Like the man said: When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers. “Breaking Bad” is, like all great crime dramas, about the hell of getting what you want in life. Earlier chapters of the show focused on Walter’s descent into moral ambiguity and total chaos in his pursuit of wealth and power — his brawls with local dealers, his frantic delivery to Gus on the day Holly was born, his growing paranoia — but now we’re in the really tricky stuff because this is where Walt wanted to be. He’s set up with Gus and making millions in the process. His family’s taken care of for generations. He should be done. Yet at every step, he’s done something to damage himself or those around him, and every attempt to fix things only leads to greater heartache. In other words, there’s no stopping. The world he’s in is too volatile — too chemically unstable — to remain steady for long. This was supposed to be the goal, but it’s just a stop in the road. There’s always something else.
This week, that something else was Walt’s biggest blowout with Jesse to date. They’ve been through some pretty heinous shit in the year and change they’ve been cooking together, but the events of recent weeks have really taken a toll. Jesse’s been through the wringer with Jane, Combo, and Gale, while Walt’s grown increasingly erratic and judgmental. It was only a matter of time before the stress of their purgatory in Gus’ kitchen and the friction that’s been growing between them led to something bad. This was Walt’s doing, too, no doubt about it. This isn’t one of those situations where both players have enough skin in the game to make them equally culpable. This was about Walt going further and further, refusing to treat Jesse like anything other than a dumb pawn when he’s proven time and again that he’s capable of so much more. Walt’s fear and anger have driven him to cruelty, and he got his ass kicked for it.
Gus is dealing with the same problems. He’s been handling the cartel like a champ — he pulled what Jesse called “Terminator shit” and walked into sniper fire just to prove a point — but he’s also not immune to the pressure that’s been building over the past year. Gus and Walt are both watching their main relationships fragment despite their own best efforts to hold them together, and neither man takes impotence very well. Walt lashed out at Jesse, but Gus has a whole world to support. There’s no telling how he’ll react to the cartel’s latest moves, but with his head for strategy, anything’s fair game.
There’s almost not much else to say about “Bug.” It wasn’t a bad episode by any means — “Breaking Bad” doesn’t really go in for bad episodes, nor pedestrian ones — but it definitely had a transitional-chapter feel. There are only four more episodes this season, and this week’s hour was all about moving the characters one step closer to whatever life-altering showdown they’ll face in the coming weeks. We’ve got Jesse and Walt seemingly beyond repair, and Gus acting like he’s ready to capitulate to the cartel. Neither one of those situations will likely last very long, but that’s not the point. The point is that getting out of those situations is going to be harder than anyone can tell.
• I can’t say enough great things about Hank. He’s gone through four seasons of incremental but definite change, and he’s come out as obsessive and smart as ever. My stomach knotted up when he wanted Walt to take a ride to the Pollos Hermanos distribution center. Not because Hank was going to wheel in and see Walt shoveling blue crystal, but because he’s too insightful and determined to stop chasing Gus of his own accord. He’s on the right trail, and he knows it, which means he’s in the kind of danger he hasn’t seen since his days in the field.
• I know that screenwriters eliminate the “goodbye” dialogue at the end of phone calls to save time, but it always feels stupid to have characters just hang up. Sometimes it works, like when Mike hung up on Walt; it drove home Mike’s urgency and the way he actually felt about Walt and the whole situation. But no way would Walt and Skylar just end a phone call with a click. Come on. Just have them say “goodbye.” For me.
• I can’t explain it, but I knew — stone-cold knew — that Jesse would say he was a fan of “Ice Road Truckers.” When Walt asked him what kind of TV he watched, I thought, “I bet it’s something like ‘Ice Road Truckers’ or ‘Deadliest Catch.’ Simple, relatable, nothing too artsy or premium.” I know that I will never make a guess that good again, about anything. That was my one.
• We’re at the point in the series where all you need to see is a barrel filled with pink liquid to know it’s the melted-down remains of a human. Think about that.
• If Skylar even thinks about bailing Ted out with the drug money, she’s an idiot. Ted is basically Lester Diamond; always broke, always got a story.
• Jesse’s monologue about having to go to Mexico and teach the cartel people to cook crystal ran about two and a half minutes, and director Terry McDonough played it all in one take. The camera barely moved, only making tiny adjustments to keep Jesse in frame while he walked around in front of Walter. I love these little virtuosic touches the show throws in. The scene could’ve cut quickly between the men’s faces as they tried to read each other, but it was a whole different energy watching Jesse plead his case to a stoic, unmoving Walt. Awesome moment.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. He’s also a TV blogger for the Houston Press. He tweets more often than he should, and he blogs at Slowly Going Bald.