"Want to see what your daddy did for you? That's right: Daddy did that. Daddy did that for you." -WaltI spend a lot of time in these "Breaking Bad" reviews making comparisons to other movies and TV shows about crime and the drug trade, because creator Vince Gilligan openly invites them. His pitch for the show was and is "We're going to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface." Various storylines and moments have echoes of "The Godfather," or "The Wire," or "The Sopranos," not least of which was Saul Goodman offering to be Walt's Tom Hagen a few weeks back.
The scene at the end of "Phoenix" wasn't quite as overt in its homage as the Hagen scene. For all I know, it may not have been intended as homage at all. But if you've seen "The Sopranos" (and if you haven't but plan to at some point, you may want to stop reading this review immediately) it's impossible to watch and not think of Tony snuffing out Christopher's life after their car accident in "Kennedy and Heidi."
Now, Tony actively chooses to smother Christopher, while Walt simply lets Jane choke on her own vomit rather than turn her on her side (as Jane had done for Jesse earlier in the episode), but beyond that, it's the same scene: our crime lord protagonist doesn't go into the scene intending to kill anyone (or let anyone die through inaction), but when an opportunity presents itself to eliminate a troublesome junkie acquaintance -- someone who doesn't even pose a current threat, but who might one day be a problem -- he can't resist taking advantage of it.
The Tony/Christopher scene was notable as the moment when even the most devout Tony worshippers could no longer deny that they had been rooting for the bad guy all these years, and I imagine Walt's moment here will have a similarly clarifying effect about the monster that Walt has become.
One person who remains firmly in denial, though, is Walt himself. Just listen to how tenderly he speaks as he shows baby Holly the money he's acquired through such unspeakable crimes, or the look of horrified self-pity on Walt's face after he lets Jane die(*). In his mind, Walt is still the hero of his own story, making hard but necessary decisions to protect his family.
(*) Insert boilerplate "Bryan Cranston is an acting god" commentary here.
At the same time, "Phoenix" (written by John Shiban and directed by Colin Bucksey) gives us a stinging reminder of just how unnecessary this has all been, with the subplot about "Flynn" setting up a website to get PayPal donations to help pay for his dad's expensive cancer surgery. When Walt tells Skyler that "It's charity," the disgust in his voice at that word brings back how much Walt's pride has driven all of this. He could have just gone to Gretchen and Elliott himself, or at least dropped out of the drug game once they made their offer, but he refused, because Walter White is too damn proud to accept help from outsiders. And because of that pride, a lot of people are dead -- and, I imagine, a lot more will be dead soon.
Some other thoughts on "Phoenix":
• Two notes on SaveWalterWhite.com: first, the site design looks like something you might have seen on Geocities in 1999. Second, at the time I write this, the URL directs you back to AMC's official "Breaking Bad" page, but for all I know, they have a fake version of Flynn's site that went live once the episode aired.
• Another "Sopranos" parallel, intentional or not: when Walt is drinking with Jane's dad at the bar, he refers to Jesse as his "nephew," which is the same term Tony always used to describe Christopher, even though they were more like distant cousins. And, like Tony with Christopher, Walt really is starting to think of Jesse like a surrogate son, which makes his frustration with Jesse -- and his horror at what he just did to him -- that much greater. For all the terrible things Walt does in this episode, and in the series as a whole, I believe he really did mean to do right by Jesse by denying him the cash until he got clean.
• John DeLancie got quite a bit more to do after little more than a cameo a few episodes back. One thing to keep in mind about guest stars on this show: Vince Gilligan talks a lot on the podcasts about how the show can't afford to bring in actors from Los Angeles unless the part is significant. So if you see a guest star you recognize, chances are they're going to be doing something of note.
• Speaking of Jane's dad, are we to assume that he's also a recovering addict -- which means that his recent struggles with Jane had kicked him off the wagon? Or is it customary for sober family members to escort loved ones to 12-step meetings? From what little I know of that world, it seems that if you need to be dragged to them, you're not really ready to work the program.
• I like how, when Jesse comes back to his old classroom to confront Walt and demand his money, Walt deals with him the same way he dealt with the student trying to con his way into a higher test score a few episodes back.
• Check out the way Walt reacts to the realization that Ted Beneke is in Skyler's hospital room, and that he was there the whole time while Walt was off selling meth to Gus Frings. Walt knows there's something between his wife and Beneke, and he doesn't like it one bit.
Season finale next week. I'm not ready for this to be over just yet.
What did everybody else think?