S04E11: Amazing. Amazing, amazing, amazing. You know when you’re more enrapt in the lives of fictional characters than you are in those of your own friends and family? You know when a show ends and you realize you haven’t breathed once in the last ten minutes? Good TV.
The episode picks up immediately after last week’s astonishing “Salud.” Jesse speeds the injured and ailing Mike and Gus to a “company doctor” after the incidents at the cartel’s mansion. The docs attend to Gus immediately, ignoring Mike (with which Jesse takes issue, as Mike has become his surrogate father this season). They do, eventually, take care of both patients. While Jesse waits for the two of them to recover, the doctor reveals an inordinate amount of information he knows about Jesse—and, presumably, everyone in Gus’ company…or, at least, everyone of any significance. A longstanding question of mine is finally answered: Jesse is twenty-five years old (this is of no importance to the episode, or to anything else…it’s just something I always wanted to know for sure—twenty-five feels about right). We also get a quick glance (for what I believe is the first time) at Mike’s last name: Ehrmantraut. So, this scene is full of fun facts for Breaking Bad triviaholics.
Gus recovers first. Mike is, as a matter of fact, kept to rest for the next few days. We do not see any more of him throughout the episode. As Gus and Jesse leave together, Gus rewards Jesse with praise regarding his actions at the cartel mansion. Gus questions Jesse as to whether he is confident in his own abilities to run the lab alone. Jesse implies that he is, but demands that Gus does not kill Walt, merely that he fires him or pays him off. Despite the catastrophic ending to “Bug,” Jesse clearly does harbor concern for Walt’s well-being. Jesse is moreover a good-hearted person (it’s hard to tell sometimes, but he is), and he hasn’t had a good deal of people in his life who haven’t abandoned him in one way or another, so it’s likely he’s not in the business of burning bridges too permanently. Walt and Jesse, for better or worse, have had each other exclusively throughout the first three seasons. Despite Walt’s descent into despicability, his few glimmers of humanity have surrounded somewhat of a concern for Jesse (his painkiller-fueled murmurs last week indicated this more than anything).
“The Salemanca name dies with you.” – Gus
In one of the best scenes in the episode, and one of the darkest, Gus and Jesse pay a visit to Hector in the nursing home. Hector is watching the sound-effects heavy climactic scene from Bridge Over The River Kwai when Gus steps in. The audio from the television backing Gus’ speech about how everyone in the decrepit old man’s life is now dead provides one of the most wicked, emotional scenes in a long time. We can’t help feel a sense of rightful vengeance on behalf of Gus. We witnessed the death of his best friend at the hands of Hector three episodes prior (though many years in the past). Jesse’s nervous reactions to the conversation provide some extremely dark laughter for the haunting scene.
Walt’s concern for Jesse is shown at the beginning of this episode as well. Under the supervision of Tyrus, Walt cooks in the lab on his own (over-calculating the weight of one box of meth). Walt is concerned that Jesse might have been hurt or killed in the cartel meeting that took place in “Salud.” Whether Tyrus knows the answer to this question or not, he offers Walt no answer. He’s kind of a jerk. The worst kinds of villains are the ones who aren’t even willing to make conversation.
“This job’s not all supermodels and speedboats.” – Hank
A good deal of Walt’s action in this episode takes place behind the wheel, beside Hank. Walt chauffeurs Hank to the chicken farm for an uneventful investigation. During their time there, Hank questions Walt about his “gambling addiction”—Walt is especially defensive. We know that he is not merely being closed-mouth due to an aversion to revealing the truth; Walt actually takes issue with any negative light shone on his role in the drug world. But this is nothing new. Walt’s and Hank’s second outing actually takes them in a different direction: Hank has a hunch that a certain Laundromat might be linked to the situation. Now, I have voiced my discomfort with Hank’s convenient leaps in logic that lead him to suspecting Gus of being involved in the meth trade and in Gale Boetticher’s death. This is another step along those lines. But it is dealt with a little differently. First of all, Walt (albeit in an attempt to divert Hank’s confidence in the suspicion) voices the fact that it is pretty farfetched. Second, Hank explains, pretty verbosely, all of the ins-and-outs of his theory that lead him to the conclusion. Third, we don’t have too much time for “Oh, come on!”s, because in a matter of seconds, Walt is crashing his car into an oncoming minivan. He has to get out of taking Hank to the Laundromat somehow.
This only helps temporarily. Both men are more or less fine, save for a few bruises. Hank decides to get his own handicap-accessible vehicle so he can go on these outings himself.
Before we get to the final series of events that couldn’t possibly be more awesome, let’s look at Skyler’s also-pretty-awesome subplot. Early in the episode, she receives a call from Ted, who is not comfortable taking her money to pay off the IRS. It seems, the man who cooked his company’s books and delayed paying off the IRS when he thought his great aunt left him an inheritance so he could buy a sports car has a moral problem taking gambling money (I bet he’d be okay if he knew it was actually meth money). After a very tense conversation with Skyler, where she insists he is simply blackmailing her for more money, she calls Saul, who sends over Huell and Henchman # 2, who force Ted to sign the money over to the IRS. Ted tries to make a break for it, but trips on his own rug (it’s a much cooler moment than it sounds considering it was foreshadowed in an earlier scene) and knocks himself out. We actually aren’t sure of the extent of his injuries—Saul artfully avoids explicitly stating what happened to Ted when talking it over with his lackeys later on. But all in all: the money is on the way to the IRS. Good news, right? Well, not entirely…
Walt finds out at the lab (which he is forced to enter via hiding in carts of laundry to avoid being spotted by a spying Hank) that Jesse has been working on Walt’s off-days. Walt goes to Jesse’s house to speak with him, interrupting a pleasant evening with Andrea and Brock. Jesse is less than pleased to see Walt. Walt begs Jesse to help him—he understands that if Gus thinks Jesse can run the lab himself, he’ll kill Walt. Jesse does not tolerate Walt any further, he hostilely heads back into his home. On the street, Walt is caught off guard and tasered by Tyrus.
“YOU ARE DONE. Fired. Do not show your face at the laundry again. Stay away from Pinkman. Do not go near him. Ever. Are you listening to me?” – Gus
“…Or else you’ll do what?” – Walt
The next scene (which should win an award for Coolest Looking Scene Ever), has Walt dragged into the desert with a bag over his head to Gus, who fires him. Gus demands that Walt not return to the lab or see Jesse ever again. Walt, still very much Walt, mocks Gus. He insists that Gus cannot do anything to Walt—he knows that if Gus killed Walt, Jesse wouldn’t work for him anymore, suggesting that if Gus could have killed him, he’d have done it already. Gus admits this to be true, for the time being, but he trades Walt the following information: Gus will deal with Hank on his own terms (meaning, there won’t be a Hank for much longer). Furthermore, if Walt tries to help Hank, Gus will murder Skyler, Walt Jr., and Holly. It’s amazing that in one episode, we can feel a righteous support for the same man who we can find to be uncontrollably evil. Walt rushes to Saul, demanding information on the pseudo-Witness Protection Program he mentioned much earlier in the season. Saul gives Walt the man’s phone number, and explains the specifics of the deal: it will be an immediate transaction, he must be paid in cash, and once you’re in, you can never come back. Walt agrees, and pleads with Saul to call the DEA with an anonymous tip about the cartel (a lie to protect Saul) being after Hank, which Saul agrees to do. Hank rushes home and scurries into his crawl space—a nice callback to earlier seasons. However, there’s not enough money there. Walt doesn’t understand, but Skyler comes home in time (Walt has called her to alert her of the arrangement) to explain: she has given the money to Ted. She then gets a call from Marie, cementing the fact that Saul has placed the call regarding Hank’s safety. Walt goes from hysterical crying to insane laughter, and his pleading is the most unprideful thing we’ve seen of him in quite some time. To describe the acting prowess of Bryan Cranston in this scene, or the amazing craft of the scene entirely, would be futile. It was a masterpiece of television. The Whites are in the most danger they have been in all series. The next episode cannot come soon enough.