This was a standout episode in an already strong season, right from the opening scene, whose use of a music-only soundtrack was appropriately sombre and tasteful — at least, as tasteful as you can be when depicting the preparations for dissolving a 14-year-old boy’s corpse in acid.
We’ve gotten into serious moral-relativity territory with this series; when Jesse gives Todd the punch in the face he surely deserves for shrugging off the killing with a “Shit happens,” we’re reminded, not for the first or last time, that Jesse has become the show’s moral centre — again, as moral as you can be while running a murderous meth empire.
Colin Bucksey, a UK film director who’s directed one episode in each of the last four seasons, eschews the stylistic flash that occasionally pops up on BB, keeping things simple and effective. He and screenwriter Gennifer Hutchison, also a series vet, crafted an episode that tightened some of the show’s various story threads, featured almost all the characters, and tied up some loose ends — possibly one of the best in the series so far.
Just the other day, I was saying “Hey, isn’t it kind of weird that they dropped that whole thread with Walt and that company he used to be involved with?” Clearly I had underestimated Vince Gilligan and the crew, because in this episode they finally tied together Walt’s power-mad ways with his past as a lowly failure. The meth business is his second chance at glory, and this time he’s not going to let it slip through his fingers.
Though Walt, Skyler and Mike all had their shining moments on the episode, I felt it really belonged to Aaron Paul as Jesse. You can admire Walt or Mike for their sheer badassery, but only Jesse makes you feel his fear, doubt and suffering. And he’s able to communicate so much without speaking, as in this episode when Walt’s whistling while he works is Jesse’s latest wake-up call for just how bad his mentor has broken.
– Much as Paul has brought depth to the character, I love it when Jesse re-establishes himself as comic relief, and his effort to make conversation at the painfully silent White dinner table, from “I like that you got the sliver almonds going” to “It’s like, yo, what happened to truth in advertising?,” was pure gold.
– Skyler has developed a knack for fabulous delivery—this time, it was asking the icily rhetorical question “May I please be excused?” while leaving the table, absconding with the entire bottle of wine.
– Mike, spelling things out for Walt with his usual strained patience: “I would never come to the headquarters of our illegal meth operation dragging a bunch of cops, Walter. It would be unwise.”
– Walt, chillingly showing his true colours again: “I’m in the empire business.”
– Any scene with Saul and Mike is a welcome one.
– When I interviewed Bryan Cranston for Drive at last year’s Toronto film festival for a certain extinct publication (here’s the link — oops!), I thought to inject some levity by asking a totally goofy question: who would win in a fight between Walter White and Cranston’s Drive character? With a chuckle, he replied that Walt would only win if he had time to think through his plan — but that was a year ago, and this week’s episode showed that Walt has got pretty good at thinking on his feet. Burning off a plastic twist-tie handcuff with an improvised live wire? That’s some James Bond shit right there.