“I am the man that I am, son. So here we are. And this is just what it is,” Walt says to Walt Jr. during a speech in which he’s trying to explain away his unexplainable divorce from Skyler. But really, that’s not true at all — as Skyler cried to her lawyer last week, “I didn’t marry a criminal.” Her lawyer just looked at her with pity; people change, marriages crumble, and chemistry teachers sometimes turn into high-profile methamphetamine-makers. Last night’s episode explored the theme of how we get where we are — the numerous small decisions that Walt made that landed him just an RV door away from his DEA brother-in-law, whose head is next on the chopping block. (Be careful, Hank!) And though Walt’s “feeling good about the future,” much of what he’s dealing with is linked to the past, including the aforementioned RV scene, which could have been ripped right out of season one (Jesse freaks, Walt finds a way out, they escape for now). Breaking Bad continues to expertly navigate the slow decision-by-decision progression of Walt’s transition from nice guy next door to America’s Most Wanted. And if we know anything, it’s that he’s certainly not the man that he was.
We open with the Cousins, who’ve taken up residence in the home of a now-dead old lady in a nearby town. The policeman who comes to check on her has the unfortunate luck of being axed to death by Cousin No. 1, while No. 2 calmly munches his afternoon snack; the juxtaposed sound of the apple crunching with the policeman’s bones cracking was a perfect, gruesome touch. The Cousins are waiting on Gus to lift his ban on killing Walt, and so stage a sit-in at Los Pollos, much to Gus’s annoyance (and the employees’ confusion). After all, they’re two nearly identical, thuggish, silver suit–wearing Mexican men, and their presence at the fast-food joint is conspicuous to the point of being dangerous for Gus’s operation. They finally convince him to meet again, during which Gus offers up an alternative to Walt: Hank. After all, it was Hank who pulled the trigger and ended Tuco’s life. “The agent’s name is Hank Schrader. May his death satisfy you.” Uh-oh.
Meanwhile, Gus finally convinced Walt to start making meth again, with the promise of a fancy new lab, an expert assistant, and $3 million. Walt also gets a new apartment — the furnished model: “Name one thing in the world that is not negotiable,” he threatens the hokey real-estate agent, who quickly acquiesces. His new lab partner, Gale, has an impeccable résumé and makes the best coffee Walt has ever tasted; Galequickly becomes Jesse’s foil, down to the recitation of Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” and his amusing declaration of, “Yes, I’m a nerd!” Jesse would no more likely call himself a nerd than Gale would end each sentence with “Bitch!”
And yet for all this shiny newness, Walt still can’t disentangle himself from his past mistakes. Hank is tailing Jesse with the hopes of finding the illicit RV, and he happens to tip Walt off to this (Hank remembers Walt’s connection to Jesse from his “disappearance”). Walt rushes to get rid of the RV, but Jesse foils his plan by angrily showing up in the car junkyard, leading Hank right to the two of them, trapped once again in that musty old mobile home. What follows is a classic Breaking Bad “oh my God, they’re going to get CAUGHT” segment, in which Hank tries to break into the RV, but is stopped first by the clever lot owner, and then by Saul’s assistant, who calls him with a made-up story about Marie getting in an accident. It’s all very dramatic and awesome and Walt once again saves the day with his quick thinking. The RV is finally crushed for junk metal, but the mistakes that Walt and Jesse have made can never fully be erased. You have to applaud Dean Norris (Hank) for this episode — his suppressed anxiety and rage came through with just a narrowing of his eyes. Hopefully next week he’ll survive the ax-wielding Cousins and their unquenchable, maddening thirst for revenge.
The Wall Street Journal’s Chris Simmons also points out the chemistry (pun intended) between Walt and Gale: “They both share passion for chemistry, coffee and chess. Gale also rationalizes his criminal activity by saying that since people are going to use drugs, at least the meth he helps cook is pure.”
The L.A. Times’ Josh Gajewski credits John Shiban, who wrote and directed this episode. “Shiban certainly knows the art of the payoff…one of my other favorite payoffs was Marie’s ringtone on Hank’s phone.”