A quick note on this, and at least a few subsequent episodes of Breaking Bad: the show’s something I’ve been meaning to catch up with for a while, but in between a summer of Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter, I just haven’t had time. I’ll be making a concentrated effort to get right over the next few weeks, but please be patient with me as I work on this, and keep in mind that these recaps are going to be the observations of someone who’s read up, but is none the less a n00b. Also, new schedule: these will go up first thing on Monday, and the True Blood open threads will go up right after lunch.
Watching this first episode, it strikes me that one thing AMC’s made a hallmark across all of their major shows is silence. Whether it’s Don Draper letting smoke curl into the air, Detective Linden parsing a scene, or Rick Grimes walking a gas station, or tonight, Walter and Jesse watching Gus dress for a murder, AMC understands how incredibly uncomfortable an unbroken quiet is, especially when awful things hover on the other side of it.
I always love it when directors use horror movie tactics to communicate, like the scene in Heartburn when Meryl Streep, her hair half-teased, staggers out of the bathroom to confront Jack Nicholson about his infidelity, looking for all the world like the monster in the closet. So I loved all the details in tonight’s episode, the masks on Gale’s wall and the potato battery clock on his shelf, a tuber Frankenstein’s monster; the dark hallway Skylar stares down as she rattles the gate into Walt’s condo and the glass eye she finds in his pristine Ikea kitchen cabinets.
And then there’s Walter, one of a number of monsters in the subterranean lab Gus built for his rival. As he confronts Gus, Walter starts out asserting his right to defend himself and to defend Jesse. “He was a good man, and a good chemist, and I cared about him. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. He didn’t deserve it at all. But I’d shoot him again tomorrow,” Walter says of Gale. “When you make it Gale versus me or Gale versus Jesse, Gale loses…Gale’s death is on you…Really, what did you expect me to do? Simply roll over and allow you to murder us?” And there seems to be an extent to which that’s true. But he’s more invested in the process than simply whatever it takes to convince Gus that Gale’s murder was justified. “All right, I just want to go on record, we should all be wearing masks. We should be wearing masks,” he starts out as Gus’s alternative cook starts the process. “Guaranteed he forgets the aluminum. Guaranteed. Guaranteed he forgets…This person doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing…this is what you want? This short-order cook? You’re not flipping hamburgers here.”
This isn’t just a matter of survival for Walter. It’s a matter of craft. And while that craft might mostly involve the slow destruction of people’s bodies, it can also involve their quick annihilation. Gus dresses in lab gear to commit his latest murder, and douses himself in a safety bath when it’s over. Walter and Jesse dress in that same gear to bottle the body, dissolve it with acid, mark it hazardous in more ways than one, and ship it off to waste disposal. You can kill them fast or you can kill them slowly. And on screen, blood can turn into Denny’s ketchup.