"Why couldn't I have just gone to Santa Fe? Why?" -Jesse"4 Days Out" -- another winner in a season full of them -- is the "Breaking Bad" take on "Flight of the Phoenix" (travelers trapped in desert have to find a way to get their wrecked vehicle working again) by way of the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos" (bumbling criminals bicker while stranded in the wilderness). It strands Walt and Jesse in the middle of the desert, the battery of their mobile meth lab drained, and nothing to do but dwell on what they've allowed themselves to become -- and what role, if any, the other man played in that transformation.
"All the lies -- I can't even keep them straight in my head anymore." -Walt
Jesse should have just gone to Santa Fe to admire "vagina pictures" with Jane instead of facing death by dehydration with his hated former chemistry teacher/current partner. But then, he should never have let Walt talk him into stepping up his game from being low-level Cap'n Cook. When he was Cap'n Cook, the profits were meager, but so was the risk. There was a way out. Now the stakes are too high, the attention (from the DEA and, eventually, from the cartel) too big, and his partner is too arrogant and reckless. Though they managed to avoid dying in the RV with $1.34 million (after expenses) worth of crystal, this isn't the first time that Jesse's association with Walt has brought him close to death, nor will it be the last.
Walt, meanwhile, is usually too busy cleaning up the latest mess he and/or Jesse has made for self-reflection. But stuck in that RV, fearing imminent death twice over -- even if they can get the battery going, he assumes he has only a short time left to live, based on his (mis)reading of the PET scan -- Walt has this moment of clarity where he realizes all he's done, all the lies he's told, all the people who have been and will be hurt by his actions. But because Walt's ultimately more selfish than he tells himself he is, it turns from a moment of self-realization to one of self-pity, and he's prepared to lie there and wallow and let the chemical engine that is his body slowly and painfully stop working.
But then Jesse is able to rouse Walt from his stupor, and we're reminded that, for all his many faults, he's still a genius chemist(*), and he finds a way to cobble together keys, spare change and sponges into making a battery strong enough to jump-start the RV.
(*) He is not, however, a genius chemistry teacher. He tries to turn the battery-building process into a science lesson for Jesse, who never quite gets it, thinking that "a wire" is the elemental answer Walt's looking for.
And having evaded the first kind of death -- and then discovering, to his amazement (and lack of relief), that the experimental cancer treatment has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations -- Walt's left to wonder, what now? He and Jesse come to an understanding, but it seems predicated on Jesse's assumption that Walt will die soon. For that matter, his entire criminal career was predicated on that same assumption -- that Walt wouldn't survive long enough to ever have to live with the things he was doing.
In the final scene of the episode -- brilliantly played, as always, by Bryan Cranston -- Walt studies his reflection in the bathroom mirror, than in the gleaming paper towel dispenser. He does not like any of what he sees, so much so that he begins systematically pounding on the dispenser until it's so badly dented that all he can see is a warped reflection, completely unrecognizable as the man he was, or the man he's become.
Sam Catlin's script overplayed the foreshadowing of how Walt and Jesse would be stranded -- there's a fine line between introducing Chekhov's gun in the first act and introducing his gun, his bazooka, his machete, and his surface-to-air missile collection -- but once we got past that point, Catlin very wisely placed his trust in his actors, and in director Michelle MacLaren and director of photography Michael Slovis to capture the harsh beauty of the desert and the direness of the situation.
I've commented a lot this season on how beautiful the episodes look, and "4 Days Out" felt like a cut above even that. Image after image -- the glowing orange light of the desert, the cool blues of the chemicals mixing together, the tableaux of the RV resting in the tall grass or Walt and Jesse enjoying the night air after a hard day's work -- looked absolutely gorgeous, and captured the dual-edged nature of what's happening here. The meth itself is destructive, both to its users and to Walt and Jesse's lives for making it, but the actual process of making it is a work of art. The desert could kill them without fuel or adequate supplies, but there are far, far uglier resting places. Even the clinic where Walt gets the good news -- so shiny and clean and modern (and with a fountain overflowing with the kind of water Walt will badly need a few days later -- isn't quite what it seems, in that he really, really doesn't want the treatment to work.
But it has -- enough that he actually has a realistic shot at beating the cancer. Now what the hell does he do?
Some other thoughts on "4 Days Out":
• Saul Goodman is obviously still in the picture, now introducing him to the world of money-laundering, as well as snark: "Congratulations, you just left your family a second-hand Subaru." That scene was also a nice reminder that nothing ever goes quite as planned for Walt and Jesse, and that maybe they should wait before spending that 600 grand apiece.
• Did Jesse have that tattoo on his chest before he met Jane, or are we supposed to assume she gave it to him? And what are the chances she got a look at that incriminating pizza box?
• Speaking of Jane, I thought it was a very nice touch that she was eating Cap'n Crunch cereal in Jesse's kitchen. Of course The Artist Formerly Known As Capn'n Cook would eat Cap'N Crunch.
• Two notable songs on the soundtrack this week: "Good Morning Freedom" by Blue Mink as Walt and Jesse drove out to the desert, then "One By One" by The Black Seeds over the montage of Walt and Jesse cooking like a well-oiled machine.
• Meta humor in action: the oncologist jokes with Skyler, "Is that baby ever going to come out, you think?" Sky's pregnancy is an easy way to chart how much (or how little) time has passed since the start of the series, but because of the hiatus between seasons, it really does feel like she's been pregnant forever, doesn't it?
• That scene also provided a rare moment where we got to see all of Walt's family happy at the same time, even though Walt himself wasn't so much happy as stunned.
What did everybody else think?