This post contains spoilers through the Oct. 2 episode of Breaking Bad, “End Times.”
After the tension of the last two episodes, the simultaneous de-escalation and realignments of this episode felt necessary. For the past couple of weeks, it’s been hard for me to see a way for the terrible tension to stretch out for a full season between this one. I still can’t necessarily see the shape of how they’re going to do it, but I now feel like the show can make this story last.
Given how vile Walt’s become, in a way it’s a relief to see him step up to the plate, even if it’s in a sad, suicidal sort of way, telling Skyler, who begs him to find an alternative that “There isn’t. There was. But now there isn’t…Oh, Skyler. Skyler. I have lived under the threat of death for a year now, and because of that, I’ve made choices. I, alone, should suffer the consequences of those choices. And those consequences, they’re coming. No more prolonging the inevitable.” He’s being a man for the first time in ages, and it’s a reminder of why we liked him, why there was this nasty little thrill in rooting for Walter White once upon a time.
It’s also nice seeing Hank, after being rebuffed, goad Steve into actually taking a crack at the laundry. “We’re gonna find heroin here like we’re going to find Jimmy Hoffa,” Steve jokes to the guy who runs Gus’s legitimate business on the cook site. And it’s true. They don’t find anything, but Hank, even though his new car hasn’t arrived yet, is mobilizing his network, and soon, he’ll be out there on the prowl himself. The DEA mobilization around Hank and Marie may be a lot of sound and fury, but Hank is unbowed, even in the face of a threat.
And the show’s quiet makes Brock’s dreadful sickness and everything that follows even more powerful. It’s been interesting watching a newly self-confident Jesse these past few episodes, to see him be the kind of man who can tell Gus, “The guy is a complete and total dick. But I can’t. I’m not signing off. If something final happens to Mr. White, we are going to have a problem,” who can be a supportive boyfriend to Andrea when Brock is rushed to the hospital. But that new Jesse is so fragile that it’s heartbreaking to watch him realize first that the cigarette with the ricin is gone, and to regress, totally unable to accept responsibility for the idea that the boy might simply have gotten into his cigarette stash. It turns out he has good reason not to believe it, but it’s an interesting vestige of an addict’s mentality, a conviction that this is someone else’s fault. Given the showdowns we’ve seen between Walt and Jesse this season, this one felt like a bit of a retread, but there’s still something impressive about the fact that Walt figures out what’s going on. “I have been waiting. I have been waiting all day for Gus to send one of his men to kill me,” he tells Jesse. “And it’s you. Who do you know who’s okay with using children, Jesse? Who do you know who’s allowed children to be murdered?…All he needs is your consent. He’s got it now.”
But it’s hard to believe that Walt and Jesse can ever beat Gus. Did Walt and Jesse really believe, once Gus knew that Jesse didn’t kill Walt, that Gus wouldn’t suspect them? That he wouldn’t be on his guard? His ability to walk away from the car is freaky. There is something inspiring about seeing Walt finding a diabolical joy in playing with chemicals again, with Jesse calling him “Mr. White” as he did back in the days when it was all “Yeah Mr. White! Yeah science!” in a criminal parody of joy. But it’s so hard to believe they can win, going up against a myth.