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the recap recap

The Best of This Week’s Breaking Bad Recaps: ‘Rabid Dog’

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad

This week, Vulture's TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz voiced the question on many viewers' minds: "Walt, long a full-measures kind of guy, is reverting to half-measures, deciding to spare the lives of the two people who could do him and his empire the most damage: Hank and Jesse ... Why?" Many critics asked similar questions, and quite a few commented on the episode's slower pace. Here's our weekly recap recap.

"As the jaws of the vice tighten, the two families pushing Walt and Jesse closer and closer together, I feel sympathy for Walt for the first time in ages. And there’s a pang of nostalgia, a twinge of vain hope that finding themselves similarly at the mercy of others, they will find a way to join forces. As I exulted back in season 4’s ‘End Times,’ there’s nothing more exhilarating than a Walt-Jesse team-up, even when it’s based on a monumental web of lies. When the two fail to meet on the plaza, that hope dies, dashed by justifiable paranoia and by a surfeit of puppeteers pulling at their strings ... Breaking Bad started with the Walt and Jesse joining forces. I can’t help but wish that it would end the same way.” –A.V. Club

"I’ve never seen a final season like this one. There were moments in this episode where it felt like I could actually see the characters advancing onto their various chessboard squares. It’s become a different show, one I watch for different reasons. The element of surprise that helped Walt take down Gus is now being deployed on the viewers, continuously uprooting what we thought we knew. In order to do so, it must keep manipulating our alliances, at an increasingly accelerated pace. —Capital New York

“Walt is more committed to the world he has built for himself than anything — you are with him, or against him.  Skyler also faced this choice too, and she chose to stay with Walt. Jesse went the other way once he bailed on their meet. He crossed a threshold. Walt made a call, but not to Saul. To Todd. Does that suggest that this is not ‘the’ call for the ‘job’ to kill Jesse?” —Collider

“At the hotel, Walt sits by the pool deep in thought. You already know what he’s thinking; it’s reminiscent of that scene in Season 4’s ‘End Times’ where he’s seated in his backyard, spinning his gun around trying to formulate a plan—until he’s joined by Walt, Jr. When his biological son asks what’s on his mind, Walt replies ‘Business stuff. Just going over some options.' You know exactly what he means. The most heart-wrenching moment of 'Rabid Dog,’ comes when Junior — fighting back tears — embraces his father as they talk about the return of his cancer. He’s slowly coming to grips with the fact that he’s losing his father. He has no idea that he’s already lost him.” —Complex 

“By Breaking Bad's standards, this episode was weak. The judgment is relative. 512 was still compelling. But the first three hours of this final half-season have been shockingly good. This one was a big step down. For starters, the scene with Marie and her shrink felt like filler. We already knew exactly how Marie felt about Walt. Worse, the discussion didn't go anywhere. It didn't end with Marie realizing that she has leverage over Skyler, or figuring out how to lure Walter Jr. away. With only four precious episodes left, every moment has to count. Having Marie bitch to her psychiatrist doesn't make the cut. Now, having Marie confess to wanting to poison her sister — that would be a moment worthy of this show.”Esquire

“Would anyone have been surprised if ‘Rabid Dog’ had ended with Hank braying about how, if ‘Pinkman gets killed,’ he at least will have it all on tape? Would anyone have been let down? But instead we pushed forward into a The Conversation–aping mini-masterpiece of tension, wonderfully shot by Sam Catlin, the longtime Breaking Bad hand who also wrote the episode. Since Jesse proved he had been paying attention to one of the central lessons of the series — always be afraid of bald people — we'll never know what Walt's true intentions in this rendezvous were. But I actually believed him when he said all he wanted to do was talk. (Of course, since Jesse wouldn't listen and Flynn was passed out after the all-you-can-eat morning buffet, Walt places a call to his third — and worst — son, Todd. I suppose we'll see the bloody fallout from that conversation next week.) Walt dissembles with nearly every breath, but his refusal to consider Belizean holidays for key family members — and Jesse is family, almost more so than poor Walter Jr. — rings true.” —Grantland

“Overall, something of a holding episode this week. The ‘twist’ that the scary bald dude in black in the plaza wasn't one of Walt's stooges waiting for Jesse with a ticket to Belize didn't quite have the impact that we've come to expect. On the other hand, perhaps they just wanted to throw something straightforward and simple into the mix – to remind us of the everyday, outside world where people who haven't been corrupted by Walt's Heisenberg devilry are still walking around waiting for their children. A banal moment, and one that was enough to push a (justifiably) paranoid Jesse into action, breaking free from both Hank's wire plan and Walt's grip. ‘Nice try, asshole … Next time I'm going to get you where you really live.’ So where – or what – did Jesse mean? The money? The desert? His family? His reputation? Four down, four to go … ” —Guardian

"The bulk of 'Rabid Dog' makes clear that Walt puts Jesse into the same family category as Hank. Killing him would solve so many problems, but Walt won't hear of it. (When he tells Saul not to float the idea again, it's with the most conviction he displays all episode.) Some of this is misunderstanding, as he doesn't realize that it was only Hank's timely arrival that stopped Jesse from burning down his house, rather than a change of heart revealing what Walt believes to be Jesse's true colors. Some of this is the usual Walter White arrogance: he genuinely believes that he can string together the right collection of nouns, verbs and adverbs that will justify the near-fatal poisoning of a little boy, and that he and Jesse will be hugging it out once again. But much of it is the paternal feeling Walt has had for Jesse over the bulk of their partnership. Walt and Jesse do not often understand, or like each other, but Walt's been more of a father to Jesse (for good and especially for ill) than Mr. Pinkman's been in years, while Walt has shaped Jesse in his image in a way he hasn't with his biological son. Until their meeting in Civic Plaza goes awry, Walt can't fathom ordering Jesse's death any more than he could Walter Jr.'s." —HitFix

"The conundrum at this point is that Walt is the only one who doesn't want Jesse dead. Allegedly. But I think he was sincere when he spoke to Saul about the 'Old Yeller' option. Walt doesn't want Jesse to have to die, but is that because having to kill Jesse would represent a failure on Walt's part, or because he really does care about Jesse and can't face taking him out? It's probably some mixture of both, but I have to think ego plays a large part in Walt's desire to keep Jesse alive. 'He was my teacher,' Jesse said in a voice that would break your heart, and Walt doesn't want to admit that the lessons he taught his student were toxic and evil on every level. Walt wants to be the good guy, still. He's the guy who thinks that a gasoline-soaked living room can be put back exactly the way it was before. He's the guy who always has a story, an explanation, a justification." —Huffington Post

"One of the flaws of this fifth season — both halves — so far is that in just eight episodes, Gilligan and company occasionally have to compress their characters emotional arcs into far smaller numbers of episodes than typical. This means they’ve chosen to focus on particular arcs and evolutions, especially Jesse, Hank, and Walt’s. Therefore, when, say, Walt finally, agonizingly decides to call in a hit on Jesse, the moment feels completely earned. He’s exhausted his other options. But when Mike makes some stupid decisions that result in his death in the otherwise excellent 'Say My Name,' it feels very much as if he made those decisions because the writers needed him to. 'Breaking Bad' is very much Walter White’s story. The others around him aren’t as fully fleshed out and occasionally service the strictures of the plot before their own character needs ... In the case of Skyler — who’s now openly advocating her husband commit murder and refusing to let him confess his crimes, despite being completely aware of what a monster he is — I’m feeling a bit of whiplash." –Los Angeles Times

"In the end, Hank's omelette recipe (if an egg breaks, so be it) never gets tested. The justified paranoia about Mr. White that served Jesse so well last episode, enabling him to make the leaps of logic required to piece together the Walt/Saul/Huell ricin-cigarette theft plot, has him jumping at shadows, or in this case a waaaaaay too obvious red-herring glowering bald dude. (Waiting for his kid, no less; Jesse would have approved.) Jesse claims to have 'a better way' to get Mr. White, one that may or may not involve his telephone threat to hit him where he really lives. But Walt is a stateless actor now – his home vacated, his relationship with Skyler as chilly and utilitarian as his relationships with Mike Ehrmentraut or Gus Fring, his relationship with his son a fragile one based on increasingly obvious lies. With only four episodes to go, there aren't likely to be any good ways to get him left." —Rolling Stone

That ruthlessness bubbled up in multiple characters this week, perhaps a deliberate decision on the part of Vince Gilligan and company to make Walt seem slightly more empathetic and also to remind us that every living, breathing human being is just one life-altering revelation from going full-on Heisenberg themselves. Skyler — so hellbent now on preserving the sanctity of the colossal lie that is her life — had no qualms about ending Jesse if that’s what it took to protect her family. Some may misconstrue her behavior as motivated by greed. I don’t think that’s what’s pushing her at all. I think she feels that she and her husband have spent a lot of time concocting a complicated cover story and that she’s invested too much in that facade to let small obstacles — an accusatory brother-in-law/DEA agent, say, or a kid with access to gasoline — destroy it. —Salon

"In general, I have to say I was not thrilled with this episode. There was a clear need to slow down the pace a little as the pieces come into place for the finale. But it seemed like suddenly everyone had a case of the stupids. Walt’s attempted cover-up was absurd. Walt Jr. saw through it, but then concocted his own ridiculous theory. Walt goes soft despite Skyler’s persuasive arguments, Jesse doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing, Gomez somehow gets roped into Schrader’s off-the-books investigation, and Hank keeps firing off half-cocked. " –Slate

"But back to Walt’s cover-up: Did he really think that the cleaners could remove the stench of gasoline (though I did enjoy his 'will these rugs ne’er be clean' moment), or that no one in the family would notice that a kicked-in door had been repaired? Are there really no unemployed people, or freelancers, or retirees around during the day to see his peculiar perambulations around the neighborhood inserting and removing gasoline cans from neighbors’ trash, or pouring liquid onto that strange car haphazardly parked in the driveway? And that shaggy dog story about a total pump malfunction? As Walt himself said, 'The whole thing … it’s just so stupid.'" –Slate

"During this latest episode of 'Breaking Bad,' am I the only one who felt nothing during Jesse and Hank’s confrontation in the White living room? I should have been in Jesse’s brain as he took a lighter to that rolled magazine, as he stared down Hank, as he raged and sputtered: 'He can’t keep getting away with it!' But I wasn’t. I watched two marvelous performers act the hell out of a tense, draining scene. But I wasn’t there with them. I was there last week. I was stuck in Jesse’s head up until the final second of 'Confessions.' I’ll admit that last week’s cut to black didn’t bother me in the moment. But by the time 'Rabid Dog' rolled, Jesse’s story was deferred in favor of Walt, Skyler and gasoline stains." —The Wall Street Journal

"Over the past few weeks, it's been fascinating to watch Hank go through his own kind of mini-Heisenberg arc. It started with the premiere, when he hid the secret work he was doing from his wife, and it extends to 'Rabid Dog' where his obsession with his end goal — in this case, taking Walt down — leads him to shrug off Jesse's life as an acceptable casualty in the larger battle he's fighting." —The Week

Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC