Sunday, April 19, 2009

Breaking Bad, "Negro Y Azul": Walter and the Blowfish

Spoilers for tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I order a few items from the SkyMall catalog...
"Tortuga means 'Turtle.' That's me: I take my time, but I always win." -Tortuga
"Breaking Bad" is a show that takes its time. We know this. The pacing that seemed (to me, at least) a drawback in the early going of season one has turned out to be one of the series' greatest assets. Because we spend so much time on moments that similar shows and movies would gloss over, because we live with these characters at a much more measured pace than you can find most anywhere else, we feel the impact of them at a deeper level. And now that we're at the halfway point of season 2, all those slow turtle steps are starting to turn into victorious strides.

Much of "Negro Y Azul" deals with Walt talking Jesse into greatly expanding the reach of their operation, largely on the basis of the rep Jesse has developed because the greater Albuquerque meth community believes he's the one who dropped the ATM on Spooge's head. And because we spent most of last week's episode watching how events really unfolded at Skank and Spooge's house, using those events as the misleading foundation of a criminal empire is both sadder and funnier than if Jesse's visit had been just one of many events in a busier episode.

Despite Jesse's newfound reputation as a literal head-crusher, he and Walt have no idea how in over their heads they are. Even if they haven't watched the hilarious pre-credits sequence with the fake Spanish-language music video about how the Mexican cartel is getting mad at this Heisenberg fellow, they have to realize that what they need as much as additional dealers is muscle. Jesse's reputation will only get them so far, particularly if he's ever challenged on that rep. And even though Walt's far more bad-ass than his more feared partner, he's also in danger of collapsing from a coughing fit at any moment. As some commenters have been joking for the last few weeks, these guys desperately need to rent the complete "The Wire" on DVD, learn some lessons about security, counter-surveillance, plausible deniability, etc. Making the likes of Badger and Skinny Pete into the top lieutenants (or "knights") is just asking for trouble.

Will that trouble come from the cartel folks who decapitated Tortuga (well-played, in his one and only scene, by stone-faced character actor Danny Trejo), and then took out the bulk of the DEA's El Paso field office with a booby-trapped, exploding tortoise? Let me repeat that: these people put the decapitated head of a guy nicknamed "Turtle" on the back of an actual turtle that they then wired to blow. These people are relentless and evil on a scale that Walt can't begin to comprehend, let alone prepare to defend himself against. The only thing that may save him would be the thing that was going to save him with Tuco: he's too valuable as a cook to kill.

And in killing or maiming the other El Paso field agents, the cartel inadvertently continued Hank's climb up the ladder -- not that he's going to want to move up those rungs. The only reason he avoided the turtle-bomb is because he was so freaked out by the sight of Tortuga's head that he had to run away to get some air and compose himself. Like Jesse, Hank seems to be someone who was never that prepared for the deadly side of his chosen profession, and who's now forced to confront it because (in his case unwittingly) his relationship to Walt.

And while Hank may have just puked his way from laughingstock into a major promotion, all Skyler had to do to get her old job back was smile a little at former boss Ted Beneke. It's clear that she quit four years ago to get away from him: she keeps giving different explanations to everyone else, she winces when she sees what she thinks is a wine stain on his shirt, and of course Marie is worried about the guy who sexually harassed her there once upon a time. But is she just going back there because the family is so desperate for money, or has Walt made her feel so alienated that she'd welcome this guy's attentions now?

There's a lot still to find out, not least of which is what happened with the charred teddy bear. But I trust the show to get us there. Like Jesse in the final scene with his new flatscreen searching for a satellite signal, we're still waiting for the picture to come in. And just as Jane takes Jesse's hand as they sit there, we know that the wait is going to be at least as fulfilling as when we get to see the picture itself.

Some other thoughts on "Negro Y Azul" (translated as "black and blue"):

• We've all been talking lately about how completely the show has flipped its sympathies away from Walt and towards Jesse. This one finally pulls Walt a bit off the monster ledge, at least in the way he finally begins to understand what he's done to Jesse -- how he's dragged Jesse down into Hell with him. The first scene in Jesse's darkened living room was so amazing in the way that we could see, even in shadow, Walt's mood change as he realized what had happened. He was sympathetic to Jesse, and even after he realized that Jesse had screwed up with Skank -- and even after he shifted into all-business mode -- he's no longer yelling at and talking over his partner at every turn.

• On the other hand, Walt's not such a sweetheart that he can let Barry try to get over on him about the failed science test, but I got a kick out of the pleasure he got in stringing Barry along for a moment before smacking him down.

• The Atomic Museum where Walt, and later Jesse, met with Badger and friends, is now technically known as The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

• Note that Walt's still learning on the job as he goes. After the fiasco with Skyler finding out about the second cell phone, he's now keeping his new drug phone hidden in the ceiling of his classroom, only turning it on when he needs to call Jesse.

• What do you suppose Jane's story is? In her first appearance, she seemed pretty no-nonsense and not interested in having any kind of troublemaker living next door, but now she doesn't mind that Jesse lied about his name, or even that it seems he's involved in something criminal. I like having Krysten Ritter around, and it's good to show Jesse having someone to deal with who isn't Walt or one of his meth-head friends.

What did everybody else think?

39 comments:

Jackie said...

I did get a kick out of the music video at the beginning, even knowing that there really is this genre of music down in Mexico. Like, these drug cartel troubadours singing about the drug lords and their exploits and the drug trade. I have to hand it to the production team, because they got the aesthetic just right.

Mark B said...

I love how mythology arises from perception, regardless of the truth of events. Jesse, THE AVENGER, crushing the skulls of all those who oppose him with the vaults of his fortune. Jesse and Jane, sitting on lawn chairs in an unfurnished room and gazing at the blue screen of an unformatted digital TV is one of the most eloquent conceptualizations of young love I have ever seen. If you have never been an aspiring tattoo artist without tattoo’s or a poor dreamer fully cognizant of his own nightmares, then you may not appreciate the poignancy of that proffered hand in the barren wasteland.

Chris Littmann said...

Severed head of a man named Tortuga on the back of a wired-to-blow turtle? /You're doing it right.

I'm enjoying this at about the clip I was enjoying Sons of Anarchy's first season. Which is to say I'm enjoying it about as much as I can enjoy any drama this side of HBO/Showtime.

How many episodes are left this season, Alan?

Dan Jardine said...

Liked how the reinvigorated Jesse leaves his place wearing a skull t-shirt.

In many ways this was a transition show, a lull before the coming storm, as we, like Walt, needed some time to absorb what the events of last week meant before embarking on the next course.

Hyde said...

A side note: Jesse's dealer trio was listening to the "Bert the Turtle" song famous from Atomic Cafe when they were in the museum waiting for the appearance by Heisenberg. Tortuga, and the DEA guys, forgot to duck and cover.

I sure hope Jane isn't collateral damage by the end of this season.

nfieldr said...

I will always think of Danny Trejo as Gabriel Mota and his invisible potion on NYPD Blue... still cracks me up. :-)

fgmerchant said...

Did you notice a dead Heisenberg in the music video from the beginning? I am wondering if that is just part of the video, or if it will actually come true. Jane is confusing me, at one point I thought she wouldn't want anything to do with him, but now we see that her attitude towards him has definitely changed.

belinda said...

Walt's blowfish speech to Jesse - what a strange pump up speech, yet one that worked (sort of). It is weird to see Walt as a father figure to Jesse, especially when all he is doing is leading them up to some major crap by expanding their territory. I'm not sure if I felt too much sympathy for Walt at this point, but it is nice to see him treat Jesse like an equal partner/son again. Wonder how long that would last?

I agree with Mark - I was surprised at how poignant a blue screen of a not yet working TV can be. Just kind of took my breath away. We don't really know much about Jane at this point, but because what was depicted was so sweet, I couldn't help but feel that this relationship will be doomed.

The season so far has been remarkably paced.

Anonymous said...

That end scene reminded me of the end scene of Fight Club.

Sweet, and sad.

JoeE said...

Check out the look on that secretary/receptionist's face when Skylar was able to get right in to speak with her old boss - she was pissed. She may have recognized her name for whatever reason. There's definitely more to be learned about what exactly went down in that office - since Skylar was clearly willing to lie to Walt about why she quit, I wouldn't be surprised if there had been more than just an unwelcome sexual advance.

Oboe said...

I was born in Juarez and know all too well the horrors committed by the drug cartels down there. It was fascinating/exhilirating/terrifying to see that severed head on the turtle and the subsequent explosion. Great sequence!

So gang, am I right to assume that Skylar cheated on Walt at one time? I forget the time line of the incident.

Anonymous said...

When Walt yelled at Jesse for smoking his Bong Jesse replied "it helps with my nausea".
What have I missed? I don't remember any nausea issues with Jesse.

Dan Jardine said...

I presume it is nausea from the memory of seeing/hearing Spooge's skull going splooge.

As other posters before me, I got the distinct impression that the relationship of Skyler and boss man went beyond flirtation or even harassment and well into the realm of infidelity (for both.) Skylar lied to Walt AND her sister. So much for Skylar the innocent victim. Also helps to explain why she is so tuned in when Walt lies to her. Takes a liar to catch a liar, I guess.

Kirs said...

I think the nausea was a result of Jesse replaying Spooge getting his head crushed by the ATM machine over and over in his head. I'd imagine it would make me a little nauseous too if I'd seen that in person. Blech.

Hoosier Paul said...

I am really fascinated by the way this show is handling Hank's storyline. This is a guy who appeared, in the first few episodes, to be a fairly one-dimensional blowhard, but has instead evolved into the moral center of the show.

And with this recent transfer to El Paso, they've brought a real sense of vulnerability to the type of character who's usually all-machismo, all-the-time. A lesser show would have allowed Hank to quickly earn the respect of his El Paso coworkers by doing something heroic, like saving them from the bomb. But Breaking Bad made different choices, and proved again why it's one of the best, and most courageous, shows on television today.

Hoosier Paul said...

Nfieldr --

The scene that always comes to my mind when I see Danny Trejo is "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," when Johnny Depp asks him, "are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can't?" and Trejo indignantly responds, "I'm a Mexican!

Classic.

stacy said...

Alan, I agree the first scene with Jesse and Walt, helped move Walt off the A-hole train. He even apologized which I thought was nice.

After the turtle bomb thing, I’m starting to think that the whole teddy bear thing might be a bomb in Walt’s house. Also, they might have targeted Jesse’s house too and Jane will be killed. At some point someone close to Jesse and Walt has to be killed and I don’t think it’s going to be Walt’s family.

I really liked the end of the blowfish scene where Walt was coughing and Jesse was smoking pot. It’s just showing us how these two are nowhere close to being drug lords.

Matt in Raleigh said...

Here's a link to a decent LA article on the song used last night.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-narco-corrido20-2009apr20,0,3573595.story

Gretchen said...

Dan Jardine said...

Also helps to explain why she is so tuned in when Walt lies to her. Takes a liar to catch a liar, I guess."Don't bullshit a bullshitter!" -- Walt.

Edd said...

.I'm feeling a little mentally challenged here.

What did the title "Black and Blue" refer to in this episode?

Anonymous said...

I recommend that fans of BB read that L.A. Times article posted above by Matt in Raleigh -- quite interesting and also a testament to the artistic sense of the shows creative team.

Ted Kerwin said...

I thought the scene where Jesse explains the plan to expand the meth empire ti his underlings next to the exhibit on Communist Russia was a nice framing of the scene.

Did the Shield mention this mexican drug songs?

Ted Kerwin said...

and EDD

The song, 'Negro y Azul' (Black and Blue)

Ted Kerwin said...

The Shield - 307 - Safe

Vic and the Strike Team decide to take risky measures to protect themselves from being linked to the Money Train heist. Unfortunately, their plan is interrupted when one of Vic's open cases is suddenly linked to a Narco Corrido song.

I knew it had to be the Shield was why I had heard of this style

Edd said...

Kirs said...
I think the nausea was a result of Jesse replaying Spooge getting his head crushed by the ATM machine over and over in his head. .... Blech.

I believe I caught a line of Jesse's dialog that it was the sound of the skull crushing that got to him. Blech for me too!

Jennifer J. said...

We just watched the episode tonight, so I don't know if anyone will be looking back at the comments.

That scene of the Turtle's head on the turtle was so disturbing. Then I noticed the turtle had writing on it's shell, "Hola DEA". Did anyone else notice that? It gave me a great sense of foreboding....

Karen said...

I think I would have been happy if the entire episode had been that music video. Because that was 10 kinds of awesome.

Not only has the sympathy swerved away from Walt to Jesse, it's also swerved to Hank. He came off as a blowhard asshole originally, and now I worry about him feeling ostracized by his jerky new colleagues. I liked how, even as he was in sort of a dream state after the explosion, he still had the presence of mind to find whom he could help and get that tourniquet on Vanco's leg. (I was conflicted about his new gig: it's true that it doesn't make sense for him not to know Spanish, but his new colleagues were DICKS.)

I had a slightly different take on Walt and Barry's test-score interaction. Walt smiled as if he was going to relent before lowering the boom on the kid. I wonder if he would have been more lenient once and has become harder, or if he would always have pulled that slightly sadistic move. We've been seeing that Walt may not always have been such a great guy--maybe it's less than his criminal path is turning him hard or if it's allowing something that was always in his nature to come out. There's a reason that he's become the leader with Jesse (and the knights). It casts a different light on his relationship with Gretchen and Elliot, with Skylar, with Walt Jr, with Marie and Hank. It casts a different light on every story WAlt has told about himself. And it explains better why a schoolteacher dying of cancer would suddenly decide that his best option was to begin cooking meth and enter the hardcore drug trade. This is not a good guy. There's a reason he's losing our sympathy--he never really deserved it in the first place.

digamma said...

Wow. That music video was stunning. This show has reveled in dark comedy before, but a catchy tune about the imminent death of our protagonist takes it to a new level.

I wonder if I will watch it more or less times than "Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor".

Josh said...

I've got a hunch that the charred teddy bear we see floating in the water is a present given to Walt's unborn daughter. Whether it's going to be symbolic of his family in ruins or the charring is the result of an actual attack on Walt's family by the mexican cartel, I'm unsure of. Either way I'm guessing it's going to be the closing shot of the season.

WCArnold said...

Tortuga (well-played, in his one and only scene, by stone-faced character actor Danny Trejo)
I believe that Danny Trejo was also in the music video. Does anyone else want to confirm?

Justin Hemenway said...

Karen, in regards to Walt's lecture, I couldn't help but think of Jesse's test from season one with "apply yourself" written in big, red letters. Perhaps Walt didn't sound quite as menacing back then, but it seems as if he's been giving that same speech for years. Last season, that note at least hinted at some compassion for Jesse (even if "apply yourself" isn't all that constructive), but now I wonder if Walt wrote that comment out of contempt. It doesn't seem like he's ever liked his students much.

Anonymous said...

I must have missed something, but would someone please be kind enough to tell me about the "charred bear"?

What episode was it in and how was it seen.

Test said...

It was pointed out previously that there was am AMC podcast available for an episode: I just wanted to add a note here that there is one done EVERY week - often with Vince Gilligan, and these things are often even longer than the show itself.

Only available done after an episode has aired so there is nothing particularly spoilery and Gilligan is very careful about how he lays his comments out. Really quite unmissable stuff if you are a fan and they can be downloaded with a simple right click and save as.

All 7 so far do S2 are up on the AMC site here:

http://blogs.amctv.com/breaking-bad/podcasts/

SJ said...

This is must-see TV for me now. All these small moments (such as Skyler talking to her old boss) are so brilliantly played and directed.

Best drama on tv right now? For me it definitely is.

Anonymous said...

Never watch this series before going to bed
Never watch this series before going to bed
Never watch this series before going to bed

That exploding turtle scene scared the bejeezus out of me just like the 'shots in the head' moments from The Wire could.

Great series nonetheless!

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice the voiceover in the museum discussing Werner Heisenberg (nobel prizewinner and creator of the uncertainty principle)?

Jon W said...

Excellent commentary. Agree completely with the advice not to watch this before going to bed - that's two weeks in a row that I haven't been able to sleep. This is a hard show to get out of one's head!

Regarding the burned teddy bear - lots of speculation on the Internet about this being caused by Tuco's cousins - but I think it's going to tie back to Walt Jr. He's really neglected by his parents, he changed his name due to wanting to rebel, and who knows what effect Uncle Hank's little visit to the meth neighborhood had on him.

This show is ultimately about family, and Walt Jr. is a family dynamic that we're taking for granted.

teeblah said...

Rereading these posts after watching season 2 late, had to post a link for posterity, it's Danny Trejo in...Machete!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBXGF7eUlxE

Anonymous said...

Just now watching all Breaking Bads through iTunes.

*Skylar's boss was actually in Episode 1 of Season 2 when she was looking at pictures in the baby's room. It was a picture of her and him at a bar, holding glasses of wine. Strong implication of earlier infidelity.

*Alan - i think that your comment that the Cartel's evil is beyond Walt's imagination is actually litterally true. Walt and his son's imagination of something horrible to do to someone in the dessert was to bury them in sand with their head up and with scorpions. Suffice it to say - the cartel did a little better.