BREAKING BAD Recap: “Bullet Points”

     August 7, 2011


We’re one month into the fourth season of AMC’s Breaking Bad, and the show’s just as great as it’s ever been (as are its ratings).  Things got off to a bloody, vicious start, and then settled into a tone that could best be described as “perpetually ominous”.  That tone’s held strong for the past three weeks as Vince Gilligan and his team of writers moved our beloved Breaking Bad characters into position for…well, for whatever they’ve cooked up for the rest of the season (chances are, it ain’t gonna be pretty).  And while we certainly haven’t been bored by a single moment of the season-thus-far, things have been running at a slightly different speed.  So, did this week’s episode bring back the series’ darkly-comedic form, or are things still as bleak as they’ve been since the season premiere?  Find out after the jump, folks…

From the beginning, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has told us that his twisted series would document the transformation of a character from “normal guy” to “Supervillain” (very early in episode one, Bryan Cranston– as lead character Walter White– drops a prescient hint about his forthcoming metamorphosis when he refers to chemistry as nothing more than “the science of change”), and as the series has gone along, its tone has matched that character’s evolution:  in the beginning, the show played like a pitch-black comedy, and it seems to have gotten a little less comedic as it’s gone along.

The beginning of the current season (the show’s fourth) was marked by a pair of brutal, vicious murders, and a few things have become obvious since those deaths.  For one thing, Walter White’s transformation into a “Supervillain” is nearly complete (OK, maybe 80% complete, but that’s good enough for “nearly” in our book).  For another, the show’s darkly comic undertones are receding in direct correlation to its lead character’s descent into villainy:  Gone are the borderline-slapstick moments (think Jessie falling through the ceiling of a Port-A-Potty);. gone are the winking scenes of gruesome violence (think the decomposed body falling through Jessie’s ceiling), scenes that used to be played in much the same way that Marvin’s death was played in Pulp Fiction— for uncomfortable laughs.

In the place of these moments, Breaking Bad has given us glimpses into the bleak oblivion that all of its characters seem to be heading towards:  Jessie’s house changing from “quiet suburban home” to “house party” to “crack den”, seemingly overnight;  Skylar’s gradual slide towards her own brand of “bad” behaviour;  Hank’s impotent rage, and his inability to express that rage in any other way than emotionally abusing his wife.  This is to say nothing of Walt, who seems to have grown very accustomed to the idea of murdering others to keep himself alive.  That kinda decision used to leave Walter grasping for an alternative; these days, he can’t wait to put a bullet in his boss’ head.  Breaking Bad has been many things in its fourth season– “as good as it’s ever been”, for instance, or “incredible”, or “compulsively watchable”, or “skin-crawling”, or “heartbreaking”– but “funny” has not been one of them.

Before tonight’s episode even began, I had my fingers crossed for a little bit of that dark comedy.  It’s not a deal-breaker for me that Breaking Bad has changed in tone over the past four seasons (Hell, think about how drastically The Sopranos— another series that belongs on the list of “Best TV Shows Ever Made”– changed between its pilot episode and, say, its final season), but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I missed those moments.  And so, I was greatly amused when the first half of tonight’s episode featured more than a few of these lighter touches:  the living-room argument between Walter and Skylar about how they were going to word their bullshit story to Hank, Marie, and Walter Jr;  the moment when Walter tricked Hank into believing that the “W.W.” referenced in Gale’s noteboook was, in fact, Walt Whitman;  the shot of Gale singing karaoke on Hank’s television (especially this).  For the first half of tonight’s episode, Breaking Bad was firing on all cylinders, with half of those cylinders running on sweet, sweet dark-comedy.

It’s worth mentioning that Hank has come to believe that Gale is Heisenberg, a theory that looked really funny being bounced of Cranston’s Walt:  Walt seemed to express all kinds of emotions once Hank revealed this theory.  Written on his face was relief, disbelief…maybe even a little offense.  Walt’s very protective of his formulas and the way he cooks:  I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d feel a certain amount of hurt pride at the fact that Hank would mistake Gale and his scribblings for the great Heisenberg (Hey, it’s not a crazy idea– remember how mad Walt got when Jessie tried to cook Walt’s formula on his own?).  Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes now.  Will Hank let sleeping dogs lie now that he thinks Gale’s Heisenberg (and, more importantly, because Gale’s dead)?  Or will he realize– once more blue-meth continues to pop up around New Mexico– that they got the wrong guy?  What do you think the odds are that– eventually– this’ll come down to Walt and Hank in a room, squaring off against one another?  Add that question to the list of questions we’ve asked you below:  I’d like to hear your feedback on that one.

It was after the scenes at Hank and Marie’s that things took a turn.

For the past few weeks, the situation at Jesse’s residence has been getting progressively out of control.  As we mentioned before, what started as a “get-together” turned Jesse’s house into a full-blown crack den, complete with half-clothed junkies sprawled out on the floor, blaring house music, and graffiti all over the walls.  In all honesty, these scenes have been difficult to watch in episodes past (if you’ve ever known someone who’s sunk into a drug-induced depression, or even someone that’s struggled with drug addiction, these scenes will literally make you feel like you need to take a shower;  last week’s work by director David Slade was particularly rough), but on tonight’s episode, the sequences set inside Pinkman Manor were flat-out repulsive.  It became evident quickly, though, that tonight’s episode was actually leading up to something:  first we saw Walt accost Jesse inside his own house (only to be thrown out by a few of Jesse’s flunkies), then we saw one of those flunkies getting ideas about the stash of cash Jesse had hidden upstairs.  When Jesse returned home from work to discover said money missing, we weren’t surprised.  And neither was Jesse, when Mike and Gus’ latest henchman showed up in his living room the next morning, Jesse’s stolen money (and the guy who took it) in hand.

Tonight’s episode was another great installment of what’s already been an excellent season, but I’m going to go on record now as saying that the scenes insides Jesse’s house are beginning to wear on me as a viewer.  The point has been, we get it, it’s time to resolve this situation (more on that in a moment).  It’s not that I can’t handle what Gilligan and company are showing us:  it’s that these scenes are coming perilously close to becoming a “wallow”.  I know that this is part of the point, of course, but there’s only so much of this that I’m going to be able to swallow as a viewer before I start to feel manipulated and bored.  The scenes inside Jesse’s house have had a tremendous effect thus far:  let’s move on now, and either give his character the redemption we want to see him receive (fingers-crossed!) or the untimely death that some of us fear he has coming (no finger-crossing here).

Anyway, all this happened about ten minutes before the episode wrapped, and by this point the casual, dark laughs of the episode’s first half were a distant memory.  What happened next happened quickly, and throughout it all I noticed my stomach tied into knots:  I’ve been saying from the beginning of this season that I didn’t think Jesse would survive to see season five, and there were moments in tonight’s episode (particularly when Walt when to Jesse’s house to find him once Jesse failed to show up for work) where I thought I might see my prediction come true sooner than I’d expected.  After reporting to Gus that Jesse had to be “taken care of”, that he’d become “a liability”, Mike retrieved Jesse from his house and took him…out into the desert.  Anyone that recalls Adrianna’s doomed ride with Sylvio Dante on The Sopranos recognizes this scene, and it doesn’t end well.

The episode ended before we could find out what would happen to Jesse, but it’s clear that something’s going to take place.  Perhaps Mike will just offer Jesse a “scared-straight”-style trip out to the desert (from the looks of the promo for next week’s episode, he takes him to Tuco’s place), put the fear of God into him by making him dig his own grave or something.  Or maybe he’ll do something that Jesse won’t recover from, something that’ll involve Jesse staying out there in the desert rather than making the ride back to Albuquerque.  We’ll have to wait and see, of course, but if you’d like to place bets, the comments section below’s the place to do it.

What did you think of tonight’s episode, folks?  Good?  Better than the rest this season?  Worse?  Here’s this week’s questions; please leave your responses below, and be aware that there’ll be a pop quiz later in the week:

***  What will Mike do with Jesse out in the desert?

***  Whatta ya think Walt’s going to do when he finds out that’s where Jesse is, even if nothing does happen to his partner?

***  Do you think that Gale being considered Heisenberg will end that case in Hank’s mind, or do you think that he’ll figure out he has the wrong guy?

*** Jesse doesn’t think the cops have his prints (and offers a good theory as to why not), but is it possible his prints weren’t on that casing?

Let us know what you think, and meet us back here next week for another Breaking Bad recap/review.