Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 4
After last week's careful study of Jesse and Marie, Walt takes center stage again tonight, and it is clear that he still has not adjusted to the new status quo. In perhaps the most important conversation in the episode, Walt asks Saul, "When did this stop being a business? Why am I the only person capable of behaving in a professional manner?" This, of course, is another of Walt's self-delusions. He may not like the way that Mike and Gus are operating, but as the fantastic cold open (this show really has a knack for opening episodes) displayed, the two are consummate professionals. They just happen to be professional criminals. And while Walt may behave in a professional manner (and we all know how well that professionalism worked out for poor Gale), there are still plenty of clear cracks in his criminal sheen, several of which we have seen so far this season, and were on full display tonight.
First off, we all know that Walt has too high an opinion of himself. Walt's arrogance leads him to believe that he can out-think anyone and persuade them to see his side of things, if only he is given the chance. But as we've seen with Skyler many times, and with Mike a few weeks back, Walt is not as smooth an operator as he believes. Tonight, Walt brusquely dismissed Skyler's (admittedly humorous) attempts to get their story straight before telling it at dinner with Hank and Marie, only to balk at Walter Jr.'s question about how much he made and why he's stopping. Skyler condescendingly conjectures to Walt that, "Maybe lying doesn't come as easily to me as it does to you," but I don't think that's the case. Skyler may be achingly naive, but she is incredibly thorough, and had Walt taken a page from her book (or carefully constructed script) he might have come off more smoothly. If he had paid closer attention to her bullet points, he might have handled the situation with greater poise.
Walt also has dangerous tunnel vision. We've seen this countless times throughout the series (perhaps most notably in last season's stellar bottle episode "Fly"), and tonight we watched him completely ignore Jesse's obvious distress and clear cry for help, forcing him to recount the details of his murder of Gale (not to mention the way he completely ignored Saul's safety in their conversation. Bob Odenkirk's delivery of the line, "I never make that list, do I?" was perfect). Jesse is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but Walt doesn't even bother to ask him if he's ok, nor does he show any anger or concern over the way Jesse is living his life. No, in that moment all he cares about is whether he might get caught, and his failure to address Jesse's issues leaves Mike to clean up the mess, a job we have already established he does professionally and with great competence. Walt may have ignored Skyler's bullet points, but when faced with real bullets, Mike doesn't bat an eye; he gets the job done.
Then there is Walt's temper. We see him go off the handle twice tonight, and in both situations a calm, collected approach could have much more easily solved the problem. Had he listened to Skyler, his lies would have been more believable (everything seemed to go over fine tonight, but Hank didn't seem to completely buy the story he was being sold); had he listened to Saul's offer to help him disappear, he would have escaped all of the terrible things I'm sure are in store for him in the weeks to come.
But he can't. Walter White has too much pride to admit when he's beaten. He is too focused on his next move to see the big picture clearly. And he gets too angry with anyone who tries to help him, anyone who he sees as insulting his precious pride, to take sound advice when it is offered to him. Walter White may believe he is a consummate professional, but he has shown time and time again that he is not. Yet.
-As always, I could be eating my words in a few weeks (such is the nature of television criticism), but it seems that the arc of this season will be Walt's journey from believing himself to be a professional to actually becoming one. For the last several episodes we have watched him sputter and rant about his situation, but he has yet to change enough to really do anything about it. I think that change is coming, and I expect it to be brilliant, brutal stuff.
-I really appreciate the show's willingness to keep Giancarlo Esposito on the sidelines at this point in the story, as I think he is much more threatening in his absence for the moment. At the same time, though, I miss Gus, and our few moments with him tonight didn't really meet my Gus-quota. Here's hoping that guy gets a meaty monologue in the next few weeks. He tends to nail those.
-"I am terribly, terribly ashamed of my actions. Two terriblys?" Walt was such an ass during the rehearsal, but he ended up using Skyler's line in the moment. As green as she is at subterfuge and skirting the law, Skyler has a natural aptitude for this stuff, and clearly takes pride in that. I don't think it will be too long before she is quite the capable professional. The only question is how far will she go, and how fast will she get there.
-I've heard several complaints about the pacing of this season so far, and I think all of them are completely off base. This show has always used quiet, slow burning character studies to build the stakes so that when the action and suspense ratchet up, they are all the more meaningful. And the work the show has done with Jesse, Hank, and Marie over the last few weeks gave so much more depth to what we saw them do tonight, even though all three had reduced screen time this evening.
-"For a fired school teacher who cooks crystal meth, you're coming out ahead."
-"How about the casings? How many times did you shoot him anyway?" Walt never even thought to ask Jesse about the night that has broken the kid's spirit, until it served his own interests to do so.
-"How did everything get so screwed up?" Yet another example of Walt impotently cursing his fate, as if he didn't make every last decision that brought him to this point.
-"Want to ask where we're going?" "Nope."
Tags: Breaking Bad