We're one-quarter of the way through the third season of a show about mismatched partners in an ill-fated meth-cooking enterprise, and not only has there not been any meth cooked, but Walt and Jesse have barely even been onscreen together. Certainly the point of this season has been to display the consequences from the previous two — an absolutely necessary move if the show is to stay remotely grounded in reality, and the consequences are as dire as they are plentiful — but you’re forgiven if you’re itching to see ol' Heisenberg pick up the porkpie hat again. Which is not to say the show is lacking for tension. From last week’s climax with the cousins patiently waiting with their ax for Walt to towel himself off, to this week’s final reveal of the episode’s titular acronym, the show is as masterful as ever in its refusal to find silver linings for its characters’ attendant black clouds.
The opening is a flashback straight out of the Lost playbook, an explanation for how the head of Tortuga (Danny Trejo!) ended up riding bareback on a turtle last season, as well as some background as to just what the cousins are capable of when given a job to do. Tortuga was drinking in a seedy bar when he was confronted by a cartel bigwig, and given a birthday present in return for his blabbing to the DEA — cupcakes from Magnolia! Just kidding: It’s the cousins, who saw off his head with a machete. This is the same kind of payback they would very much like to administer to Walter White today, but Gustavo buys a little time, arguing that Walt is more valuable to the cartel as a manufacturer than he is to Tuco’s avenging family.
Never a show to shy away from metaphor, Walt is first seen cleaning up his mess. In this case, he’s scraping the pizza off the roof. Emboldened by Saul’s theory that Skyler would have as much to lose by telling the police as Walt, he moves back in and calls her bluff. The police arrive, and sure enough, she can’t go through with it; Walt’s cool, confident demeanor is something we haven’t seen in a while, and a far cry from the apoplectic raving that earned him a face full of pepper spray last week. He doubles down, placing the duffel bag of cash on the living-room floor and explaining how that cash — all earned, none stolen — will set his family up for life, which was his only motivation all along.
While Walt regains (if briefly) a little bit of testicular fortitude, Jesse’s still lost. Sleeping on the floor of his aunt’s remodeled, unfurnished house (this guy just does not like clutter), he calls Jane’s phone over and over, just to hear her outgoing voice-mail message. Sure, it’s sad that she’s gone, but it’s even sadder that he doesn’t have anything else to remember her by. Saul stops by with a housewarming cactus, urging him to convince Walt to get cooking again. But it’s not until Jane’s phone is finally cut off that Jesse takes action, heading out to the RV and breaking out the gas mask. What’s not clear is whether he’s cooking for the masses, or just a snack for himself.
Jesse might be the picture of poise compared to Hank, who celebrates his second promotion to El Paso by picking (and winning!) a bar fight with a couple of beefy, low-rent dealers. (See video below.) He’s not over his post-Tortuga panic attacks by a long shot, but manages to tamp them down in an effort to prove to himself that he's not a wuss. (Most likely he was hoping to sabotage the El Paso move with his renegade behavior. Though his partner Gomez may undermine his self-undermining by sticking to the story that the thugs jumped Hank.) In a show with no shortage of virtuoso acting, this episode alone had at least two killer moments, and one was Dean Norris’s forced bravado upon getting the “good” news.
The other moment came from Anna Gunn, crumbling twice when given the chance to turn Walt in, then finally finding her legs again by seducing a different type of criminal. She saunters home, Holly in hand, and finds the familiar (to us, anyway) sight of Walt in an apron, cooking up a pot roast, at home in his home. And with three words, she cuts out the legs he just got back beneath him: “I fucked Ted.” Any hopes he had of restoring his family as he knew it are cooked.
Neither Walt nor Jesse has anything left to go back to or protect. Debts settled, they might as well become master chefs again, not to achieve any particular goal, but just because at this point, that’s just who they are. It’s not like things can get any worse. Right?