Sunday, March 15, 2009

Breaking Bad, "Grilled": Say uncle!

Spoilers for "Breaking Bad" season two, episode two coming up just as soon as I shoot at a cow...
"Let him bleed." -Walt
"Grilled" is, by design, a very claustrophobic episode of "Breaking Bad." Walt and Jesse spend the bulk of the episode as prisoners of the erratic and violent Tuco, and on those rare occasions when we get a break from their perilous circumstances, it's to show how Skyler has become a prisoner of her own circumstances.

It's easy to feel sorry for Walt. He's the central character, and so magnificently played by Bryan Cranston, after all. But Walt's also a stubborn jackass who threw away a promising career because his partner got the girl instead of him, and who went into this insane, dangerous, harmful career in meth when he had better options open to him. (He could have, for instance, taken the fake job, money and health insurance from his old friends, but his pride wouldn't let him.) So he puts himself in a place where he's emotionally distant from his wife, where he can disappear for hours or more at a time and terrify her, and where he's constantly dealing with people like Tuco who could kill him long before the cancer gets to finish the job.

For Skyler, it's almost worse than if he was already dead. It's the anticipation, and the lack of knowledge of what he's up to, that's crushing to her, even as she carries this unexpected baby, and deals with her equally-distant son, and realizes that her only support system is made up of her crazy, heinous sister and Marie's well-meaning but obnoxious husband. She might as well be on her own, and unlike Walt, she isn't even getting vicarious thrills out of the deal. She's just miserable, and scared, and confused, and not sure when or if she'll ever see her husband again.

If anything the Jesse/Walt scenes are almost a relief from the Skyler ones, because at least there we have humor mixed in with the terror. Tuco's crazy and can do anything, and they're trapped in the middle of nowhere with him and his invalid uncle, but they're also bickering the way they always do. Jesse inadvertently talks Tuco out of using the poisoned meth because he claims it has chili powder in it -- which works both as a callback to his original Cap'N Cook recipe for meth ("It's my signature!") and as a payoff to the scene last week where Jesse questioned the details (or lack thereof) of Walt's plan for getting Tuco to take it. Later, Jesse tries to get Walt to "jump on the grenade" since he's dying, and Walt points out that all he has to use as a weapon is a fly-swatter. Even though their lives are at risk the entire time -- a situation made worse when Tio turns out to be much sharper than he looks -- the show manages to find these light moments that make the horror more bearable.

Hank's sudden arrival (and the show has done a good job in the last few episodes making Hank out to be much less of a clown than he initially seemed) takes care of the larger Tuco problem, but Jesse and Walt still have lots of messes to clean up. Tuco dies next to Jesse's car, and someone's going to want to know who gut-shot him before Hank came along. And Walt will have to explain not only his absence, but the second cell phone that Hank identified.

Nothing on "Breaking Bad" ever comes easy.

A few other thoughts:

• While we haven't gotten back to the burned teddy bear from the opening of last week's episode (my money is on it being from the season finale), the show continues to create wonderfully eerie tableaux to start episodes -- in this case, the sound and image of Jesse's car bouncing up and down in the middle of nowhere. The malfunctioning hydraulics added an extra disturbing touch to Tuco and Hank's shoot-out.

• Hank is not infallible, of course. He suspects -- as I imagine most law-enforcement men would -- that it was Tuco who killed Crazy 8, which does mean Walt may not have to answer for one of his crimes.

• Couple of connections in this episode to classic cop shows. It was directed by Charles Haid, who played Renko on "Hill Street Blues" before going on to a career as a prolific TV director. And Hank's cop buddy was played by Nigel Gibbs, aka Deputy Chief Phillips on "The Shield."

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Very satisfying episode; managed to be be funny even as it made you squirm. I just can't believe Walt/Jesse didn't make sure Tuco was dead and take the assault weapon with them out of the vehicle. But then that may be truer to Walt's character and certainly made for a better ending. I liked that Jesse was the one to best Tuco; the audience was expecting Walt to get in a lucky shot, so the action moved against template.

Only quibble I had was that it looked like the trunk door was slammed down hard on Jesse's arm which in reality should have made much of his later actions improbable.

Finally . . . so that's what happened to Renko? Wow, thanks for pointing that out!
- anonymoose

Anonymous said...

I found quite gripping the scene with Tuco's questions and Tio's "dinged" responses.

Agreed that the brother-in-law has been looking quite the competent law enforcement officer of late. Quickly sizing up the situation with No-Doz and crushed-arm guy, and having the brainstorm that Jesse just might have installed a lo-jack in that old Monte Carlo that he so over-values.

And yep, I see Charles Haid's name in TV credits often, and each time must exclaim, "Renko!"

Anonymous said...

Fantastic episode -- this show is almost unique in its ability to showcase characters who all make both good and bad decisions (to varying proportions) in unpredictable yet believable ways.

And yeah, this episode deserves at least a Sound Editing Emmy.

Anonymous said...

Is anybody else kinda sad to see Tuco go so soon? Raymond Cruz managed to bring quite a bit more dimension to what could have been a garden-variety psychopathic drug kingpin type. For me, Cruz really brought some authentic, paranoid-scary menace, while being funny and strangely vulnerable. I hope he gets some Emmy consideration for it, although that's rather dubious...

Anonymous said...

Is anybody else kinda sad to see Tuco go so soon?

Yeah, it's too bad they don't have some writers from '24'. That way, we could still hold out hope that Tuco somehow survived.

Unknown said...

What a tense episode. Great acting from that old guy too (I forgot his name, but he's one of the Italians on Oz I think).

Anonymous said...

I agree. Seeing that car bounce up and down at the beginning and at the end was just fantastic. That scene alone, I don't know, should get all sorts of awards. I can still picture it in my head.

I will certainly miss Tuco too. He had really great chemistry with Walt and Jesse.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant episode. the claustrophobic nature made each scene so tension filled.

I happen to love the approach Gilligan is taking by focusing on all the gritty details and not letting his characters get off easy by jumping to the next major beat. It is exactly the kind of realism you don't see in TV shows with. I happen to think there is tons of room for drama in comedy in these little details. BUT, it does make the story move alot slower a la the Wire.

So my question for alan you know what the ratings have been like? Does Gilligan's approach that i love so much translate to the kind of ratings that will keep this show alive?

spiderpig said...

I loved every single minute with Tio in the desert. From the dinner scene where he foiled the poisoning to the later "What did you do to my Tio!" scene. I'll never comprehend how people who dismiss this show as slow don't understand that it's the minutiae that raise this show above the usual drama. The show is simply nail bitingly tense. UGH!

I too am sad to see Tuco leave. Not only because Raymond Cruz is amazing in the role, but also because now they have to deal with finding another distributor. How long before the word on the street is out that getting into business with these two guys is lethal?

And yes, we can all agree that Bryan Cranston is excellent as Walter, but how about some kudos for Aaron Paul? I know we're supposed to feel sorry for Walter, but how about feeling sorry for Jesse? His parents have written him off and the only person who ever took an interest in him has led him into a very dangerous life. If it wasn't for Walter, Jesse would be sitting at home doing some meth and/or hooking up with prositutes or whatever. Walter is the one who convinced Jesse to go for these big drug deals and to set up interactions with dangerous criminals. I wish Jesse had played that card instead of the cancer one to convince Walter to sacrifice himself. Yes, Jesse was a drug dealer but he was small-time, but it was only when Walter came into his life that it truly went to Hell.

Anonymous said...

Tio is played by Mark Margolis. And since he isn't dead, I expect we'll see him again. After all, he can identify Jesse AND Walt, and it would be uncharacteristic of a show like this not to use that fact to ramp up some tension.

Anonymous said...

I'm very curious as to Walt is going to explain his second cell phone. Heck, I think Jesse might have an easier job explaining his car at the crime scene. He can just say it was stolen, and he didn’t know because he was out of town or something like that. Technically the car was stolen (or car jacked) so it wouldn’t even be a 100% lie.
But I have no idea how someone can explain away a secret cell phone.

While at first I thought it was pretty stupid for them to leave Tuco alive, I guess it’s actually lucky they did. If they didn’t then Hank would have found the body and then there would be a murder investigation and even if Jesse could explain the first shot was in self defense the second show wouldn’t have been. Right now all they have is wondering who shot him before Hank killed him.

Anonymous said...

Walter's medicine, wallet, and fingerprints are in Tuco's house. Since Walter held the gun that Tuco used to shoot at Hank, CSI Arizona will at some point dust it for prints right? Teachers get fingerprinted to get their jobs, which means he is in the database. Uh oh.

So many loose ends, so much to think about till next week. This show is even better than I remember.

Anonymous said...

^Good call. I forgot about that.

"Tio is played by Mark Margolis. And since he isn't dead, I expect we'll see him again. After all, he can identify Jesse AND Walt, and it would be uncharacteristic of a show like this not to use that fact to ramp up some tension."

I think that's what the bell sounds at the very end were used for; Tio would play a bigger role next episode or later on. Although, I gotta wonder how competent is he take the stand or even speak to police. Or if he might speak at all. He didn't blink at anything Tuco was doing, so I'm guessing he's used to this criminal stuff and now really down to work with police.

It's kinda crazy that Tuco was only in about four or five episodes. He was such a big problem and seemed like he was around forever. I guess its cause of the break between seasons.

And, yeah, this was a really great, tense episode. I was nervous for everyone most of the time. The show sorta reminds me of The Shield, with Walter and Jesse sinking deeper in, and there being no way for them to come out of this situation looking clean. At least it looks that way right now.

Anonymous said...

*Not really down to work with police.


Anonymous said...

Tuco gave their stuff back to them after he was done looking through it. So they have their wallets.

Cinemania said...

Teachers get fingerprinted in the States? Yikes! I mean, we get a background check done on us up here in Canada, but thankfully they haven't taken to the whole fingerprinting option.


Oh yeah, and great show!

Sam G said...

What about the Ricin burrito? Surely the cops will find the evidence. On a personal note, it was great to see a shot of "Taco Sal" when Skyler and Marie were handing out the missing flyers. Great food.

Anonymous said...

It would be CSI New Mexico, not Arizona. Why do so many Americans not realize that NM exists. It's that big space between Texas and Arizona... you know, 5th largest state in the US. I swear, I tell people that I moved to Albuquerque and they want to know how I like Arizona. Sheesh... ok, I'm down off my soapbox. That you for your time. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm really at the point where I consider Hank and Skyler the heroes of the series. I can sympathize with Walt and Jesse, but they're really not heroes to me anymore. At this point, it would be heroic, to my mind, if Walt turned himself in and faced up to Skyler's anger and his son's disappointment. Hank may be socially obtuse, but he is actually a good person and doing good things, whereas Walt is creating harmful substances and lying to his family. I feel very self-righteous about this at the moment, which is not usually what I do, so I'm kind of surprised that the series has got me to this point.

I think the acting from all quarters in this series has been stupendous so far. Aaron Paul has me so convinced that he is Jesse that I can't watch Big Love without thinking that Scott is Jesse.

Redsmom said...

I love this show and thought the bell of Tio dinging at the end was laugh-out-loud funny. I think that's the last of him, but he was quite a character. What chilling horror ran up my spine when I realized, with Walt and Jesse, that Tio is lucid and that Tuco has an almost psychic connection with him.

They should show more actual scenery of Albuquerque. The mountain is beautiful, day and night. Are they purposely avoiding showing any of the stark beauty of the landscape or are they shooting in LA now? I don't remember Taco Sal's from living there, or that Wiener Dog place where Jesse was last week, but I haven't seen anything familiar since Hank drove up to the Savings and Loan last season.

Anonymous said...

Concerns about the show repeating itself notwithstanding I enjoyed this one a lot more than last week. The tableaux beginning and ending the episode was beautiful. And while I wasn't a fan of Tuco before - he always seemed like a refugee from the High School Musical version of Scarface - he really got to show different sides of him this episode with Tio, and Raymond Cruz and Mark Margolis acted the hell out of it.

A rather silly complaint: I know there is really no way around this, what with Walt having cancer and all, but I think the baldness makes him look far more badass than he should. That look worked fine late in the first season, when Walt was emotionally reawakening and acting suitably badass, but here I sometimes found it distracting.

Word Verification:"arsec", being a unit used to measure the time in which the Millenium Falcon makes the Kessel Run in the adult version of Star Wars.

Anonymous said...

Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Southern California. You will have to forgive me, I get all the Mexican colonies confused sometimes.

Anonymous said...

"Mexican colonies"? Sounds like you need a refresher on who did the colonizing and where they put the natives.