Photo: Ursula Coyote/Copyright: AMC 2011
In the opening scene, set in a makeshift emergency room, Gus brandishes the all-seeing-eye necklace that Mike ripped from the neck of Don Eladio. How closely has Gus been watching Walt and Jesse this season? So closely, he knows Jesse’s blood type, his blood pressure, his allergy to azithromycin. “Jesus,” says Jesse. “He thought of everything.” Now, doesn’t Walt and Jesse’s plot to murder Gus just seems incredibly naive?
If the first few seasons were the story of Walt’s descent into crime and the accelerating moral erosion of his soul, this has been the season of Walt’s utter unraveling. In the first seasons, Walt was doing whatever it took to cover his ass and protect his family, sure, but he was also getting off on the thrill. This season, he’s just been running scared: thoroughly outfoxed by Gus, revealed to be way out of his league. The ego-stroking thrill of his Heisenbergian rise is gone. Now it’s begun to cost him his sanity.
Walt recklessly wrecks his car to avoid taking Hank to the laundry and crazily confronts Jesse, only making matters worse, when he should know by now to control himself. (Jesse gets off the irrefutable lines, “You brought your brother-in-law to our lab” and “The last time I asked you to help me, you said I hope you end up buried in a barrell in the Mexican desert.”) Then we’re out in the New Mexican desert: Walt, recently Tasered, bag over his head, kneels in the sand. And in the most gorgeous shot of a beautifully filmed show, a huge cloud passes over the sky, covering the tableau in shadow, while Walt and Gus exchange threats. Then the shadow passes. In that landscape, Walt looks so small, sure, but it’s also the territory of the Western. They are men on the horizon. It’s the only moment of this show when he plays a winning card: Gus can’t kill him, he says, because Jesse won’t let him. Not so long ago, Walt was protecting Jesse. But now Jesse controls Walt’s fate, and Gus confidently predicts it’s only a matter of time until Jesse lets Walt go. Will Jesse sign off on Walt’s death eventually? How much more out of control would Walt have to get?
Walt believes him enough that he runs to Saul and his vacuum repairman to clean his latest mess up. But that’s Walt’s last moment of sanity. He rampages through Saul’s office and then we last see him, sprawled out in the crawl space underneath his house, laughing maniacally at Skyler’s betrayal. Escape plan dashed, he is nothing but mad desperation, a crazy cackle. That vast Southwestern sky we keep seeing on this show is nowhere — Walt is just stuck in that crawl space he spent so much time fixing. He’s way down in the hole, deep in a hell or a grave of his own making.
And poor Ted: He’s just not wired like Skyler and Walt, who will do anything to survive. He’s done the moral calculus and determined that he can only sin so much. He can’t pay down his white-collar crime with “illicit gambling winings.” Well, at least this contrived subplot is finally, absolutely over. From the minute Saul says he’s calling in “my A-Team,” you know it’s not going to end well. Dumb-as-dirt Ted gets his just desserts, slipping on a rug and banging his head. If you’re not going to make every sacrifice imaginable to stay alive, you die. Simple as that. But now Skyler’s got his death on her hands.
And isn’t it funny, after three-plus seasons, how the show forces you to believe that any person, like Ted or Gale, who isn’t solely focused on maliciously fighting to survive, is a stupid patsy? Some idiot shmuck? If this show has been pushing Jesse and Walt and Skyler through some moral evolution, I think it’s also gradually altered the lens through which the audience sees and evaluates all these characters too. As viewers, are we becoming less forgiving of well-meaning haplessness? More approving of naked, whatever-it-takes greed? In this show, ravenous corruption has become to seem like the only right move, every time. But is it?
“That young man shot Joaquim to death while I made my escape,” Gus says, pointing at Jesse. This episode, we see a lot of this new, stronger, and darker Jesse, but he offers up very little. He’s feeling confident enough to hang with his girl and her boy, to relax and play a little Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s grown stronger and earned Gus’s protection. But what’s next?
Is Gus, who can ingest poison and walk across the Mexican border without breaking his placid demeanor, truly all-powerful? Is there any chance that he could be vulnerable, now that Mike is down in Mexico rehabbing. Could this provide an opportunity for Walt? There seems to be no weakness in his game. Only, if killing Joaquim, Hector’s grandson, was Gus’s way of avenging the death of his brother Max, then perhaps Gus wasn’t thinking so clearly after all when he went down to Mexico to take on the entire cartel’s top ranks with nothing but a bottle of tequila. It seems like a genius move now, but it was a do-or-die desperation move. Is he as all-powerful as he seems?
After all, Hank is still closing in on that laundry, despite the police protection, and soon he’ll have his “gimp-mobile” to himself. Hank’s superiors and colleagues all know about his suspicions. Could Hank be the hero in the end? And would being heroic result in the murder of his whole family?