Crime dramas, in both television and movies, impart two main lessons. One: Cops and criminals are not so different after all. Two: When people steal, it is because they are compelled to do it in order to support their families. The Departed and The Sopranos took each respective idea to its logical extreme, and delighted in the process. For all of its humor — a tiny chair sticking to Walt’s ass as he stands up, Jesse referring to his penis as his “fat stack” — Breaking Bad doesn’t delight in structures so much as determinedly strip them down. This entire show has been about What Walt Did to Protect His Family, and in the classic mode, that has been to Make Lots of Money. But after a few episodes of tensely staged dithering, it seems that this season has finally turned to its true purpose: stripping family out of the old equation. Now if only AMC didn’t have to pretend that strippers wear pasties.
We begin with a wholly unnecessary but hugely entertaining flashback montage of Jesse and his buddies partying with those pasties (and the dancers they’re attached to), using money Walt originally gave him to buy an RV. But no worries! Combo (R.I.P.) can get Jesse an RV for the $1,400 that’s left over. It belongs to his mom, and he just has to steal the keys. Maybe this sequence isn’t completely unnecessary — it’s the backstory for the vehicle that Hank is hunting, the knot in the noose that’s slowly closing around Jesse and Walt’s collective neck. Or maybe just Jesse’s neck. Which could mean Walt’s neck, because Jesse and Walt just aren’t getting along, and we can imagine the former ratting out the latter, should he be brought in for batting his eyelashes and throwing some rocks at the pretty gas-station cashier.
Anyway, the takeaway for now is that, although he may be corny, foolish, and paralyzed by post-traumatic stress, Hank may very well be right about turning down El Paso to see his local investigation through. He’s rewarded for being civil, maybe even sentimental, at the send-off for Steven — his awesome colleague who does take the El Paso slot — with a new lead that brings him to Combo’s mother’s house. What Hank doesn’t need to worry about is maximizing his income in order to support his family. Wife Marie’s more concerned about his PTSD. Hank keeps coming back to her desire for that “condo in Georgetown,” but that can just as easily stand in for safety outside the dangerous world of drug enforcement as it can for worldly success.
Still, it’s not absolutely clear that the women aren’t driving their men’s callous pursuit of money. Until, that is, we see Skyler grapple with, (a) coming across Walt’s “heavy” duffle full of cash, and (b) discovering Ted’s heated bathroom floor (“Once you try it you can never go back” — heh). Skyler broods over all of this to her lawyer, who sensibly points out that she is half as qualified and twice as expensive as a shrink, and then, learning of the duffle bag (the heated tile is not explicitly mentioned), delivers a most ecstatically gratifying line: “‘He did it for the family’ is an enormous load of horse shit.” Take that, self-righteous male privilege!
Which brings us to Walt, who — for all of his obvious greed, “overweening pride,” and leagues-deep denial of both — still possesses that certain inscrutability of his. Gus takes him to an orderly, spacious, and well-ventilated underground meth lab below a laundry plant, and Walt turns down his offer to run it, even though he’d get to keep his own hours. (Here Gus plays foil to Skyler’s lawyer: “A man provides for his family ... even when he’s not appreciated or respected.”) But it’s only after Skyler asks Walt if he’d like to calm the crying baby, and Walt takes on the demeanor of a happy baby himself, does he clean out his room and leave the signed divorce papers in the crib. Then, at Saul’s office, he throws his million-per-month deal in Jesse’s face. (Who then, clearly concerned with finding a resonant image to close the episode, smashes Walt’s new windshield.) Let’s assume Walt still cares about his family. Does he believe he can protect them by any other means than annihilating his own paternity?