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Breaking Bad Season-Finale Recap: Why Be Cautious?

What kind of man was Walter White before he got cancer and embarked on a life of crime? Clean-shaven, almost poofy-haired, black-leather-jacketed — and brimming with confidence and ambition. Bryan Cranston plays the latter-day Walt so close to the bone, so precise and minimalist, that he’s more like the show’s trademark landscapes than any of the other actors: windswept, quietly awesome. Seeing him in flashback, as we do in the show’s opening, is almost shocking. He and Skyler (who merely gets curls and a big baby bump — Walt Jr. — to distinguish her from her current desperate self) tour the home that Skyler still occupies. Feeling flush from the chem-company money that he’ll later get screwed out of, Walt tries to insist that three bedrooms aren’t enough: They plan to have three kids, after all, and of course they’ll need a study in which he can work and she can do her writing. The rest is left to our imagination: The missed fortune, the settling for the (admittedly nice, but always rather dark) house, Walt Jr.’s disability, cancer ... and, like a ghost, the child that never was. All of which makes this so much more than a clanging bell indicating that Walt always wanted big things (money) for his family (himself). And now he’s just got that damned Aztek, its windshield cracked once more.

It is inside the battered Aztek that Walt sits, waiting to meet Gus & Co. in the midst of one of those remarkable landscapes (which is even more remarkable at dawn — very “morning after”). Walt’s nervous about going out to meet the SUV, but henchman Mike explains that “I can kill you from way over here.” (This is classic Mike: Is he just joshing Walt, or does he actually have a guaranteed way of offing him from 100 yards away?) Gus, wearing a beautiful coat, calls Jesse a “contemptible junky.” This guy probably drinks tea with his pinky jutting out, too. Walt explains that Jesse is, like, a couple of time zones away, they’re totally done as partners, and two options remain: kill me and track Jesse (“pointless!”), or forget Pinkman and let me pick up where we left off (“I would prefer that”). Gus doesn’t select A or B, but he does tell Walt that he’ll need a new assistant. Mike tells him to get the Aztek fixed. He does.

Then there’s a heart-wrenching shot of Walt feeding his baby, the infant grabbing at his her father’s face with fat little hands. Three bedrooms, two kids wasn’t so bad after all, was it? “Don’t do this, Mr. White,” advises Jesse. “Go to the cops.” Nah, Mr. White’s gonna kill Gale after dark. Oops! Lab guard Victor pulls up, says something about a chemical leak, and it’s not a fart joke. Walt had better come with him. At the laundry plant, facing Victor, Mike, and their handguns, Walt finally seems to crack, Aztek-windshield-like, and offers up Jesse — “he’s in town!” This makes Walt look very bad, of course, but we’re glad to know that his impending death is actually lighting up the human emotional centers. But wait — he just wanted to get Jesse on the phone in order to instruct him to snuff Gale while Mike and Victor are occupied. He’s sticking to the idiotic plan! Jesse drops the glass pipe he was about to light, picks up his gun, and, tearful, interrupts Gale’s tea time. Then he shoots and kills him. We were unclear on this ourselves — it looked like Jesse shifted the gun off to the side, then the screen went a Sopranos-style black. But Vince Gilligan swears there wasn’t meant to be any confusion. So now Jesse and Walt have both committed the most cardinal of sins. They are as bad as they wanna be. Although surely Jesse will regret it. And Walt has put a serious kink in his relationship with Gus. But the real drama this episode was in the implied space between the Walt of today and the vigorous man of yesteryear. Walt is losing his human dimensions, and we’re afraid Jesse has gone to a place from which there is no return. It could be a long season four.

Walt and Jesse, meanwhile, seem awful calm about the fact that they’re most likely marked for you-know-what. Is it because they’re both on intimate terms with it? The suspense-building is left to Gus and Gale, which, given what milquetoasts these dudes are, leaves that whole business a little wanting. Still, it’s great to see Gale at home, with his potato clock and telescope, watering his plants and singing along to his nerd CDs. Gus, citing the big C, says Walt might need replacing soon, and Gale slowly catches on as Gus indicates that the “cancer” could mean Walt would be “unavailable” like ... how soon? Will one more cook do it? (It is clever how Gus so thoroughly perverts Walt’s rhetoric about providing for this family here.) Gale, are you still pissed about being replaced by Jesse? Or are you just so eager to please that you’ll play along with murder? You have a charming home, but we really wish you’d show some of those flashes of turbulence that we so enjoyed when Walt shit-canned you.

Which brings us to Saul, who is in fact rather nervous about being killed. Still, he’s sticking by Walt and Jesse ... we guess because they’re his richest clients? Mike, his own P.I., threatened to render Saul’s legs useless if he didn’t provide an address for Jesse, which is a little like Thomas Magnum something-something the guy with the little mustache ... we didn’t quite catch this joke, but we’re sure it was funny. Anyway, Saul convenes Walt and Jesse at the laser-tag center, which has lots of cool blinking lights under plastic tarps. Jesse thinks Walt should aim for Witness Protection, but Walt’s not having that (“never the DEA”), presumably because it would prevent him from providing for his family. Instead, Walt wants to kill Gale (or have Jesse kill Gale ... no? Okay, fine, he’ll do it), thereby rendering himself indispensable to Gus. He should really dig up that old black leather jacket while he’s at it.

Then there’s a heart-wrenching shot of Walt feeding his baby, the infant grabbing at his her father’s face with fat little hands. Three bedrooms, two kids wasn’t so bad after all, was it? “Don’t do this, Mr. White,” advises Jesse. “Go to the cops.” Nah, Mr. White’s gonna kill Gale after dark. Oops! Lab guard Victor pulls up, says something about a chemical leak, and it’s not a fart joke. Walt had better come with him. At the laundry plant, facing Victor, Mike, and their handguns, Walt finally seems to crack, Aztek-windshield-like, and offers up Jesse — “he’s in town!” This makes Walt look very bad, of course, but we’re glad to know that his impending death is actually lighting up the human emotional centers. But wait — he just wanted to get Jesse on the phone in order to instruct him to snuff Gale while Mike and Victor are occupied. He’s sticking to the idiotic plan! Jesse drops the glass pipe he was about to light, picks up his gun, and, tearful, interrupts Gale’s tea time. Then he shoots and kills him. We were unclear on this ourselves — it looked like Jesse shifted the gun off to the side, then the screen went a Sopranos-style black. But Vince Gilligan swears there wasn’t meant to be any confusion. So now Jesse and Walt have both committed the most cardinal of sins. They are as bad as they wanna be. Although surely Jesse will regret it. And Walt has put a serious kink in his relationship with Gus. But the real drama this episode was in the implied space between the Walt of today and the vigorous man of yesteryear. Walt is losing his human dimensions, and we’re afraid Jesse has gone to a place from which there is no return. It could be a long season four.

Photo: Courtesy of AMC