Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Breaking Bad" - "Cornered"

Spoilers for the latest "Breaking Bad" after the jump:

“Cornered” is the best episode “Breaking Bad” has done so far this season. While it still remains low in intensity as measured by pure plot developments, it’s arguably the most emotionally intense hour of the show to date. It also functions as a superb examination of how Walt’s ego has begun to spiral out of control, and of the way it’s starting to alienate the people around him: such as his wife, his partner, and his employer. The best way to approach this hour is probably in that order, so here goes.

After the shock of the initial revelation wore off, Skyler has been pretty matter of fact about Walt’s meth cooking business. But hiding behind that businesslike nature is a person who doesn’t really understand as much as she thinks she does: both about Walt and the line of work he’s in. Walt’s drunken comments about Gale serve as a rude awakening to her about just how much danger he’s in.

They also serve as the catalyst for Skyler’s first real glimpse at the man Walt’s become. When she confronts him about Gale and mentions the idea of going to the police, he explodes: telling her that he’s not in danger, he “is the danger” (a quote used on many of the season’s promotional materials). Bryan Cranston was amazing in this scene, but Anna Gunn played Skyler’s own uncertainty and fear with mesmerizing perfection.

Later she goes to visit the Four Corners and flips a coin to determine whether she should pack up the family and leave. I don’t particularly love the imagery here, but the fact that Skyler ignores the coin’s results does do a great job of reinforcing the notion that this series is about choices. Fate does intervene sometimes, but in the end it’s up to the characters themselves to decide what to do about it. And Skyler, for better or worse, has just tied her fate to Walt’s. But that reconciliation they had last week… well, that’s off the table now: quite possibly for good.

Meanwhile, Jesse is still off working with Mike. This doesn’t make Walt happy, as he assumes it’s all about driving the two of them apart. Here’s the thing: he may be right. But the way he goes about informing Jesse about this is severely misguided. All Jesse really wants right now is someone’s approval, and Walt’s statement that “it’s all about me” isn’t likely to endear him to Jesse.

Gus’s motivations remain unclear at this point. The line he feeds to Jesse about “seeing things in people” is definitely true, but is it a compliment or a thinly disguised admission that he’s simply using Jesse to get at Walt? My money’s on the latter, but perhaps Jesse’s actions in this episode have caused the drug lord to reconsider the question of whether Jesse has value. Things are always changing on this show, so that’s definitely a possibility. Either way, it’s bad news for Walt.

Finally, the long-simmering tension between Walt and Gus continues to build. Maybe this isn't all that big of a development. After all, Walt has been on Gus’s bad side ever since he ran down those two dealers. But the fact remains that he’s not doing anything to change Gus’s opinion. Just the opposite, actually: he’s becoming increasingly erratic and unruly. And that means that at some point Gus is going to make a move to eliminate him. I expect that move to come soon, possibly as soon as the upcoming meeting with the cartel. Remember, they want Walt dead every bit as much as Gus does. 

“Breaking Bad” gets so much acclaim because it’s willing to portray the moral decline of its central character uncompromisingly: something no other series (current or past) can truly claim. At times, though, this causes us to lose sight of the fact that his actions don’t exist in a vacuum. The show has really become a sort of intimate ensemble piece in which everything is connected to what Walter White does. “Cornered” is a powerful reminder of that.

Other Thoughts

- Just realized I haven't even touched on that stunner of an opening scene. What was so great about it was how it followed the script from "Bullet Points" almost to the letter, only to deviate from it midway through: to chilling effect.

- Lots of great dark humor in this episode: including pretty much the entire scene with Jesse and Mike in the car, as well as Walt's "I doubt it" (delivered with a creepy little chuckle by Bryan Cranston) after Skyler wonders whether the person who killed Gale could be coming after him next.


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