Sunday, February 17, 2008

Breaking Bad, "Cancer Man": The Bluetooth meanie

Spoilers for the latest episode of "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I skim my pool...

I don't know if it's just that the Crazy 8 story is done, or that Walt has finally fessed up -- about the cancer, but not the meth -- to his family, or simply that I'm more used to its rhythms, but after being interested in but not necessarily riveted by the first three episodes, I'm finally starting to feel engrossed by this show.

In addition to the reasons stated above, "Cancer Man" was boosted by some insight into Jesse, who had previously just been comic relief. We knew he went to the high school where Walt teaches, which seems to be in a relatively well-to-do district, and now we know what kind of family Jesse came from, and that his parents mean well but somehow have both their sons convinced the other one is the favorite. And for the first time, we see Jesse do something semi-noble in taking the fall for his kid brother's joint. Aaron Paul has played very well off of Bryan Cranston in the first three episodes, but it was about time that we got a sense of who Pinkman is and where he comes from.

Meanwhile, after being in denial and spending the first three episodes on his crazy, homicidal scheme, Walt has to face the music and deal with the reality of his condition by telling his wife -- and, eventually, son and in-laws -- about it. I liked everyone's reaction to it -- how Skyler's sister suddenly turns out to be helpful, how Hank makes the well-meaning but depressing offer to take care of everyone after Walt dies -- but especially liked Walt Jr. not giving his dad any slack on his pragmatic plan to die cheaply. "Just give up and die!" is exactly the venom Walt needs to hear right now. (It's just too bad that the scene was written under the belief that AMC would allow Gilligan to use Words You Can't Say On Basic Cable, because the bleeping gets really distracting in an emotional moment like that.)

But just because Skyler and Walt Jr. know, and just because the new oncologist is holding out some hope (of managing the cancer, if not curing it) doesn't mean Walt can put the genie back in the bottle. Not only does he have two deaths on his conscience, but now he has an even greater need to cook meth for Jesse. And, just as he did in the pilot, his tolerance for bullies and the other irritations of daily life has ceased to exist, as shown by him using his chemistry knowledge to blow up Ken the Bluetooth d-bag's car with a squeegee. (Someone want to explain to me how that works? Is it the water, or the soap and water together?) Jerks talking loudly on their Bluetooths (Blueteeth?) have become an obvious symbol of all that's wrong with Western civilization, and I'm glad certain writers -- Vince Gilligan here, Larry David in the amazing "Curb" scene where he decides to carry on an imaginary conversation next to a Bluetooth moron in a restaurant -- have decided enough is enough with this.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

It was my impression that the car blew up because Walt spanned the two connections of the battery with the metal part of the squeegee.

Another great episode. I really love that this show is taking its time with plotting.

Anonymous said...

It was my impression that the car blew up because Walt spanned the two connections of the battery with the metal part of the squeegee.

I think the more important part of the bridge between the battery terminals was the waterlogged sponge side of the windshield squeegee. Same idea as using wet sponges on the connectors for an old school electric chair death.

This episode did an excellent job packaging the drawn out events of the first three episodes into a strong foundation moving forward as a television series.

Walt and Jesse both have evolved characters with potential incentives to work together beyond the initial impulsive collaberation. Walt's cancer is finally more than a tv pilot plot point used to jump start the characters' relationships for the audiance.

Ted Frank said...

It never concerned me that Walt might learn his cancer was treatable/cured: there's always an element that he's past the point of no return.

Ted Frank said...

This episode also had an off-tone scene like the firetruck scene in the first episode: you have a car on fire at a gas station, why aren't people more concerned about their immediate safety? (Also not good for Walt not to react when the car blows up. Better hope that the station doesn't have security cameras.)

Did we ever learn how they disposed of Crazy 8's body?

Mark said...

I don't think it was revealed how they disposed of Crazy-8's body. I thought it was a good episode, but so far, I find what really makes the series tick is the odd couple dynamic between Jesse and Walter. It's interesting how the writers box Walter into corners so that doing the wrong thing looks like the best course of action.

Anonymous said...

This show keeps improving from one episode to the next. Great to see Bryan Cranston doing good work. My question about this episode has to do with Walt's share of the meth Jesse sold. Only $4000? Seems a little low considering the quality of the product.

Anonymous said...

Jan here. I'm glad you've gotten engrossed in the story, Alen. I found myself riveted from day one. Right now, it's about my favorite show on television.

afoglia said...

As any regular watcher of "Mythbusters" will attest, it's hard to get a car to explode like that, so they obviously took some dramatic license. But either two things happened: 1. Fumes from the gas tank ignited. But the gas tank is likely in the back or under the cabin, so that's not likely. 2. The battery itself exploded, like it could during a jump start. It's a very unlikely occurance. And it wouldn't cause a fireball. It would be an explosion of battery acid, which would be contained by the hood and body of the car.

So, it's not possible on real cars, but Hollywood cars are more dangerous than Pintos. :-)

Anonymous said...

The car blowing up like that felt like such a homage to Old Country/ The Coens, but in a good way.

K J Gillenwater said...

What I find interesting is now Walt might be making money off the meth not to help out his family after he died, as originally intended, but to fund his cancer cure. He was supposed to die so that no matter what people found out later, it wouldn't matter.

How is he going to go through treatment and pay for it without revealing to his wife how he's paying for it? Can't wait to find out how they handle that.

The only thing I missed in this episode was the crazy hijinks. The closest we got was Walt blowing up the jerk's car.

I have a feeling Walt Jr. is going to figure this out sooner or later.

TimmyD said...

When I watched it last night it looked like Walt put the squeegee on the spark plugs causing the engine to explode, not the battery. I could be wrong though.

Anonymous said...

Walt is caught staring at the burning flesh of the chicken on his BBQ. Is this a hint to the fate of Crazy 8’s body? If not actual burning with flames, a chemical equivalent? The way the meat cooking shakes Walt up would seem to indicate that Crazy 8’s body will not be found anytime soon.

This show is all about the duality of people, how the side that is shown is so often different than the core being others might not get to see. Hank and Marie typify this as much as anyone. Hank is the loud, crude asshole who always seems to want to prove how tough he is – the irrepressible Frat Boy. Marie is the self-absorbed pretty girl, critical of everyone and everything around her as unbefitting a princess of her stature. Yet their unreserved, un-patronizing caring for Walt Jr. shows their humanity in a very touching way. Marie’s complete overreaction and over-protectiveness when she learns Walt Jr. is “smoking pot”, her genuine fawning over him (“he’s adorable!”), her instantly rising to go check on WJ in his room with Skylar after the cancer revelation, as if WJ was her own son – all acts that were genuine expressions of unreserved love. And Hank’s “rough love” for WJ – not only some of the funniest moments of the series (the “Crystal Palace” visit is an instant classic), but, because we don’t expect Hank to be capable of such emotions, strikes the viewer extra hard when we see for ourselves the earnestness when Hank tells WJ “because I love you, you little bastard.” Hank might not be the model of man that Walt has in mind for WJ, with the guns and crudeness and testosterone-filled outlook on life, but nevertheless, Hank has earned his right to love WJ, as there is no doubt Hank’s intentions are as pure as anyone’s.

Walt and Skylar, even with all their in-laws’ overbearing and self-absorbed nature, approve. Walt and Skylar share a loving, appreciative glance with one another as Hank and Marie act as surrogates to WJ, egging him on to find a girlfriend. It is no wonder then, that, despite the big differences between the two men and two women, Hank and Marie are always welcome for a cookout.

The other interesting thing of note is how each of the four adults deals with the news of Walt’s cancer. Skylar and Marie are in partial denial, partially over-optimistic. Skylar also shows again that she is not concerned about money other than as a means to obtain what is TRULY dear to her – holding her family together. It is too early to speculate, but I have a feeling that WJ’s disability, and the closeness that probably brought to Walt and Skylar, plays a key role in her outlook. Hank takes his predictable manly approach – no tears, no outpouring of sappy emotions, just the honorable “I’ll take care of your family” soldier’s ethos. And Walt of course is the master of internalizing everything and dreads anyone knowing about his weaknesses – first financial, now physical. He doesn’t want to bother anyone anymore than he already has with his debt. How the other three are approaching Walt’s cancer is going to be very indicative of how they would or will handle learning of Walt’s meth career.

WJ’s open disdain for Walt’s handling of things is powerful because it comes from someone who born with a ton of adversity. WJ just can’t stand seeing his dad without pride, something Walt has lost for quite some time. The physical cripple is disgusted at the emotional cripple, because, while WJ can’t do anything about his palsy, his father CAN, but chooses not to. It is as insulting to him as if Walt chose to sit in a wheelchair from now on. WJ obviously wants his father to fight, but more importantly to WJ, wants his dad to want to fight. WJ will probably be the emotional key to a turn in perspective for Walt. In a reversal, WJ symbolically needs to come into the dressing room to help Walt put his pants on again, one leg at a time.

More on Jesse and the “Ken Wins” symbolism later. Alan, if you are still in town and reading this, I hope you post some kind of stem for the next episode of "Breaking Bad", I will gladly do a long analysis for it while you are away.

Anonymous said...

I've been hooked from the very first episode and in particular, the quiet power and darkly sardonic performance of Bryan Cranston, one of the most underrated actors ever on Television, IMHO.

Bravo. AMC now has two amazing shows with two amazing lead actors and both the shows and actyors are absolutely worthy of Emmy nominations.

I also liked seeing Jesse's background drawn out more and I had a feeling he came from a typical middle class household - makes sense.

Great show - very much on board.

floretbroccoli said...

Alan Sepinwall said:

It's just too bad that the scene was written under the belief that AMC would allow Gilligan to use Words You Can't Say On Basic Cable, because the bleeping gets really distracting in an emotional moment like that.

Alan -- I have recorded the 11pm showing a few times, including this week's episode. It seems that those Words ARE Allowed on Basic Cable, but maybe only after 11. The bluetooth conversation had no bleeping, although there were dashes in the closed captioning. I've noticed this in previous weeks, too.

Anonymous said...

Tim and Anthony--If I recall correctly, the Mythbusters episode was only on getting gas tanks to exlode, not other parts of cars.

Here's what it looked like to me: Walt short-circuited the battery (not the engine or the sparkplugs), which caused the explosion. And technically, what exploded was the hydrogen gas seeping out of the battery, not the battery itself.

Car batteries are lead-acid batteries, which can release hydrogen gas if overcharged or short-circuited (a car battery short circuit could easily pump several hundred amps right back into the battery). Hydrogen gas is highly inflammable. The short circuit created a great deal of heat and (possibly) sparks, which ignited the hydrogen.

If allowed to continue, the fire probably would have melted the battery casing, exposing the acid, which is also highly inflammable. Sulfuric acid also has a very energetic reaction with water, which, given the presence of the wet squeegee, would probably would have caused even more heat and flame.

Unknown said...

You might enjoy this audio interview (and transcription) with Anna Gunn, co-star of “Breaking Bad” and “Deadwood.”