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Breaking Bad: No Más (2010)
The third season of Breaking Bad gets started as Walt offers a rather different viewpoint
The reviews here for this episode seem to mostly settle on it being okay, but unremarkable. I have to disagree - I think what we get here is an outstanding start to the season. Too many shows start a new season almost as though they plan to tell a different story - things seem to be forgotten. That is not the case in Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan is telling one continuing story and we pick up right where we left off, as everyone deals with the fall-out from the plane crash.
If Bryan Cranston hadn't already been called a genius, this episode would seal it. His speech to the school is awkward, yet funny, as he tries to look on the bright side of events. Then he tells Skyler there are a lot of angles to his drug-dealing, sorry - drug-manufacturing, career. The secret is indeed out and Walt's marriage appears to be over. In addition to the great moments Cranston has as Walt here, he also directs the episode - a man of many talents, like his character, it would seem.
Walt says no to Gus in this episode, but is it only a matter of time before he changes his mind? He also picks Jesse up and tells him how none of it was his fault - if only he told him why he knows that.
Most intriguing in this episode is the introduction of two twins who travel to Texas from Mexico. Are they headed for Albuquerque? They certainly look as though they'll be leaving a trail of bodies wherever they go and it's interesting to see how they fit in with the story.
Breaking Bad: ABQ (2009)
An unbelievably good season ends in an unpredictable, yet perfect way
Something I talked about in my review of the last episode, 'Phoenix', is that actions have consequences in this show. In 'ABQ', Breaking Bad's second season finale, Walt's decision not to save Jane indirectly causes a series of events on a scale he could not have dreamt of. Jane's father, Donald Margolis (played by John de Lancie, who has done some fantastic work as the troubled father in these last few episodes), returns to his job as an air traffic controller and causes an aircraft crash. The flashbacks that began at the start of the season finally become clear.
Now, on a first watch, many people seem to feel almost cheated and let down because they expected a more direct consequence - a cartel explosion perhaps. After watching the episode for a third time, I can honestly say it's one of the best episodes of the season and a completely fitting ending.
Breaking Bad manages to end its second season with a completely shocking turn of events that do indeed feel like an ending, while still leaving numerous threads hanging for season 3 - Gus Fring finding out about Walt having cancer and having a DEA brother-in-law, for instance.
Jesse, much like Donald, struggles to cope in this episode and Aaron Paul does a brilliant job. Just as we lose Jane, a character who reminded me a great deal of Mia Wallace, we get a Wolf-like cleaner who works for Saul, played Jonathan Banks. He is great here in his first scenes and I look forward to seeing more of him.
The confrontation between Walt and Skyler is on the same level as the very best Tony/Carmela moments in The Sopranos. By this point, we are completely invested in these characters and it's difficult, yet brilliant, to watch.
This season has given us some of the best television ever, with 'Phoenix', 'ABQ', 'Grilled', '4 Days Out' and 'Peekaboo' being particular highlights. It is truly an excellent achievement.
Breaking Bad: Phoenix (2009)
One of the most devastating episodes of the series sees Walt fall way beyond redemption
"Not on your back, in case you throw up. On your side. Sleep on your side."
The one Breaking Bad moment that I have argued about the most with my friends is the end of this episode, when Walt knocks Jane Margolis onto her back and then chooses not to stop her choking to death. His immediate reaction, when he notices her choking, is indeed to save her, but then he changes his mind - in that moment, the life of a young woman is in his hands and his hands only, and he chooses to let her die. Many of my friends think this action is justified because of two things: Jane's attempts to blackmail Walt and the fact that Jesse will be better off without her. First of all, while her blackmail of Walt is selfish and it makes us start to dislike her, it in no way means she deserves to die. Secondly, Walt is only thinking about himself in the moment - any love he does have for Jesse comes second to his own personal needs.
I'm not quite sure what show my friends are watching, because this is a show where actions have consequences. The show itself does not treat actions like this as justified - so I question why some of the audience do. A possible answer, of course, lies in the fact that shows like Dexter exist. (I did very much enjoy Dexter at its best, which for me was the fourth season, but I found much of what happened to make no sense and was disappointed with the lack of consequences for certain actions.)
All that, of course, is besides the point. What we have here, in 'Phoenix', is a devastating, yet fantastic episode of television. It's the ending that will stick in the mind, but it's consistently excellent the entire way through. Jane telling Jesse to make sure not to lie on his back has a huge impact on a second watch of the episode, as we know what her ultimate fate is.
Is it a coincidence that Walt meets Donald Margolis in the bar? Yes. Do coincidences happen in the real world? Yes they do. It's actually one of my favourite scenes - they talk about Jesse and Jane respectively and they can relate to each other, without ever really knowing who each other are.
Watching through the second season for the third time, I now consider 'Phoenix' to be the high point of the series up until this point.
Breaking Bad: Mandala (2009)
The death of a friend sends Jesse on a downward spiral as Walt makes a deal with someone new
"Diet coke please. And five minutes of your time."
'Mandala' is an important episode, if for no other reason, because we meet Gustavo Fring for the first time. Played by Giancarlo Esposito, this is the ultimate professional - a fried chicken restaurant chain owner who is secretly a drug kingpin. The shot of Gus before we are even sure who he is, with half his face covered by shadow, is a terrific one and it tells us a lot about the man. At first, it looks as though Walt has missed his chance, as Gus finds Jesse to be unprofessional, but Walt talks his way into getting another opportunity.
By the end of the episode, it's apparent that Walt isn't going to miss that opportunity for anything - not even the birth of his baby daughter. Unlike Tuco Salamanca, Gus Fring is exactly the kind of man that Walt wants to work with - he feels that their caution makes them alike. Where Tuco, if in a bad mood, would beat the hell out of the closest person to him, Gus keeps his cards closer to his chest. However, that makes you wonder what kind of damage he could be capable of causing if things were to turn sour.
This episode, much like 'Down' earlier in the season, is at times hard to watch. I'm not referring to Skyler's unbelievably awkward rendition of 'Happy Birthday' to Ted (although that is the one scene in the entire run that I genuinely consider skipping past). I'm talking about, for one thing, Combo's death at the hands of a child - he may not have been one of the characters we are completely emotionally invested in, but it's tough to see how his death affects Jesse and even Skinny Pete. On another level, this is a world where children get mixed up in drugs and murder, partly because of people like Walter White, and that's a sad world to watch people live in.
Jesse and Jane turning to drugs is incredibly sad for both of them. Aaron Paul is always brilliant in his role, but I cannot give enough credit to Krysten Ritter for what she has done with the character of Jane Margolis (anyone else reminded of Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction?) in such a short space of time. Just as with Bryan Cranston, the slightest facial expression or pause can tell us so much.
Meanwhile, Skyler finds out about Ted's wrongdoings and we just know this isn't going to end well. Of course, she is in labour at the end of the episode and so her mind will be taken off it, but will she get caught up in Ted's lies?
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, with the highlight being the first conversation between Walt and Gus. Gus tells Walt that you can never trust a drug addict, something that appears to be increasingly true in the case of Jesse.
Breaking Bad: Over (2009)
Walter Jr. tries tequila as his father sets about doing some home improvements
"Stay out of my territory."
Something I'm finding during my third full watch-through of Breaking Bad is that many of the episodes that I, on first watch, found to be unremarkable, are now growing on me in a big way. Of this episode, I remembered nothing more than the scary opening and the tequila-drinking scene. In actual fact, it's a well-constructed episode and another great instalment of Breaking Bad's fantastic second season.
My favourite scene from the episode is still the tequila scene, as we see Walt at his very worst. It's the first time we see Walt's behaviour directly affect his son and it's the first time we see Walt confront Hank like that. It's the first time that they act like the enemies they look increasingly likely to one day become. It seems that Walt has, before the events of the series, felt a little threatened by Hank and it's clear that he feels proud of the fact that he is the mysterious Heisenberg and his brother-in-law has no idea.
We really do get to see different sides of Walt in this episode - I can't explain why I love the scenes where he does some work around the house, but I really do. "Skyler, there's rot." somehow says so much about where their relationship is at the moment.
Jesse, meanwhile, meets Jane's father for the first time here, but he doesn't quite get the grand introduction he is hoping for. It looks as though their relationship may not mean all that much to Jane as she asks "Who's you and me?", but by the end of the episode, she slides the rather touching 'Apology Girl' sketch under Jesse's door, and we realise she does care.
I haven't even talked about the first or last scene of the episode! Dead bodies outside the White's house and then Walt telling two pretenders to stay out of his territory? Oh yes, they were excellent too, the former leaving us anticipating something shocking in the last three episodes of the season.
'Over' is another brilliant episode from one of the all-time great television seasons.
Breaking Bad: 4 Days Out (2009)
The finest example of Breaking Bad's amazing ability to combine drama and comedy
'4 Days Out' is a truly excellent episode of television - one of the season's best and indeed one of the series' best. I could pick out almost any particular scene or moment and talk about why it's so good.
It's an endlessly quotable episode, with gems like "Aaah, wiiiiire!" and the aforementioned robot conversation being high points. The high five between Walt and Jesse is another great moment for them - part of what makes this show great is that things that would be ultimately forgettable in another show become some of the best character moments in Breaking Bad.
The acting is top-notch from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul throughout their time in the desert. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that this episode features some of their best scenes together of the entire series.
Speaking of quality acting, the final scenes are incredible. Walt is told that his tumour has shrunk by 80% - yes, Skyler, that is a lot - and the reactions of his loved ones are perfectly played by Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris. Then, Walt goes to the bathroom and lashes out, perhaps questioning what it's all been for if he's going to be fine. A moment of true happiness suddenly disappears and it's the perfect ending to the episode.
Breaking Bad: Better Call Saul (2009)
A fantastic episode introduces us to a brilliant new character
"When the going gets tough, you don't want a criminal lawyer. You want a CRIMINAL lawyer."
That line from Jesse to Walt tells us all we need to know about Saul Goodman. Played by the excellent Bob Odenkirk, this is a man who makes ridiculous jokes and appears at first to be disloyal and dishonest, yet by the end of the episode, he represents Walt and Jesse. Now, while he may indeed be dishonest, you get the impression that loyalty does mean something to Saul.
The episode is great from start to finish. The beginning, while predictable, plays out so well as Badger immediately sees through the entire plan, then falls for it anyway. Odenkirk then has his first scene as he bursts into Badger's interrogation room - and he truly steals every scene he has in this episode.
The plan to make someone the fall guy for Heisenberg is a good one, but surely nothing more than a stall, as Hank will soon realise that Jimmy isn't the guy he's been looking for. The misunderstanding when Badger starts asking a random man for 'the stuff' plays out like a farcical comedy and it's thoroughly entertaining when Walt attempts to distract Hank ("I thought that was you!").
Better Call Saul will, of course, now be the title of an upcoming spin-off based on the character of Saul Goodman. If it can produce episodes anywhere near as good as this, that too will be an excellent show.
Breaking Bad: Negro Y Azul (2009)
Hank and Skyler begin new jobs as Jesse turns the traumatic events of 'Peekaboo' to his advantage
"Dude's wife crushed his head with an ATM machine."
'Negro y Azul' features one of the most bizarre, yet brilliant openings the show ever did, as a Mexican band sing a song about the drug boss Heisenberg and how he's 'already dead'. After that, we follow Hank to El Paso, where he really struggles to fit in, but eventually becomes very important when things go bad. We also see Skyler return to work for a man named Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins), where she worked four years previously, and we get to see how the ATM incident means Jesse has a reputation for violence now.
Of course, with the almost legendary reputation that Walt, or Heisenberg, now has, the pair of them make for quite a partnership. Jesse ends the episode by showing Jane his new TV, as she holds his hand. It's a nice moment for Jesse - Jane seems like she would be good for him.
Hank, on the other hand, doesn't get a nice moment here. Things go from bad to worse as at first, he isn't particularly liked by his colleagues, then Tortuga (Danny Trejo) makes fun of him, before he spots Tortuga's severed head on a tortoise and has a panic attack. Then, to top things off, the tortoise explodes and Hank is a hero - fastening a belt around what remains of his colleague's leg. Hank was already struggling after the death of Tuco, so it's likely that this will make him feel worse.
I write this almost every time I do a review, but this was another great episode.
Breaking Bad: Peekaboo (2009)
Jesse handles business and Walt's lies start to come undone in a fantastic stand-alone episode
"You have a good rest of your life, kid."
'Peekaboo' is one of the best episodes of Breaking Bad yet, for a number of reasons. Interestingly, this is the first episode in which Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul share no scenes together. We still follow both their stories though, as Gretchen Schwartz finds out that Walt has been lying to Skyler and Jesse takes care of the breakage from the last episode.
Walt's lies finally catch up with him, at least to some extent, as Gretchen realises that Walt has told Skyler she and Elliott are paying the medical fees. She sees Skyler and goes along with Walt's story, only for them to meet up later at a restaurant in a terrific scene. We find out a little more of the Gray Matter back-story and it's a shocking but brilliant moment when Walt tells Gretchen "fuck you!".
The Jesse storyline is by far the best bit of the episode as he pays a visit to Spooge and a woman I'll call Skank here (let's hope she doesn't read this review). Jesse goes in with his gun, but his plan changes significantly when he finds their young son there alone. Spooge and Skank return home and in one of the most brutal moments the show has done yet, Spooge gets his head crushed by a stolen ATM machine. Jesse can't believe they'd let a kid live in those conditions, so he calls 911 and leaves the kid on the step, making sure he keeps his eyes closed as they walk through the house.
If the word gets out on the street that Spooge stole from Jesse and ended up dead, the chances of anyone else trying to rob him don't look to be very high. This is a terrific hour of television, as we really get to know Jesse better through his sympathy for the young boy. Only 'Grilled' so far surpasses this in terms of the quality of episodes this season.
Breaking Bad: Breakage (2009)
Walt and Jesse start their own drug dealing operation and Jesse meets the girl next door
"You asked me what I want you to do. I want you to handle it."
Walt and Jesse decided, after they first started cooking together, to go into business with Krazy-8. It ended rather badly as Walt murdered him in Jesse's basement. After this, Walt entered them into a business agreement with the crazed Tuco Salamanca, against Jesse's wishes. Needless to say, this also proved to be a bad idea, as Tuco nearly killed them both, only to end up dead himself, courtesy of Hank. With previous experience in mind, the logical next step for Walt and Jesse was not to find another distributor - another Tuco - but to start their own operation.
So, that's what they do. Jesse enlists his best men - Badger, Skinny Pete and Combo - and the money making begins. When Jesse hands Walt his share though, it's a thousand dollars short. Skinny Pete was held up at knife-point (in a particularly scary scene, thanks to Dale Dickey's laughing meth-head) and some product was stolen. Jesse calls it breakage, but Walt calls it unacceptable. He hands Jesse a gun at the end of the episode and tells him to handle it. These scenes are great to watch and it sets up a major plot for the next episode very nicely.
In other news, Hank has received a promotion! He'll be on his way to El Paso, Texas, which is great news for him, but unfortunately, the death of Tuco is still playing on his mind. He appears to have a panic attack in the lift at work and eventually throws Tuco's grill into the water, in what is arguably the biggest red herring the show has given us yet. At the top of the episode, we saw a couple of guys find the grill and we thought something was going to happen to Hank. This is, of course, what the show has trained us to think and in all honesty, it's something of a relief that Hank is indeed alive and well at the end of the episode.
Walt finds out about Skyler's nasty smoking habit here and things don't get any better between the two of them when she suggests that she may have smoked them in a fugue state. Jesse, on the other hand, fares considerably better than he has in the past, as he charms Jane (Krysten Ritter), daughter of a property landlord, into letting him move in next-door to her, despite him not exactly meeting the requirements.
All in all, this is another great episode. Can Walt and Jesse go on to build a truly successful meth cooking and dealing operation without getting caught?
Breaking Bad: Down (2009)
Skyler demands the truth from Walt as Jesse nears rock bottom
"Want some breakfast?"
'Down' is a bleak episode of Breaking Bad, one that's difficult to watch at times. Yet it's also a fascinating look at how the decisions that Walt and Jesse have made, both individually and together, have affected their relationships with the people that matter to them.
Jesse finds himself being kicked out of the house he's been living in by his parents, leading to him being turned down by all his friends and eventually returning to the RV. It's the lowest point we've seen Jesse at so far, as he lies on the floor of the vehicle crying.
Walt, on the other hand, begins to notice his wife and son drifting further away from him, with Walter Jr.'s insistence on being called Flynn particularly hard for him to take. Walt tells Jesse on the phone that "no amount of pay-per-view channels is going to make a difference..." and unlike before, Skyler now seems aware that it probably isn't who Walt says it is on the other end. She doesn't know quite what is going on, but she knows Walt is holding things back. Their relationship also reaches a new low here, as she repeatedly leaves the house for hours at a time, not telling Walt where she is going. It's a sign of her desperation that she lights up a cigarette at the end of the episode. While certainly a terrible decision on Skyler's part, it's hard to argue that Walt should bear none of the blame.
Walt and Jesse's relationship takes a turn for the worst as well, as they end up fighting in the RV as Walt tells Jesse what a disappointment he is. Moments later though, they reconcile. It seems likely that they will be heading off to cook a new batch sooner rather than later.
This episode also marks the return of the teddy bear in the opening, in what we can still only assume is flash-forward to future events. Again, I will not say anything else on this for now - only that it is very intriguing.
With 'Down', season 2 delivers yet another very strong episode - it's a joy to watch these characters' stories unfold.
Breaking Bad: Bit by a Dead Bee (2009)
Walt comes up with a plan to get himself and Jesse off the hook
"My wife is seven months pregnant with a baby we didn't intend. My fifteen-year old son has cerebral palsy. I am an extremely overqualified high school chemistry teacher. When I can work, I make $43,700 per year. I have watched all of my colleagues and friends surpass me in every way imaginable and within eighteen months, I will be dead. And you ask why I ran?"
'Bit by a Dead Bee' is another important episode of Breaking Bad. It is a prime example of how this show really mastered the art that is creating good television. In the first episode of this season, we saw the build-up to the big events that happened in the top quality 'Grilled'. Now, in the third episode of the season, we see the fall-out from those events. Bryan Cranston does more excellent work here as Walt hatches a plan to explain his disappearance, while also knowing that Jesse needs a good alibi.
This is the first time that Hank and Jesse meet and it's an excellent scene for both Dean Norris and Aaron Paul. Hank seems sure that Jesse is lying about his three-day party with Wendy, but cannot prove it - yet. He thinks he can break Wendy, but this goes wrong when she remembers him from when he visited with Walter Jr. and she thought he wanted her to 'do that kid!'. Despite this, Hank and Gomez have one more card to play - Tio Salamanca. It's great to see Tio's return, especially as we realise that he is old school and would never talk to the DEA. So, Jesse is let off the hook.
Walt, meanwhile, reveals to his psychiatrist a certain degree of the truth in the speech I quoted at the top of the review. Of course, he fails to mention that they were kidnapped by a psychopathic drug dealer. The most heartbreaking scene of the episode is surely when Walt visits his house in the night and catches a glimpse of what his family's life would be like without him. The question that keeps coming up is whether or not what he is doing 'for his family' is actually worth it. Is he in fact losing them in the process?
Just as when Krazy-8 was killed in '...And the Bag's in the River', it's unclear where the story will go now. Tuco's grill is all that remains of him, so who will Walt and Jesse partner up with next? This was a slower episode, but it was still full of quality, as this show always is.
Breaking Bad: Grilled (2009)
The tension builds to a stunning climax in a fantastic episode of television
"We tried to poison you. We tried to poison you because you are an insane, degenerate piece of filth and you deserve to die."
As much as I had loved some of the earlier episodes of Breaking Bad, this was an episode that, on first watch, impressed me more than any other I had seen so far.
Once Tio rings his bell to alert Tuco of the poison, things slowly start to go wrong for Walt and Jesse. Tuco gradually realises that Walt and Jesse are trying something, which leads to the amazing final scenes, where Jesse manages to get the upper hand and shoot Tuco, only for Tuco's cousins to arrive moments later. Except that it isn't Tuco's cousins in the car - it's Hank Schrader. Hank and Tuco shoot at each other and for a moment, it looks as though our favourite DEA agent might be in trouble. Hank proves his worth though, waiting for the opportune moment to pop Tuco in the head and finish him. Dean Norris plays Hank so well that he keeps revealing different sides to his character.
It's also testament to the great work Raymond Cruz has done on this show as Tuco Salamanca that his death feels like such a huge moment, despite only featuring in four episodes. He is excellent in his final appearance here, as are Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Mark Margolis as the wheelchair-bound old man we know only as Tio.
It's fitting that the episode ends with Tio's bell - it's one of those great television moments where you sit and watch the end credits in awe, knowing you've seen something special.
Breaking Bad: Seven Thirty-Seven (2009)
Breaking Bad begins its second season as Walt and Jesse get caught up in a tense game of cat and mouse
"Ricin. It's an extremely effective poison. It's toxic in small doses, also fairly easy to overlook during an autopsy."
The first season of Breaking Bad was nothing short of excellent. It may not go down as one of the most accomplished debut seasons of television ever, but it did its job in that it left us wanting more. In the season 2 premiere, after a mysterious opening involving a partly destroyed teddy bear, we pick up where we left off. In fact, we pick up just before we left off as we relive the horrifying scenes as Tuco beats the hell out of his man, No-Doze. As it turns out, No-Doze is dead and this begins what is essentially a game of cat and mouse that dominates this episode.
Jesse is convinced that Tuco will want to tie up loose ends and get rid of witnesses. At first, Walt seems fairly calm about this, but soon starts to panic himself. It's the most desperate we have seen Walt so far, as he fears for the safety of his family.
The shot of Walt in his Heisenberg hat flicking through the television channels is a powerful one. It says so much about the transformation that Walt has already undergone - this is now a man who will quite literally kill to protect himself and his family. He suggests poisoning Tuco with ricin, which Jesse hilariously responds to with "rice n' beans?". Jesse is, however, impressed and they formulate a plan to poison Tuco - nobody will ever know it happened.
Things do not go as planned though and Walt ends the episode by climbing into the car with Jesse and Tuco, being held at gunpoint by the latter. It's quite a cliffhanger to begin the season. One of the best things about this show is the way that even when it is building to a climax, it never feels like boring set-up.
The hardest scene to watch here was when Walt attempted to have sex with his heavily pregnant wife in the kitchen, having to be told no several times before he finally stopped. He is not himself and Skyler knows something is up.
Skyler's issues with Marie are not resolved, as she ignores her sister's calls because of the stolen tiara. The best scene of this storyline comes from Hank's visit to Skyler, where it is revealed that Hank is well aware of Marie's problem. Their hug is up there with the most awkward television hugs of all time.
I haven't written much about the opening, but that is because it has not really told us anything so far.
As in season 1, this episode blends comedy and drama superbly and gets the second season off to a great start.
Not a typical finale, but an excellent first season closes with a great episode
"Yeah, Mr. White! Yeah, SCIENCE!"
It is worth bearing in mind that 'A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal' was not originally supposed to be the season finale, which explains why there is no real sense of finality at all here. Having said that, it works well as an episode and if its purpose was simply to leave the viewer desperate to see what happens next, it certainly succeeded.
The closing scene of the episode and indeed the season is certainly nothing less than memorable, as Tuco beats the hell out of his henchman simply for telling Walt and Jesse to remember who they work for. It's arguably the first moment in the show that is really quite disturbing. In just two episodes, Tuco has established himself as the craziest character we've seen so far and it will be intriguing to see if Walt and Jesse can and will continue to work with him.
Other great moments here include the robbery of the methylamine, which is almost reminiscent of the three Stooges, and Skyler returning the tiara only to find out it is stolen. Marie's kleptomania is clearly quite a serious issue and her refusal to admit it puts Skyler in an awkward position. The baby shower scene is mildly amusing with Hank again mentioning Shania Twain and Walter Jr. pointing the camera at something else entirely. Walt's little message to the baby is rather touching too.
One thing I've found about this season is that the sex scenes between Walt and Skyler always make me feel rather uncomfortable, although there's no denying that 'Because it was illegal." is a hilarious line.
'A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal' is far from the best episode of Breaking Bad, but it's a good ending to a great season. Looking back, the first season is almost definitely the weakest of the show, but it's still something quite special. Episodes like '...And the Bag's in the River' and 'Crazy Handful of Nothing' are unbelievably good and even the weaker episodes are well worth watching.
Walt's transformation truly begins in undoubtedly the best episode so far
"You got one part of that wrong. This is not meth."
'College' is the episode of The Sopranos that truly convinced me (and a lot of other people) that I was watching something special. In Breaking Bad, '...And the Bag's in the River' may, for some, be the equivalent episode, but for me, this episode blows the previous five out of the water and has the viewer hooked from the opening scene to the very end.
The trick of beginning an episode with a flash-forward to future events is one that was first used in the pilot. The opening here is simply iconic, even more so than Walt driving the RV in the very first scene of the show. Walt is shown walking away from what looks like some kind of explosion, with blood running from his nose and a shaved head. What makes it even better is that this scene is interspersed with him telling Jesse that he will only deal with the chemistry side of things - something we can clearly see will not be the case.
The most memorable part of this episode is, of course, Walt's visit to Tuco (Raymond Cruz) at the end, but the whole episode is full of great moments. The introduction of this psychopathic drug dealer is handled brilliantly, as he beats the hell out of Jesse in his first scene. It's made apparent quickly that this man is a different kettle of fish to Krazy-8. Walt and Jesse are in deep now and although Walt is the clear winner at the end of this one, Tuco doesn't seem the type to forgive and forget.
This is the show's first memorable use of the Chekhov's gun principle, as Walt talks to his class about Fulminated Mercury. The principle would go on to be used brilliantly many times throughout the series in a number of different ways.
As I mentioned above, there are plenty of other good things in this episode. Hank's investigation sees a major development as he and Gomez discover that the gas mask belonged to the chemistry department of Walt's school. It has been questioned by a few people why Hank doesn't suspect Walt at all, even when it's seemingly quite obvious. I think the simple answer to this question is that Walt cooking crystal meth is unthinkable to Hank. He clearly sees his brother-in-law as nothing more than a nerdy teacher. That much is made obvious in lines such as "You wouldn't know a criminal if he was close enough to check you for a hernia", the irony of which does not need pointing out. Hank's best line in this episode, however, is his remark about the Principal at Walt's school - "Chick's got an ass like an onion - makes me wanna cry!".
Innocent people get a rough time in this episode, as Hugo, the janitor at Walt's school, takes the fall for the equipment going missing, simply because he had something on his record. Then we have Jesse, who of course is not entirely innocent, but since visiting Tuco was Walt's idea, did not deserve to get beaten up like that. We then have Skyler, who is being fed the lie about Gretchen and Elliot paying for the cancer treatment, which is just not true. It's hard not to think that she'll find out the truth about that eventually, one way or another.
The scene that sees Jesse realise that Walt has cancer and recall his Aunt's experience is a touching one and it's obvious that Jesse is affected by the revelation.
I see this episode as an introduction to not one, but two characters. First, we have Tuco, who comes across as unpredictable and psychotic. Then we have Heisenberg, who is not a high school Chemistry teacher or a family man, but a hardened criminal who is prepared to do anything to make the money he needs.
This is, quite simply, fantastic.
Breaking Bad: Gray Matter (2008)
Walt has a decision to make, but is his pride getting in the way of sense?
"Skyler, you've read the statistics. These doctors talking about surviving, one year, two years, like it's the only thing that matters. But what good is it to survive if I'm too sick to work, to enjoy a meal, to make love? For what time I have left, I want to live in my own house, I want to sleep in my own bed. I don't want to choke down 30 or 40 pills every single day, and lose my hair and lie around, too tired to get up and so nauseated that I can't even move my head. You cleaning up after me. Me... Some dead man, some artificially alive, just marking time... No... And that's how you would remember me. That's the worst part. So that is my thought process, Skyler. I'm sorry, I just... I choose not to do it."
'Gray Matter' is a great episode for a number of reasons. Firstly, we are introduced to a number of new characters, namely Jesse's friend Badger (Matt L. Jones) and Elliott Schwartz (Adam Godley), co-founder (along with Walt) of Gray Matter Technologies. His wife, Gretchen, was previously seen in the flashback in '...And the Bag's in the River'. We also get the 'talking pillow' scene, which is a definite highlight and perhaps the most emotional scene in the show so far.
The episode begins with Jesse at a job interview talking about his 'sales' experience, but it soon becomes clear that the job opportunity isn't what he thought it was. He then strives to cook meth of Walt's quality here and Badger is in disbelief as he repeatedly throws away batches because they aren't quite at Walt's level. The closest we get to any action in this episode is the scuffle between Badger and Jesse that almost turns nasty.
The main stories in this episode follow Walt. First of all, he and Skyler arrive at the Schwartz' party and it's a real realisation for him that this is what he could have had, as we learn about how he was a co- founder of Elliott's extremely successful company. Both Elliott and Gretchen come across as likable people, although there are hints that everyone didn't always get along and we are left to wonder why Walt left the company. I can only assume, at this point, that it had something to do with Walt's past relationship with Gretchen, but that's speculation. Walt seems genuinely excited when Elliott talks about them working together again, only for his heart to sink when he realises that Skyler has filled him in about the cancer and it may be nothing more than an act of sympathy.
The real highlight of this episode, as I mentioned above, is the intervention scene with the talking pillow. It's another moment where the White/Schrader family feels truly believable and each of the five characters shine. Skyler is obviously out to persuade Walt to get treatment for the cancer, while Walt is opposed to the idea. Hank becomes increasingly likable as he again shows how much he really cares about Walt, despite his analogies being lost on everyone. Walter Jr. is on his mother's side, but Marie (who really comes into her own as a character here) surprises everyone when she says it should be Walt's decision, something which Hank then agrees with. This leads to an argument before Walt brings it to a halt and grabs the pillow himself. He then delivers the speech I quoted at the top of the review and it's an emotional moment. It seems his mind is made up, but then he thinks on it a little more and decides to take the treatment. The episode ends with Walt turning up at Jesse's house and asking him if he wants to cook, so we can assume that who they sell to next will be a mystery solved in the next episode.
Something that really resonates here is Walt's pride. He's too proud to take the treatment for his lung cancer at first, then when he does, he refuses to allow Gretchen and Elliott to pay for it, despite their obvious wealth. He even tells Gretchen on the phone that the insurance covers it, which would seem to suggest he plans to pay for it himself with drug money. Like Hank says, a man should have his pride, but is Walt's already getting the better of him?
This episode is sad in parts, but it still has its fair share of funny moments, such as Marie's "Excuse me?" and Hank's disbelief when Skyler reveals it was Walt smoking pot, not Walter Jr., and Jesse's brilliant line - "It's just basic chemistry, yo!". Walter Jr. also has some great lines, with "You're a pussy!" and "Um... No it's not?" (when the cop says what he's asking is illegal) being my particular favourites.
'Gray Matter' is an important episode and it manages to entertain and surprise, while still intriguing us as to where we're headed.
Breaking Bad: Cancer Man (2008)
A slow, but enjoyable episode gives us a chance to get to know a little more about Jesse
"So be on notice - We got new players in town. Now we don't know who they are or where they came from, but they possess an extremely high skill set. Me personally, I think Albuquerque might just have a new kingpin."
'Cancer Man' may be the weakest instalment of Breaking Bad so far, but it's far from a bad episode. In fact, it's a rather good episode. We quickly find out that Skyler does now know about the cancer and then we watch Walt tell Hank, Marie and Walter Jr., which is a great scene, especially coming after the story of how Walt and Skyler met. We start to see exactly how close the five of them are, which makes it hard knowing that the family would be ripped apart if Hank ever found out about Walt's crimes.
Agent Schrader is right on Walt's case, having found out about the disappearance of Krazy-8 and Emilio. On top of that, a DEA chemist tested Walt's meth and it turns out to have 99.1% purity, which is quite remarkable. Hank knows there's someone new cooking and you can bet he'll stop at nothing to find out who.
This episode also ends with a real bad-ass moment for Walt when he blows up the car of that incredibly annoying man who, quite frankly, deserved it.
I think the main point of interest here was what we learnt about Jesse's background. Introducing this well-off, happy family before revealing that they are actually the Pinkmans was a nice touch and the scenes between them were interesting. It's obvious that, while they do love their eldest son, they've lost patience with him over the years. It's especially touching that Jesse takes the blame for his little brother, even knowing that his parents will kick him out of the house. We get to meet Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Combo (Rodney Rush) too, a couple of Jesse's friends who are clearly no strangers to drugs. It's also revealed that Jesse is a talented artist, but then we get the painful reminder of how Walt has always made him feel as though he isn't good enough, whether it be as his high school teacher or as his business partner.
Worth mentioning is the callback to the pilot as Walt thinks the police are going to pull him over, but they simply drive straight past. A favourite line of mine from the episode was Jesse's "I got a wire... speak into the mic, bitch!", along with Walt's poor attempt to reassure Walter Jr. - "You know, I... I just think that ah... things have a way of working themselves out"
'Cancer Man' is definitely a less memorable episode than the previous three, but there's more than enough to keep us interested. I'm starting to think that there's no such thing as a bad episode of Breaking Bad.
Walt finally deals with the Krazy-8 situation in arguably the best episode yet
"Skyler, there's something I have to tell you."
'...And the Bag's in the River', the third episode of the first season of Breaking Bad, is the most dramatic episode yet and it wraps up what I like to think of as a loose trilogy of episodes. When Walt returns home to Skyler, presumably about to tell her about his cancer, Krazy-8 and Emilio have both been dealt with and perhaps now it is time for some normality to be restored in his life. Having said that, maybe Walt should make another pros and cons list - he has seen how dangerous the drug business can be, but if he gives up now, he won't have made any money for his family and it will all have been for nothing.
We begin here with a flashback to what looks like Walt's college days, as he discusses exactly what makes up the human body with a fellow student and love interest, played by Jessica Hecht, a character who will return to the show. The flashbacks are interspersed with Walt and Jesse cleaning up the horrific mess in Jesse's house after what happened in the last episode. It's a great opening that is nicely recalled at the end, after Walt has strangled Krazy-8 to death. "The soul? There's nothing but chemistry here."
Speaking of which, the moment when Walt realises that a piece of the plate is missing and it becomes inevitable what he must do is truly brilliant. The tense scene in the basement is probably my favourite moment in the show so far. I mentioned in my review for the last episode that this would be entirely different to when Walt used the Phosphine gas in the RV, because it was now cold-blooded murder. Not only that, but because both Walt and the viewer got to know Krazy-8 here, it made the death much more significant. Max Arciniega deserves much credit for his performance; his scenes with Bryan Cranston really steal the show in this episode. Aaron Paul has little to do in this one (besides his fight with Walt), but surely Jesse can do better than Wendy, the prostitute!
Skyler also knows definitively that Walt is hiding something now that she knows he hasn't been working at the car wash for two weeks, but I think it may be safe to say that all will be forgotten (temporarily, at least) when she finds out about the lung cancer.
We get to know both Hank and Marie a little better in this episode, as Hank is persuaded by his wife to talk to Walter Jr. after Skyler 'strongly inferred' that he is smoking marijuana. Skyler was, of course, actually referring to Walt, which is reflected in Walter Jr.'s confusion when Hank takes him to the 'crystal palace'. The scene where Hank calls over Wendy and she mistakenly thinks he is trying to get her to 'do' Walter Jr. is awkwardly funny (especially knowing how that crops up in a later episode). The partnership between Hank and Gomez is something I enjoy in these early episodes, as they have a lot of great banter ("Yeah, you're like rain man - retarded.") but seem to genuinely make a good team. It is also made abundantly clear, if it wasn't already, that a major plot point of this show will involve Hank and his team constantly being a step behind Walt. The question is: when will Walt be caught by his brother-in-law? Or what will he be prepared to do to avoid capture? We see the first signs of Marie being a kleptomaniac here too, which adds some interest to her character.
There's little indication as to where the next few episodes will go, but as we start to invest in these characters more and more, we know it will be interesting. I can't think of a show with a better opening three episodes... and it's going to get better!
Breaking Bad: Cat's in the Bag... (2008)
Walt and Jesse begin to tie up loose ends in an episode that's just as strong as the pilot
"I'm sorry, what were you asking me? Oh, yes, that stupid plastic container I asked you to buy. You see, hydrofluoric acid won't eat through plastic; it will however dissolve metal, rock, glass, ceramic. So there's that."
There's always a worry after a great pilot episode that the show will just go rapidly downhill. I won't name and shame any particular examples here, but I'm sure we can all think of some. The second episode of Breaking Bad, 'Cat's in the Bag...', is less eventful than the pilot, but it's equally as thrilling.
The assumption, before watching the episode, is that it would involve Walt and Jesse getting rid of the bodies of Emilio and Krazy-8, the two dealers in the back of the RV. However, the episode opens with the reveal that Krazy-8 is still alive, meaning that there's a very different job that needs doing. It was one thing for Walt to think on his feet in the RV and save Jesse and himself by killing the two guys. For him to now go down to the basement of Jesse's house and murder Krazy-8 in cold blood is a very different kettle of fish, which will make the next episode intriguing. Walt will want to let him go more than anything, but knowing he'd put his family at risk, is that really an option?
Speaking of which, Walt and Skyler's relationship is put under strain for the first time (that we've seen) and it's clear that Walt is going to have to make sacrifices if he wants to get the money he needs to provide for his family when he's gone. The lie to the man who helps them with the RV in the desert is ridiculously obvious, topped only by the phone call with Jesse in the kitchen that Walt can't possibly believe is fooling anyone.
Dark humour really sums up this episode, particularly the unforgettable scene at the end. Walt talking to Skyler and Walter Jr. about cleavage at the breakfast table is among the lighter moments, along with Jesse's reaction to Walt smoking weed, which changes abruptly when he realises it's his weed. It's extremely impressive that this show can be so funny, without taking away from the seriousness of what is actually happening. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul will surely have everyone convinced by now that they are perfect for their respective roles.
Walt's lie about Jesse selling him marijuana is clever, as it's shocking enough to make Skyler believe it, but nowhere near the appalling truth. Telling his pregnant wife to 'climb down out of my ass' is one of the more surprising (but still hilarious) moments in this episode. It's also interesting that Skyler meets Jesse for the first time here, as that could have been saved for much further down the line.
Jesse has some great lines too, namely responding to Walt's question about Krazy-8's reputation for violence with "Well, um... he did try to kill us both yesterday, so there's that." (with Walt mimicking 'so there's that' in his brilliant line at the end of the episode) and "Ah, like I came to you, begging to cook meth. Oh, hey, nerdiest old dude I know, you wanna come cook crystal? Please. I'd ask my diaper-wearing granny, but her wheelchair wouldn't fit in the RV.", which is definitely one of Jesse's finest rants.
The pilot was so good that, even if this episode had been poor, I would have carried on watching the show a while longer. As it turns out, 'Cat's in the Bag...' was another terrific hour of television.
Breaking Bad: Pilot (2008)
A fascinating pilot episode for a show that would go on to be called one of the greatest of all time
"My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 87104. To all law enforcement entities, this is not an admission of guilt. I am speaking to my family now."
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) says that chemistry, in his eyes, is the study of change. Breaking Bad is undoubtedly a show about change. Even by the end of this very first episode, Walt's life is significantly different to how it was at the beginning. Before the cancer diagnosis and the ride-along with his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), he was just a high school teacher, albeit a very intelligent and overqualified high school teacher. The title of this show, though confusing to some, is perfect. By the end of the episode, Walt has broken bad. It's about character change, often not for the better.
It's a testament to the writing of this episode that before we have any idea how interesting characters like Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Hank will become, they are already intriguing to watch. Jesse appears to be nothing more than a junkie and Hank an arrogant cop, but both deliver some hilarious lines in this episode and we will come to learn that they both have so much more to them. Walt seems like a stereotypical nerdy teacher, although it's hard to deny that the moment where he takes out the bully is bad-ass. He too has his moments of comedy ("Wipe down this!") and while it's hard, at this point, to imagine him ever being scary or intimidating, Bryan Cranston is definitely a brilliant choice for the lead role in this show. Other characters introduced include Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), Walt's pregnant wife and disabled son, and Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt), Skyler's sister and Hank's wife.
It is worth noting just how funny Breaking Bad can be, particularly in the early seasons. The end of the first bedroom scene with Skyler on her laptop is hilarious, while other favourites of mine include Jesse's description of the 'cow house' and Walt quitting his job at the car wash.
Looking back, it isn't obvious where Vince Gilligan planned to take the show, but from the bodies in the RV, it's clear that it was always going to be somewhere dark.
As far as pilot episodes go, this is as good as anything I have seen, and knowing what this show would become, it's thrilling to watch the beginning again.