Walt gets to be the boss, while Jesse moves up the ranks, gangster style

By Melissa Maerz
August 22, 2011 at 06:00 AM EDT
Ursula Coyote/AMC
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“Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”

That’s how Walt sums up Gus’s plans in this week’s episode, by quoting Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. But that line says a lot more about Walt, who’s quickly become the anti-hero of his own gangster epic, a would-be kingpin who’s caught between his professional ambitions and his responsibility to his family, between what’s business and what’s personal. And just like in The Godfather, everyone’s starting to turn against one another, forcing Walt to make some bold moves against Gus. (Those poor cleaning ladies!) It’s just like some old Italian guy once said: real power can’t be given, it must be taken.

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is a big Godfather fan—”I admit to borrowing liberally and being inspired by The Godfather and The Godfather Part II,” he recently told the New York Times—and it’s easy to understand why those movies influence his own show. If the Godfather series popularized the idea of a villain that fans will continue to root for, far beyond the point when he becomes unlikeable, then Breaking Bad is pushing that concept closer to its limit in its fourth season. Like Michael Corleone, Walt started out wanting nothing to do with “the business.” He got involved only because he felt it was the best way to protect and provide for his family. But over time, money became way less important than power. Now Walt’s willing to waste the car wash’s first hard-earned dollar on a Coke, just to teach Bogdan who’s boss.

Back in season two, Saul joked that if Walt was a character in The Godfather series, he would be Fredo, the sadsack Corleone underboss who never commanded much respect. Clearly, that’s changed. Two weeks ago, when Walt and Skyler decided to give Bogdan a little “incentive” to sell his car wash, Saul quoted Vito Corleone, pointing out that they’re making Bogdan an offer he can’t refuse. Now that Walt’s succeeded his own former boss as the king of the car wash, his plan to overthrow Gus can’t be far behind. “So, you are the boss now?” says Bogdan. “You think you’re ready?” And he is. He’s not Fredo anymore. Just as soon as he takes care of Gus, he’s gonna be Michael.

And that would mean Jesse is Fredo, though he’s way more of a sympathetic character. Like Michael’s older brother, Jesse’s letting others convince him that he’s superior to his own boss, simply by giving him a more important job. (Jesse’s “Maybe I’m not such a loser after all!” speech to Walt reminded us of Fredo shouting at Michael: “I can help, Michael! I’m not useless!”) When Jesse asks Gus why he’s been given more responsibility, Gus replies, “I see things in people.” But we don’t think the thing he’s seeing is leadership. Walt knows his time is limited, and Jesse’s the only other person who knows the cook. He’s also the only person left who’d be likely to avenge Walt’s death if Gus killed him. Could it be that Gus is getting Jesse on his good side so that he can convince Jesse to kill Walt?

Gilligan has revealed that, in terms of Jesse’s relationship with Walt, “the student becomes the master this season.” No matter who’s planning to give the kiss of death to whom, we’re expecting some kind of showdown between them.

NEXT: What’s up with Mike’s coughing?

Of course, Gus might have other uses for Jesse. Perhaps Gus is simply grooming Jesse to take over for Mike one day. Is it just us, or does Mike always seem a little sickly? He was coughing during their drop-offs in last week’s episode. And he was coughing onto his sleeve in “Thirty Eight Snub,” and rubbing the blood off the fabric right afterward. We expect that the blood belonged to Victor, since Mike had just come from the lab where Gus’s henchman was killed. But it’s possible that the blood was coughed up by Mike. The fact that Mike wouldn’t let Jesse smoke in his car suggests that he might be more ill than we think. Then again, he might just be eager to remind Jesse who’s in control.

Looking after Jesse used to be Walt’s role. He’s always been a surrogate father to Jesse.  But lately, Walt’s not much of a family man to anyone. Even Skyler might not stick by him much longer. Like Kay Corleone, she’s finding that the more she learns about her husband’s professional affairs, the closer she gets to leaving him. We loved that scene at Four Corners, an area that served as the backdrop for many of John Wayne’s films. Her coin toss was a classic Western trope, a chance taken by a character whose fate depends on the way the wind blows. But her decision to chose family over fate felt more like something from a gangster movie. Yes, Skyler’s returned home for now. But sooner or later, she may leave Walt for the same reason Kay Corleone eventually left Michael. The only real way for a crime boss to protect his family is to lose it.

We wonder if Walt would be able to survive without Skyler or Jesse or even Gus. With the Mexican cartel descending upon Team Gus, everyone’s gonna have to decide which side they’re on real quick, and everyone’s gonna need backup. Is Jesse still with Walt, or would he keep playing bodyguard for Mike? Is Skyler still with Walt, or could she turn on him in order to keep her family safe? Would Gus protect Walt, or step aside and let the cartel pack up his remains in a Los Pollos bucket? Sure, you can keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But who can say who’s the enemy, and who’s the friend?

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.
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