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"Breaking Bad" — "Rabid Dog": The Awakening of Jesse Pinkman

By Daniel Carlson | TV | September 1, 2013 |

By Daniel Carlson | TV | September 1, 2013 |

A lot of TV critics would probably be reluctant to tell you that sometimes, there’s not much to say, or not as much, anyway. It’s not that the episode wasn’t great. (“Rabid Dog,” this week’s episode of “Breaking Bad,” was wonderful.) It’s not that the show isn’t good, either. (“Breaking Bad,” at this point, has earned itself a place in the firmament of those TV series that showcase the medium’s greatest potential.) Rather, it’s that some episodes just have a lot less to unpack. We usually call these “table-setters,” and we push for ways to talk about them that feel revelatory or new, but the reality is that sometimes, you just sit back and watch a great hour of TV. For reviews, mostly what I do is I think about the show off and on throughout the week, then I watch the new episode, then I look for connections between what happened in the episode, what’s been happening in the series overall, and what kind of themes or cultural ties are presenting themselves. That’s a lot of it, right there. And, well, this week’s episode was just the kind of standard greatness I’ve come to expect from “Breaking Bad” after close to 60 episodes. It’s good in all the ways you want it to be. Everything’s still dark (emotionally as well as technically), everybody’s still wearing the colors that currently reflect their moods and masks, everything’s still hurtling toward a showdown that’s bound to have a body count. You don’t need me to tell you that again, at least not this time.

It’s quietly comforting to know when tuning into a show that it will be tightly written, powerfully acted, skillfully directed. The work that goes into making this show good hasn’t faltered over the years. Episode writer Sam Catlin has been with the show for several seasons, but this was his first time as a director, and he choreographed some expert moments. The slow pull back down the hallway as Walt goes into his bedroom, not knowing what he might find, and leaving us to writhe outside wondering if this is when he’ll finally confront Jesse — that was glorious. Catlin also played tight and smart by letting Walt’s confused search for Jesse play out for a while before jumping back in time to show Hank surprising Jesse at the White house and whisking him away seconds before Walt got back. Jesse’s absence hung like a cloud over the first half of the episode, and hooks like that — What happened to Jesse? Who’s on the other end of the phone? — are part of what’s made the show so riveting within each episode even while it’s playing out a larger story. Seasonal arcs have worked the same way, from the plane wreckage that dotted the cold opens of the second season to the jumps we’ve seen in this final season showing Walt arming himself for some final confrontation. The show’s nothing if not captivating that way.

What the episode seemed to hinge on more than anything was the idea that nobody gets away clean. Walt had destroyed so many lives around him, and now those actions are being repaid. He’s made a mortal enemy out of a kid he pulled into his life, and he’s turned his wife into someone as ruthless as he is. (Because let’s not kid ourselves: Skyler’s suggestion to kill Jesse is not one iota more horrifying than Walt’s decision to poison a child as part of a frame-up.) Even Hank’s been pushed to the edge here, casually suggesting to Gomez that even if their attempt to lure Walt into self-incrimination ends in Jesse’s death, at least they’d get the murder on tape and have a piece of evidence to bring against the mythical Heisenberg. Even Walt’s attempts to rebuff the idea of killing Jesse felt flat. As a character, he’s always liked to rationalize his cold-bloodedness as an option of last resort, so while he might actually want to kill Jesse, it’s more in line with his m.o. to let other people talk him into it. He’d be just as guilty, but he’d be able to tell himself he had no choice.

That’s really where Walt is, and where he’s always been: making decisions for himself, then acting like he was coerced. But his millions can’t get the smell of gas out of his carpet, and his lies can’t convince his wife, and his pleas won’t work on the people he’s abused. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how things play out. There’s a sense of inevitability as the show marches toward its conclusion, but inevitability doesn’t mean predictability. The people here are doomed, and have been for ages. How they get there, though — that’s what I can’t wait to find out.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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