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'Breaking Bad' recap: The pride of Walter White

July 29, 2012|By Todd VanDerWerff
  • Walter (Bryan Cranston, left) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) begin cooking in houses an exterminator is bug-bombing.
Walter (Bryan Cranston, left) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) begin cooking in houses… (AMC )

In the final season of “Breaking Bad,” it almost seems as if Vince Gilligan and his writers are going out of their way to show us how smug and repugnant a triumphant Walter White would be. Here’s a man who has no natural enemies now that Mike’s grudgingly working with him but seems intent on making everybody in his life into an enemy, just from being a jerk to them.

Walter’s acting worse and worse, committing greater and greater sins, and he seems pretty sure of himself. I have a friend who’s watching the show almost solely to see how Walter gets his comeuppance now, and he’s terrified one’s not coming. Even if that opening scene for the whole season (with Walter, a year from now, scared for his life in a Denny’s) wasn’t indication enough, just the way he’s acting has to be a major sign that his fall is about to come. What’s that thing they always say about pride going before something?

Here’s another sign: In “Hazard Pay,” everything goes well for a change. Walter, Jesse, and Mike come up with a new location to cook in. The money starts rolling in. Mike finds a way to keep “his guys” on the payroll, so they won’t give up the information that would take everybody down. Walter even comes up with a lie that placates Marie so she won’t start asking Skyler questions that probe too deeply.

Even Walter’s craziest plan, which involves paying off an exterminator (whose employees include Jesse Plemons of "Friday Night Lights" fame) to let him and Jesse cook in the houses they’ve bug-bombed, comes off without a hitch. (This sequence is vividly reminiscent of an episode of "The X-Files," on which Gilligan worked before this series. In that one, “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” an old scientist used the cover of pest extermination to artificially inseminate unsuspecting women.) It’s an episode where the fates finally smile on Walter White, and while that’s almost chilling to see at this point in the series, it’s also not something you’d expect to see continue.

Take, for instance, that last scene, where Walter, chagrined at having to pay up so much of his cut to Mike’s imprisoned “guys,” has a talk with Jesse mentioning the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, in which the former flies too close to the sun and plummets into the ocean to his death, the wax holding his feathery wings together having melted. Walter is using the myth to discuss hubris and over-ambition, and it’s not immediately clear whether he’s threatening Jesse or trying to turn him against Mike. (I lean toward the latter but have heard convincing arguments for the former.) Walter agreed to let Mike run the business end of their enterprise, but he’s frustrated by how little money he’s getting out of it, compared to what he was getting under Gus. Jesse tries to explain that the two are owners now. It might start slowly, but they’ll eventually get back to where they were and make an even bigger cut than before. Gus had carefully built an operation designed to maximize his profits, and they can do that, too. It’ll just be hard work.

But Walter no longer wants to do hard work. He wants what he wants, and he wants it now. He’s had a taste of riches and the good life, and he lacks the patience needed to get back to that place, even if he’s still easily clearing $100,000 with each new cook. You could make an argument that his impatience is driven by a recurrence of his cancer, since we never did find out the result of his diagnosis in convincing fashion last season, but it’s so obvious to me that this is driven by the central anger that’s always driven Walter, the sense that he’s owed something by a world that spent so long not recognizing his genius. The blue meth is a great product, and he wants the big payoff immediately. The irony, of course, is delicious. Walter’s going to lecture Jesse about hubris? That’s awfully rich, coming from a man who can’t seem to contain the darkness increasingly seeping into his bloodstream.

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