When it comes to water-cooler discussions of Sunday-night television episodes, Breaking Bad may be overshadowed on this particular Monday morning. Which is a shame, because AMC pulled off some masterful counterprogramming to the Lost finale juggernaut; at the exact moment that it was dawning on all of us that six years’ worth of narrative and mythological knots weren’t going to come close to being untied, a far less heralded — and viewed — series was reveling in the dramatic potential of two characters locked in a room together for an hour — actually speaking to one another, and only semi-elusively.
Three-quarters of the way through the third season, and after a run of particularly relentless, action-packed episodes, this was the very definition of a pause. With the exception of Walt suspecting, accurately, that Jesse might be skimming a little off the top of the meth inventory, nothing happened to considerably advance the many currently dangling plot threads, and it is to this show’s credit that the episode still managed to ratchet up the drama rather than feel like filler.
The impetus for this two-character chamber piece is Walt’s obsession with killing a fly that could contaminate the latest 200-pound batch of meth. While his logic may be sound in that mad-scientist kind of way, the audience is left to side with Jesse, who thinks Mr. White (love that he still calls him this), may indeed be losing his shit, possibly as a result of his illness. Jesse’s beloved aunt had a similar issue with an opossum when she was in her latter stages. (We also agree, for the record, that the recent colloquial switch from “possum” to “opossum” is confusing. You know Breaking Bad is on its game when Jesse’s making all kinds of sense.) While Walt insists that he is still very much in remission, he does acknowledge that the implosion of his family has left him irreparably beaten, and wonders aloud when the ideal moment for him to have died honorably might have been. We’re not sure how this series will end, but it’s probably not going to involve an epiphanic snuggle with a yellow lab.
Walt and Jesse haven’t actually had a tremendous amount of screen time together this season, and if nothing else, this episode rectifies this oversight and reminds us how much tension exists between these two characters; the brilliant thing isn’t that so much can come from a setup as simple as trying to swat an errant fly, but that even that premise is barely needed. Watching them cook for an hour would be just as dramatically loaded.
Directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), this episode felt, as some have already suggested, like a stage play, but there were a few flourishes — brush-cam, fly-cam, those crane shots from above the vats — that felt intensely cinematic. Still, a show like this lives and dies by its writing; while Walt and Jesse each get suitably charged monologues, the climactic scene in which Jesse teeters on the ladder while an exhausted Walt teeters on the verge of confessing about Jane’s death, is one of the best this show has ever offered. By morning, with a clearer head, if not clearer conscience, Walt gently warns Jesse that he will be on his own if Gus were to discover the reason the recent shipments have been light. Jesse, of course, is indignant at the accusation, and, presumably destined to ignore that very good advice. That Walt’s words feel more paternal and concerned than exasperated and disgusted is a sign that their relationship has been recalibrated back to the twisted father and son, teacher and mentor dynamic that forms the true center of the show. Anyone who dares to say nothing happened in this episode is looking to get got, yo.
Finally, we wish we played sports more, just so we could use the line, “Gatorade me, bitch.”
Alan Sepinwall at HitFix goes all inside baseball, commending the show for making dramatic gold out of what was likely budgetary necessity.
Donna Bowman at the AV Club also likens this episode to the one last season when Walt and Jesse broke down in the desert.