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We are almost halfway through this season of Breaking Bad, and while it hasn't been an adrenaline-filled ride, the series is still putting out highly entertaining episodes. “Cornered” may not have seen much plot progression, but the characters' personal journeys made for compelling drama.
In recreating the opening from “Bullet Points” the episode set us up to think we already knew the outcome. If Mike handled two cartel thugs with a single pistol, than surely these two guys packing assault rifles won't have any problem dealing with a few more hijackers. But that lull was intentionally designed to impart more impact on what actually happened; which already had plenty of its own. Seeing the two guards die clawing and scratching for air as they gasp on exhaust fumes didn't quite match the level of brutality in watching Victor meet his end at the hands of Gustavo; but it wasn't far behind either. Contrasting it with the three cartel agents casually sharing the dead driver's lunch was a black humor cherry on top.
Again imitating “Bullet Points” the episode followed the violence of the cold open with an extended scene of dialogue between Walt and Skyler. Unlike that previous scene though, their conversation in “Cornered” wasn't aiming for laughs, and if anything upped the intensity of the bloodless murders in the teaser. Walt's ego-driven rant did nothing to allay Skyler's fears, but did everything to enliven the audience; “A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!” An incredible piece of dialogue that was enhanced both by Cranston's performance and the quite literal meaning behind the line that is lost on Skyler. But Walt is lying, and not just because he wasn't the one who actually did the knocking on Gale's door. It may be for reasons she doesn't understand, but Skyler is right about Walt being scared. And with an ego the size of Walt's, he can't allow anyone to see that anxiety; which is why he ends up showing off to avoid showing his fear, and does so for most of the episode.Whether in his scenes with Bogdan or Walt Jr., Walt was all about proving he's in control, and he did so in the most asinine ways possible. After hearing Walt's former boss explaining to him that he has to be tough, it was only a matter of time before Walt showed Bogdan just how tough he can be. Though the scenes dragged, they were worth it for the payoff of watching Walt petulantly demand the framed dollar only to crack it open to buy a coke. However, it couldn't compare to the ridiculousness of Walt buying Jr. a flashy new sports car. Walt knew exactly what Skyler's reaction would be -what any sane person's reaction would be- but he just had to prove to his son(as well as himself and Skyler) that he could do it. After Skyler spent the day contemplating relocation, the juvenile move couldn't have come at a worse time. The couple's final scene together let Skyler take all the dramatic acting, all the fire that was in Walt during their argument, and turn it back on him with the cold rage that only a scorned wife and mother is capable of.
In contrast to Walt, Jesse spent the day proving his worth rather than proving how childish he can be. Walt correctly surmising that Jesse's thrilling heroics were all part of Gus's play -in which Walt will always be the central character- had Jesse more on edge than the lack of meth pumping through his veins. Walt's accurate calculations would have been worth a pat on the back if he didn't send Jesse off feeling like nothing more than a pawn in a game of chess being played between chemist and kingpin. So while Walt was off in a hilarious scene fumbling through the Spanish language(which was Walt's most outrageous attempt of the episode to prove he can't be bullied), Jesse was busy showing Mike he is cut out for his new line of work. And while it wasn't actually Jesse's goal, he also scored just as many laughs as Walt's bilingual back-&-forth with the laundresses.After Mike tracks down some of meth stolen in the first scene, Jesse saves them both a day spent staking out the house where it was taken. In doing so, Jesse not only proved he can use his head for more than holding up his sunglasses, but also provided a humorous moment at the expense of a couple meth addicts. Clearly these tweakers never learned rule number one of the drug game; “Don't get high on your own supply.” Which doesn't faze Jesse in the slightest. Using only a shovel and the innate curiosity of the drug addled mind, Jesse gains access to the house and has the audience rolling from watching Tucker figuratively dig his own grave, while literally digging a hole. The shotgun-toting, batter-covered, meth head inside the house(Damon Herriman; who you may recognize as Dewey Crowe from Justified) gave Jesse some trouble, but he also provided viewers with a thoroughly convincing portrayal of the paranoid side of a man deep in a drug binge. In the end, Mike got the info he needed and Jesse regained the self-confidence he has been craving more than any narcotic. And with Gus manipulating Jesse through that new found sense-of-self(as he did outside the diner), Walt better gain some compassion if he wants to hang on to the one person he can call a partner.
Though this episode did almost nothing to advance the plot, the development to the characters was immense. With Gustavo putting off a war in favor of talks with the cartel, it doesn't look like we will be getting much action any time soon either. But that won't matter so long as Breaking Bad can continue to deliver darkly comedic moments and hard-hitting dramatic scenes.