Skyler loses the money. Ted loses his head. Walt nearly loses his mind.

By Melissa Maerz
September 26, 2011 at 06:00 AM EDT
Ursula Coyote/AMC
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“When did wrong become a problem for you?”

That’s Skyler talking to Ted in this week’s episode, “Crawl Space,” asking him why he won’t accept Walt’s “illicit gambling winnings” to pay back the IRS. But maybe she should be asking a different question: When did wrong stop being a problem for her and Walt?

Lately, they’ve gotten such a phenomenal thrill out of swindling car wash owners, blowing up cars, and cooking up poison for Gus, that it’s easy to wonder, What’s the point of being good? But, once upon a time, Walt had an actual answer to that now-rhetorical question: One should do what’s right for the sake of one’s family. Remember when, way back in the first season, Walt was faced with his first major moral quandary, deciding whether or not to take a man’s life? He was down in Jesse’s basement, staring down a chained-up meth distributor, and he made a list of reasons to kill the guy versus reasons to save him. On the “let him live” side: “It’s the moral thing to do.” “Won’t be able to live with yourself.” “Murder is wrong!” “Judeo-Christian principles.” On the “reasons to kill him” side, there’s only one thing listed: “He’ll kill your entire family if you let him go.”

But three seasons and at least three acid-dissolved corpses later, Walt’s forgotten all about that list. Over time, he’s started to focus less on protecting his family and more on reclaiming control of his own life. As a result, he’s endangering everyone close to him. (A prime example is that awesome car crash scene, which lands Hank in a neck brace big enough to keep a Great Dane from… well, you know.) And Walt’s crime family has also become an every-man-for-himself endeavor, with Gus leaving Mike, his most loyal man, behind in Mexico, possibly to die there, and Walt telling Jesse, “This whole thing, all of this, it’s all about me.” So much for those Judeo-Christian principles.

Amazingly, even when Walt gets dragged out into the desert with an execution-style hood over his head—perhaps the biggest warning he’s ever gotten that Baby Holly might grow up without a father—he’s still mostly worried about his pride. He mocks Gus: “You can’t kill me, because Jesse wouldn’t cook for you if you did.” But everything changes when Gus threatens Hank’s life. “If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter,” he tells Walt. “I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.”

Maybe wrong only becomes a problem when it threatens to kill the person you love most, and that person isn’t just yourself.

Does a man need a family to motivate him to behave in a moral way? Is bonding with others the only thing that prevents one from acting purely out of self-interest? That’s what this episode seems to suggest. Ever since Jesse started acting like a father figure to Andrea’s son Brock, he’s showing more heart in his decisions. As for Walt, it’s only his love for his brother-in-law that finally makes him do the right thing: getting Saul to call the DEA. Even Gus knows that, without any family left to continue the Salamanca name, Hector doesn’t have many virtues left to fight for anymore. (We loved that Don Eladio’s necklace, which Gus used to taunt Hector, was a giant eyeball, a fitting symbol for a surveillance-loving kingpin who’s always watching his underlings, and always demanding that Hector look him in the eye.)

NEXT: Are we crazy, or does Gus have a thing for Jesse?

It’s no wonder that Gus, the ultimate lone wolf, has the least moral quandaries. When he and Jesse and Mike show up at that makeshift hospital in Mexico, he doesn’t even feel enough loyalty to Mike to insist that the doctors save him. But he seems to care more about Jesse. “You need protection, Gustavo?” the doctor asks him, right before Gus leaves to go back to the U.S., and Gus laughs. Looking at Jesse, the doctor says, “I wouldn’t have guessed.” Now, he could just be joking that skinny, black-eyed Jesse is an unlikely bodyguard for Gus. But there’s also a wink hidden in that comment, as if the doctor’s implying that Jesse’s only been spared for two reasons: he’s the chemist, and Gus might want to be his lover.

Luckily, at least one of those two reasons is currently keeping Walt alive. And he’d better hurry and call that Hoover repairman if he wants to stay that way. Vacuums keep popping up in Breaking Bad, from the one that Walt once used to hide his drug money to the robotic Roomba that kept running through Jesse’s house parties earlier this season. So it’s fitting that Walt needs to call a fake vacuum-fixing company to help make his family disappear. There’s always been a certain Macbeth quality to this show’s obsession with cleaning. Between the car wash and the Los Pollos laundry and that Hoover guy, everyone’s trying desperately to wash up his mess and get that damn’d spot out.

Maybe that’s also why Ted’s fatal date with the carpet felt strangely appropriate: We hope he kept it vacuumed, because now he’ll be lying face-down in it forever. Farewell, Mr. Beneke! (We’re assuming he’s actually dead and not just paralyzed.) We hardly knew ye! And yet, your head-first trip into the coffee table gets our vote for the funniest antic-climactic TV death since Miss Blankenship keeled over in her own desk on Mad Men. Seems like, when Saul’s organizing things, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Huell could’ve stopped Ted from running away and taking the Pratfall of Doom, but instead he just sits there, too lazy to get up. And Ted might still be alive if it wasn’t for his clumsy feet. Usually, in crime dramas, guys like Ted end up getting beaten to death with a bag of oranges. Instead, Ted suffers a far greater indignity: a dozen oranges fall on his head, slowly, one by one.

If family helps guide your moral compass, then Ted will always be Skyler’s $600,000 mistake. The same man who helped break up her family is now preventing her and Walt from getting away with what they’ve done. As Walt slithers around on his belly in the crawl space under the house, it seems as if he’s never been more low-down, physically or emotionally. Gus will soon get him. Marie’s calling to say that Hank’s life is in danger. And in some ways, it’s his wife’s fault. Maybe that’s why Walt’s screaming and laughing so maniacally. The irony would be funny, if it wasn’t so tragic. He got into this world because of his family. And, because of his family, he may soon get taken out of it.

NEXT: A few final questions for you readers

Okay, readers, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments:

Walt knows that someone’s been cooking in the lab without him. Yes, Jesse’s handled a batch or two, but Walt says he’s been out of commission for four days. How long has Jesse been in Mexico? Is it possible that someone else has been cooking when both Jesse and Walt are gone?

Hank mentions that there’s been “some big play down South, lots of bodies, apparently, even by cartel standards…we’ll know more when the buzzards leave the bones.” If Mike ends up dying in Mexico, is it possible that, with his bald head and grizzled look, someone might mistake him for Heisenberg?

Did anyone else notice that Hector’s watching Bridge on the River Kwai when Gus arrives? We’re pretty sure it’s the scene where (spoiler alert!) the bridge blows up and Nicholson (Alec Guinness) screams, “What have I done?” Since the whole Mexican cartel’s death is ultimately payback for Max’s death so many years ago, we wonder if Hector relates to that “What have I done?” speech now.

If Ted is really gone for good, what will happen with the IRS? You readers noticed that Saul’s goons mailed his check, but will the government still think it’s suspicious that he sent it right before he died, and find their way back to Skyler?

When Walt asks what’s their next move on their stakeout, Hank says, “Our next three moves are sitting here and waiting,” adding that his job is “not all supermodels and speedboats.” Did anyone else think this might have been a reaction to fans who’ve complained about Breaking Bad‘s slow pace? Maybe that’s reading too much into the scene, but if there’s a larger message about patience here, we think it’s brilliant.

What was your favorite one of Hank’s nicknames for Walt? Kojak? Mr. Magoo?

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Episode Recaps

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.
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  • 01/20/08-09/29/13
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