This post contains spoilers through the July 24 episode of Breaking Bad.
I’m almost through the preceding three seasons of Breaking Bad and will have a big essay on the show up tomorrow, so this week’s recap should be more informed than last week’s, and we’ll be all in the same place going forward.
Albuquerque’s always been a character on Breaking Bad, but that doesn’t mean the show has always been a Western. This week, however, Walt meets with an illegal gun salesman whose cadence is a product of another, unsettled age. The man warns him, of the first gun he straps on, “Any lawman worth his salt’s going to spot that. I assume that’s a dealbreaker?…This is the West, boss. New Mexico’s not a retreat jurisdiction…You do have a right to defend yourself. Some call it a moral right, and I do include myself within that class.” And with that as the starting premise, everyone falls into their roles. Skylar’s the speculator taking advantage of a small business owner. Jesse is the hooker with a heart of gold, filling his house with what looks like every woman who’s ever posed for Suicide Girls. The brim of Walt’s pork pie hat may not be as broad as that of a Stetson, but he’s wearing a black hat none the less. And by the time Mike leaves Walt on the floor of a saloon, it’s hard not to wonder if he deserves all the implications that go with it.
In a way, though last night’s episode didn’t bring anyone to the brink of life and death, it featured lots of smaller disappointments that illustrate the kinds of miscalculations they’re prone to. Skylar, dolled up in heels and suit, was prepared to make a killer deal, humiliating Walt’s former boss at the car wash, only to find out that just as she hasn’t liked her husband very much for a while, other people are upset with him, too, for things other than selling prodigious quantities of meth. Walt miscalculates, assuming that Mike is as angry at Gus as he is, and misunderstanding that like Gus, Mike is a pro. Gus isn’t going to emerge from the shadows to get shot just because it would emotionally satisfy Walter, and however it might satisfy Mike, he’s not going to let that happen. It’s not clear what Jesse hoped to accomplish by interrupting Skinny Pete and Badger’s respective rehabilitations, but from the way he folds into his high-performance speakers at the end of the episode, he’s hoping for an intersection between metaphorical and literal searches for oblivion. “Use [the money he's given her] to get you and Brock out of that shithole neighborhood,” he tells Andrea as his friends destroy his house with a raging party. “Or spend it on glass, and I’d have no way of stopping you. But I gotta believe you won’t do that.” He trusts his former lover, a former addict, more than he trusts himself.
And then there’s Marie, who tries to get Hank to sleep, only to have him snap at her: “The last I counted, there were four bedrooms in this house,” who cheers him on during his physical therapy, only to have him yell at her to get out of his room. Hank’s more able to connect with the minerals he’s collecting than the woman who is trying to will him to live, and there’s something very Western about that kind of attachment, about the increasingly mineral look of Walt’s face, with its carved valleys, its immobility. I’m curious what folks think of this arc, and how it contrasts with Skylar and Walt. To an extent, I think there’s an argument here that it’s not necessarily Walt’s meth production that made him so impossible for Skylar to deal with during his initial treatment. Maybe it’s just that wounded men are dangerous to anyone who gets too close.