When Jesse finally hits Walt, the student becomes the master.

By Melissa Maerz
September 12, 2011 at 11:31 AM EDT
Lewis Jacobs/AMC
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There will be blood. And this time, it won’t only be Jesse’s.

Up until now, Jesse could hardly make it through an episode without looking like he spent the night in Mickey Rourke’s hotel room. He’s gotten his stomach and head stomped on, been pummeled purple by everyone from Tuco to Hank, even landed himself in the hospital. The guy should win the Ben Linus Award for Most Black Eyes on a TV Show. What’s worse, he’s no longer surprised when it happens. As Jesse recently told Walt, “For what it’s worth, getting the sh– kicked out of you? Not to say you get used to it, but you do kinda get used to it.”

Consider it payback, then, that this week’s episode, “Bug,” begins and ends with Jesse pounding that message into Walt’s head until blood drips down to his old-man shoes. (To be fair, he deserved it. For a guy who’s always been a father figure, Walt’s a pretty abusive dad, telling Jesse, “Screw it up, just like I know you will.”) It’s the second time that Walt has lost a fight this season, which should be a clear sign sign that he’s not as invincible as he likes to believe. The “one who knocks” is turning into the one who gets knocked down. As Jesse might say, karma’s a bitch, bitch!

Is Walt switching roles with Jesse? As far as Gus is concerned, Walt has become everything that Jesse once was: the less professional, less trustworthy, and (now that Gus has told the cartel “The answer is yes”) less essential partner in that duo. Walt even looks like a middle-aged version of Jesse these days, sporting the same shaved haircut and smoking the same cigarettes outside the lab. And Walt’s fatalist attitude—”We’re both dead men anyway”—recalls something Jesse said in the season premiere: if Gus doesn’t kill them, they’ll wish they were dead. Of course, it might also be Walt’s futile attempt at convincing himself that Jesse’s life is still somehow dependent on his.

Meanwhile, Jesse’s becoming Walt 2.0. We’ve talked before about Vince Gilligan’s idea that “the student will become the master this season,” but now that transformation is official, playing out like the final showdown in a samurai movie, with Jesse officially defeating his teacher who he still refers to as “Mr. White.” (In honor of the occasion, Jesse’s even wearing a t-shirt that’s straight out of a kung-fu film.) It’s about time, too, since Jesse’s already handling all of Walt’s old responsibilities. He’s eating dinner at Gus’s house. He’s riding shotgun with Mike. Soon, Jesse will even be traveling to Mexico and giving chemistry lessons, instructing the cartel on how to cook “the blue.” Most crucial of all? Jesse’s the one trying to save his partner’s life, instead of the other way around. Though, after this week, he might stop trying so hard.

Does anyone have a good reason to keep Walt alive these days? If the cancer doesn’t kill him, it seems he’s going to become the cancer, destroying the lives of everyone around him: Hank, Skyler, Jesse, Gus, Mike, and even their anonymous henchmen. (Pity that poor truck-loading guy who ended up in that barrel.) Right now, the cartel’s only shooting at Jesse and Mike because they want Walt. And Gus can only afford to lose Walt if Jesse’s there to take over his post. Would Walt ever kill Jesse in order to save himself, just as Jesse did with Gale? We hope not, but it could be the only way to ensure that Gus won’t let the cartel kill Walt. After all, Gilligan’s often said Breaking Bad is Walt’s journey “from Mr. Chips to Scarface.” In the end, Scarface killed his partner.

NEXT: “A guy this clean’s gotta be dirty.”

Speaking of Scarface, Hank’s been watching too much AMC. First, he compares himself to “Popeye” Doyle in The French Connection, and now he’s suggesting that tracking down Gus is a little like Rocky III? Sure, “Eye of the Tiger” is an apt reference: with Tyrus watching the house, and Gus monitoring everything from the bugging of his own car to the planned raid on the meth lab, that tiger’s eye is focused squarely on Hank. And doesn’t Rocky III end with two longtime friends getting in the ring, just like Walt and Jesse?

Still, one of Breaking Bad‘s best running jokes is that the criminal underworld in this town isn’t anything like the ones in Hollywood. This is Albuquerque, New Mexico, where even the most dangerous kingpins spend their nights politely cooking a nice stew or watching Ice Road Truckers. Thinking about Gus’s grandmotherly car trips between work and home, Hank says, “A guy this clean’s gotta be dirty.” And he’s right: just look at Walter White, a guy with a name so clean he runs a car wash for a living.

For now, Skyler’s doing a pretty good job keeping their business (and her life) from getting audited. Watching her pile on the makeup, gold chains, and a dress with a neckline that cuts almost down to her ankles, it’s clear that she enjoys manipulating that investigator with her math is so hard! routine. (Quicken: “It’s like having a calculator on your computer!”) When you’re dealing with tax law, it takes someone smart to act that dumb.

The allure of having an alter ego—her own private Heisenberg—is not lost on Skyler. But unlike Walt, she doesn’t just play it up for the thrill. It’s never just a game; for her, this is still only about saving the family. And with Ted unable to pay his back taxes, that might not be for a long time. Watching next week’s preview, it looks like Skyler might find a way to funnel him some money. But that could only make things worse.

Lately, we can’t help but feel like everyone on Breaking Bad is turning into Tucker the Tweaker: they just keep digging themselves into a deeper hole, with no end in sight. Some kind of collision has to be coming soon. Each week, the future grows darker: the cartel draws one step closer to Gus, Skyler leave a few more clues for the IRS, the divide between Walt and Jesse widens, and Walt’s recklessness become the defining quality of his personality. When Jesse asks Mike, “Where’s this all going?” he’s not just asking about where the lab’s being relocated. He’s speaking for us fans who are dying to know where this season will end up.

Gilligan once admitted that the writers don’t plan ahead on their story lines. “I’d love to be able to say that everything is pre-figured…but it’s not true,” he said, adding, “We actively try to paint ourselves into corners at the end of episodes – at the end of seasons, at the end of scenes sometimes – and then we try to extricate ourselves from those corners.” So far, that’s what’s made Breaking Bad so compelling: every season has shown Walt getting cornered, whether he’s trapped in an RV with Hank right outside, or facing down Mike’s gun while ordering Jesse to kill Gale. With only four episodes left this season, Skyler’s right: Walt should start thinking about an exit strategy.

After such an amazing episode, we can’t wait to see “where’s this all going” this season. But for now, we’re just going to have to accept Mike’s response to that question: “Elsewhere.” He could be speaking for the show’s writers: Be patient. Trust us. We’ll end up in the right place.

NEXT: A few more questions for you readers

A few other questions:

Why do you think Jesse hasn’t killed Gus? Is he starting to feel more loyal to Gus? Or is he just scared?

Is it just us, or is Jesse starting to sound a little too much like Expository Guy, always trying to explain what’s happening on Breaking Bad? To Mike: “So is he gonna kill him? Gus. Is he gonna kill Mr. White’s brother-in-law?” And again: “Walking right into the bullets? What the hell was [Gus] doing?” To Gus: “You asking me if I can cook Mr. White’s crystal without him.. then get me to keep cooking for you after you kill Mr White?” Jesse’s still our favorite character on the show, but Mike says it best: “Kid? Enough.”

Who gets your vote for the Clint Eastwood “Vigilante of the Year” award? Mike, for this line: “Just get the barrel. And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my guys again, you go ahead and get two barrels”? Or Jesse, for this one: “Can you walk? Then get the f— out of here and never come back”?

Watching Walt smoke, we remembered him scolding Skyler for smoking a few seasons back. Is a cancer patient smoking a cigarette the ultimate example of a man who longs to be punished? Moreover, is there any chance that the poison cigarette could end up in the wrong hands, and Walt could lose the love of his life, just as Jesse lost his?

Last week, after hearing Don Eladio imply that Gus and Max were partners in the Biblical sense, some of you mentioned in the comments that Gus might be gay. We’re intrigued by that idea, too. In last week’s Breaking Bad podcast, both Steven Bauer, the actor who plays Don Eladio, and the episode’s editor, Kelly Dixon, said they believed Gus was gay, and Gilligan replied (somewhat ambiguously) “It’s okay to infer that.” If it’s true, what implications would that have on the story this season? Also, we’ve always assumed that Gale was gay. Considering that Gale got the same scholarship as Max, is it possible that Gale and Gus may have been lovers as well?

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.
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