Sunday, May 03, 2009

Breaking Bad, "4 Days Out": Flight of the RV

Spoilers for tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I enjoy some Funions...
"Why couldn't I have just gone to Santa Fe? Why?" -Jesse

"All the lies -- I can't even keep them straight in my head anymore." -Walt
"4 Days Out" -- another winner in a season full of them -- is the "Breaking Bad" take on "Flight of the Phoenix" (travelers trapped in desert have to find a way to get their wrecked vehicle working again) by way of the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos" (bumbling criminals bicker while stranded in the wilderness). It strands Walt and Jesse in the middle of the desert, the battery of their mobile meth lab drained, and nothing to do but dwell on what they've allowed themselves to become -- and what role, if any, the other man played in that transformation.

Jesse should have just gone to Santa Fe to admire "vagina pictures" with Jane instead of facing death by dehydration with his hated former chemistry teacher/current partner. But then, he should never have let Walt talk him into stepping up his game from being low-level Cap'n Cook. When he was Cap'n Cook, the profits were meager, but so was the risk. There was a way out. Now the stakes are too high, the attention (from the DEA and, eventually, from the cartel) too big, and his partner is too arrogant and reckless. Though they managed to avoid dying in the RV with $1.34 million (after expenses) worth of crystal, this isn't the first time that Jesse's association with Walt has brought him close to death, nor will it be the last.

Walt, meanwhile, is usually too busy cleaning up the latest mess he and/or Jesse has made for self-reflection. But stuck in that RV, fearing imminent death twice over -- even if they can get the battery going, he assumes he has only a short time left to live, based on his (mis)reading of the PET scan -- Walt has this moment of clarity where he realizes all he's done, all the lies he's told, all the people who have been and will be hurt by his actions. But because Walt's ultimately more selfish than he tells himself he is, it turns from a moment of self-realization to one of self-pity, and he's prepared to lie there and wallow and let the chemical engine that is his body slowly and painfully stop working.

But then Jesse is able to rouse Walt from his stupor, and we're reminded that, for all his many faults, he's still a genius chemist(*), and he finds a way to cobble together keys, spare change and sponges into making a battery strong enough to jump-start the RV.

(*) He is not, however, a genius chemistry teacher. He tries to turn the battery-building process into a science lesson for Jesse, who never quite gets it, thinking that "a wire" is the elemental answer Walt's looking for.

And having evaded the first kind of death -- and then discovering, to his amazement (and lack of relief), that the experimental cancer treatment has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations -- Walt's left to wonder, what now? He and Jesse come to an understanding, but it seems predicated on Jesse's assumption that Walt will die soon. For that matter, his entire criminal career was predicated on that same assumption -- that Walt wouldn't survive long enough to ever have to live with the things he was doing.

In the final scene of the episode -- brilliantly played, as always, by Bryan Cranston -- Walt studies his reflection in the bathroom mirror, than in the gleaming paper towel dispenser. He does not like any of what he sees, so much so that he begins systematically pounding on the dispenser until it's so badly dented that all he can see is a warped reflection, completely unrecognizable as the man he was, or the man he's become.

Sam Catlin's script overplayed the foreshadowing of how Walt and Jesse would be stranded -- there's a fine line between introducing Chekhov's gun in the first act and introducing his gun, his bazooka, his machete, and his surface-to-air missile collection -- but once we got past that point, Catlin very wisely placed his trust in his actors, and in director Michelle MacLaren and director of photography Michael Slovis to capture the harsh beauty of the desert and the direness of the situation.

I've commented a lot this season on how beautiful the episodes look, and "4 Days Out" felt like a cut above even that. Image after image -- the glowing orange light of the desert, the cool blues of the chemicals mixing together, the tableaux of the RV resting in the tall grass or Walt and Jesse enjoying the night air after a hard day's work -- looked absolutely gorgeous, and captured the dual-edged nature of what's happening here. The meth itself is destructive, both to its users and to Walt and Jesse's lives for making it, but the actual process of making it is a work of art. The desert could kill them without fuel or adequate supplies, but there are far, far uglier resting places. Even the clinic where Walt gets the good news -- so shiny and clean and modern (and with a fountain overflowing with the kind of water Walt will badly need a few days later -- isn't quite what it seems, in that he really, really doesn't want the treatment to work.

But it has -- enough that he actually has a realistic shot at beating the cancer. Now what the hell does he do?

Some other thoughts on "4 Days Out":

• Saul Goodman is obviously still in the picture, now introducing him to the world of money-laundering, as well as snark: "Congratulations, you just left your family a second-hand Subaru." That scene was also a nice reminder that nothing ever goes quite as planned for Walt and Jesse, and that maybe they should wait before spending that 600 grand apiece.

• Did Jesse have that tattoo on his chest before he met Jane, or are we supposed to assume she gave it to him? And what are the chances she got a look at that incriminating pizza box?

• Speaking of Jane, I thought it was a very nice touch that she was eating Cap'n Crunch cereal in Jesse's kitchen. Of course The Artist Formerly Known As Capn'n Cook would eat Cap'N Crunch.

• Two notable songs on the soundtrack this week: "Good Morning Freedom" by Blue Mink as Walt and Jesse drove out to the desert, then "One By One" by The Black Seeds over the montage of Walt and Jesse cooking like a well-oiled machine.

• Meta humor in action: the oncologist jokes with Skyler, "Is that baby ever going to come out, you think?" Sky's pregnancy is an easy way to chart how much (or how little) time has passed since the start of the series, but because of the hiatus between seasons, it really does feel like she's been pregnant forever, doesn't it?

• That scene also provided a rare moment where we got to see all of Walt's family happy at the same time, even though Walt himself wasn't so much happy as stunned.

What did everybody else think?


SteveInHouston said...

Another thing that's probably dawning on Walt: With his illness in remission, he's soon going to be running out of excuses that he can generate from that source.

No more strange reactions to drugs, no more "final" visits to mom, etc.

When I was a kid, my family and I made the then-required summer pilgrimage to Grand Canyon. On the way back, we decided to take a side trip out to an isolated southern New Mexico state park that had gotten some publicity for its beauty. My mom locked the keys in the car with the car running.

I was still pretty young, but I will always remember how quickly my parents fell into serious, borderline panic. And this was two decades before anyone had even heard of cell phones, much less had one. My dad miraculously found a coat hanger about a hundred yards away (WTF was it doing out there???) and jimmied the lock. If had come down to it, I'm sure he would have smashed a window out with a rock, but still.

So I definitely empathized with our lovable chefs.

TC said...

In terms of pure line delivery, Jesse saying "A robot?" may have been the funniest moment ever on this show. Just so simultaneously hopeful and dumb.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is correct but wouldn't the generator be putting out AC power instead of DC power? It wouldn't charge the battery if it was AC power.

Kyle said...

I was hoping someone else noticed the absolute gorgeous cinematography.

Loving the show every step of the way.

Hotdog said...

Man, TC beat me to it, when Jesse said "A Robot?" I laughed so hard my wife came downstairs to ask what was so funny. By far the funniest line of the season.

Anonymous said...

A Youtube link for the Blue Mink. But a great Black Seeds choice. So little love for Bret McKenzie's other band.

Anonymous said...

Sure, "a robot" was good. But Walt silhouetted against the ABQ sky, eating a Funyan? Comedy gold.

Cinemania said...

The contrast between the obvious thrill Walt got while cooking up the meth and the soul-deadened look he sported when he heard that his cancer was in remission was very telling.

Here's a guy who feels more alive when he thinks he is dying of cancer than when he learns he may not be. That's pretty damning evidence of just how miserable he is in his "normal" life, and a very telling example of how tunnel-visioned scientist Walt has become as a meth cooker/dealer.

Mark B said...

You brought a meth lab to the airport? I loved that line. It is simultaneously a question of judgment and a statement of fact. Jesse, of course, responds that efficiency is the reason he picks up the RV prior to picking up Walt. Jesse always has legitimate reasons for his decisions. You have a fire, you douse it with water. Duh! The trouble is reality is really complex and the consequences of gut reactions can go either way.

This time around, sending Jesse out for the glassware necessary for high volume cooking is a toss away detail. He has a list and he obtains the items. The kid is learning and the beautifully filmed sequences of him doing the actual chemistry raise the question whether the student will need a teacher in the lab in the near future. Jesse may make some questionable decisions, but he isn’t the only person guilty of that human flaw. Then Jane. The reason scrambling wonderfulness that is Jane has not fully come into play.

Anonymous said...

I also laughed at the robot line. I think a couple of times people on this blog guessed that Walt's cancer was going into remission, but they did fool me a little with the coughing. I also had a flashback of 'Pine Barrens' too Alan (One of the most underrated Sopranos episodes in my opinion) It's gonna be interesting to see what Walt does next. How far is he going to go? And more importantly, what does he do with the extra money? The cinematography was absolutely amazing in this episode as well, one of the better looking shows on television.

Kitten With a Whip said...

Wow, I can actually comment for the first time in the history on my favorite review/recap site without being redundant (unless a bunch of posts written while I comment show up first) . So I will try to keep this short without pushing my luck or wearing out my welcome.

I swear to God, 10:00 to 11:00 PM Sundays are the fastest damn hour in the week (before that, for years, it was the hour The Shield was on). Commercial breaks seem to last 10 minutes, then we get 5 minutes of BB, then another endless break. This hour went by REALLY fast for me. I watch lots of TV and movies, so much that I would be embarrassed to tell you the numbers, as I don't have a blog or integrate it into my career path (yet), and "Four Days Out" zipped by even faster than the average BB episode for me.

Why? I was *convinced* one or more of the following would happen, and I'd be curious to know if anyone else thought
the same:

1. We'd get a cliffhanger. All the non-spoiler media has been telling us about Season 2 getting very, very intense towards the last few episodes, which leads to--

2. Since we are nearing the end of the season (I believe we have 4 more episodes left), and since this is BB we're discussing, I was positive, especially in the last act, that something--or even two-- out of the blue but believable would occur that would make Jesse and Walt's plight much worse and give them a whole new set of seemingly insurmountable horrible and complicated problems. I was so gripped by the whole Tuco nightmare that I didn't take time to consider the fall-out if they were to somehow escape with their lives. I was reminded of the Shield, where actions the characters take didn't just end and move on. Eventually, people's lives are destroyed in one way or another by a bad judgement call or skeleton in the closet. The way BB deals and has always dealt with reverberations (Breaking Bad isn't as hardcore as TS, of course.. yet, anyway) really impresses me, and never seems like a stretch. The show does not do this in a preachy or unrealistic way; I'm never left thinking, "Oh come ON- we get it, there are consequences, now let's wind this up and move on!" Now that I think of it, The Shield and also the Wire are the only other crime/shows/dramas where I never got frustrated because the show was letting things drag too far, or feel the viewer's intelligence was being insulted.

3. I was praying this episode would not get the "Brazil" ending (I assume everyone who posts here doesn't need that explained). In fact, my bad feeling this would be a very clever "fake out" got worse and worse after their last try at getting the RV running in a life-and-death situation was successful. When Walt and his loved ones got the unexpectedly good news after his scan with all sincerely supporting him, and were nearly laughing and crying at the same time. Especially when the camera would linger on Walt, I was waiting for the camera to zoom into Walt's eye, then pull back and reveal they're back in the RV, even closer to dying of dehydration because everything that occurred after the Hail Mary pass worked was just wistful thinking, and we'd have to wait till next week to find out how help will come and how it will impact their lives.

Even though Walt's outburst of fury in the last shot probably wasn't the best sign, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief that it wasn't all in his head. It wasn't until the credits were speeding by that I realized all the muscles in my legs were tight and my toes had also curled, and had probably been that way the last 30 minutes. I can't remember the last time I was in that much suspense from a well-crafted story (probably the Shield finale last year-but it only happens once a year or less).

-I'm in the "I don't quite trust Jane" camp. I think she really is in recovery, though whatever substance she was abusing sure as hell didn't have any effect on her looks. The young actress playing her is so stunningly beautiful I've caught myself being distracted from the scene a couple of times. I don't think she's out to deliberately screw anyone, or working undercover, but when her and Jesse's worlds are going to collide eventually. Her boyfriend has drugs and drug abuse play a huge part of his life, I can't see any situation where things end well. My guess is she's going to have so much temptation when she has such easy access to drugs that she's going to end up back in rehab-- at best.

-When the oncologist gave the White family the good news, their reaction and relief when it sunk in, especially Skylar's, was so realistic and dead-on. Just outstanding on everyone 's part, though mostly the acting. They got it.

Next week I'll be out of town and the hotel we are staying in better have goddamned basic cable! I can't thank you enough for this board and blog, and also not having to wait long for a recap/comments.

Anonymous said...

I was praying this episode would not get the "Brazil" ending (I assume everyone who posts here doesn't need that explained).Except that there are several Brazil endings, but I don't want to spoil Gilliam's film for anyone by discussing them. So with or without a happy ending tacked on, yes, I trust they are not going there. The American ending to Life on Mars was quite enough for a few years.

I do think in some episodes Jesse is dumber than in others for humor's sake. I'll assume he was dehydrated and that justifies his being duller than normal this episode. That, or being under the spell of post-coital infatuation.

The writers employ foreshadowing very well to build your expectations over the story arc much in the way Seinfeld did. (Well, okay, maybe just any good writing does that and I happen to like Seinfeld). Three things seemed telegraphed in this episode. First as soon as they mentioned the amount of water I imagined that Jesse (probably) was going to use it to douse a fire. Second, as soon as they brought up the keys I thought uh, oh, they're going to be stuck there. And as soon as Walt said nuts & bolts I assumed Jesse was going to guess the Robot. In each case our anticipation of the execution of these set-ups was rewarded superbly: even the robot joke had more punch because Jesse foreshadowed it.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of punch, I saw Walt's final outburst as frustration with fate. He had gone down a dead end path only to have another cosmic joke played on him by having his fate become open ended once again. It may be less that he wanted to die than simple frustration that he had taken risks/made choices predicated upon that being his near-term fate. Now uncertainty has been reintroduced into his life's equation.

cgeye said...

And speaking of punch, I saw Walt's final outburst as frustration with fate. He had gone down a dead end path only to have another cosmic joke played on him by having his fate become open ended once again. It may be less that he wanted to die than simple frustration that he had taken risks/made choices predicated upon that being his near-term fate. Now uncertainty has been reintroduced into his life's equation.That's how I saw it, too. He went to the wall in terms of Doing What He Must for his family -- and now he sees he could have taken the easier path -- sucked up to his old business partner, took the borderline-illegal no-show job and its health insurance, went through chemo -- and still come to a positive conclusion.

Now, he has to deal with both the dread of being a man that much in social debt to his hellacious in-laws (like if I had a choice between chemo with them and hospice without....) and owing Skyler and his son so much emotionally, when he's gotten used to closing himself off... and, *loving it*.

Face it: Walter was more of a man cooking meth and defying Tuco than he ever is at home or in a classroom, and the damage that knowledge will do in his life will exceed the damage done by the cancer.

Cinemania said...

There's little doubt that he's pissed off at the risks he has taken,that he came THAT CLOSE to death, and it may have all come to nought, but I also contend that there's a big part of Walt that is drawn to the criminal life because it is the only time he feels truly alive, the only time he feels like he is making some use of his superior scientific mind.

It's also completely dysfunctional and speaks to a much larger issue of Walt's deformed ethical system that has been built upon the frustrations and disappointments that life has doled out to him.

Anonymous said...

So, do they really film in ABQ for the show?

Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia it's "set and produced" there.

Anonymous said... (a href doesn't work for some reason)

fgmerchant said...

I was praying this episode would not get the "Brazil" ending (I assume everyone who posts here doesn't need that explained).I'm going to need that explained...

Great episode, though I would have thought that they would keep cooking overnight while trying to figure out what to do. Might as well finish off that methylamine!

And yes, Krysten Ritter was as beautiful as ever! I had to go back and rewatch the scenes she was in because I wasn't paying attention to the dialogue the first time around!

Ben said...

Ditto loving the 'Robot' line; other favs from the episode were:
- 'Wire' for the element instead of copper.
- 'Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in' from Hank to Walt in the oncologists' office. Besides the obvious connotations it made me think of the Sopranos with Silvio and his Godfather impression. I think that we are seeing the birth of a new Tony S for new mexico.

So Walt's getting better and he is now sitting on >$1,000,000 worth of meth? Sounds like the kind of impact on the market that will get the cartels interested in this heisenberg character...

SJ said...

Best drama on TV right now, no doubt

belinda said...

What a great episode!

First, it really was insanely gorgeous. I especially liked the cooking montage (one by one was a GREAT choice of music), and a similar screenshot you've posted of the sunset shot, but the part where you could see the shadow of the funnyon.

I like how even though Walt might not be a good teacher, he genuinely enjoys it - you could see him smiling while showing the battery to Jesse (well, before he says 'wire', which slayed me). While he expressed anger and hatred at his station of life (being a high school teacher, not raking in millions, etc), I have no doubt now that there was a part of Walt that truly enjoyed being a simple high school chem teacher teaching others and having a simple family life.

I also enjoyed the sense of commaradarie between Jesse and Walt, and how they work as a team. That Jesse still sees Walt as a good person, his high school science teacher, even though Walt was indeed the one who's brought Jesse all his brushes with death, is a bit heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time.

When the series began I wondered how they could keep the show going, with a character that was about to die any moment. Then I thought how gypped I'd feel if they gave him an 'life extension'. But definitely not the case here. Writers are so clever, aren't they? :D It is great to see how Walt can (or cannot) finally deal with the repercussions of his actions, and feel the guilt of it all, and how his motivations will change now that he's not dying in a few months time.