Another stellar, high drama, edge-of-your-seat episode, Breaking Bad at its finest. And this one has one of my favorite ever images.
Towards the end of last season, I was talking about these little moments Jesse and Walt both had standing up to Gus. The idea was that though Walt’s decision to start cooking meth back in the pilot has mostly wreaked havoc on both of their lives, their families, their souls, Walt and Jesse have also become more courageous. Maybe the good thing they’ve both gotten from all of this is a certain lack of fear. In the latter half of this season, Walt and Jesse each get a big moment of bravery. These are moments where maybe they should be afraid, and maybe they are afraid, and if these moments had happened a few seasons back, they would’ve crumbled, but this time they show big courage in the face of all that fear.
Jesse gets his moment here. Walt gets his in the next episode.
Jesse is clearly freakin’ out on the plane and Gus has to reassure him. But then when he gets there, the superlab is nothing like the one he’s used to and the cartel guys are calling him on his non-chemist shit, and Jesse is freakin’ out again. But then he pulls it together and says, “So you understand what asshole means. Now get me my phenylacetic acid, asshole.” And then he takes charge, of course drawing on Walt and his lab standards and policies for strength.
So I gotta digress for a little bit and tell a little story. About a month ago, I was taking my organic chemistry lab final. It included all these questions based loosely on experiments we had done in the actual lab, one of which was making benzoic acid using a Grignard reagent and dry ice. So in the lab final, there was a question that asked us to design a several-step liquid/liquid extraction of a compound that looked similar to benzoic acid but had one extra carbon kink in the chain. So I knew exactly how to purify it–treat it with acid and get rid of the aqueous layer, treat it with base and remove excess organic materials, treat with acid again and extract–but as I was copying the molecule (we had to show the reactions), I suddenly realize it’s phenylacetic acid that I’m designing a purification for.
I was so tempted to write something on my final to let my prof know I knew exactly what kind of compound it was. It was all I could do not to write something like, “I get my phenylacetic acid from the barrel with the bee on it,” or even just, “I see what you did there.” This particular professor who wrote the exam has brought up Breaking Bad several times in class, and even wrote his name as Walter White in the lab manual when showing how to format lab reports, so I’m sure it was no accident that he put a DEA scheduled substance that’s a meth precursor on our test. But in the end I didn’t write anything weird on my test, because I knew the prof would never see it, just the TA who would probably be all wtf.
But also, during the exam, I started spacing out and thinking how simple it would be to synthesize, because it’s so similar to what we did in lab, you’d just need a slightly different Grignard reagent. This show has done bad things to my brain. On another test I took a few months ago in an advanced synthesis class, we got several synthesis problems and had to choose seven to design and without even thinking about it, the first one I went to was the one that involved reductive amination. Watching this show and thinking about the chemistry and reading up on really has warped my mind in some ways. I have zero interest in cooking or trying meth ever (I feel I need to state this outright because it seems every other person I know suggests I might turn into Walter White), but I find myself so intriggued by the chemistry.
But, back to the episode, Jesse survives his chemistry care and cooks Mr. White’s crystal to near perfection. 96.2% pure. Not quite as good as Walt’s, which was over 99% according to Gale, but good enough for the cartel to want to keep Jesse for their own.
Meanwhile in the bat cave, or rather Walt’s condo, a very different Walt emerges. He’s crying in front of his son. I don’t know if Walt’s cried before, except silently when he watched Jane die, in all the seasons of the show. He’s full of apology and self-recrimination. He tells his son he was gambling again and that he got in a fight.
The weird thing is, when I saw this the first time, when Walt was crying, I totally thought he was going to call Jr Jesse, but then he didn’t and I thought I was totally wrong, but then of course he does. This is a common experience with this show. The writers create something where you get a little inkling of something, but then they make you think you’re wrong before they go ahead and give it to you. It was moving when Walt did that; he must realize he was wrong in the previous episode. It’s like the “I deserve this” speech in “4 Days Out” or “I’m so sorry about Jane” in “Fly” because it shows this ultra human side of Walt where he realizes what he’s done. If we didn’t see any remorse in Walt, he’d just be a sociopath, and as bad as he is and with all the things he’s done out of cold calculations for his own gain, I don’t think he’s a sociopath. I think he’s very damaged and sad and angry and has a shit-ton of baggage.
But of course, Walt is embarrassed by this display of “weakness” on his part, which leads to the great conversation he had with Jr about his father. We don’t get a lot of origin story on this show. I’ve heard interviews where Vince Gilligan says he doesn’t want to imply that this story about Walt’s father should explain everything about who he turned out to be. It can’t all be traced back to one incident. I appreciate that because it’s true that too often in books and movies there’s that one thing, but in real life there’s not just once inciting incident, but a whole tapestry of things.
Still, it’s nice to get an insight into Walt’s backstory that we didn’t have before. Just like we did with Gus two episodes before. Walt fearing how his son will remember him is so poignant and serves as another reminder that Walt expects that he’ll die before too long. The cancer or Gus, something’s bound to catch up with him andd soon. What makes the scene even more poignant is Jr’s ever-present candor. He’s just so sweet and also brutally, unflinchingly honest when he tel
ls Walt that it would be better to remember him as the real crying mess, as opposed to how he’s been in his last year of breaking bad. It also hits home the price that Walt’s decision has cost. Even though he would rather be remembered as Heisenberg, his son would rather remember him as Walt, who he was before he started cooking meth. IIt brings the cost home acutely because Walt says he was doing this for his family and this scene shows that his family has also suffered, and this time it’s coming from Jr, the sweet kid, not just the wife so many viewers love to hate. It just makes it that much more sad and complex of a situation.
Speaking of Skyler, she is scrambling to get out of the whole Ted and IRS audit situation. She tries to give him the money via Saul via fake Aunt Birgit but Ted is still Ted, of course he doesn’t use it to pay his taxes. She’s let him know that the money really came from her, but what will she do next to try to get him to pay the IRS and get them outta her hair?
So, my favorite image, drumroll, Gus puking. He’s just drunk poison and has to get rid of it, but Gus being Gus, he takes the time to take off his jacket and fold it perfectly and place it on the edge of the sink, then to place the towel precisely and kneel on it. Just showing that sort of precision and meticulousness even when he is totally by himself and not putting on a show for anyone, even when he has done this dangerous thing of ingesting poison and has to get it out, shows that Gus is Gus to the core. Such a nice touch.
Is it me or does Gus’s jacket look like the jackets The Cousins used to wear?
Another awesome image is Don Eladio floating in the pool. Man, there’s something very likable about Don Eladio’s character but you wouldn’t want to cross him. This is also the first time we really see Gus raise his voice at all, when he yells that Don Eladio is dead and everyone should leave in peace or fight him and die. He says that while suffering from the poison.
This trio’s in a pretty bad place at the end of the episode. Gus is sick and Mike’s been shot and Jesse’s driving them…somewhere. What will happen when they get back? Will they? Will Walt and Jesse reconcile? Walt’s clearly feeling guilty, but will he express it? Will this episode bond Jesse tighter to Gus and Mike? What will come of Hank’s investigation now that Walt’s “explosive diarrhea” has passed? And will the IRS bust it all up?
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