Quick Take: Breaking Bad, "I.F.T."
"By the looks of it, he doesn't know how close he came." – Saul Goodman's Fixer/Mr. Wolf
Review: Breaking Bad, "I.F.T."
(S0303) "This family means everything to me… without it, I mean nothing," Walt tells Skyler during an early emotional scene. It's rare when something can be so true and so untrue at the same time, and the dynamic surrounding that statement is what fuels the exhilarating tension and melancholy tones that underlie Breaking Bad.
We learned in "Caballo Sin Nombre" that Tortuga, an informant and part of a Mexican drug cartel, was not only killed by his "co-workers," but that his head was placed atop a large turtle to taunt the DEA who were setting up a sting (a newly unconfident and panic attack-prone Hank, played by Dean Norris, among them).
As ironic as it might seem, there was so much going on in that episode that it was relatively easy to gloss over that incident, or at the least to not give it a tremendous amount of thought. Therefore, the brain trust behind Breaking Bad was spot on in revisiting the incident early in "I.F.T." We see the silent but deadly (and not in the smelly sense) cousins take out the knife that will take to Tortuga's neck after he's lured into the back of a Mexican bar (in a "burro's asshole of a town") by his boss and head of the cartel, Juan.
What this tells us – if we hadn't needed to be reminded by the almost unbearably intense final scene of "Caballo Sin Nombre," in which the same SBD cousins patiently sat on the White's master bedroom bed armed with an ax while Walt (Bryan Cranston) showered unknowingly – is that the cartel is getting way up into the nasty business of the drug trade on the U.S. side of the border.
The foreboding has been going on for a long time now, and we know that this can't be good for one Mr. Walter H. White. Not good at all.
And speaking of revisiting, the brutal scene in the back of the Mexican bar is interposed with Walt going up onto the White's roof to clean up the pizza that he had tossed up there in a fit of rage. Breaking Bad has done a marvelous job all season of undercutting deeply unsettling themes with some level of dark and often awkward humor (which can be the best kind when done just right!).
"By the looks of it, he doesn't know how close he came," Saul Goodman's Fixer/Mr. Wolf says into his phone from across the street. That is dead truth, as is the fact that Walt has very dim knowledge of the danger and destruction he has brought to every person close to him on both sides of the law.
So much so in fact that Walt presses his case, so to speak, by wrenching his way back into the White house, calling Skyler's bluff on going through with calling the cops. Call the cops she does, but freezes up on lamely pleading that her non-legally separated and home co-owner husband is trespassing. The cops can't do a thing to the meth lord of the southwest as it turns out, unless Skyler comes clean. Skyler realizes she lost the battle – in what was once, long ago, a happy if struggling family – and can only manage to say, "welcome home," in a cold whisper.
Interesting to see true criminal mastermind Gustavo (Giancarlo Esposito) not in complete control of both information and the situation for the first time when dealing with Tortuga's boss, the cousins, old Don Salamanca (of ring Ring RING fame) all at the same time. Amongst the many reasons to truly love and admire Breaking Bad is the fact that as in real life, the past is not simply forgotten. So whereas on an ordinary show the episodes involving Salamanca's beloved (and psychotic) Tuco (Ramond Cruz) would become a figment of the past, here it very much has direct impact on the trajectory of the third season.
And that dynamic is playing out in the darkest and most delicious fashion possible: in order to stay alive (for now) from the wrath of the cartel, Walt is going to be forced, intimidated, and threatened back into cooking meth, when really he would unswervingly take back a poor, struggling life with his family in a second if it could all just go away. (Think he would take back the full blown lung cancer in the bargain? I think it's likely he would.)
All of which will be for naught if Skyler won't take the money he has earned, as Walt explains to Skyler in a speech he's been wanting to deliver for seeming millennia. The other side of the dynamic, the family drama side, is that the second Skyler accepts a cent of Walt's drug money, she becomes legally and ethically complicit in his activities and decisions. No wonder that she's at the breaking point and ready to take off for a "nooner" with her boss Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins).
As the end of the episode approached, I thought about the Walt we've seen recently is mostly the "old" Walt, the pre-"monster" Walt as I have come to think of the beast that was first forged and then uncaged in the wake of his initial diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer. Therefore the cheerful Walt in the final scene is one who is almost the old Walt, mostly by force of will, and things are almost as normal (at least on the surface). A cheerful supper is being prepared as Walt Jr. and his friend watch television in the den.
Then, Skyler drops a bomb on him, and at least part of the rationale for her daytime tryst (and the meaning behind the title of the episode!) became starkly clear. Calmly, strangely, she leans over the kitchen island and whispers: "I f---ed Ted."
More thoughts on "I.F.T.":
Video: Breaking Bad, "I.F.T."
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Recap: Breaking Bad, "I.F.T."
At a seedy Mexican cantina, we find Hank's DEA informant, the late Tortuga, holding court. (Since he's dead now, it seems we must be back in time.) Tortuga receives a birthday present — a large tortoise — from "El Jefe," his boss. "It's perfect!" says Tortuga, delighted until the boss writes "HOLA DEA" on the reptile's back. The Cousins step out of a back room. One holds Tortuga down as the other cuts off his head with a machete. Read more at AMC.
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