Oh shit. One of my all-time favorite episodes of this show EVER. I noticed that, last season, I was just saying that about too many episodes, which is natural when a show is this good, so I purposely held off this season and plan to only say it about two Season Three episodes (possibly three, the last half of Season Three may be my favorite part of the entire series). And “Fly” is one of them.
I know it’s a real fan divider. People love it or hate it. And I LOVE it. You know why? Because this is the only episode, ever, in the whole show that I almost turned off because I just couldn’t keep watching. So many episodes have been so intense that I would have to soothe myself by naming the elements during the credits or something–a sign of a really great series, no doubt. But this is the only episode that I thought I couldn’t watch. It was that good.
I still remember the first time I saw this one. It was late at night, I was binging on this amazing new show, watching it on Netflix, laying in bed with my iPad and Walt and Jesse and the fly in the superlab. And I was thinking this is the dumbest episode ever, did the writers accidentally start using Walt’s product or what? A fly, seriously? This is totally on crack. And then it turned.
When Walt started talking about Jane, oh, it was torture. I dreaded what might happen here more than I dreaded anything in the desert with Tuco, or in the superlab with Gus and Mike in 401. I kept pausing the video, thinking maybe I had to wait and watch it later, that I just couldn’t keep watching, it was too much torture. But somehow I got through the episode. I don’t think any hour of TV has ever made me so physically tense. And that’s why I love it. How genius are these writers and these actors that they can make a scene between two men talking, one of them drugged, a scene without violence, an emotional scene, just as, or more, intense than all the guns and drugs and exploding heads on turtles? That’s freaking brilliance.
And the whole part about the fly, before the episode takes the turn? Not on crack. If it was just literally about the fly and nothing else, yeah I might think the writers had gotten into some Blue Sky. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s about Walt’s loss of control. Walt’s life has spun out of whack. Skyler may have shown some small thawing of the ice towards him in the last few episodes, but most of it, Walt doesn’t know. Walt doesn’t know that she ended things with Ted. He assumes she signed the divorce papers. And even with the little turns she has taken back towards him, it’s never going to be the way it was before she found out he was a meth cook.
But it’s also about Gus. Walt acted out a little bit in the last episode, in his car after visiting Gus, but I think Walt really has a problem with how much control Gus has. He feels trapped because he does owe Gus his life. He knows he can’t mess. There are two moments in “Fly” where Walt refers to “these people,” meaning Gus and co., and it’s clear he’s intimidated by them, feels like there’s no more room for error, he says, not with these people. “We’re dead,” he says.
And then, in the lab, there’s something off with the yield. The one thing that Walt always expects to be in complete control of, to be able to measure and rely on, is the chemistry. And that’s off too.
It becomes clear at the end that he figured it out that Jesse is skimming from the top, and I don’t think that makes him feel any better. Yeah, he knows what’s going on now, so it’s no big mystery and it’s not his math or method that’s wrong, but here’s yet another element he can’t control.
It’s this lack of control, and all of Walt’s mountain of regret, that makes him obsess over the fly.
So many funny and amazing moments in this episode, many of them Jesse’s:
“Gatorade me, bitch!”
Pig lips and assholes in hot dogs, and better yet, “I say have at it, bitches, cuz I, love, hot dogs.”
Scrabble the (O)possum
Walt tried to calculate the odds of meeting Don Margolis in the bar that night
Jesse hitting Walt with the fly swatter
“Ebola, it’s a disease on the Discovery Channel where your intestines just sorta slip outta your butt.”
“You didn’t happen to, uhhh, try our product, did you?”
Walt yelling “Bitch!”
If Walt and Jesse usually have a father-son type relationship, in this episode it’s reversed. Even the way that Jesse talks to Walt before smacking him with the fly saber, it’s like he’s talking to a little kid. Jesse is looking out for Walt all episode. He’s worried that maybe Walt’s cancer’s come back. He’s worried about how long Walt’s been awake. Jesse’s really very sweet here, as he drugs Walt with sleeping pills. And later, on the ladder, Jesse’s up there on that precarious edge swinging at a fly to sort of save Walt from this mental trip he’s on.
Later though, when Walt warns Jesse at the end, which is a way of Walt looking out for Jesse, Jesse gets tough, and lies. It’s great because with all the poignant moments in the episode, this pulls it back to familiar Walt Jesse territory, keeps it from being too sentimental. Here too, Walt talks about the big scary “Them” he can’t protect Jesse from, again reminding us that Walt isn’t in charge, that he’s intimidated by the people who are.
Then Walt gets into this rumination on when would’ve been the best time to die. I’m a sucker for anything that involves thinking about what would you do if you could go back and change something, and would you or wouldn’t you. But this goes beyond that, to a man thinking not of what he would go back and change, but about going back to die. Some of the most powerful material on Breaking Bad, ever, and that’s saying something. Walt says, “I’ve lived too long.”
And Walt starts to unravel. All the guilt and regret and mental pressure starts to come out as he tries to figure out what would’ve been the perfect time to die. Or find the perfect combination of words to make Skyler understand. This is a tortured man right now.
The timing of this episode is great too. Jane, and her father and the crash were awhile ago, ten or eleven episodes back, and now Walter and Jesse are onto a new chapter. A lot of shows would just move on, close the old chapter, only refer to the past in passing. But here half this episode is devoted to these moments from the past. The big fallout happens so long after the fact, and that’s real. Things linger. Things don’t get resolved in a timely manner, if ever. Life isn’t a series of open and close incidents, but instead has threads that weave in and out. A lot of times, a real conversation about something, or as close as people really have to one, does happen a lot later. This episode adds so much layering to the story, shows long-term and delayed effects later on, and it’s so well-done. This is one thing really sets Breaking Bad apart. There are other shows that do this, but more that don’t.
Walt picks his perfect time to die as the night Jane dies. Then he says, “I never told you…” and goes through the story of that night. This is when, during my first time seeing this episode, I started cringing and yelling for Walt to shut up. Maybe Jesse deserves to know what really happened with Jane, but could the show even go forward from that? If one of the cardinal rules in the world of this show is loyalty, this was one of the worst transgressions, for Walt to watch Jesse’s love die. And Walt feels so, so horrible.
“And I didn’t. I took his advice,” Walt says about never giving up on family, which at that time actually meant his “nephew” Jesse. The drama just intensifies as Jesse tries to take care of Walt, make him sit down, and Walt keeps going on about that night. He even says he went to Jesse’s house (though Jesse could think he meant to deliver the money), and says things could have turned out otherwise. They might’ve. I’ve always said if Walt hadn’t been shaking Jesse, Jane wouldn’t have rolled onto her back, and she probably would’ve survived the night. He’s saying, when he says his perfect moment to die was before he left the house, he’s saying how much regret he has over Jane’s death. “I’m sorry about Jane,” he says to Jesse. “I mean I’m very sorry.” And Jesse’s response, sort of absolving Walt, it’s like he’s trying to make Walt feel better, trying to get Walt’s fly, trying to help Walt when Walt is coming as close as he ever can to confessing to playing a role in Jane’s death.
Jesse’s, “I miss her though. God, I do,” is so poignant. This is almost a forgiveness scene, without really being a forgiveness scene because the culpability is never fully confessed, just alluded to.
Walt tries to make sense of the world, to regain a sense of control, with science, with the subatomic particles and randomness of the universe, but that can’t save him either.
“It’s all contaminated.”
- Breaking Bad Episode 309 “Kafkaesque”
- Breaking Bad Episode 308 “I See You”
- Breaking Bad Episode 307 “One Minute”
- Breaking Bad Episode 306 “Sunset”
- Breaking Bad Episode 305 “Mas”
- Breaking Bad Episode 304 “Green Light”
- Breaking Bad Episode 303 “I.F.T.”
- Breaking Bad Episode 302 “Caballo Sin Nombre”
- Breaking Bad Episode 301 “No Mas”
- Breaking Bad Season 2 Episode Posts
- Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode Posts”
- “Fly” Insider Podcast
- Weak Interactions – The Science of Breaking Bad: Fly
- Tim Goodman – Bastard Machine Deconstruction: Fly