"Let him bleed." -Walt"Grilled" is, by design, a very claustrophobic episode of "Breaking Bad." Walt and Jesse spend the bulk of the episode as prisoners of the erratic and violent Tuco, and on those rare occasions when we get a break from their perilous circumstances, it's to show how Skyler has become a prisoner of her own circumstances.
It's easy to feel sorry for Walt. He's the central character, and so magnificently played by Bryan Cranston, after all. But Walt's also a stubborn jackass who threw away a promising career because his partner got the girl instead of him, and who went into this insane, dangerous, harmful career in meth when he had better options open to him. (He could have, for instance, taken the fake job, money and health insurance from his old friends, but his pride wouldn't let him.) So he puts himself in a place where he's emotionally distant from his wife, where he can disappear for hours or more at a time and terrify her, and where he's constantly dealing with people like Tuco who could kill him long before the cancer gets to finish the job.
For Skyler, it's almost worse than if he was already dead. It's the anticipation, and the lack of knowledge of what he's up to, that's crushing to her, even as she carries this unexpected baby, and deals with her equally-distant son, and realizes that her only support system is made up of her crazy, heinous sister and Marie's well-meaning but obnoxious husband. She might as well be on her own, and unlike Walt, she isn't even getting vicarious thrills out of the deal. She's just miserable, and scared, and confused, and not sure when or if she'll ever see her husband again.
If anything the Jesse/Walt scenes are almost a relief from the Skyler ones, because at least there we have humor mixed in with the terror. Tuco's crazy and can do anything, and they're trapped in the middle of nowhere with him and his invalid uncle, but they're also bickering the way they always do. Jesse inadvertently talks Tuco out of using the poisoned meth because he claims it has chili powder in it -- which works both as a callback to his original Cap'N Cook recipe for meth ("It's my signature!") and as a payoff to the scene last week where Jesse questioned the details (or lack thereof) of Walt's plan for getting Tuco to take it. Later, Jesse tries to get Walt to "jump on the grenade" since he's dying, and Walt points out that all he has to use as a weapon is a fly-swatter. Even though their lives are at risk the entire time -- a situation made worse when Tio turns out to be much sharper than he looks -- the show manages to find these light moments that make the horror more bearable.
Hank's sudden arrival (and the show has done a good job in the last few episodes making Hank out to be much less of a clown than he initially seemed) takes care of the larger Tuco problem, but Jesse and Walt still have lots of messes to clean up. Tuco dies next to Jesse's car, and someone's going to want to know who gut-shot him before Hank came along. And Walt will have to explain not only his absence, but the second cell phone that Hank identified.
Nothing on "Breaking Bad" ever comes easy.
A few other thoughts:
• While we haven't gotten back to the burned teddy bear from the opening of last week's episode (my money is on it being from the season finale), the show continues to create wonderfully eerie tableaux to start episodes -- in this case, the sound and image of Jesse's car bouncing up and down in the middle of nowhere. The malfunctioning hydraulics added an extra disturbing touch to Tuco and Hank's shoot-out.
• Hank is not infallible, of course. He suspects -- as I imagine most law-enforcement men would -- that it was Tuco who killed Crazy 8, which does mean Walt may not have to answer for one of his crimes.
• Couple of connections in this episode to classic cop shows. It was directed by Charles Haid, who played Renko on "Hill Street Blues" before going on to a career as a prolific TV director. And Hank's cop buddy was played by Nigel Gibbs, aka Deputy Chief Phillips on "The Shield."
What did everybody else think?