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Breaking Bad Recap: The Chicken Brothers

If we learned nothing else tonight, we at least got this: Los Pollos Hermanos chicken looks delicious. (The secret recipe is giant bags of meth hidden inside buckets of fry batter. Keep it under your hat.) The opening faux commercial sets the tone for the various games of chicken that ensue. Jesse dares Walt to take a stand against the unfair labor practices that are netting them a piddling $3 million of a $96 million operation. Walt confronts Gus — who he knows was behind the warning call to Hank, as well as the decision to divert the twins toward Hank to begin with, the collapse of the Mexican cartel, and probably a bunch of other shit he can’t even imagine — and walks away with an offer to extend his three-month deal indefinitely, at a slight raise.

Jesse balks at Saul’s reasonable offering of a nail salon as laundering front. Skyler tells Marie she and Walt will pay for Hank’s long, costly rehab, thanks to the winnings from Walt’s desperate gambling scheme. And, frazzled after his meeting with Gus, Walt literally plays chicken, testing the limits of his battered Pontiac Aztek and nearly getting squashed by an eighteen-wheeler. In true Breaking Bad fashion, Walt’s near-miss might be the closest any of these gambits comes to clear victory.

Number-crunching aside, Jesse’s rabid discontent — and his willingness to reject Saul’s reasonable advice in favor of the dubious talents of Badger and Skinny Pete — is hard to fathom, even if he has been embracing his dark side all season. As the otherwise senseless Badger points out, even Darth Vader had responsibilities, so Jesse’s entitlement seems ill conceived at best. Moreover, his apparent scheme to skim from the lab’s inventory to sell on the side is as knuckleheaded as his backhanded sales pitch to his twelve-step group — more like a focus group, really — was cruel. Maybe Jesse’s purpose on the show is to make Walt appear less unseemly by comparison? Because his actions are starting to leave the realm of dramatically plausible and just be awful for awful’s sake. We're still not sure how, or why, Walt was allowed to fire Gale. If Gus has been fooled with this move, it might be the only time anyone’s ever fooled him about anything.

Walt’s face as Skyler unloads her epic gambling ruse to Marie: golden. As strong as any moment Bryan Cranston has delivered, which is saying a lot. He is at the edge of his seat in that waiting room, trying not to beam, thinking that Skyler now finally gets it, and that after all this, he still might get his family back. But that euphoria is quickly doused — as long as she suspects that Walt has something to do with Hank’s shooting, which isn’t something he’d easily disprove, she remains as repulsed as ever. But rather than merely be a wife scorned, she’s sidling somewhat into the role of co-conspirator, so she’s in for some misery one way or another.

Now that the Twins are gone and Hank is off the scent, this episode replaces the “something horrible is about to happen” vibe of the past couple episodes with the “something horrible is eventually going to happen” that passes for a quiet lull in the Breaking Bad mood continuum. This one’s got everything short of Walt coughing blood into a napkin. The stakes are being recalibrated, and new questions are being raised: How will Skyler’s backhandedly tacit acceptance of Walt’s motives, along with her dispatching of Ted, affect her relationship with Walt? Now that the DEA is, belatedly, onboard with Hank’s theory, will that turn up the heat on Gus’s new operation? Will Walt come to his senses and realize that whatever paternal guilt he has regarding Jesse isn’t worth the continuing headaches? Will Jesse’s decision to ignore every bit of common sense presented to him and move a little meth on the side be catastrophic, or merely disastrous? And now that his face is healing, will he grow a big mustache that he can twirl while bellowing, “Muahahahahaha?”

Other Recaps:

Alan Sepinwall at HitFix thinks the show is on par with The Wire in its ability to show the drug trade’s inner workings.
Donna Bowman at AV Club points out that all the other major characters are plotting and positioning themselves while only Walt remains passive.

Photo: AMC