This is a really important episode. And no, I’m not just saying that because I love Jesse and this is a very Jesse-centric episode. I do like that his character gets to develop here, but the real reason I think this episode is important is that we get a rare glimpse into the lives of Walt and Jesse’s customers. Aside from Wendy, we haven’t really seen this side, the reality of what they’re doing, the methheads.
In all of the criminal fun and drama and fighting and danger Walt and Jesse are having, it’s easy to almost detach from what they are doing, from the real dark side of meth. And in a way, that fits the show really well, because Walt is detached from it himself. He’s lost in the chemistry, in the bad-assery, in what he wants to do for his family, in the lab and the ego. Other than short dealings with Tuco and Krazy-8, he has no interactions with actual meth users. He talks about everything in academic, business terms. Totally dissociated from the actual long-range effects of what he’s doing.
So this episode, even though Walt is still oblivious of the actual lives of meth addicts, allows us as viewers to really see the kind of people Walt is cooking for, to not lose sight of that. And I think it’s important because it adds some heaviness, some desperation, to Walt’s endeavors. Because oh my god, the Spooges. What squalor. That apartment is such a shithole, there is no other way to say it. Stuff strewn everywhere, a little kid left there while the junkie parents are out, the parents hiding heroin and meth up their asses. Gross, yo. And such stark contrast to the chemistry and the cooking.
The Spooges’ apartment and life is also in stark contrast to Jesse’s. The line that really hits that home is when Jesse asks The Kid if he wants to watch Mr. Rogers. That’s the kind of childhood Jesse had. But The Kid (who, wrong as it may be, I’ve started thinking of as Baby Spooge) has a crappy TV that gets nothing but the knife show, and doesn’t seem phased by this at all, or by a stranger, Jesse, coming into the house. That kid is really, really sad.
Jesse is really struggling at the beginning of the episode. It’s a great example of that writing maxim, “Show, don’t tell.” Jesse doesn’t tell anyone he really doesn’t want to do this, but it’s obvious. This starts with the bug sequence in the teaser. Jesse is kinda playing with the bug, letting it crawl on his hand. Skinny Pete comes over and squashes it. Jesse’s not a killer. Then he has to smoke some meth to amp himself for what he’s about to do, and there’s a lot of heavy, scared breathing on his part. When he’s standing by the door with the gun, practicing the badass things he might say, quoting movie lines to get pumped up, it only adds to this sense that he really has to rally himself to do this, to get into this role.
There is so much yellow in all the scenes at the Spooge Apartment. Jesse’s wearing yellow, and there’s all kinds of yellow hues in the apartment, a yellow bowl, a yellow hue on the couch. I think they must have used some sort of yellow lens for parts of these scenes because some of it seems like it can’t be natural light. Even when Jesse’s laying on the floor after getting knocked out, there’s a lot of yellow light coming through. It lends a sorta stale, creepy feel to all those scenes.
It actually reminds me a lot of a dream I had when I was in like elementary school, maybe fourth grade. I had this game called Solarquest. It was like Monopoly but based on outer space. The properties were planets and their moons and the playing pieces were spaceships and there were these fuel things you had to use but we always ignored that part. I was really into astronomy. Anyway I had a dream that was all in these same yellow hues as we see in the Spooge Apartment, and it gave me this really sick, freaked out feeling. And then I turned over one of the property cards, expecting it to say Miranda or Titan or Europa or whatever, but when I turned over the card, which had a yellow strip on the top (some real cards looked like this), it said “Murder.” The Spooge Apartment takes me back like twenty years to that dream and gives me the same creepy as all get out feeling.
Even though this episode focuses mostly on Jesse, and begins and ends with Jesse, Walt still has his own shit going on here. He’s got a chicken coming home to roost, and that is Gretchen. A lot of times when you tell someone (Skyler) a lie involving someone else (Gretchen), and that someone else is someone the first person knows, they’re bound to talk eventually. And that’s what happens here, Skyler and Gretchen end up talking and Gretchen figures out that Walt lied to Skyler about her and Elliot paying for his treatment. Lucky for him, she doesn’t say anything.
I have to say, I can’t stand Gretchen. Or Elliot. Ever since “Gray Matter” in Season One, they just seem so rich and phony. I can kinda see why Walt wouldn’t take their money, which was a huge turning point for him. There’s just something about both of them that strikes me as all about keeping up appearances, about saying the right things. There’s something that’s a little too rehearsed and smooth, like they both know exactly how to accentuate a point by putting a hand on someone’s arm at a precise moment. Just unnatural. And the way Gretchen grasps Skyler’s hand for so long. I don’t know, it’s like this fake sweetness, fake humility. Fuck Gretchen and Elliot.
The whole deal with Elliot and Gretchen’s Gray Matter company was restated in the previous episode–the fact that Skyler thought they were paying for Walt’s treatment, and the fact that they took off with his research and he got nothing. And then in this episode, that theme is nailed in again when Walt tells his class the story of H. Tracy Hall, a genius chemist who got shafted and ended up with no real recognition and almost no money for his work. Sound familiar? These little dustings of this theme up until this point just perfectly set the scene for Walt’s little rendez-vous with Gretchen.
I do hope that eventually in this series, we learn just a little more about what happened between Gretchen and Walt. There’s a lot going on, with some venom in it, and she’s definitely a piece of the puzzle of how Walt became Walt, or how he became Heisenberg. It feels very real, though, that they don’t go into the minutiae of what actually happened in the past. A lot of writers might try to put that in there, make them have some stilted conversation so the viewer knows exactly what went on and what they’re talking about. But the fact that they both address their history without really going into it, and that they have radically different opinions on what happened, different memories of how the shit went down, plays true. Gretchen implies that Walt abandoned her out of the blue with no warning. Walt claims she and Elliot cut him out and then made millions off his research. He says, “You built your little empire on my work.” Whoa. What is the truth?
Interesting that Gretchen says the offer to pay for his treatment still stands. Even after all this. Which makes me all that much curiouser about what happened between them. But it shouldn’t be missed that again, Walt could get out if he wanted. He could have his treatment paid for. He could go back to his life. And I don’t really blame him for not taking their cash, but he does have that choice again. I don’t think he wants to go back to his life, even if he had his expenses taken care of. Yes, he wants to leave money for Walter Jr and Skyler and the coming baby, but I think what he really wants is to lead the life Gretchen and Elliot have. He wants to make an empire on his chemistry prowess.
When Walt says that Gretchen wants to be all sweetness and light, innocent, yeah, I get that. Lord is he condescending though. And there’s that great “Fuck. You” moment. That’s a pretty big gamble on Walt’s part. He has to know Gretchen really well to be able to say that and feel some degree of certainty that it won’t backfire. Gretchen could have easily felt pissed and hurt enough to tell Skyler and tell her everything, tell her that she and Elliot never paid a cent for Walt’s treatment. That fuck you was a big risk.
I’m not sure Walt’s gotten any better at being a criminal at this point. He definitely likes to step into his Heisenberg persona more often but I’m not always sure he’s as tough as he wants to be. But what he has gotten better at is this sort of thing–reading people, gambling to win, lying. When he sits down with Skyler, he’s smart to say, “Just say it,” waiting to find out what she knows so he can shape his reaction. He makes sure not to give himself away in any way first. That whole conversation is well-played, Mr. White. And don’t you get the feeling when he makes up the lie about Gretchen and Elliot being broke, that he’s really enjoying the idea? I think he wishes it were true, at least a little. He’s certainly becoming a more adept chess player.
Hahaha it was pretty funny, early on, when Skyler said to Gretchen that she was “taking Walt at his word.” Rookie mistake. Later in this episode, you can see the distance and distrust is still there between them. “Should I even bother asking where you were?” she says. It’s becoming so routine for Walt to disappear and then either not answer or lie about it. You sort of get the sense that she might think Walt and Gretchen are having an affair. Or at least that it might be in the back of her mind.
In other news, Walt is back at school, teaching again. Teaching the kids about alkenes and their nomenclature. I doubt there’s any student who’s ever taken organic chemistry who can’t relate to what Walt says. “The nomenclature alone is enough to make your head spin.” For real. Those kids are just lucky he didn’t make them do Frontier Molecular Orbitals for those dienes and trienes! I love to see Walt the teacher. He obviously loves his subject, its history. There’s a certain light in him when he teaches. When he was talking about carbon, it reminded me somehow of Carl Sagan’s famous quote, “We are the stuff of stars,” because it’s true. All those elements, like carbon, originally came from the centers of stars.
Meanwhile, back in the creepy yellow Spooge Cave, that abyss of desperation, one of the most disturbing moments happens when Baby Spooge comes into the room and Mrs. Spooge coaxes him over to sit on her lap. I think most mothers would do anything to protect their kids, to keep their kids out of harm’s way, to make the kid go and hide. But no, Mrs. Spooge has him sit on her lap like she’s using her own dirty, neglected little kid as a shield. This really bothers Jesse, who yells at her to feed him, put baby powder on him, and give him some decent TV. She says that if he’ll just give her a hit, she’ll be any kind of mother he wants.
This is the kind of thing I meant earlier. The life of the Spooges is bleak as bleak can be. There’s really no hope for them, even before Mrs. Spooge kills Spooge by crushing his head with the ATM machine (the “victimless crime,” wow these freaks are so messed up). Baby Spooge is probably better off in the end, sitting out there, waiting for someone to come get him, than he was with his parents. The bleakness is what’s important because this is what Walt and Jesse’s “product” is feeding. This is the other side of the nasty business they’re in.
In an earlier post, I talked about how I don’t think the cancer changed Walt, but rather allowed him to be who he always was. I think, in a similar way, this episode, and this thing that Jesse goes through, reveals a lot about who he really is. There is so much empathy and compassion in him, sometimes an unexpected innocence in this dark world.
One of my all-time favorite episodes, so beautifully written and filmed.
- Breaking Bad Episode 205 “Breakage”
- Breaking Bad Episode 204 “Down”
- Breaking Bad Episode 203 “Bit by a Dead Bee”
- Breaking Bad Episode 202 “Grilled”
- Breaking Bad Episode 201 “Seven Thirty-Seven”
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