This post contains spoilers through the Aug. 28 episode of Breaking Bad, “Problem Dog.”
One of the major themes of this season has been Walt, Jesse, and Hank’s struggles for, or with, visibility, even as they run from, or to, or hunt a man who balances a visible self and an invisible one with an ease none of them can muster.
Today, Walt makes another play for visibility with a child act of automotive destruction. After Skylar carefully negotiates the return of Walter Junior’s car for $800 in restocking fees, noting that “the law says they don’t have to take it back at all,” Walt throws a temper tantrum, does donuts with the car, and sets it on fire. When he calls a cab, he tells the dispatcher, “I’m sure he’ll see me.” At this point, Walt seems not to care what he’s seen for. It’s no longer a matter of establishing his genius, or his menace. He’d rather spend $52,000 on a bratty primal scream that gets him noticed than $800 on an act of prudence that lets him continue living as if he’s normal, invisible.
Skylar’s certainly had her realizations about her husband over the past few episodes, whether she’s finding out that he sees himself as a kingpin to figuring out tonight that his income is so large as to be unlaunderable. But I’m wondering if she understands that about Walt, that his need to be recognized is so strongly in conflict with her need to be normal that he will destroy her and himself to achieve it. It’s easy to understand that Walt might want to be recognized as a prodigy of some kind, whether good or evil, but that he just wants to be seen even if it’s to go out in a blaze, is wonderfully strange and particular. We’ve seen Skylar make all sorts of compromises, but I want to know what will spur her to decisive action. The tipping point is as interesting to me at this point as what she does once she reaches it.
Jesse, by contrast, is stewing in guilt over Gale’s murder, seeing his victim’s face in a video game where he kills foes in a dank, graffiti-infested labyrinth that resembles his own ruined family home. He repaints the walls, and he goes to a meeting. He can’t come clean about all of his darkness, making up a story about a fictional dead dog. But Jesse does finally confess another darkness, his attitude about recovery and his original intentions there. “The thing is, if you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean?” he asks the meeting leader. “What’s the point? Oh, right, this whole thing is about self-acceptance…So no matter what I do hooray for me! I’m a great guy!…Why I’m here in the first place. Is to sell you meth. You’re nothing to me but customers.”
And Hank, reinvigorated by his investigations, goes out under his own power to Los Pollos Hermanos with Walter Junior. Gus, in a moment of great sick humor, tells Walter Junior that “If ever you’re interested in rewarding part-time work, perhaps after school?” which I’d actually love to see, Gus inserting himself into the White family by both legitimate or illegitimate means. But really, their visit is an excuse to get Gus’ fingerprints, a discovery that moves Hank from walker to cane, and into his old office to tell his colleagues that “Gustavo Fring, blue meth, the whole thing is off the map nuts. Had to be wearing a tinfoil hat. Except I can’t seem to wrap my mind around this one little thing. What are Gustavo Fring’s fingerprints doing in Gale Benneker’s apartment.” Of these three men, Hank’s the only one who is building towards an actual life.