"What happened to you? Really, Walt -- what happened? Because this isn't you." -GretchenA lot of bills come due in "Peekaboo," another outstanding episode in what's turning out to be a stellar season two of "Breaking Bad." Some are financial, like Jesse trying to get his money back from the two tweakers, or Gretchen finding out that Walt has been lying to his family about where the money's coming from. Some are emotional, like Walt finally unloading on Gretchen for what he feels she owes him (in every sense), or Jesse having to confront the realities of his new career during his nightmarish day at Spooge and Skank's house(*). And while Walt and Jesse more or less get what they need by the end of the episode -- Gretchen inadvertently gives Walt the means to repair his rift with Skyler, while Jesse walks away with an ATM-ful of cash -- their own karmic debts are getting bigger and bigger all the time.
"What would you know about me, Gretchen?" -Walt
(*) And since J. Roberts and Vince Gilligan's script deliberately didn't name the female tweaker, I think we're supposed to think of her as Skank -- even if we're never supposed to call her that to her face, as poor Spooge learned way too late.
Let's start with Jesse's ordeal, which was right in the series' wheelhouse. What should have been a simple task -- hold a gun on two pathetic tweakers and get back the money and drugs they stole -- instead turned into an all-day mess that nearly got Jesse killed and brought him face-to-face with one of the victims of his operation: Skank's filthy, underfed, horribly neglected little boy.
When we talk about the terrible things Walt and Jesse are doing, it's generally in the context of how they're hurting their loved ones, as opposed to the people who actually use their product. And that makes sense. We know Skyler and Jesse's family, while the tweakers of the greater Albuquerque area are a faceless abstraction. But in not only taking us into Spooge and Skank's home, but showing us the poor kid they neglect because they're too busy working the next scam and getting high, we see the cost of all of this. The moment when Jesse plays the titular game of Peekaboo and the boy has no idea how to react -- because, clearly, Skank's not the kind of mom who would ever play such a routine and simple game like that with her son -- was heartbreaking, and so well-played by Aaron Paul.
Now, I don't expect this to change Jesse's career plans. He's in too deep now, and as we saw a few weeks ago, he doesn't have better options out there. But even though he managed to get in and out of this mess without actually killing anyone -- a crime he still has yet to commit -- I can see this experience weighing on him going forward, maybe making him even more miserable than before about what he's doing with his life, and what he's let Walt push him into doing.
And even if he doesn't, there's still the matter of Spooge's dead body, isn't there? If this was "The Sopranos" -- a show where the main characters routinely left gallons of DNA evidence behind, but never got in trouble because law-enforcement was even more incompetent than they were -- I would assume Skank gets charged with Spooge's murder and that's the end of it. But this is "Breaking Bad," where nothing is ever that simple -- see all the complication's from Walt's "fugue state" story -- and between the broken window, the friendly postal carrier, and Skank herself (who's going to be looking to pin this on somebody else), I have a good feeling that the local cops will be on the lookout for "Diesel."(**)
(**) A reminder, once again, about the No Spoilers policy, which includes the previews for next week's episode.
As for Walt... damn it if Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and company aren't continuing to go full-speed ahead in showing what a monster he's becoming. The Walt who took Gretchen to dinner, then unloaded on her about decades' worth of resentment, is terrifying, because, despite what Gretchen thought, this is him. This has always been him. He has a history of walking away from situations because of some slight -- real or perceived -- and then making himself into the victim, and nobody close to him has any idea just how much anger he's holding in, and how he's letting that anger guide his every decision. He walked away from his relationship with Gretchen -- and the fortune that might have come from his work. And now he's decided that, rather than accept Gretchen and Elliott's charity -- which he could have easily viewed as payment for services rendered at the start of their careers -- he'll continue down this insane, dangerous path cooking crystal meth. And not only will he do that, but he'll lie to Skyler and tell her to feel beholden to The Rich Girl Who Got Away, and who makes Skyler feel inadequate every time her name is mentioned.
And Gretchen, in trying to hurt Walt for the way he just hurt her (and/or trying to remove herself from this terrible lie Walt's perpetrating), inadvertently makes his life better for now, by bringing him and Skyler closer. If he requires further treatment, he's going to have some 'splaining to do about how he pays for it, but for the moment, his lies are preserved and he doesn't have to in any way face the consequences of his actions the way that Jesse does.
What an unbelievable bastard. What a great show.
Some other thoughts:
• We see Walt's first day back at work, where he starts off enthusiastic about teaching again (as opposed to going through the motions the way he did in the pilot), then quickly gets sidetracked into the tale of H. Tracy Hall, another scientist who may or may not have been screwed out of money and credit he felt he deserved. One question: now that Walt's teaching again, when is he going to find the time to cook?
• Last year, the show occasionally featured Walt or another character uttering a profanity, only the sound dropped out. At the time, I wrote it off to AMC being new to the series television thing and uncertain about what type of content their advertisers would tolerate. (Basic cable isn't regulated by the FCC, but they do have to answer to sponsors, which is why, for instance, "The Shield" could never use the F-word.) I noticed that they hadn't done any of that this season and figured that, with a year under their belts, everyone involved knew what they could and couldn't get away with, and the episodes were being written accordingly. But then we got Walt's dropped-out F-bomb to Gretchen at the end of that riveting restaurant scene. Really, it was the only retort available to Walt after Gretchen said she felt sorry for him, and it was delivered with so much contempt and self-loathing by Cranston that I almost didn't notice that it was muted. But I'm still trying to get to the bottom of what the rules are for profanity this season.
• In returning to work, Walt also gets to reconnect with "Flynn" as they cook up fantasies about how to deliver justice to the kids who defaced the "Missing" posters from episode two.
• I love that Jesse was offended that Spooge had stolen an ATM machine owned by Jesse's bank.
What did everybody else think?