Breaking Bad 4.04 & 4.05 Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Nick Hanover
4.04 "Bulletpoints" - The Cartel gain the upper hand; Walt and Skyler share a secret with the family; Jesse's activities draw unwanted attention.

4.05 "Shotgun" - When Jesse goes missing, Walt fears the worst. Skyler has an unlikely reunion. Hank shares some bad news with Detective Tim Roberts.

Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights at 10PM EST on AMC.

Due to scheduling issues, Comics Bulletin missed out on reviewing episodes 4 and 5 of Breaking Bad, so we're taking a look back at them now.

In its fourth season, Breaking Bad has focused largely on the way that Walter White has dealt with the juxtaposition of being more powerful than ever from a financial standpoint but more powerless than ever from the standpoint of his life. Over the course of the season, Walt has become increasingly more unbearable; an egomaniac, pushing away everyone who's close to him under the pretense that he's protecting them when really he just wants to control everything around him.

"Bullet Points," the fourth episode of the season, framed this development in terms of Walt's two most important relationships, with Skyler and Jesse, his wife and surrogate son of sorts. Invited to Hank and Marie's for dinner, Skyler decides it's in the family's best interest to follow a script she's written about Walt's struggles with gambling in an effort to "appear to come clean." But Walt doesn't take direction well and revolts against Skyler's attempts at fictionalizing their newly criminal life.

For Skyler, the play acting is a way to exert control but it's also an attempt to gloss over the grim reality of their existence with a fantasy. Walt may see the exercise as one of futility, as a childish way of escaping reality that hinges on soap opera speeches and fluffy characterization, but that's the point-- Skyler doesn't want this to be real, she wants it to feel like bad tv.

Jesse knows exactly what Skyler is going through as he spends episode four avoiding reality as much as possible, though his methods are much different. In a druggy haze, Jesse has allowed his home to turn into a mess of methheads and opportunists, all happy to aid Jesse in his downward spiral.

Walt has botched his role as surrogate father for Jesse completely, having pushed Jesse beyond redemption at the end of last season by having him murder Gale. Jesse may not be the most moral of characters but he's never been a truly bad person, just a lost soul without much focus and a lack of common sense. But his intent has never been to hurt anyone, other than himself, and Walt has yet to realize how much he changed Jesse by forcing him to become that kind of person.

Worse, Walt continues to damage Jesse by demanding that he relive the experience that brought him to this hell. To Walt, Jesse is just being obstinate and unreasonable, like a stubborn student who needs to be prodded a few times before he gets on the right track.

Because of his arrogance, Walt doesn't see that Jesse is reaching out, asking for help, in desperate need of the fatherly instincts Walt does possess but has mostly shelved for the moment. By the end of the fourth episode, as Mike takes Jesse for a ride, Jesse's future is completely uncertain even to himself and he doesn't care much about how things go down.

But luckily, Jesse's path isn't quite ended. Episode five, "Shotgun," unveils a whole new potential route for Jesse: one free of Walt's influence. And while not exactly redemptive, it is at least more focused. In Mike, Jesse has found a figure to aspire to, a man with a complicated take on morality who nonetheless has his own kind of honor.

Riding along with Mike as he does a series of pick-ups, Jesse is first bored and restless and then inspired. Convinced he's set to be Mike's "guy," Jesse begins adopting the posture and attitude of what he perceives the henchman life to be, despite Mike's attempts to convince him otherwise.

Walt of course takes the ridealong a different way, frantically trying to track Jesse down and convincing himself in the process that Jesse needs his method of salvation once more. But when Jesse pops a hole in that particular argument, Walt is set adrift again, realizing that this is yet another situation he has nowhere near as much control of as he thought.

To add insult to injury, Jesse is even convinced that he's useful to Mike since he saved him from would-be robbers during the last pick-up. Walt sees that incident, rightfully, as a ploy but his refusal to believe that Jesse could be useful does far more damage to their relationship than Jesse's impromptu apprenticeship ever could, simply because Walt refuses to see how insulting and condescending his attitude towards Jesse is.

Jesse isn't stupid, no matter how much he acts the part, and he has proven himself to be a keen observer. What Jesse observes in Walt is that he doesn't want Jesse to succeed, that their entire relationship is built on Jesse's inferiority to Walt and without that inferiority, Walt has nothing. Jesse glimpsed that before, when he began making the blue meth on his own and to a level of quality that was remarkably near Walt's, only to have Walt chastise him for it.

But Walt's arrogance, his inability to believe that anyone could be as smart as himself, prohibits any of his relationships from really developing; Walt wants to control everyone through his self-professed superiority and when they don't buy into that he flies off the handle.

Which is of course what brings us to the biggest development of the season thus far.

At dinner with Hank and Marie, Walt listens in as Hank discusses Gale in more detail. Hank had seen the case as closed, believing that Gale was his Heisenberg and admitting as much both to Walt and his former colleague Tim. It was a bittersweet moment for Hank, an unsatisfactory cap on his career even though it in many ways proved the suspicions he'd voiced to the DEA.

But when Hank begins discussing Gale's "genius," his status as a meth five star chef rather than simply a cook, Walt, buzzed on too much wine, can't help himself. Cockily professing his experience as a teacher, Walt claims to know the work of a copycat when he sees it and tells Hank he thinks his man may still be around after all.

We the viewers have always known Hank would be the one to bring Walter in, one way or another, and it's always been a matter of when. And now it seems that Walt has given Hank the impetus and motivation to move towards that goal. Like any number of arch-nemeses comic book fans are familiar with, Walt is as much motivated by his need for recognition as his need for power, and it looks like we're moving towards that inevitable downfall.


For more discussion of Breaking Bad Season 4, check out our previous reviews:
Episode 4.01 "Box Cutter"
Episode 4.02 "The Thirty-Eight Snub"
Episode 4.03 "Open House"

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

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