This post contains spoilers through the Aug. 21 episode of Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad is a show where exchanges of information or realizations are often as important as murders executed or trucks hijacked, and last night’s episode was very much about a core realization: Walt is no longer as invested in the well-being of his family as he is in his own self-image. We’ve known that for a while, I think, but it was still shocking to see Skylar’s shock over when Walt lashed out at her with a justification of his own significance, a violent reaction to the cover story she suggests if they ever need to go to the police, that he is being manipulated by Gus and his operation. “That is it exactly. You’re not exactly Dr. Joyce Brothers here,” Walt raves at her. “A tremendous weight lifted off me. I finally understand myself…Who is it you’re talking to right now? Who is it you think you see?…I am not in danger. I am the danger.”
The only real shock for us as an audience was the idea that Walt was going to be able to abide by a cover story written by his wife, that he clearly hated from the beginning, that cast him as weak, small, the kind of man he was before he started cooking meth, bullying kids who bullied his son, forcing his son to drink Tequila until he vomited, buying his son off with sports cars. We’ve never had much idea of who Walter Junior is, whether he has some rich interior life at school we know nothing about. But he’s the one undamaged person on the show (unless we count Baby Holly), and it’s fascinating to wonder how long his innocence can last, and who or what he’ll be when it’s destroyed by his father’s death, disgrace, or imprisonment.
As Walt sabotages his family, he’s trying to restore what he thinks is the natural order with Jesse, too. “Is there something about you that I don’t know? Are you a former Navy SEAL? Do you have to have your hands registered as lethal weapons?” he asks Jesse about his work with Mike. “Do you think you mean anything to these people?” Jesse snaps back at him, “I see they can’t outright kill me, but they don’t want me getting high. I see this thing probably started as Gus getting Mike to babysit me. But you know what? I saved Mike from getting robbed, from getting killed, maybe. So maybe I’m not such a loser after all.” But Walt has an answer for that too, sensing Gus’s setup and his play, telling Jesse, “This whole thing, it’s all about me.” Except that maybe it’s not. In an operation on a house full of methheads, Jesse proves his mettle and strategic thinking. “I hear you can handle yourself,” Gus tells him when they meet outside a diner. “I like to think I see things in people.”
Walt, in contrast to Gus, is making a serious management error. After he takes over the car wash from his old boss, committing the ultimate insult of taking the framed first dollar the guy made on the place on the grounds that the car wash is being sold to him “as is,” Walt feels like he’s above cleaning out the lab without Jesse’s help. So he bribes a bunch of Gus’ other employees to do the work for him — only to have Tyrus show up and send them back to Honduras (as a side note, it’s really nice for a show set in a border state to finally have an immigration subplot, however minor). “You tell Gus to blame me, not them,” Walt protests, realizing too late that he’s added staff to Gus’ tidy conspiracy. “He does,” Tyrus reassures him. Skylar’s right that “someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.” But someone needs to protect that man from himself, too, it seems. This episode is called “Cornered,” and Walt’s walked firmly and directly back into many of them.