S04E09: Eventful. That’s the best way to describe last night’s episode of Breaking Bad. All four corners of “Bug” had notable plot advancement—Hank’s case against Gus and the Super Lab, Gus/the cartel, Skyler’s business dealings, and (best of all) Walt & Jesse.
Hank on the trail has been a consistently fun aspect of recent Breaking Bad. The “suspension of disbelief” we’re supposed to accept regarding his leap in logic to figure out that Gus is involved fades from conscious as the story gets more and more exciting. Even when a scene is simply Hank and Walt scoping out a scene, or doing computer work, intrigue builds due to the tension. Walt is finally consciously without a clue—he fumbles with thin reasons why Hank should give up this search, but nothing sticks. The beginning of the episode has Walt retrieve the bug he and Hank placed on Gus’ car last week. What Hank doesn’t know is that Gus was aware of the bug, and acted accordingly by removing it from his vehicle when he was driving to the Super Lab (or anywhere else incriminating), so it seems that Gus never goes anywhere but Los Pollos Hermanos and his home. This makes Hank more suspicious than ever, so he does some research and decides to investigate the Pollos Hermanos warehouse nearby town. Walt manages to stall him long enough to inform Mike & co, so that they may remove all incriminating evidence before Hank has a chance to get there. This is where the Hank story leaves off…but it’s hinted at that he has other leads to follow.
"Ice Road Truckers. What happens on that one?" - Walt
"Guys drive on ice." - Jesse
Early in the episode, Walt speaks with Jesse outside the Super Lab. A subtle indicator that Walt is slipping from power and Jesse is slipping from Walt is that Jesse has already begun working by the time Walt arrives. Walt probes Jesse on his after-work activities (they specifically discuss Ice Road Truckers—awesome), trying to manipulate him into killing Gus, which has been discussed for many episodes. Jesse insists that he has still not seen Gus (a lie) and that he will take care of the ordeal once he does. The scene is also notable to show that Walt does not know how to smoke a cigarette…(subtly) much to his own embarrassment.
Last week was the first episode to delve into the character of Gus. We saw the beginnings of his enmity with the cartel, and saw the nervous, out-of-control man he used to be. But this week, we’re back to business as usual. Gus is first seen at the desert HQ of the drug trade. In the scene, Jesse, Mike and other low level workers we needn’t care much about are attacked by gunfire via the cartel. One of the workers is killed, Jesse is saved by Mike, and Gus exposes himself to the line of fire, sending the message of his invaluableness to the cartel. However, he also understands more greatly the gravity of the cartel’s desire for the blue meth recipe. So, he agrees to teach them. He invites Jesse over to his home in order to ask him about his ability to cook the blue meth (and, concordantly, to teach the cartel how to cook it). Jesse insists that he cannot produce Walt’s meth, but Gus is insistent that he is acting out of loyalty to Walt and not being sincere.
Unbeknownst to Jesse, Walt bugged his car, so that he knows for sure now that he has been with Gus.
Jesse demands a meeting with Walt, anxious over his responsibility to teach the cartel to cook the blue meth. He explains his apprehension that the cartel will kill him, Gus, Walt, etc. if he cannot teach them adequately.
"After everything you've done for me? You've killed me! You've signed my death warrant!" - Walt
Walt prefers to discuss Jesse’s disloyalty in the form of lying about visiting Gus and not having killed him. The fight escalates when Walt begins belittling Jesse harshly, and soon becomes physical. The fight becomes brutal and bloody, although both men are able to walk away afterwards. Jesse tells Walt never to come back—solidifying rapidly the fissure between them that has been suggested all season.
The important thing to take away from this is that Walt is losing all humanity. His only sincere human relationship was with Jesse, whom he has tormented and pushed ever since he had him kill Gale. Although he saved his life last season, indicating some degree of affection for him, it seems ever clearer now that Walt was primarily acting out of indirect self-preservation. But that might be too cynical, even for this series. In any event, Walt has a new enemy in Jesse. And might soon have a new enemy in Hank.
Meanwhile, Ted Beneke visits Skyler, informing her that the Beneke company is being audited for tax fraud—a subplot of seasons past that heavily involved Skyler. Knowing that she, too, will be investigated, Skyler puts on a “dumb secretary” act at the audit meeting to convince the lawyers that all errors were merely acts of ignorance rather than of crime. However, there is presumably still a palpable threat of legal issue.
The episode really threw a lot at us—but did not spread itself too thin whatsoever. Every movement with Hank is one of excitement. The revived subplot of Skyler’s business dealings at Beneke is one worth revisiting. The reintroduction of the cartel into the direct lives of Walt and Jesse is thrilling. And Walt and Jesse coming to blows…let’s just see what happens there.