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With “Bullet Points” the fourth season of Breaking Bad finally saw the plot progression it has been lacking. A lengthy scene of dialogue managed not to feel drawn-out thanks to some humorous lines of back-and-forth, it also led to a shocking discovery for Walt. In addition, Jesse's emotional breakdown finally sees advancement when it draws some unwanted attention. This episode had the action, drama, and black humor that are trademarks of the series, and showcased why they are.
One of the best things about Breaking Bad is its cold opens, and it proved that again this week. Mike almost loses a few tail feathers of his own when a Los Pollos Hermanos truck is shot up by a couple of interlopers looking to rip off the shipment of meth hidden in the buckets of batter. The scene was certainly over-the-top(particularly when both guys came flying out of the back of the truck as a result of Mike's pistol), but it was nonetheless an impressively shot piece of stylized violence. Particularly so in the choice to stick with the interior of the truck for the first few moments as Mike listens to the muffled voices outside and the gunshot that tells him he is about to have a very bad day. In addition to getting batter on that nice parka, Mike gives up a chunk of his ear, but comes through relatively unscathed; which is more than can be said of the two cartel thugs. Likely trying to send a message to Gus that he can still be hurt regardless of his efforts to cut them out of the business, Mike simply stamps the cartel's message “return to sender.” Killing those two won't be where it ends though, and the scene is really meant to establish early on that Gus is facing problems in addition to his two little lab rats, and why even more so than normally, he cannot accept the risk of working with a junkie; especially one who is on such a downward spiral.
Coming off the credits the episode immediately cooled down the adrenaline levels its opening elevated. Skyler and Walt's long scene together didn't actually feel that way despite it not serving much purpose. After attending a gamblers anonymous meeting to pad their story's facade, the ex-spouses sit down to rehearse the script Skyler has come up with for when they try to sell Hank on the lie. The scene didn't have much to say beyond reiterating what we already know. Skyler is still trying to assert control over how Walt's ill-gotten gains are dealt with, and her morality has definitely fallen into a gray area, but these are sentiments that were made well known in the previous episodes. In spite of that, the scene was light, floating by rather than dragging its feet. The resentment Walt feels for Skyler talking down to him, as well as her ridiculous script, fueled his contempt for the whole charade. The chemist scored laughs while he was expressing his derision with biting sarcasm; “Where is the 'I slept with my boss' bullet point? I can't seem to find that anywhere.” Walt didn't fall short in expressing indifference physically either, letting his slouched posture scream, “I don't care about this.” Skyler's own claws were out and she showed she can give as good she gets when it comes to a cutting remark.
It was looking like the episode was going to be nothing but the setup to a dinner party and then the dinner party itself, but the plot soon saw some advancement. Not even with her obsessive thoroughness could Skyler have foreseen the event that would break the episode out of its lull. After Walt cannot stop himself from waxing on about the chemical properties of manganese, he is left speechless by a video of the man he had killed performing karaoke. On its own, the image of Gale “Major Tom” Boetticher(as Hank dubs him) was hilarious, watching him sing his heart out to Peter Schilling's Bowie-inspired tale of a doomed astronaut. Walt is in no mood for laughing though, as unlike the audience he was unaware of the video's portent beforehand. Always keen on self-preservation, Walt quickly insinuates himself into Hank's investigation to find out what he knows. As expected, Hank believes Gale is the “Heisenberg” he was chasing, and regrets not being able to solve the case himself. Walt is only concerned with what the police have on Gale's killer though, and the news of fingerprints and a eyewitness send him running to question Jesse.
If Walt was callous in how he dealt with Hank, than the only word to describe him when he was with Jesse is one I don't use in polite company. No matter what you call it, Walt definitely lost some points for forcing Jesse to relive the moment that scarred him so severely, with no concern for the emotional toll that doing so would have on him. It is clear in his meeting with Saul that Walt is worried about Jesse, but it would be nice if it went as far as showing some compassion. The news that a shell casing was left behind, has Walt in such a state that he is raving to Saul about Jesse, Gus, Mike, and anything else that comes to mind. Saul breaks the tension with his assessment of Walt and Jesse's situation in a comment that only Bob Odenkirk could deliver, “Yeah, you two have a little shit creek action happening.” And there is reason to be concerned, as Jesse's backslide into addiction has not gone unnoticed. Of course it isn't hard to spot when his house resembles the Port Authority bus terminal. To keep out the emotions he doesn't want to feel, Jesse is pushing them all away, but his grief-driven apathy has reached dangerous levels. With him tossing out meth and cash like candy, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to go after his stash.
After retrieving the duffel bag of money that Jesse didn't even react to losing, let alone to having back, Mike tries his hand at intimidation. The scene in which Jesse calls his bluff about killing the thief was another powerhouse performance from Aaron Paul, rivaling his one with Walt in the last episode. His methods falling short, Mike voices his concern about the liability of Jesse's current lifestyle to Gus during a scene in the latter's office. The shot of Mike eying the X-Acto knife on Gus's desk was a nice touch, implying he still hasn't forgotten what happened with the box cutter a few weeks back. Mike obviously gets the go ahead from Gus as we are left with the image of him and Jesse driving out into the desert. Jesse is without the noise he craves to distract him from his torment, but he is more content than ever believing his pain is about to end. Of course we know there is little chance of Jesse dying, and it is much more likely he'll end up in some kind of backwoods rehab, and not a hole in the ground. For the character though, his indifference to life is being put to the test, and its clearly genuine.
“Bullet Points” took its time progressing the story, but it still saw more development than the episodes that came before it. The slow buildup itself was not unappreciated either for providing an equal number of funny lines and stirring dramatic moments. It still felt like the relative calm before the storm however, and in many ways was another setup episode building to something down the line.