By Ken Tucker
Updated May 10, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

After last week’s stunning attack on Hank by the relentless cousins, it made dramatic sense for Breaking Bad to pull back a bit this week, to do one of the things it does best: let us see the aftermath of how ordinary people react when put in extraordinary circumstances.

This is, of course, the entire premise of the series — Walter White never set out to become an outlaw meth manufacturer. But it’s easy for a successful TV series to lose sight of its original premise, something Bad creator Vince Gilligan never has.

Thus we began in the hospital. Jesse is being released after his vicious beat-down by Hank. Hank is being admitted for his vicious encounter in the parking lot. The juxtaposition was thrilling. Jesse would have cracked a big smile had his face not been nearly closed-over with injuries, while we wondered whether Hank was wheezing his last breath. Also in the hospital? The remaining living cousin. In critical condition, but: Uh, oh…

Walt is pulled away from his elaborate new meth lab to do what ordinary family members do: Gather at the hospital to await the news of a loved one’s dire condition. Still, he’s under huge pressure to turn back into Heisenberg, to cook up and deliver the weekly 200-pound minimum of his blue meth. To keep Jesse under some sort of control in their renewed partnership, Walt dismisses the perfectly efficient Gale and replaces him with unreliable Jesse.

Increasingly, Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Frings is doing a lot more than managing a fast-food chicken shop and brokering drug deals. He’s giving orders and, we and Walt learn at the same time, is, for all his self-effacement, a well-respected civic figure. When Gus shows up at the hospital with donations of food (for Hank’s family and all of Hank’s DEA comrades waiting there, too) and a reward for the people responsible for Hank’s injuries, Walt is shocked at how brazen a move this is.

Gus points out their similarities: “I hide in plain sight, the same as you,” he murmurs to Walt. (Gus murmurs everything; Esposito is giving one of the most quietly powerful performances on TV.)

Just as we’ve been lulled into thinking this edition of Breaking Bad will be one of healing, two things happen:

The surviving cousin sees Hank staring at him through the hospital room window, yanks his tubes off, and comes crawling toward Hank with death in his eyes. Even with both legs cut off at the knees, his vengeance knows no cessation. It was a stark visual in a show filled with striking images.

Also, Gus orders a hit on the leader of the Mexican cartel, and listens to the violent result of his order via phone.

At the end of the hour, Hank is announced to be in stabilized condition. Great news for the family; great trouble ahead for Walt and Jesse. And another great episode of Breaking Bad.

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Breaking Bad

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.

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