Monday, April 13, 2009

Breaking Bad, "Peekaboo": Bad debt

Spoilers for last night's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I order some knives from one of the shopping channels...
"What happened to you? Really, Walt -- what happened? Because this isn't you." -Gretchen
"What would you know about me, Gretchen?" -Walt
A lot of bills come due in "Peekaboo," another outstanding episode in what's turning out to be a stellar season two of "Breaking Bad." Some are financial, like Jesse trying to get his money back from the two tweakers, or Gretchen finding out that Walt has been lying to his family about where the money's coming from. Some are emotional, like Walt finally unloading on Gretchen for what he feels she owes him (in every sense), or Jesse having to confront the realities of his new career during his nightmarish day at Spooge and Skank's house(*). And while Walt and Jesse more or less get what they need by the end of the episode -- Gretchen inadvertently gives Walt the means to repair his rift with Skyler, while Jesse walks away with an ATM-ful of cash -- their own karmic debts are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

(*) And since J. Roberts and Vince Gilligan's script deliberately didn't name the female tweaker, I think we're supposed to think of her as Skank -- even if we're never supposed to call her that to her face, as poor Spooge learned way too late.

Let's start with Jesse's ordeal, which was right in the series' wheelhouse. What should have been a simple task -- hold a gun on two pathetic tweakers and get back the money and drugs they stole -- instead turned into an all-day mess that nearly got Jesse killed and brought him face-to-face with one of the victims of his operation: Skank's filthy, underfed, horribly neglected little boy.

When we talk about the terrible things Walt and Jesse are doing, it's generally in the context of how they're hurting their loved ones, as opposed to the people who actually use their product. And that makes sense. We know Skyler and Jesse's family, while the tweakers of the greater Albuquerque area are a faceless abstraction. But in not only taking us into Spooge and Skank's home, but showing us the poor kid they neglect because they're too busy working the next scam and getting high, we see the cost of all of this. The moment when Jesse plays the titular game of Peekaboo and the boy has no idea how to react -- because, clearly, Skank's not the kind of mom who would ever play such a routine and simple game like that with her son -- was heartbreaking, and so well-played by Aaron Paul.

Now, I don't expect this to change Jesse's career plans. He's in too deep now, and as we saw a few weeks ago, he doesn't have better options out there. But even though he managed to get in and out of this mess without actually killing anyone -- a crime he still has yet to commit -- I can see this experience weighing on him going forward, maybe making him even more miserable than before about what he's doing with his life, and what he's let Walt push him into doing.

And even if he doesn't, there's still the matter of Spooge's dead body, isn't there? If this was "The Sopranos" -- a show where the main characters routinely left gallons of DNA evidence behind, but never got in trouble because law-enforcement was even more incompetent than they were -- I would assume Skank gets charged with Spooge's murder and that's the end of it. But this is "Breaking Bad," where nothing is ever that simple -- see all the complication's from Walt's "fugue state" story -- and between the broken window, the friendly postal carrier, and Skank herself (who's going to be looking to pin this on somebody else), I have a good feeling that the local cops will be on the lookout for "Diesel."(**)

(**) A reminder, once again, about the No Spoilers policy, which includes the previews for next week's episode.

As for Walt... damn it if Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and company aren't continuing to go full-speed ahead in showing what a monster he's becoming. The Walt who took Gretchen to dinner, then unloaded on her about decades' worth of resentment, is terrifying, because, despite what Gretchen thought, this is him. This has always been him. He has a history of walking away from situations because of some slight -- real or perceived -- and then making himself into the victim, and nobody close to him has any idea just how much anger he's holding in, and how he's letting that anger guide his every decision. He walked away from his relationship with Gretchen -- and the fortune that might have come from his work. And now he's decided that, rather than accept Gretchen and Elliott's charity -- which he could have easily viewed as payment for services rendered at the start of their careers -- he'll continue down this insane, dangerous path cooking crystal meth. And not only will he do that, but he'll lie to Skyler and tell her to feel beholden to The Rich Girl Who Got Away, and who makes Skyler feel inadequate every time her name is mentioned.

And Gretchen, in trying to hurt Walt for the way he just hurt her (and/or trying to remove herself from this terrible lie Walt's perpetrating), inadvertently makes his life better for now, by bringing him and Skyler closer. If he requires further treatment, he's going to have some 'splaining to do about how he pays for it, but for the moment, his lies are preserved and he doesn't have to in any way face the consequences of his actions the way that Jesse does.

What an unbelievable bastard. What a great show.

Some other thoughts:

• We see Walt's first day back at work, where he starts off enthusiastic about teaching again (as opposed to going through the motions the way he did in the pilot), then quickly gets sidetracked into the tale of H. Tracy Hall, another scientist who may or may not have been screwed out of money and credit he felt he deserved. One question: now that Walt's teaching again, when is he going to find the time to cook?

• Last year, the show occasionally featured Walt or another character uttering a profanity, only the sound dropped out. At the time, I wrote it off to AMC being new to the series television thing and uncertain about what type of content their advertisers would tolerate. (Basic cable isn't regulated by the FCC, but they do have to answer to sponsors, which is why, for instance, "The Shield" could never use the F-word.) I noticed that they hadn't done any of that this season and figured that, with a year under their belts, everyone involved knew what they could and couldn't get away with, and the episodes were being written accordingly. But then we got Walt's dropped-out F-bomb to Gretchen at the end of that riveting restaurant scene. Really, it was the only retort available to Walt after Gretchen said she felt sorry for him, and it was delivered with so much contempt and self-loathing by Cranston that I almost didn't notice that it was muted. But I'm still trying to get to the bottom of what the rules are for profanity this season.

• In returning to work, Walt also gets to reconnect with "Flynn" as they cook up fantasies about how to deliver justice to the kids who defaced the "Missing" posters from episode two.

• I love that Jesse was offended that Spooge had stolen an ATM machine owned by Jesse's bank.

What did everybody else think?


Hyde said...

The scene where Walter ran the revenge scenarios past his son really was creepy.

It's getting harder to pick a standout episode from this season. I didn't think anything could top "Grilled," but last night just may have done it. Aaron Paul is killing week after week.

DonBoy said...

This is the most depressing TV series I've ever seen...and then the ATM pops open and insistently spews its cash at poor Jesse, and how can you not laugh? (And you know his attempt at removing all his fingerprints won't cut it.)

Robert Cervantes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Cervantes said...

Alan, how I kept F5ing your blog just so I can see this review. The white paint is fading out.

A few thoughts:

Where is Carmen the Principal coming from? Does she know something we don't? She seemed really suspicious talking to Walt after class.

I wouldn't be shocked if there were a few viewers crying or tearing because of Skank's kid. While I didn't drop a tear, I surely felt the pain for him.

July 4th weekend is when Walt said good bye to his and Gretchen's relationship? It seems like every 5 episodes we get a clearer picture of what happened between these two. Did Gretchen cheat on Walt? Can't wait to find out.

I couldn't stop laughing at Jesse rehearsing his lines while holding the gun prior to entering the crack house. Aaron Paul does something amusing every episode.

Is it me or am I not the only one who thought about Barbershop when I saw the ATM? Still can't believe they didn't struggle to bring it in the house.

Alan, I so knew you were going to use the knives infomercial to open your review. I so knew it!

If it wasn't for the language and violence, Breaking Bad is a perfect example for kids on how a lie takes a mind of its own and goes in places where you don't want them to go. This is trouble in the making. The longer the ride, the bigger the boom.

Alan, with the Sopranos, I think the reason that charges weren't filed quicker was because they are trying to get all their ducks in a row. It was never about the little fish in the pond. It was about the great white shark in the ocean. As we saw when the Essex County DA dropped their charges.

Love keeping the cursing in the show. And you're right. In that scene, you didn't even need to hear the F word. The emotion was so powerful that your ears picked it up anyways.

Was this the first episode where the intro didn't foreshadow?

God I'm in the mood for some Marshmellow Fluff. Yum!

Is the company called Grey or Gray Matters? I thought that was a video game company.

Is Jesse going to man up and punish Skinny Pete for getting robbed?

My problem with Jesse as this Tuco character is that he has way too many morals to be at the top. Drug lords have none and they will kill senselessly. Jesse's morality and conscious will be his downfall.

Jesse does business with a bank? Hope he's not depositing his money in there. Not the smartest.

Alan, I don't think Walt is cooking as much anymore. Only reason being is that you can't move so much weight in a week's time. Even with all these people slinging rocks, it's really hard. Also, what's going to happen when that barrel runs out?

JoeE said...

Does anyone think Skyler is really going to believe Walt's story about Gray Matter going under? I don't think she will, and the look on her face at the end of the scene as she looked away from Walt seemed to communicate a bit of skepticism about the story she had just been told. It may be something she could research for herself.

Between the scene at the restaurant and the last scene with Skyler, I am in awe of Cranston right now. The way he hold his wife that Gretchen and Elliot were "prideful people" without even the slightest hint of self-awareness made my jaw drop.

Unknown said...

I always viewed the muted f-word as an intentional device. It was used in the first episode of Mad Men too. I think it is very effective and very clever.

Jessica DeCou said...

I have a busy day today, but I'm completely exhausted- because last night's episode actually gave me nightmares!

Before bed, I kept replaying the last scene in my mind. I wanted Jesse to get the kid, THEN call 911 (hearing the sirens in the background was too close for comfort)

So then of course I dreamt about it (but in the dream "Spooge" was wearing clown make-up, which definitely made it worse).

But only a great TV series, and a really great episode, could scar me for life that way.

Paul Allor said...

The sound was muted when Walt dropped the F-bomb? Wow. I totally did not notice that. And because I was pretty riveted by this episode, I'm chalking it up to Cranston's amazing performance rather than my inattentiveness.

JoeE, I agree about Skyler. The consensus seems to be that she bought Walt's story, but the look on her face at the very end, combined with her comment about the Bentley, gave me the impression that her bullshit meter was going off, big time.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I now watch Amazing Race after Breaking Bad despite it's earlier start time just to provide us a chaser after Breaking Bad, it takes that much of an emotional toll.

Last night reminded me a lot of the "bring out the gimp" scene in Pulp Fiction the first time I watched that movie...except Gilligan managed to take that tension and stretch it over a full hour.

As for Jesse, I don't recall him wiping his fingerprints off the sledgehammer, though I could be wrong. That being said the skank will try to pin it on someone else but the murdered convenience store worker will likely work against her. Of course she could claim "Diesel" was their accomplice and murdered Spooge and left without taking the money when he heard the police arrive...she could claim she made the 911 call.

Jeremiah Peck said...

this show is officially the best one on television....

i don't know what was better, the horrifying and absurd ordeal in "The Three Spooges" house (especially Aaron Paul (Jesse)'s performance with that meth kid) or that scary side of Walt during his dinner conversation with his ex-girlfriend....everyone's firing on all cylinders, especially the top-notch directors this season, who all add a distinct style to their episodes. Most television has a seamless thread to the way an episode is directed, but not this show.....loved the opening with the bug on the street, reminded me of David Lynch films.

here's the link to the new podcast:

it's spoiler free, and has great discussions with the creator Vince Gilligan, one of the editors Kelley Dixon, and at least one actor (this week is Aaron Paul). Highly recommended, you can tell they're having a great time making this show and they provide plenty of interesting anecdotes on the production side.

Gayle said...

I thought the look on Skyler's face after she asked Walt why Gretchen was still driving a Bentley indicated that she wasn't so easily duped by his story.

rkex said...

Another brilliant and disturbing episode. I find myself lying awake Sunday nights trying to process each week's plot, and last night it was very hard to sleep.

The AMC site's video episode recap includes an uncensored version of the restaurant scene, and Cranston's vitriolic "F You" is even more intense than the aired version, as you might imagine.

This season has "Emmy" written all over it.


Alan Sepinwall said...

I think Skyler's look as she mentions the Bentley could be read either way. You get the sense that she's always resented Gretchen's role in Walt's life story, and the genius of Walt's lie is that it gives Skyler an excuse to go back to hating Gretchen if she wants. And I think she does want to, just as she wants to have her husband back.

Note that this is the first time he told her where he'd been after a long disappearance (and was mostly truthful as he did so, as opposed to the lame-ass cell phone/alarm clock story from a few weeks back). She's been waiting for him to do this for a long time, and it may not be too late for him to fix things -- for a while, anyway.

555Jay said...

The Bentley comment felt like a snag to me too, but I think Walt could have explained it away further if needed: When you're crazy rich, you buy cars with cash, so it would be paid off. Even if you wanted to sell it for the cash, in a down market it would be hard to sell it unless it was way under market value, which you wouldn't do if you were "prideful" about it and wanted to "keep up appearances." At least, it could be worked into his lie to suit Skylar's point of view.

This episode may have been even more intense and uncomfortable for me to watch than "Grilled." The fact that Jesse could have just left may have made it worse, because he was desperate enough to keep trying to deal with these tweakers. There's just something (everything!) about giving meth addicts that much screen time that makes my skin crawl.

Unknown said...

I too hardly noticed the muted FU... I was well engrossed in Walt's fantastic facial expressions and the intense level of anger that it was a good 10 seconds before I realised hey hang on he just swore ... and they didn't mute it? I went back and had to replay it - oh ok they did, heh:-). I'm sure as with S1 it will be uncut when it reaches dvd.

And the Jesse/Kid aspect aside, boy wasn't anger the main theme of this episode. Walt might be intense and so naturally angry, but it was quite something watching Jesse outside the S/S house working himself up - and then the intensity of his aggression to them when they got home almost surprised me.

Walt on the other hand cant even teach now without the hatred coming out - and while I think the massive vent at the dinner he had with Gretchen may have eased things inside him for the moment, that anger is so totally consuming inside of him I don't think its going to be all that long before it is controlling him or at least his actions in some way.

It's so true though that it comes across to me like now he's dying he just has no reason to lock all these real feelings and personality traits away and the deeper in the crap he gets the more it all comes out. Oh and the bigger and more absurd the lies get too heh - I don't think for a second the Grey Matter are broke scenario is going to play long with Skyler, shes far too inquisitive.

Diesel better look out though - you can bet the bank will know every serial number on every note in that ATM... whether Skank helps the cops close in on him or not - here's hoping hes smart enough not to tie the noose around his own neck...

One thing's for sure though - I ain't ever looking at an ATM the same again...

JoeE said...

I was also struck by how insincere Walt's apology to Gretchen was - it reminded me a bit of Angela's phone apology when she was working customer service during the season 4 episode of The Office with the nasty watermark ("the official position is that we are apologetic", or something to that effect).

Truly contrite people don't describe their apologies in such stark terms. He clearly doesn't think he has anything to apologize for to this person. More than anything else, he's annoyed that he even has to deal with it.

Unknown said...

On the apology front - it was all there in everything Cranston did - his face, the words - all of it.

Between the lines this is what he he was saying...

"Look you thieving bi#@^, you wanted an apology, there you got it - I've apologised once, that's it, that's ALL you're getting...

OK you fu#$ing want it again - fine here it is again, I'm not at all fu@%ing sorry, but ok I will say it one more time just to shut you the Fu$% up.

Oh for Christs sake I can't believe you're gonna make me say it AGAIN. THREE FU#$ING TIMES? - are you FU#@ING SERIOUS!!

OK for Skyler... one more time just for Skyler; are you counting... that's THREE times now Gretchen... oh for FU@%'s SAKE...

FU%^ YOU!!

Mark B said...

It is freakishly amazing that Breaking Bad has managed to make me despise a terminal cancer patient at a visceral level I never reached watching a corrupt lying murderous Vic Mackey in The Shield. Earlier in the series I expressed my desire to see the existing meth dealers developed into characters more than simply quick to anger psychotic plot bombs. I reasoned that any successful criminal enterprise requires a degree calculated and manipulative drive. I now understand that role is Walt’s and Walt’s alone. Bryan Cranston is doing marvelous work showing a man first surrendering to, and then embracing his bitterness.

Russell Lucas said...

I came to the series just this season, and am figuring that there was some explanation provided in the first year for the fact that Walt doesn't have insurance coverage for his treatment since, y'know, the teachers always have the good coverage. He's not getting anything experimental, right?

And Jesse's knowledge of junkie hiding places was cringe-inducing. When he knew, after all else coming up dry, that they'd have ass-stashes...

Alan Sepinwall said...

He's not getting anything experimental, right?

He is, actually. He has insurance from the school, but we were told last season it wasn't a great plan, and wouldn't cover this top oncologist he's gotten.

Robert Cervantes said...

Russell Lucas:

From my understanding, Walt isn't covered because his doctor is like a Top 5 Dr in the US. It just so happens that his insurance doesn't have this doctor. The treatment isn't experimental (I believe the Dr. did say he's used it on a bunch of patients).

Mike F said...

Another great episode...this show is probably my favorite on television right now.

I loved how they showed Jessie as a lover, not a fighter in the opening with the bug.

Anonymous said...

The bag of crystal that "skank" dropped has to be significant. Did she drop it when they stole the ATM maybe? I think it will be found at that crime scene. Jesse may find himself linked that "victimless" crime, which he doesn't even know about yet, in more ways than one. If one of his boys gets caught with an ounce of blue stuff and find themselves as the focus of two murder investigations, they will flip on Jesse real quick. Or perhaps finding a big bag of the blue stuff at that scene will give them a reason to bring Hank into the investigation. It has to come into play somehow.

And I agree with those who think Skylar is not buying into Walt's story. The faraway look on her face when he was too quick to explain away the Bentley said it all.

Karen said...

Such a great episode, but so dark I had to stop it midway through and go find a unicorn chaser. Damn.

I loved the scene with Gretchen in the restaurant. Her disbelief over Walt's bitterness really opens up his story to doubt--what WAS the nature of his involvement and how DID Gretchen and Elliott use (or not use) his research? Walt has become the unreliable narrator; there's no trusting his version of things, because his bitterness and rage and "pridefulness" may well be coloring what we learn from him.

belinda said...

I just loved when Spooge announced "it was a victimless crime", they zoomed right in to the dead shop keeper. Like so many of the scenes, it was hilarious, yet completely miserable and sad at the same time.

And of course, the irony that was dripping from Walter's declaration that Gretchen was "keeping up appearances." You get the sense that Walt had long been down this dark path, way before the cancer had hit him. I do wonder what it was that triggered him to leave Gretchen though.

Thanks for the link to the podcast! I didn't even know they had one. Will check it out sometime.

Anyway. Wow. Great episode. Which is just about how I feel after every episode so far.

Anonymous said...

I liked the parallelism between Tuco's uncle's house and Spooge's house - in both, we have Jesse sitting on a coach, with a near-mute companion, watching inane tv, waiting, waiting...

Anonymous said...

Every show, watching Walt in action I picture a classic 'origins of Lex Luthor' story. With the spreading cancer a perfect metaphor of Walt's malignant attitude towards life, failure and the future, I am sure this cannot be just because they're both bald. The show is a magnificent study in tragic compromise and decline.

I thought Gretchen was letting Walt off the hook and thus expressing some guilt by her last phone call.

And I agree with those who saw Skyler's look as foreshadowing future doubt about this latest cover story from Walt.

Finally, I just couldn't understand why Jesse was spending all that time in that house. Their operation definitely needs some muscle in the collections department. They can't get lucky every time.

Tosy And Cosh said...

I just wanted to point out that Skank was played by Dale Dickey, who also plays the recurring "daytime hooker" on My Name Is Earl, basically so that I could comment on what an amazing range that displays. From a lovable cartoon version of a bottomed-out woman to a terrifyingly realistic version of one. How often do actors get to play the goofy and the dramatic version of a type? They so often get relegated to one or the other.

Anonymous said...

Jesse is a spitting image of former Fresno State and NBA player Chris Herren.

The Gregarious Misanthrope said...

It is a tribute to Cranston that I don't despise Walt but find myself sympathizing. As screwed up as his course of action is, he is trying to preserve what modicum of dignity and self-determination he has left. Gretchen's tearful outrage and pity were just too much to take, and how could they not be?

As soon as Gretchen got all hurt and said she felt sorry for Walt (sorry for what? that he's still angry that you stole his research and made millions, then married his best friend? yeah, I bet you are), I could see what a smarmy, faux-innocent, self-server she was, and that her condescension would break the back of Walt's thin veneer of courtesy. In my mind, I thought "f@ck you," and imagine my surprise and delight when Walt also says it. I'm sorry, but she had it coming.

Despite what Walt is doing to get that money, no, he doesn't owe Gretchen an explanation. The only person he owes that to is Skyler, and if she's not getting it, Gretchen sure ain't. An apology, yes, and I think the first one was sincere, mostly because I'm sure he is sorry now that he involved them in any way and is therefore beholden to them in any way, but groveling to her was not going to go over well, was it?

My theory about the Gretchen/Walt break up is that her father and brother said something to him when they were out togther, because Gretchen said he came back from being out with them and immediately packed and left. Time will tell if I'm right. She comes from a wealthy family ("a rich girl adding to her millions" Walt called her) and her disingenuous claims of innocence in Walt's betrayal ring false. Yes, Walt is a villain now, but his evolution seems natural, and in the words of Chris Rock, I'm not saying it's OK, I'm just saying... I understand. Cranston deserves another Emmy.

Walt and Jesse need to hire some muscle, stat. Also, they need to rent and watch The Wire to see how a drug operation is run correctly. They are doing it ALL WRONG.

Kathie said...

Late post, I know, just watched it.

Just can't get the image of the poor little kid out of my mind. Does anyone care about him? Hope he at least gets into a decent foster home. Jesse is so in over his head, the desperate attempts to wipe away his fingerprints won't work.........and whoever mentioned it, no he did not wipe off the sledgehammer. He was pretty funny when he was figuring out how he was going to intimidate the couple and get his money back.
I agree, his humanity could be his downfall........
What a show!

Eldritch said...

Just can't get the image of the poor little kid out of my mind. Does anyone care about him?.
That little boy's situation was tragic, and I think his plight was a message from the writers. But so was the depiction of the parents' addiction. I think that's what separates this series from "Weeds," which I also love to watch. "Weeds" most recent season darkened it's tone, but prior seasons were wacky fun, more a satire of suburbia than the realities of the drug trade.

"Breaking Bad" is a story of a man justifying his "means" to his "ends." His goal to provide for his family before he succumbs to the painful ravages of cancer makes (or previously made) him sympathetic. The series has, so far, mostly focused on his problems. But now the series is beginning to look at the consequences of his actions.

What he's doing violates the social contract we all tend to abide by. Selling meth harms others. We've seen Jesse sell meth to low-lifes before, but for the first time, with this young boy and his parents, we really see the harm Walt and Jesse are doing up close. It's Walt (and others like him) who are transforming this cute kid into his parents. If Walt isn't directly responsible for this one red-headed cherub, then he's responsible for others just like him.

Walt's actions tell us he believes the lives of his wife and child are worth more than this little boy and hundreds like him. It's hard to tell a man he must impoverish his family, when he has options not to. Of course, his turning down the financial help from his rich former partner undercuts some of this sympathy, but they were only offering to help with medical bills. Walt's trying to provide food, housing and lifestyle for years to come.

The horrible irony is that the sympathy he earns by doing the "right" thing for his family is changing to abhorrence as he becomes evil from dealing drugs.

This kind of struggling with moral dilemmas is the reason I loved "The Shield" so much. Vic Mackey was caught in the same bind. He (I felt) sincerely wanted to fight crime and provide for his family. He wanted to do good. But along the way, he rationalized making a little dirty money to provide for them. The consequences from this bad decision compounded episode after episode until they spun so out of control that he ended up losing the only things he valued, his job and his family.

Both men, justifying means to their ends. Both starting with good intentions. Both seduced into decisions that might tempt many of us.

Anonymous said...

What a cracker-jack of a season this is becoming. Jesus, you would think it would get less intense after Tuco past away but damn.

Walt is learning to lie. His first lie to Skyler about the second cellphone? Anyone could have caught that, it was such a terrible, terrible lie.

But he's getting better. And kudos to Cranston for showing it that way, pure and simple without any begging for sympathy from the audience.

And that scene in the restaurant was dynamite, I genuinely felt sorry for Gretchen because at that moment I was thinking the same thing: " What happened to you Walt? "

Anonymous said...

I found the little boy brought so much out of Jesse - he popped up just when you didn't want him to. Crying over the episode for 20 mins lol. I hope he went to a good foster home ;)