Sunday, March 22, 2009

Breaking Bad, "Bit By A Dead Bee": It don't come easy

Spoilers for tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I go to Whole Foods...
"Jesse, what's changed?" -Walt
Exciting and tense and freaky as last week's episode was, "Bit By A Dead Bee" feels even more uniquely "Breaking Bad," if a show on only its 10th episode could be said to have its own unique style.

I've seen the scenario in "Grilled" before, albeit rarely done as well as it was there. But any other show that did it would spend five minutes in the next episode on the story "Breaking Bad" spends this entire hour telling. Anywhere else, and Walt (or his HBO/FX/Showtime equivalent) turns up naked in the supermarket feigning a blackout, and that's that. But nothing is ever that simple on this show, as Vince Gilligan tries to focus on what he calls "those in-between moments."

The blackout explanation only creates another problem Walt has to solve, which he finally does by spinning yet another lie (or, rather, a huge omission of the truth) to the shrink (played by the wonderful Harry Groener). And there's that delicious pause right after he asks about doctor-patient confidentiality when you begin to wonder if he's going to spill his guts about the whole criminal enterprise, just so he can discuss it with someone who's actually a grown-up and not an impatient, over-his-head clown like Jesse.

Even only 10 episodes into the series, the brilliance of Bryan Cranston basically goes without saying, but just watch his mental gears turn in that moment. I've watched it three or four times already, and each time I come away thinking that he almost did tell the doc the truth, or that he was simply calculating how much of the truth (in this case, his unhappiness at home) he needed to tell to be done with this. And if that's not enough Cranston genius, take a second look at Walt, having snuck back into the house to hide the gun and cash, watching Walter Jr. comfort Skyler, realizing his family has already moved on without him. They're like the family depicted in the painting in Walt's hospital room, waving goodbye to the rowboat but perfectly fine on their own without the male adult around.

Jesse's side of the alibi plan was more expected, if only because Tuco died next to his car. Still, there was a lot of tension over whether he could pull it off, with only his cranked-up hooker friend to support the lie, and especially once Tio popped up again. That's two weeks in a row where this old man with his wheelchair and his bell has given me a major freak-out midway through an episode. I feel like they could probably get away with at least three or four more "surprise" Tio appearances in a row before he stopped being so disturbing.

Meanwhile, I've got a bad feeling about the barrel that Jesse entrusted to his friend's cousin. That's got impending disaster written all over it, doesn't it? (And not just because Jesse still doesn't know he can roll the barrel instead of carrying it.) Is Walt going to have to cook up some more castor beans to clean up another mess?

(That situation, by the way, springs up from an unexpected real-life problem, as the owner of the house the production uses as Jesse's decided to sell the place, so the writers quickly had to come up with a reason for him to abandon it.)

Meanwhile, we got an even more extended look at Hank than last week, as we see him trying to put on the expected macho celebratory mood even as you can see that killing Tuco doesn't sit so well with him. Dean Norris is doing some really good work here, and I look forward to the inevitable moment when it finally occurs to Hank that the easiest way to connect all the dots is by placing his genius chemist brother-in-law in the middle of them.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I don't usually participate in the Breaking Bad discussions, but I thought I'd jump in since I'm just enjoying it so much. One thing I have to say before talking about the episode though -- as someone who watches Big Love. It was incredibly bizarre to see clean-cut Aaron Paul playing Scott on Big Love, and then seeing him playing Jesse Pinkman just a few minutes later. It was like watching Six Feet Under while watching Dexter immediately afterward!

Anyway, I'm continually blown away by Cranston's performance. I mean ... this was the guy from Malcolm in the Middle!?

Boy, Hank is just ... well, he's pretty much everything bad you could ever think of in law enforcement from the grille this week to the picture next to the dead body last week!

I was incredibly uneasy when he was moving the cash into the vent. Just trying to figure out in my head what'd happen if he was caught. (Would it delay his release and fubar all their plans upon release?)

And lastly I'll say well done on picking the quote at the top of the entry.

Anonymous said...

Hank's wife was a class act once more, fishing for information in a fashion so transparently (except to herself) passive aggressive.

If I remember correctly, Hank was just trying a ham-fisted "scared straight" tactic with Walt Junior, right? I think the flashback doesn't make that clear.

And who wants a root beer and has to pee at the same time? Wendy the working gal is another loose end that could be a problem down the road.

. . . realizing his family has already moved on without him. They're like the family depicted in the painting in Walt's hotel room, waving goodbye to the rowboat but perfectly fine on their own without the male adult around.

Nice observation, Alan; I missed that connection (though I think it was his hospital room).

Classic moment: the sound of Tio's bell announcing a closeup of Hank's cheeky grin framed by the window on the interview room door. "Heeere's Tio!"

Another great episode. And Walter still wants to cook . . .
- anonymoose

Kensington said...

Another commenter made what I think is a great point last week: Walt really isn't the hero anymore, if he ever was. Surprisingly, even though I hated the character at first, Hank is now the guy that I'm rooting for, whatever that means.

Even Jesse, who's little more than a cretinous meth-head himself, is becoming more sympathetic as time goes by. On the other hand, I'm getting angry and fed up with Walt, and all the sympathy I've had over his predicament is giving way to hostility over these dreadful, dreadful choices he's making which increasingly seem borne of pride and passive-aggression more than concern for his family.

Still, it's a fascinating program.

afoglia said...

I'm carefully looking for any sign of Walt getting caught. So when he apologized to Hank for getting him into a shootout while looking for him, one thought popped into my mind: "Did anyone tell Walt how Hank got into the shootout? And if so, will Hank put it together?"

Second scariest moment, after thinking, "Maybe Tio's not identifying Jesse because he's going to tell Tuco's family."

Excellent show to keep me on edge in the littlest moments.

Robert Cervantes said...

I believe Walt was told about the shootout before he met up with Hank as he was leaving. Correct if I'm wrong Alan.

I wonder how big Tio will play a part in the next few episodes. Or maybe this was the end of it. Who knows.

Stuff like what Hank got as a present probably happen all the time. I don't put it pass anyone in law enforcement.

Is it me or did Walt barely cough the entire episode? I'm so used to seeing a least one severe coughing episode. Chemo working?

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe we're done with Tio (Mark Margolis in a fine two-fer tonight, with this and Kings) yet. If he can set any non-federal dogs loose on Jesse and Walt, he will.

I regret that the structure of the show prevents us from spending much time with Skyler and Walt Jr.. When Walt Jr. asked his dad to finish his apple juice, it was just devastating. Combined with the aggression against Skyler in the premiere, the show is pushing the audience away from Walter even more substantially than in the first season. I was hoping Walt Jr. might find the money in the diaper box, if only to force a confrontation on some level between the two. But I can appreciate that the slow burn of the second cellphone discrepancy is more in keeping with the approach of this show.

The other interesting question is just how long we will go without Walt or Jesse cooking anything. The lab is dismantled, the RV is in impound, and all sorts of folks (Walt's family, Jesse's mom, maybe even Badger's "folks") are fishing around. And they've lost (killed) their only buyer.

On the other hand, Walt has seemed pretty healthy in these past few episodes, all things considered. Masterminding seems good for his health.


fgmerchant said...

Great episode as usual. I am shocked by Cranston's performance yet again. Every time I see him, I think "Malcolm in the Middle." But now, my perceptions are steadily changing.

As far as future episodes go, judging by how this shows storyline seems to go, I would venture they move even higher up the chain of drug dealers, and then find themselves in a situation where they must kill him too!

Also, I figure that Skyler is going to figure out something else pretty soon. After seeing her confronting Jesse when she thought he was selling weed, I think her character would be likely to stalk Walter the next time he goes to "cook" or possibly sell what he has cooked.

This show keeps getting better and better! can see that killing Tio doesn't sit so well with him.
I think you mean killing Tuco right?

Also, where did you hear about that house selling thing? That's an interesting little tidbit about production!

Anonymous said...

I just can't get enough of this show. It kind of feels like when I was first watching The Wire and I started to realize that this was unlike any other cop show I'd ever seen. This is unlike any other criminal show I've ever seen.

I also find it weird that people are thrown that Cranston was the Dad in Malcolm in the Middle. I loved Malcolm in the Middle because of Cranston. If you remember it just as a goofy sitcom, you're not doing it justice. Hal (the Dad) managed to be a hard-ass, child-like, repressed, excitable, patient and passionate at the same time. And at no time in the show did I feel like Hal was false. He could be a Dance-Dance Revolution maestro, a roller-skating genius, a frustrated office-worker, a fed-up father, a passionate husband, a determined obsessive or a stubborn, prideful man - and often was many of those things in one episode.

Really, if you are watching this and thinking - "this is Hal from Malcolm In the Middle?" - you really should catch a few episodes of Malcolm in syndication on FX. (Sadly, the show is rumored to never be released on DVD due to music rights.) All the signs of his talent are on display. He should have won multiple Emmys for his role there, and I'm glad he finally got recognition for Breaking Bad.

Anonymous said...

Walt did suppress a cough when he was in the baby's room.

Jesse's house was fascinating. If anyone has any links to pictures or articles about it, please share!

Ben said...

@ Chris Littmann
'... this was the guy from Malcolm in the Middle!?'

His work on Malcolm was nothing short of a comedy master class on timing and delivery! He made that show!!

K J Gillenwater said...

I also see Walter as becoming less and less sympathetic. As a matter of fact, I got someone to join the Breaking Bad train this season, and he didn't think Walter was sympathetic at all...but I think if he'd watched the first season his reaction would've been much I do think there is a subtle moving from hero to bad guy for Walter.

Which makes me wonder who the hero will turn out to be? Jesse???

I am also leaning in the direction of Walt's chemo working...and possibly getting rid of that death sentence. Which would make all his efforts meaningless. And if he gets caught...even more ruinous than the situation he was in before he found out he had cancer.

Love this show. Love Bryan Cranston. Love the Jesse kid.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Various typos fixed. Thanks, guys.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has watched _Breaking Bad_ from the beginning, I'm surprised folks found Walter necessarily sympathetic. Walter's motivations have always seemed a mix of resignation (sympathetic) and resentment (often petty, and not sympathetic)-- his explanation to Groener about why he ran away was a great distillation of these two facets of his personality, but both aspects were present last season too (think of his grad school friend's party).

At this point I think Walter's motivations don't matter much, because (as he notes)
"what else is there"? The truth is that there are no good options for Walt, and a good case can be made that his only value to Walt Jr. and Skyler is as a source of cash. In the future I think he may even rationalize isolating himself further from his family, because it would allow him to focus on the one task at hand he has to accomplish before his 18 months are up. He only remembered the cash at the house because he was recalculating his way to 737 in his hospital bed, after all.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Walter doesn't say "what else is there?" -- he says "What's changed, Jesse?".


Anonymous said...

As a fan of Pi I am loving the Mark Margolis role. How totally awesome that the completely helpless old man still won't snitch.

Anonymous said...

Great episode. I missed the last half of the last episode (damn DVR!), so though I knew what happened going into tonight, I didn't see it myself.

To the comments above about Walt no longer being as sympathetic as he was before (imagine Walt of episode 1 to now), that's part of what I find gripping about this show. I agree that the scene with the therapist was very telling: Walt WAS telling the truth about his anger and the base of it was very real; being passed over, success issues, etc., except that he had tamped a lot of that down. And now it's all out, unfettered by the what's determined to be right and wrong vis a vis society. Yes, he is doing this for his family to support them after he's gone, but there's also a sense of 'f-you' to the world that didn't do right by him.

I wonder what would happen if somehow Walt is no longer terminal. He couldn't go back to being that old Walt. And how interesting would be the consequences of THAT?

Or, maybe I think too much, and I should just enjoy this show as entertainment. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, especially with Walt's conversation with Jesse at the end of the show. I actually felt truly bad for Jesse for the first time in the show, because you can see Jesse finally starting to see this is all way over his head (yes, he's always been a delinquent, but never as deep as he is now with Walt at the reins), and being driven to venture further down into the crime hole by Walt. Which is odd, considering just an episode ago, Jesse was ok with Walt dying for him while Walt actively made sure to save Jesse's ass.

"Nothing's changed." I felt chills hearing Walt say that. I cannot wait to see how this relationship between the two develops over the season.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and random tidbit. It was kind of interesting to see paintings of a similar nature used in the two shows I watched last night - Here in Breaking Bad as a metaphor for Walt, and in Flight of the Conchords, as a hilarious backdrop about some Russian cannibals.

afoglia said...

Robert Cervantes said...
I believe Walt was told about the shootout before he met up with Hank as he was leaving.

Yes, but I don't think he was told Hank got into the shootout because he was looking for Walt. When Skyler told him about the shootout, he asked "Where?" and she told him not to worry about it.

For an entire episode about constructing lies, it would have been ironic if, just when he was getting away with it, Walt accidentally screwed up.

Anonymous said...

"....Yes, he is doing this for his family to support them after he's gone, but there's also a sense of 'f-you' to the world that didn't do right by him."

Right. Like, in S1 he didn't "have" to follow that egotistical dork with the Bluetooth and blow up his car. That wasn't part of his job as a cook. He did it out of pure frustration and bitterness.

Jim Leff said...

Alan, nice catch re: the painting in Walt's hospital room correlating with the "moved on" scene of walt jr. and skylar in the kitchen. I find myself actually recoiling from noticing such stuff, because (much as I otherwise love the show), some of this stuff seems heavy-handed and forced. So, for me, a painting is a painting is a painting. I'll make my own editorial conclusions about what's happening based on the fine actors and scrips, I'm not all that interested in further guidance.

Also, of course Walt is getting less sympathetic. He is, after all, breaking bad! The whole series is obviously about a transformation, and it's certainly not a cuddly one...

Finally,  K J Gillenwater is "leaning in the direction of Walt's chemo working...and possibly getting rid of that death sentence. "

That's so true it almost constitutes a pre-spoiler.

Anonymous said...

>Robert Cervantes said...

>Stuff like what Hank got as a present probably happen all the time. I don't put it pass anyone in law enforcement.

See, that rang false to me, as did the timing of the whole police investigation. Since when does a cop in an officer-involved shooting get put back on the same case within 24 hours?

And since when does evidence from a homicide with gaping holes (how Tuco got shot BEFORE Hank shot him) get stripped off a dead man's teeth, cast in lucite and turned into a souvenir on the same schedule?

I'd think, as personal effects of the deceased, that grill belongs to Tio as next-of-kin. Not saying it COULDN'T happen, but that's a pretty wide-ranging conspiracy among the cops, DEA and morgue for a cheesy memento mori.

That detail aside, I thought the episode did a nice job of hitting the emotional beats as Walt drifts out to sea. both morally and emotionally.

Anonymous said...

I love all the analysis here, but the bit where Tio looks up at Hank and then lets fly a little drizzle was the funniest thing I've seen on television in a long, long time. I'm still laughing just thinking about it!

J. Pitts said...

Is Tio not the same guy from Scarface with the bomb? Also, wasn't he Antonio Nappa on Oz? I have always liked him as an actor, I think he did a great job in these two episodes. When he is asked the question of whether he saw Walt at the house, but he doesn't hit the bell, the pissed off look on his face is priceless.