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Breaking Bad – Shotgun

Breaking Bad followed up last
week’s excellence with an episode that didn’t quite match it in terms
of entertaining the viewer. With a greater emphasis than usual on
visual style the episode did provide some stunning shots, but it was
also brought down slightly by a storyline that moved along at a
snail’s pace. That being said, the episode was not without some big
developments to the plot and characters.

Walt’s anxiety over Jesse’s safety has
obviously built to a frantic level in the space between now and when
we last saw him in Jesse’s house. The well executed shots from the
point-of-view of Walt’s front bumper immediately throw us into the
chaos of his madcap race to Los Pollos Hermanos. Adding to the
excitement was Walt yelling at Saul to ensure Skyler gets all of his
money if something happens to him, all while weaving in and out of
traffic with varying degrees of success. However, the more important
call would be the message he leaves Skyler, which would have a
considerable impact on their relationship. That would come later
though, as Walt does somehow manage to avoid arrest or collision on
his way to confront Gus. “The Chicken Man” always seems a step
ahead though; leaving Walt to stare at security cameras that mock him
every bit as much as the one in the lab. Cranston’s performance as
an unhinged Walter White in these opening minutes make it easy to see
why he nabbed that best actor Emmy three years running.

Mike’s assurances of Jesse’s safety do
not go far in quelling Walt’s fears, but the concerned chemist is
soon given a distraction he can’t resist. Walt and Skyler’s
celebration over finalizing the purchase of the car wash started off
with the same cold, businesslike atmosphere as most of their
interactions, but took on a much more intimate quality when Skyler
misinterprets Walt’s message. Left when Walt thought he might not
see her again, the message now seems like a heartfelt attempt at
letting Skyler know he still loves her. As they fall into bed
together, Walt’s conscience doesn’t even blink in letting Skyler
believe what she wants. Though coming just on the heels of Walt
agreeing with her that they both have to be completely honest with
each other, the scene was more comedic than hurtful. It also
provided a solution to the problem of getting Walt and Skyler back
together. With Skyler never showing any affection, and in fact often
talking down or emasculating Walt; who on his part strikes back with
a finely honed sense of sarcasm, it was hard to see the two of them
having sex again; which is so often how couples wind up reconciling.
But the humorous moment -especially Walt Jr.’s reaction when he
realizes what they’re up to- worked around the issue without changing
either of the character’s behavior.

Walt soon finds his frustrations
returning however. His solo cook at the lab has got Jesse on his
mind, and the feeling of being powerless has him on edge. A feeling
that is even extending to his home life as Walt Jr. informs him
Skyler has already decided when he’ll move back in, despite Walt
never actually agreeing to anything. His anger gets bumped up
another notch when he notices Jr. drinking out of a Beneke mug; which
recalls the painful memory of Skyler sleeping with her boss. By the
time Walt arrives at Hank and Marie’s for dinner, he is already well
on his way to a meltdown. Hank unknowingly stomping on Walt’s pride
-the thing he holds most dear- is the final straw. Walt was as lit
as a Christmas tree, but it was his ego that really led to him
convincing Hank that Gale wasn’t Heisenberg. The simmering rage he
felt and the effect of the wine didn’t hold a candle to the damage
Walt did with just his own inflated sense of self. Cranston pulled
out another great scene with his slouched and sloven demeanor,
portraying Walt’s intoxication flawlessly as the character implodes.

Jesse and Mike’s day spent rounding up
payoffs in and out of Albuquerque certainly didn’t match the
intensity of Walt’s opening moments – at least not until their last
stop. Their opening scene was a long unsuccessful attempt at making
the audience feel as fearful as Walt was for Jesse. Aaron Paul’s
character is not about to be killed off though, so just like the
scene back in the season premiere; we know Jesse’s life isn’t really
in danger. But unlike “Box Cutter” there was no payoff for the
superficial suspense of Jesse steeling himself for Mike’s attack.
Instead of getting a scene of extreme violence that was beautiful in
its brutality, the two just get back in the car to head for the next
dead drop. Which is how most of their day went; one long car ride
with a few stops in between. Obviously the point is to convey
Jesse’s own sense of boredom, and in that regard the scenes were a
tremendous success. You don’t have to bore your audience for that
long to get your point across though. Which is not to say there
weren’t a few moments to make the storyline worth watching; starting
with this priceless image of Jesse doing his best to imitate a secret
service agent while guarding the car.

In addition to the laughs garnered from
watching Mike have to put up with Jesse’s stir-craziness, there were
a couple other moments during their travels worth acknowledging. In
an episode brimming with stylized cinematography, the time-lapse
shots of Jesse waiting for Mike were one of the best examples. The
slow drift of the clouds was a great contrast to Jesse’s inability to
sit still. The true saving grace of the storyline came at its end
however. The reveal of Gus being behind the two thugs that tried to
make off with the collections shed light on what had been confusing
the audience as much as it had Mike. Gus -showing he has more
insight into Jesse than Walt does- realized the only thing that would
get Jesse out of his downward spiral would be fighting for the life
he was so ready to throw away. It actually started back with the
scene when Jesse was ready to go down swinging if Mike tried to snuff
him. Since then -without even realizing- Jesse has spent the day
without the stimuli he had been craving to distract him from his
guilt, and yet there was no emotional breakdown. The fight-&-flight
from the stickup men was the final rush of adrenaline he needed to
put the past behind him. Gus could see that Jesse not only needed to
be reminded of what it felt like to be alive, but also why that
“natural high” was better than anything he could get from the end
of a pipe. In giving him new purpose as more than just a lab
assistant, Gus also bestowed a sense of self-worth on Jesse that has
been lacking since long before Gale’s blood was staining his hands.

While the episode wasn’t one the
best of the season, it did advance the story and characters more than most of the others, and came with the promise of even more development in
the near future. Some incredible visuals made up for a somewhat
boring storyline, as did the concept of one character building
himself back up while the other tears himself down.


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