Jr.’s lunch at Los Pollos Hermanos. It has been too
long since uncle and nephew have spent some time together, and with
Breaking Bad ending next season, I can only assume their
sitcom spinoff is already in the works(it better be). Even when
cracking kindhearted jokes about Jr.’s condition, Hank has always
really seen past it, treating the youngster like he was a rookie
partner; with all the humor that should come from such a
relationship. Gus appearing at their table did kill off the
lighthearted atmosphere, but it also provided some plot advancement,
which has taken a backseat this season in favor of focusing on the
characters – not that the show has suffered any because of it. At
first it seemed like Hank was making big leap in going after Gus’s
prints, but his reasoning was soon revealed. In fact, it was an
excellent choice not to show much of Hank’s investigation, but
instead to have it all laid out at once in a single well-acted piece
of exposition. Hank’s detective skills are obviously impressive,
they reach a whole new level though when you consider he may bring
down one of the most lucrative and extensive drug empires in the
country with only a napkin and a paper cup.

“Problem Dog”
was an incredible blend of humor and hard-hitting drama. With the
DEA possibly gearing up to hit Gus from one side, while the cartel
does the same from the other, the slow burn of this season’s plot
sounds like it is about to hit a powder keg. But until that happens,
Breaking Bad will still be giving its fans incredible episodes
like this one.


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