S04E03: When the fourth season of Breaking Bad began two short weeks ago, I had only two reservations—which I primarily kept to myself, lest I get accosted by an insurgence of diehard fans who adhere to the show as if it were the bible. It turns out, these zealots are right to do so, because both my qualms are now primarily assuaged.
The problems I had were in the development of each Lambert sister. Let’s begin with Skyler (whose name I have been spelling incorrectly all this time). As soon as Season 4 opened, Skyler showed a sensitivity towards Walt. She was concerned for his well-being and was anxious to the point of taking action to find him when she realized that he was missing. After the mountain of hostility she had been climbing since Season 1, I felt that this was sort of a cop-out on the writers' parts. One of the primary sources of tension in a show whose lifeblood is tension itself is sacrificed to further a new storyline in which Skyler is involved in Walt’s trade. I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason, in last night’s episode, I stopped being so bothered by this.
"We were discussing a particular business strategy, and it got heated, and out of control, and he hit me. Once. And I didn't retaliate because he's a much older man. And that's it." -Walt
The episode opens with as clear and comfortable a display of compassion that Skyler has shown Walt since the earliest episodes. At this point, I was especially uneasy with the situation at hand (for reasons described above). But as the episode went on, I inscrutably became more “okay” with these rehashed good terms. Possibly, it was distraction by all of the awesomeness that was going on in the meantime. Or perhaps I just have enough faith in Breaking Bad to understand that apparent dips in quality will turn out to be building blocks to something monumental. After all, Walt is still far from honest with Skyler in this scene.
Last week, Skyler unsuccessfully attempted to buy the car wash from Walt’s former employer as a money laundering front. This week picks up with her determination to follow through on her plan. She and Walt meet with Saul to devise a plan to get Walt’s malicious old boss to sell; Skyler is less than satisfied with Saul’s contribution. Skyler truly knows her husband: she convinces Walt to get on board to muscle his old boss out of the carwash when she mentions that he called Walt “not manly.”
This scene has an interesting interjection—Saul’s henchman Hule (or some name like that) enters Walt’s apartment during the meeting to use the bathroom. I wouldn’t be able to call myself an attentive television watcher if I didn’t conceive that to be more than meets the eye. Is Saul having Hule bug Walt’s apartment? Maybe he’s having him look around for something? Saul teeters on the brink of trustworthiness, so it wouldn’t be out of bounds for the character to set up his clients.
In any event, Skyler’s plotline culminates with a scheme to trick the car wash owner into selling (she hires a man to pose as a safety inspector who threatens to shut the car wash down). The episode ends with Walt and Skyler toasting to their success with an expensive bottle of champagne, which Skyler chastises Walt for buying—she thinks it better to maintain an appearance of poverty as not to arouse suspicion. Foreshadowing? Probably, yes.
The real meat of the episode actually came from the other side of the family. As mentioned, I had reservations about Marie early this season: her character did a 180, suddenly becoming the well-adjusted, kindly type and taking care of her incapacitated husband Hank. This episode totally reconciles my Marie dilemma. Early in the episode, she’s back to her old ways—she’s seen frequenting several open houses, lying about her name and backstory, and stealing trinkets from the houses. To all those who admonished the arc-dropping of Marie's kleptomania: never again underestimate Breaking Bad. Long after this characterization tool was originated (and all but forgotten), it is revived. Unfortunately, she is confronted by a zealous real estate agent and is taken to jail. Hank angrily calls in a favor and has her released, but his cop buddy cashes in the I.O.U. quickly by asking Hank to take a look at a homicide case wherein a booklet containing notes on a meth lab was found.
And now we’re back in business!
One of the big stories of early Breaking Bad was Hank being unknowingly, perpetually on the Walt's tail. Since he got shot, and since Walt got a more secure setup working for Gus, this seemed to be all but lost. But now, with these new notes (found in a dead Gale Boetticher's apartment), Hank returns to glory. His marriage is still circling the drain…and now he could, once again, possibly be responsible for sending his sister-in-law and her estranged husband to jail. Excitement is brewing.
"If you really think about it, if you're up against a chain-link fence, and you've got a lot—I mean a lot of people—trying to escape, pushing hard enough forward...it's not a joke! You're gunna get squeezed right through the chain-links like Play-Dough, or some kind of soft meat!" -Meth-head
Finally, we have Jesse. Jesse only had a few minutes onscreen, and it was mostly an expansion on last week’s idea: Jesse wishes to escape his mind. His all-day rager went sour, and now resembles a post-apocalyptic dystopian slum. People scrounge for loose change and twitch in corners, while the homeowner does everything to encourage this. I’ll say it again, Aaron Paul: you’re wowing me.
All in all, this was a lot “faster” and “fuller” an episode than weeks past. Although I’m still not totally comfortable with the new (or old) Skyler and Walt, I’m not entirely losing faith. They did satisfy me with Marie; they are amazing me with Jesse; they do amuse me with Saul. Walt Jr.? Bring him back, guys. He’s more necessary than he’s being treated. Though, like I said, we shouldn’t doubt Breaking Bad. I’m certain we’ll see him again, and I’m certain it’ll more than make up for the hiatus.