“Breaking Bad” doesn’t have filler episodes. It has transition episodes. Vince Gilligan’s show may be a slow burn, but it’s efficiently plotted. There are no tangential or throwaway subplots. There are no loose plot strands. There aren’t even any red-herring subplots, meant to divert your attention away from where the story is heading. It’s laser focused; every scene sets up the next scene, and every episode sets up the next. And through two-and-a-half seasons, the payoff has never disappointed.
Last night’s transition episode continued to beautifully set up future episodes. Working together as partners, Walter and Jesse continue to be pulled apart. Jesse, despite being a multimillionaire, feels that Gus isn’t treating them fairly. They make $96 million worth of product and are only compensated $3 million in return. Now, he’s got to contend with Saul’s 17 percent cut for laundering the money, after Saul purchased a nail salon on Jesse’s behalf. That didn’t sit well with Jesse: “So you want me to buy this place so I can pay taxes?” Jesse is getting sloppy, and when you’re dealing with Gus, sloppy gets you killed.
Meanwhile, it looks like the greed is also getting to Jesse. He’s once again reunited with his old dealers with an eye toward skimming and slinging. And he’s got a new market in mind. The perfect market: He’s going to exploit his own Narcotics Anonymous outfit. I had wondered what Gilligan was doing with that, and once again, he proves that there’s nothing in this show that isn’t utilized toward moving the plot.
On the other side of the partnership, Walter is being savvy as hell, by strengthening his bond with Gus. He took something of a risk by confronting Gus about his involvement in the shooting of Hank, and how he knew that Gus was protecting him. “In one stroke, [Gus] bloodied both sides, set the American and Mexican governments against the cartel, and cut off the supply of methamphetamine to the Southwest. If this man had his own source of product on this side of the border, he would’ve had the market to himself.” It was good of Walter to not only recognize Gus’ play, but to concede the intelligence of it. “I respect the strategy. In your position, I would’ve done the same.”
That doesn’t quite put Walter on the same level as Gus, but it sure as hell closed the gap, even moreso once Walter agreed to an extended agreement, which is now open-ended, guaranteeing (at least on the face of it) security for Walt’s family. Walter clearly wasn’t pleased with the new terms nor, really, the fact that he’s trapped under the thumb of Gus indefinitely. But it won’t be Gus that screws up Walter’s security, it’ll likely be Jesse. At least until Walt tries to outflank Gus, not for a better deal, but to get out of the business while maintaining his security.
The most interesting play this week, however, came from Skylar. Skylar offered to pay for Hank’s medical bills with Walt’s money, leading Marie to believe that Walt secured a fortune by way of gambling. It was smart because it both allowed Skylar to use Walt’s money and hold judgment over him, at least in the eyes of Hank and Marie. More than that, it absolved Marie of any guilt in taking the money. But most importantly, Skylar gained some sympathy for Walt. She began to understand why he began manufacturing meth in the first place. No, she wouldn’t have done it for herself, but now she understands the lengths one would go to for a loved one. It may have been criminal, but it wasn’t selfish. And Skylar is beginning to show a swagger. The mob boss’ wife swagger. In a way, too, it also makes Skylar an accomplice, and the fact that she’s overthrowing her lover makes it appear that she and Walter are on their way to their own marital reunion. At least as long as Skylar believes that Walt had no part in the shooting of Hank.
Next week: Hank discovers that Jesse is skimming, and things move toward what appears to be a violent confrontation between them. It looks like next week will be another well-earned payoff episode.