It’s not that crime doesn’t pay — it does, and usually extremely well — it’s that what you think of as a payment is actually a loan. You help a local boss rob Lufthansa, you get killed for your troubles. You knock over a casino, you’re a marked man for life if you manage to escape. You sling dope, your days are numbered. No one ever really wins in a crime story, not really, not over the long haul. Your deeds always catch up with you. Every success brings with it only the promise of a future failure. Victory is short-lived if it’s achieved at all, and there will always be one more battle, one more complication, one more problem.
This week’s “Breaking Bad” was all about how no one can ever truly escape their past, anchored by the return of Marie’s penchant for living multiple lives. The stealing’s a minor thing: It gives her a semblance of control over a life that’s falling apart, but it’s really just a small part of her desire to reinvent herself and create a new space for herself to exist, if only for the amount of time it takes to sweet-talk a real estate agent. Her shoplifting was a problem earlier on, and it played into a number of plots, including one that saw Skylar get dinged for a theft when she tried to return a baby gift that Marie had stolen. But it’s back in a big way now that Hank’s off his feet and their marriage is disintegrating. Her sad journey through empty houses just because she couldn’t stand to be in her own was perfectly suited to the character, and expertly acted at every turn by Betsy Brandt.
Jesse had the same problem: He didn’t want to deal with his loneliness, his actions, or the awful world that had set up shop in his house. Watching him ask Walter to hang out was so sweet and pathetic — and Aaron Paul absolutely nailed the moment with just a hint of desperation in his eyes — but it only got worse as Jesse stumbled around town and eventually returned to find that his house was no longer his own. These are major physical ways to show just how far certain characters have fallen, and the degree to which they aren’t able to set things right. Marie couldn’t bear the thought of returning home after getting caught stealing from open houses, and Jesse sank into a stupor in the middle of the evil carnival that’s taken over his living room. They’re being chased by the memories of what they’ve done, and there’s no real escape.
And Bogdan paid, too. Walt and Skylar didn’t just want the car wash to launder the meth money; they wanted that specific business just to screw over a guy who’d beat them. Now, Bogdan’s a prick, but he’s not a criminal, at least not on Walt’s level. Yet he still wound up paying for the way he’d acted in treating Skylar, who played him like a cheap fiddle just for the hell of it.
But the best was seeing the way Gale’s actions are going to come back to collect on someone else now that Gale’s out of the picture. There’s a sense of perfect justice having Hank get drawn back into DEA work even tangentially by checking out Gale’s homicide, and those damn Lab Notes are going to do some real damage. I have no idea how they’ll affect Walt or Gus, but it’ll be amazing to see what happens. Maybe Hank will turn to Walt for chemistry advice?
That’s what had me so nervous throughout the episode: Everyone was getting some kind of comeuppance (or, in Skylar’s words, an “attitude adjustment”) but Walt and Skylar. Yes, there’s a camera in the lab now, and Gus’ new man is determined to keep an eye on Walt, but that all feels in line with Walt’s attempt to push Gus too far. It wasn’t until Skylar lectured Walt on just how careful they had to be that it became clear just how easily everything — Gale’s notes, Walt’s spending habits, everything — could come back to destroy them. Walt’s come so far, but his position is still so fragile. He keeps getting ahead, but never really going anywhere.
• Skylar is a wartime consigliere. The details she was focusing on were ones I’d never even thought of, and that get glossed over in even the most rigorous stories. Credit writer Sam Catlin for that one. He’s penned several other episodes, including “Four Days Out” and co-writing last year’s “Half Measures.”
• Much love to commenter Craigilicious for pointing out last week that Gale was indeed dumb enough to take notes on a criminal fuckin’ conspiracy. Nicely done, sir.
• The show’s always been great about using consistent color palettes for certain characters. Walt’s usually decked out in flat greens or dark reds and violets (even his Aztek is a dull green), but Marie’s always surrounded by purple. In addition to wearing it for most of the episode, it popped up in her tote bags, the art work at the open houses, and even the clothing of the real estate agents. Nice touch.
• “Getting the shit kicked out of you — not that you get used to it — but you do kind of get used to it.” Jesse Pinkman needs a hug.
• I loved Skylar’s reaction to Saul’s suggestion of violence against Bogdan: “We do not do that. That’s not who we are, right?” Walt backed her up even as his face flickered for an instant as he thought about all the lives he’s taken. Another amazing example of the way the show plays so well with the layers of honesty and disclosure between multiple character pairings.
• Where the hell’s Walt Jr.?
• The fake water technician Skylar used on Bogdan was played by Bill Burr, a stand-up comedian. It’s always weird seeing comics in straight drama roles, though Burr’s profile is at the level that’s modest enough where he can get away with it. (As a comedy nerd, I realize I have a disproportionate recognition and knowledge of comedians.) It usually happens a lot on “Law & Order.” There’s something about watching Jim Gaffigan or Stephen Colbert pretend to be evil that doesn’t work. Burr’s role was a lot less decorative, though, and it worked.
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. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.