Quick Take: Breaking Bad, "Thirty-Eight Snub"
"Hell of a last couple of weeks." - Walter
Review: Breaking Bad, "Thirty-Eight Snub"
(S0402) Vince Gilligan and the other folks behind Breaking Bad have become so good at what they do, so comfortable in the world they have created, that it sometimes feels like they aren't even trying anymore. I don't mean this as a knock at all, quite the contrary. It's as if making incredible television is effortless at this point. Last week when the fourth season premiered, I worried a bit that the show would struggle to live up to the hype surrounding it. Not anymore. The Breaking Bad crew are absolute masters of their craft and they continue to prove it time and time again.
"Thirty-Eight Snub" opens with a scene of Walt (Bryan Cranston) meeting with an illegal arms dealer. Walt is in the market for a reliable, easy to conceal pistol and opts for the titular .38 Snub. "You can't get more dependable than a wheel gun," the dealer remarks. He goes on to question whether or not Walt plans to use the weapon strictly for defense and reminds him that if he isn't planning on using it offensively he could spare himself the jail time associated with carrying a gun with the serial number removed by simply buying a firearm from a legal gun store. "You might be best to bear your arms within the confines of the law." Walt basically ignores his advice.
Meanwhile, the reality that he has crossed the line into cold-blooded killer territory is starting to dawn on Jesse (Aaron Paul). Quiet moments in solitary reflection are proving to be too difficult for him. He turns his house into a non-stop party in order to avoid dealing with the guilt that is clearly eating him alive. It's been a while since we have seen Jesse in full party mode. It seems like a lifetime ago when Jesse, Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and the late-great Combo (Daniel Moncada) made it rain in the strip club. But there is nothing celebratory this time around. He doesn't say so, but it's obvious that this party isn't about having fun, it's all about escaping.
While Walt is arming himself and Jesse is cranking his new stereo system to impress his hangers on, Marie is struggling to keep her marriage intact. She clearly doesn't get Hank's new obsession with collecting (and re-selling?) minerals, but he certainly isn't making things easy on her. He has a real breakthrough in physical therapy, managing to walk (with the help of a walker and a therapist) from the bathroom to his bed. Marie is thrilled, as is Hank, but he completely leaves her out of the celebration. The physical therapist gets a hearty high-five while Marie gets left hanging.
Getting back to my initial thoughts about the ease with which Breaking Bad operates, it's really amazing that a MAJOR plot point (Walt preparing to try to kill Gus) is treated with no more emphasis or urgency than scenes of a married couple fighting or a bunch of junkies partying. There's almost a nonchalance with which the show introduces the idea that Walt has decided to kill Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). But it isn't really nonchalance, it's something more. It's a supreme confidence in the actors, particularly Cranston, who are trusted to demonstrate the importance of a scene without actually doing anything more than is absolutely necessary. For most of the episode, Walt doesn't say that he is planning to go after Gus. But the direction and the performance is so great that we have no doubt what he has in mind
Obviously, the scene that everyone is going to remember from "Thirty-Eight Snub" is the barroom meeting between Walt and Mike (Jonathan Banks). Two thoughts before I jump into the scene itself: First, Jonathan Banks continues to impress, I'm really glad he has been getting more screen time in the past four or five episodes, dating back to last season. Secondly, how great is the Saul Goodman commercial Mike is watching at the bar before Walt joins him? Classic. It's the little touches that make Breaking Bad such a special show
Initially, it appears the gist of Walt's sit-down with Mike is "no hard feelings". Walt says, "I appreciate that when you were trying to kill me, you were simply following orders." But the more Walt talks, the more we began to realize that he isn't just trying to clear the air with a colleague, he's trying to recruit a co-conspirator. "You and I are in the same boat. If it happened to Victor, it could happen to me or you," he says. Eventually he stops beating around the bush and just comes out with it: "Get me in a room with him and I'll do the rest." We all know how this ends. Mike punches Walt off of his bar stool, thanks him for the drink and walks out.
The truly amazing thing about this scene is the fact that deep down Walt believes there is a chance that Mike would agree to join him. It's absolutely absurd. There's no way that Mike would turn on Gus. Walt is on such a power trip that his ego permits him to behave in a manner that is completely insane, not to mention suicidal.
So, let's play the Hypothetical Game a little bit here. What do you think would have happened if Walt was somehow able to get into the same room as Gus? At this point, I have no doubt that Walt would have tried to pull the .38 out on him. Would he have been able to get a shot off? Probably not, right? Even if he was able to kill Gus, what next? Does Walt think he can just kill Gus and walk off into the sunset? Does he imagine himself taking over ownership of the lab? How could this even be a possibility? He doesn't have access to Gus' distribution network. Sure, he could cook a butt-load of meth, but how is he going sell it?