Spoilers for this week's "Breaking Bad" after the jump:
The first three episodes of "Breaking Bad's" fourth season can be seen as a sort of prologue to the season as a whole: setting up most of the main conflicts of the season. We're now beginning to see those conflicts paying off. "Shotgun" takes two of the biggest ones (Hank's investigation and Jesse's downward spiral) and offers some major developments on each. It's another fine episode even if it still lacks the "did that just happen?" feel of many of season three's best outings.
Last week's cliffhanger ending saw Jesse and Mike heading off to some unknown location. What Mike's intentions are wasn't made clear, and one of the things this episode does a great job of is continuing to hide those intentions until the last possible second. There's some strong suspense to be gained from this, most notably when Mike grabs a shovel and starts digging. It turns out to just be a hidden bag of money, but I'm sure most people watching (myself included) thought it was a grave. And if you're like me, you relaxed a little after that.
That's just what the show wants us to do, of course. "Breaking Bad" specializes in subverting expectations, and does so once again in a terrific sequence where Jesse's life is put into peril. See, Gus has apparently decided Jesse needs a morale boost that only stopping his own murder could provide. Looking at it from Gus's angle, it's a win-win. Either Jesse survives and maybe snaps out of his funk (which is of course what happens), or he dies and Gus is rid of a dangerously unstable employee. Sure, Walt would be unhappy. But he'd deal with it. Not a bad move at all, and it reinforces the notion that Jesse and Walt are just pawns in the larger scheme of things.
This is something Walt knows full well, and it drives many of his actions in the episode. I'm thinking mostly of the brilliant scene where he talks Hank into reopening his investigation into the identity of Heisenberg: a development that would seem preposterous on a different show. But "Breaking Bad" has done such a good job of developing the character of Walter White that we completely believe he would do this. I'll take that a step further, actually: the show has made it so that it's really the only thing we can see Walt doing. His ego has taken a severe beating over these first few episodes, and hearing Gale described as a genius is the last straw.
At this point, the Walt of season one is basically gone. He has an opportunity here to get his life back to some semblance of normalcy, even as he continues to cook meth. The car wash is up and running and his wife wants him to move back in. His brother-in-law's about to stop investigating for good. No one ever need know about Walter White's "skills". But he can't handle that. He doesn't want to be found out, but he needs the thrill of the hunt: needs someone to outsmart. And it's going to land him in jail (or get him killed). But it sure makes for some riveting television, doesn't it?
- Let's take a minute (once again) to praise just how well this show is filmed. Observe the way the car containing Jesse's would-be killers slides subtly into view, and then the sinister effect of the man slowly approaching from behind. Genius.
- The fact that Hank still doesn't suspect Walt at all bugs me a little, especially given his fast progress with other elements of the investigation. I get that a) it's necessary until such time as Vince Gilligan decides to completely upend the show's dynamic, and b) we're often blind when it comes to the people close to us. Nonetheless, it's a bit hard to buy into. That and a few other minor issues were enough to knock the grade down a step this week.
- Walter Jr.'s expression after the "we'll be out in a minute" was priceless.
- In case you didn't hear, "Breaking Bad" was renewed for sixteen final episodes. Still no news about how they'll air, but as I said on Twitter this is very good news for fans of the show and of great TV in general.