Breaking Bad recap: The Wild West
Jesse gets a little crazy while Walt goes vigilante on Gus
If Sergio Leone had grown up in a meth den, he would’ve loved this week’s episode of Breaking Bad. Those extreme close-ups of Walt’s face mimicked the opening shots of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Those tense silences before Walt drew his gun were straight out of Fistful of Dollars. So much of it felt like a Western, right down to the High Noon standoff, with our hero casting a long shadow, and pulling down the brim of his hat as he approached his archenemy. Best of all, there was Jim Beaver, the actor from Deadwood, handing a gun to Walter, along with a few words of advice: “This is the West.” And don’t you forget it, hoss.
Watching the first scene of this episode—which is called “Thirty Eight Snub,” after the gun that may some day snuff out Gus—you can almost pinpoint the exact moment when Walter White turns into Clint Eastwood. He’s talking to Beaver’s character, whose name is a pretty good joke: he’s an outlaw named Lawson. And Lawson tells Walt that if he strictly needs the gun to defend himself, he could buy it legally and escape two potential felony charges. So, says Lawson, “We strictly talkin’ defense here?”
There, in the brief silence that follows, is Walt’s answer. Once, breaking the law was about taking care of his family. Then, it was about protecting himself. But as soon as he buys that gun—the same type of .38 caliber revolver that, you might remember, Gus’s henchman Mike used to kill a few guys in “Full Measure”—he’s going on the offensive. So he does what any other professional would do. He lies. “It’s for defense,” Walt says. “Defense.”
Yes, Walt’s a full-blown vigilante now. But if Breaking Bad is exploiting the conventions of a traditional Western, it’s poking fun at them too, because this isn’t the Wild West. The only unforgiving desert wasteland that Walt’s facing is the suburbs. When he practices his quick draw, he does it while sitting in an upholstered dining room chair, beneath a landscape portrait of the desert. (If they’d had a Crate and Barrel sale on tumbleweeds, we’ll bet he would’ve bought some.) Before he loads his gun, he lines up the bullets on the same kitchen counter where he packs his lunch in a brown paper bag. Even when Walt’s preparing for hisbig standoff, he tracks down his enemy in a residential neighborhood that’s lousy with manicured lawns.
Maybe the whole thing’s supposed to be funny: How dangerous can any gunslinger be if he’s packing his lunch like an elementary school student? But there’s a serious message behind these domestic scenes too. Clearly, Walt’s work is hitting a little too close to home. Just ask his wife, who’s quickly settling into her role as Lady Heisenberg, Queen of the Car Wash. Or ask his brother-in-law. If Hank knows enough to identify a mineral as “blue corundum, to be precise, encrusted with igneous biotite,” how long will it be before he can identify those other blue rocks—the ones that Walt’s selling?
NEXT: Why’s Jesse vacuuming so much?
While Walt’s busy blurring the lines between his home life and his work life, Jesse’s job is making him scared to leave the house. After killing Gale, he’s showing all the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: difficulty falling asleep, a heightened state of mental arousal, detachment from his body, an intense need to play Flava Flav songs. He’s so disoriented, he hardly notices when Badger and Skinny Pete wage the most hilarious debate ever devoted to zombie video games. Though, according to Badger, the zombies in Left 4 Dead aren’t even zombies. “They’re just infected,” he says. “They’ve got like this rage virus, amps ‘em up like they’ve been smokin’ the schwag.”
Either Jesse has that same rage virus, or he’s quickly becoming a zombie. Having cut himself off from his ex-girlfriend Andrea and her son (though, we learn, he has left them some money) he has nothing left to feel. The fact that he’s condemned to running a robot vacuum over his floor, over and over again, feels like the kind of punishment usually doled out by Greek gods. Remember how Walt once hid some drug money in a vacuum that he lost? Well, now it’s as if that drug money’s chasing Jesse, never letting him forget that everything good’s been sucked right out of him. It’s just like some genius once printed on a t-shirt: when your dreams turn to dust, vacuum.
Even worse, there’s no sign of things looking up any time soon. There’s a new guy at the lab, and we suspect he might be the other hermano in Los Pollos Hermanos. We hear that Gus might have a brother, a “gentle soul” and trained biochemist, which would be bad news for Walt and Jesse. If Gus has another cook whom he can trust, why would he need to keep Gale’s murderers around? When Mike says, “Walter, you’re never gonna see him again,” he’s not just saying that Gus won’t deal with him directly anymore. He’s suggesting that Walt might soon be too dead to deal with him at all.
Which brings us to that showdown between Mike and Walt. No western is complete without a saloon fight—and we’re pretty sure that’s what happened between Walt and Mike. Though Walt was the one who ended up with a few bruised ribs, we think Mike’s still thinking about what he said. “If it happened to Victor, it can happen to you.” And we all know what happened to Victor.
So it comes down to Walt vs. Gus vs. Mike? Its just like that famous standoff in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Right now, there are three men staring one another down. Each one’s got his gun pointed at the other. If one shoots, they all shoot, and they all die. But if two of them shoot the third man before he can shoot either one of them, then two out of three of them live. There’s just one problem: who will be the third man out?
Next time Walt shoots, we don’t think it’s gonna be defense.
Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.