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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

Catchin’ Up with Breaking Bad – The Cost of Doing Business (Episodes 02.07-02.09)

“I am a blowfish!”

Walt and Jesse relieve themselves facing a New Mexico sunset.

Nothing says love like two dudes whizzing into the sun.

Sadly and inevitably, I’m going to compare this show to Weeds (since Breaking Bad is a clinic in how to turn a mild-mannered person into a kingpin) in every post and I’d rather not start every piece I write by bashing Nancy Botwin. It feels repetitive to me and I’m sure it’s tiresome to you. So I’m going to compare it to Houseinstead.

Obviously, the two men, Walt and House, are not the same kind of character, particularly since Walt is a man of strict discipline and House spends a good portion of his time flouting the sanctity of such a thing. House tends toward entropy, convinced nothing can be achieved without a little bit of chaos, while Walt works best when working through a plan. What the men share are inspired moments by their cast sidekicks. How many times have you seen House, after a conversation with Wilson, do what Walt does in “4 Days Out” after Jesse mentions “battery.” To House, this is a Sherlock Holmes moment, his revelation where the puzzle finally fits together. Breaking Bad is (clearly) less procedural but his supernatural understanding of nature (comparable to House’s) allows him to have what I’ll call a Mr Wizard moment where he cobbles a plan together based on science.

I’m at once pleased to see these moments, disappointed they don’t come up more often, and glad that they are so rare. Walt’s revelation caps a nice arc where Team Heisenberg starts to feel the cost of doing business, not only with the business itself but also in how it affects them personally. And it all starts off with a great cold opening featuring the ballad of our friend Heisenberg and flashed images of Breaking Bad future.

The easiest way to discuss the cost of doing business is how the characters themselves discuss it. Badger being pinched (you knew it was only a matter of time) and reluctantly adding a new member to the squad is something the gang at Weeds took on very, very early. Recall the Godfather sequence that ends season 1 where everyone sits around the table as a named position in MILF Weed, Inc. These things are kind of stumbled into in Breaking Bad but it creates nice sources of drama that Weeds pretty much avoided.

I know it’s not entirely fair since Nancy started in a different part of the business than Walt did (sales vs production). Also, as Walt and Jesse assemble the pieces to their burgeoning empire, it really isn’t that much different from a number of episodes perspective since Breaking Bad had a truncated first season due to the writer’s strike. But it feels like much longer and we know these characters far better than we’ve ever known anything about the characters on Weeds. I’m not counting Andy’s stupid feelings for Nancy, either. Way to go all Friends on us. Although I never understood why anyone likes Carrie from Sex and the City and she and Nancy Botwin share a sort of special narcisissm that would make them kindred spirits in a screball universe.

But I digress.

Jesse brings up the cost of doing business in reference to Badger. Things are going to happen and you have to pay people off, bust people out of jail, make expenditures that allow you to skirt the law and stay low while bringing up a certain amount of notoriety in a grassroots/underground way. Spend money to make money. Saul is the new piece to that puzzle since hiding loot in a diaper box can’t possibly fool everyone forever. Between this and How I Met Your Mother, Bob Odenkirk is making a pretty decent living being a jackass while David Cross collects doomed projects.

More interesting to me is the cost of doing business domestically. We’ve seen this already in both Walt and Jesse as they’ve struggled in their roles by lying to family or wielding a gun he clearly has no business pointing. The toll is heavy on them as they try to maintain lives that are relatively normal, or at least have some semblance of conventional society. Jesse sparking with Jane is as precious as Walt’s fading connection to his family is heartbreaking. It’s becoming more and more clear the Heisenberg can’t be contained. And it all comes to head in a bottle episode.

Well, sort of a bottle episode. I mean, as much as an episode that takes place in the middle of a wide expanse of land can. Though there are few things that can isolate a person like the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t know personally because I don’t go out in the middle of nowhere. Wide open spaces where no one can hear you scream? That’s where Leatherface lives.

It’s so hard to watch episodes where Jesse does everything wrong and just gets pummeled by the universe and his quickness to being brash poured like cement into a boxing glove. I expected him to walk off the top of the RV into another port-a-potty. Props for creating a character like that that not only makes me laugh with how much goes wrong with him but cringe on his behalf because you know deep down that he’s trying his best.

What a great episode, though, to examine the feelings about being on the brink of death and seriously dealing with why these characters are doing these things in the first place. And to prepare both of them for what they feel is inevitable and then to rip that out from under them.

Curious to me that they had Walt react the way he did to his good news. What do you think it was? Was it the fact that he was ready for this all to end? There’s a lot of twisted stuff going on where Walt finally feels alive but there was always a certain deadline to his foray into the criminal underworld. There was a cost of doing business but there was always a way out for him where it would end and end nobly since he did it all for his family. In remission, he has to face the fact that he likes what he’s doing, it makes me feel like a whole person, it gives him a rush, and that his family may be sliding to second place to Heisenberg. The monster that was always inside him, or at least has been bred by years or decades of suppression, is finally out and, even though he’s getting better physically, there’s no way to jam that monster back into its hole. He paid for his business with his life. Or at least it seems like it’s going that way.

Also: Skyler looks like she’s about to cheat on Walt with a guy from the office. Seriously, can she get an actual storyline?

Other things:

  • “Better Call Saul” was like some weird comedy episode of Breaking Bad. DJ Qualls? Bob Odenkirk? The guy that crashes through the wall but is STILL Captain Clutch? Not to mention some decent physical comedy from both Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul (getting back into the car scene cracked me up). Makes you remember how diverse an actor Cranston really is.
  • The “experiential overlap” scene is monumental for Walt and Hank’s relationship. It’s like looking into the early stages of a bitter rivalry before even the characters know they’re about to be enemies. On a related note, PTSD is fairly important to these characters and I dig that the show gives them room to deal with the bitter tragedies in their lives even if it’s to juxtapose them against Walt who seems to suffer nothing.
  • Turtle bomb!
  • “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.” Heisenberg teaches chemistry.
  • Missed opportunity when Jane asks Jesse about his last name. “I thought your name was Jackson.” The obvious reply: “Only if you’re nasty.”
  • The “Ballad of Heisenberg” is a great way to kick off this midseason. They shook off the effects of the writers’ strike and hit back on track. A Greek chorus in the form of a mariachi/Latin pop-rock group.
  • “Searching for a signal” was CUUUUUUUUUTE.
  • Great jon in dealing with Jesse’s notoriety. Strong enough to scare the tweekers but weak enough for the cops to see right through it. The power they need without the consequences they don’t.

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