September 2, 2013

TV Review: BREAKING BAD 5.12 — “Rabid Dog”

Breaking Bad Rabid Dog

I genuinely feared for Jesse Pinkman’s life this week. And why wouldn’t I? Despite the fact that his impromptu plan to torch the White homestead was interrupted by Hank, everyone on the inside of the empire Heisenberg now understands that this is a loose end that can no longer be re-threaded. Saul sees only one option, which he nervously presents to Walt in typical Saul fashion — by comparing Jesse to the ill-fated canine in Old Yeller. Even Skyler suggests there’s only one way to fix this problem permanently. “You need to deal with this,” she tells Walt, making quite clear her preferred method for doing so. Everyone understands where this is headed. Everyone knows what must be done. Everyone, that is, except for Walt.

“Jesse isn’t just some rabid dog,” he says. “This is a person.” Which isn’t really what Walt means. Gale was a person. What Walt means is that he can lie up a storm and order the deaths of those not close to him, but he just can’t bring himself to kill the man who was with him at the beginning, the man who he grew to think of as his son. Additionally, Walt is someone accustomed to getting his way, and if he decides that Jesse should live, that the relationship can still be repaired, then, in his mind, that’s no different than deciding that 10 potential informants need to die. It doesn’t matter what everyone else wants. It only matters what Walt wants to try to do.

Had an attempt at reconciliation occurred, Walt would have failed. Anyone who saw the anguish on Jesse’s face at the end of last week’s episode knows this is a relationship that can no longer be mended. Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter. Thanks to Hank’s interference, “Rabid Dog” ends with Jesse making his intentions crystal clear. “This is just a heads up to let you know I’m coming for you,” he tells Walt on the phone, seconds after he bails on an intended meeting between the two that would have had Walt confessing his sins directly into the wire Hank had taped to Jesse’s chest. And that’s when Walt finally understands what everyone else knew all along.

He calls up Todd on his phone. “I think I might have another job for your uncle,” he says.

“Rabid Dog” spends its entire hour getting us to the point where Walt will give the go-ahead for Jesse’s murder. As a result, it’s a slower episode that what we’ve been accustomed to so far this season, and it’s one that just nudges the plot forward rather than propels it. But it’s an important nudge that needed to be treated delicately and properly. It was inevitable that Walt and Jesse end up on an unavoidable collision course, but it was important that it felt earned. That was this episode’s job, and I’d say it was successful in doing it, in large part thanks to the typically brilliant work from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. With that said, this was likely my least favorite of season 5B’s first four episodes. For starters, I never once believed that Jesse had a change of heart and just decided not to burn down Walt’s house. In an attempt to heighten the drama — and to add tension to an opening scene where Walt comes home to find … nobody — we weren’t shown that Jesse was actually stopped from doing so by Hank until halfway through the episode, but that was my best guess almost immediately. The reveal ended up being more of a confirmation than a shock. Not a major complaint, but Breaking Bad is usually so deliciously unpredictable that in the rare instances where you find yourself ahead of the show, you take notice.

I also found the scene with Walt telling Skyler and Junior some far-fetched gas-pump-run-amok story to explain why the house smelled like gas to be a bit redundant. By this point, we all get it. Walt is a gigantic lying liar and he’ll lie as much as he needs to whenever he needs to. The scene worked in the context of the story, and it led to that nice bit where a despondent Junior accused Walt of lying to cover up his sickness, but it also felt like just more of what the show’s been telling us over and over the last few weeks, only without any real stakes. I mean, no one actually believed Skyler was going to fall for that, did they?

Ask yourself this: Although we didn’t need to see Jesse tell any of his long and winding tale to Hank, Gomez and Hank’s video camera — after all we’ve watched the whole thing on our TVs — wouldn’t you have liked to seen a bit of that as opposed to Walt getting desperate with the carpet cleaners, which felt like something that could have come from season two? I would have.

Some more thoughts about “Rabid Dog” …

– So that’s why last week featured that weird cold open with Todd and his uncle at the diner. They needed that scene to make sure the point was hammered home when Walt called Todd at the end of this episode. It was a reminder that those guys were out there.

– I liked that Sam Catlin, who wrote and directed this episode, made it clear in the opening scene how nervous and awkward Walt is with a gun. Yeah, he’s the great Heisenberg, but you put cold steel in his hand and he still comes across as a bumbling science teacher.

– I also thought that shot of Hank buckling a nearly catatonic Jesse into his seat was a nice touch.

– Does anyone else think it’s possible that the series ends with Marie poisoning Walt, as she fantasizes about to her therapist in this episode? I don’t think I’d be happy with that considering how much of an outsider Marie has felt like for most of the series. More than likely, it’s just one of the plethora of possibilities showrunner Vince Gilligan wants us to consider.

– At this point, seeing Walt in his tighty-whities is less a callback to the show’s pilot and more just the status quo.

– Jesse on Hank’s insistence that Walk likes him and wouldn’t hurt him: “You mean when he’s not ripping me off or calling me an idiot or poisoning people I care about? Yeah, no … Mr. White’s gay for me. Everyone knows that.”

– No shit Badger and Skinny Pete sit around talking about Babylon 5 for hours at a time. I’d be shocked if they didn’t.

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