"Shut up and say something that isn't complete bulls--t." -SkylerVince Gilligan likes to talk about how "Breaking Bad" is a show about metamorphosis, "a guy transforming from a good, law-abiding citizen to a drug kingpin." And as we watch that transformation in progress, we also see him changing from a fairly sympathetic leading character into a loathsome bastard, someone who's not just a villain in the sense of cops vs. crooks, but in terms of actively (if not always intentionally) inflicting misery on the people around him.
We got signs all through the first season that Walt isn't quite the innocent victim he first appeared to be, most notably the episode involving his ex-partner and ex-girlfriend. But an episode like "Down," in which Walt tries and fails spectacularly to mend fences with Skyler, and in which he continually shouts over Jesse's attempts to explain his dire circumstances, show that his faults have expanded from simple stubborn pride to a dangerous level of willful ignorance. He can't fix things with his wife, and he can't listen to his partner, because he can't even begin to contemplate where they're really coming from.
What's also fascinating about this one -- other than the great work by Cranston, Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul -- is the way that Walt has already crossed the line of no return. When he told Jesse last week that nothing had changed, that they had no choice but to keep cooking, my heart broke a little bit, because Tuco's death should have given him the opportunity to get out clean. But he's been skulking around too long for Skyler to not want answers, and he can't give them to her. Even if he were to say, "I cooked meth for a few months but I've stopped now," they'd be over as a couple, if they aren't already. It's so monstrous what he's done -- even before you factor in the deaths of Crazy 8, Tuco, et al -- that Skyler wouldn't be able to get past it, and her BS detector is too well-honed for him to slip anything short of the awful truth past her. His choice has already damned him, so he might as well keep on going and hope he can come up with enough money(*) to provide for Skyler and "Flynn" after he's gone(**).
(*) Note that, when he's counting the rolls of banded money and realizes there's an odd number, he thinks for only half a moment before keeping the extra one for himself, rather than splitting it between himself and Jesse.
(**) As others have pointed out, it's hard not to notice how relatively healthy Walt has seemed for the last few episodes, moving around easily and with a minimum of coughing. Wouldn't it be just the right sick touch for the treatment to work and the cancer to go into remission after Walt's already charged this unbreakable course towards Hell?
Jesse's storyline, moving in parallel to Walt's, was of the so-sad-it's-funny (or vice versa) variety. The moment where Jesse slammed the phone down on the counter, only to see it immediately scooped up by the mover, was the funniest thing on TV in the last week to not involve Liz Lemon as a Muppet. I thought the glimpse of his old bandmate, now clean-cut with a wife and a kid while Jesse's a dirtball who sells drugs and falls into outdoor toilets, brought home how far he's fallen even more than our previous glimpses of his normal suburban family. Jesse, like Walt, has had opportunities to do something other than get sucked deeper into the drug game, and he hasn't taken them. And even though you can tell he wants nothing more than to get away from his surprisingly dangerous old science teacher and maybe pursue the life his parents always had in mind for him, he's just as stuck, too. No house, minimal money, and nothing going for him except a mobile drug lab. Poor bastard; he's just as trapped as Walt.
Great episode. Dark episode, but what else do you expect at this point?
What did everybody else think?