This Week's Breaking Bad—Tight, Zingy, and Way Better than Last Week's

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 24 2011 11:04 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 2, "Thirty-Eight Snub"

[Caution: There are spoilers ahead! So if you haven't yet watched "Thirty-Eight Snub," come back when you have and share your thoughts and theories.]

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Photograph of Bryan Cranston (Walter White) courtesy of Ursula Coyote/AMC.
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Jess: 

June, after being a tad disappointed by the premiere, I did not have high hopes for Episode 2. My low expectations were exceeded. In Episode 1, the pacing felt all wrong. Too much time was spent in the meth lab with Walt and the gang, and those scenes dragged on. This episode was tight and zingy and it contained my favorite scene of this nascent season: Walt and Mike’s tête-à-tête at the seedy bar.

After his triumph over Gus last week, Walt is simultaneously cocky and terrified. The episode opens with him buying a gun from a black market dealer in a motel room and brandishing it unconvincingly. Again this week he’s trying on his drug kingpin shoes, and they’re tight and uncomfortable: He tries to flip Gus’s enforcer, Mike, over to his side, and Mike responds by calmly punching Walt in the face. At this point, even though Walt’s ostensibly the protagonist of the show, I found myself cheering Mike on. Walt already won by vanquishing Gale; to borrow your Kenny Rogers reference from last week, he needs to learn when to hold ‘em, and learn when to fold ‘em. Do you find yourself turning against Walt even harder this season?

While one half of the White union is becoming more irritating, the other is really endearing herself to me: I am loving Skyler’s business acumen. Watching her stake out that car wash and sass Bogdan, the boss man who was so rude to Walt in his pre-meth days, was immensely satisfying. I’m realizing while writing these little missives that my favorite characters in the show tend to be the ones who are still conflicted—the ones who are making not entirely ethical choices, but who still have some sense of morality. The characters who have yet to break bad (Skyler before the fall) and the characters who are all bad (Walt, Gus) I find less compelling.

Speaking of conflicted, I was especially impressed with Aaron Paul’s acting this episode. His mirthless drug taking and general anguish while he was surrounded by partying tweakers was truly affecting (One false note though: Who buys an enormous blinking sound system in the year 2011? It looked like a relic from the mid-90s.) I was also psyched to see my boy Badger back on the show, rambling on about Nazi zombies (the baddest ass Nazis of the whole Nazi family, he’ll have you know).

Now I’m the one rambling on. One last question before I hand over the reins: What did you make of Hank and his rocks—I mean minerals?

June:

Yes! I loved this episode. It had humor, sass and sadness, and punch-in-the-face comeuppance.

I am very aggravated with Walt. His self-delusion around his own bad-assness is pathetic. I fully expect him to shoot his left nut off before this season ends. I cheered when Mike knocked him to the ground and landed a couple of gratuitous kicks to the gut. Did I miss it, or did Walt really fail to thank Mike for saving him from almost certain death by making a “Dude, go home” courtesy call when Walt donned his Heisenberg pork-pie hat and took his new snub-nose .38 to Gus’ house?

Skyler’s business skills were impressive (as was her ability to pacify a baby while making a clandestine business valuation), but I was puzzled by Bogdan’s reaction. Obviously he’s not a kind or pleasant man, but I was surprised by his refusal to consider Skyler’s very reasonable offer. Yes, Walt walked out on him and crumpled up a couple of air fresheners on his way to the door; but the man had lung cancer. Could Bogdan’s reluctance to make a deal be a hint that he’s doing his own money-laundering in the land of detailing and waxing?

Jesse is breaking my heart. On the plus side, at least he acted his age for once. Since the start of the show he’s seemed like a young man living an old guy’s life. He hangs with Badger and Skinny P, but he’s their boss and benefactor, not their pal. His best bro—his partner—is a dude twice his age, a man he often calls Mr. White. But that rager was a total downer. (Plus it made my back spasm just looking at all those people crashed out on the floor. Is that really a thing?) Jesse is a rich boy who can’t even buy a few friends.

Hank sure loves that blue corundum! His monomania makes sense to me: Focus has always been his great strength. Do you think he’s mad at Marie because he blames her for his situation? It was the phone call Walt staged telling Hank that she’d been in a terrible car accident that indirectly robbed him of his gun when he faced down the killer cousins.

Now a question for you: How do you feel about the odd camera angles we got this episode? I counted a Roomba’s eye view, a baby’s eye view, and a pizza-box eye view. Those arty touches—like Episode 1’s dissolve from blood and guts spiraling down a drain to a dude circling his French fries in a blob of ketchup—always feel like what Tim Gunn calls “student work” to me.

Jess:

I must confess, I enjoyed the wandering Roomba. It was a bit of visual humor that worked for me, but I’m with you on the blood-to-ketchup cut as something the esteemed Gunn would sniff at.

I love your reading of Hank’s resentment. I reckon the majority of his bitterness is due to a loss of identity—if he’s not the swaggering, good-time DEA agent, then who is he? But his cruel treatment of Marie, who really is rising to the occasion of Hank’s illness, suggests there’s something else simmering beneath the surface. Perhaps he does blame her deep down.

As I don’t generally hang with the Southwestern meth set, I can’t tell you if crashing on the floor is a thing—but it sure did look uncomfortable. There was a glimmer of, well, not hope during the party scene, but something other than dissolution: the appearance of Jesse’s ex, Andrea. She’s managed to stay clean, and Jesse’s given her a big hunk of cash to help raise her son. It certainly doesn’t absolve him of his previous crimes against her (his role in the death of her brother Tomás), but at least he’s doing something with his money other than pissing it away on outdated stereo equipment.

I want to end this by throwing a couple of questions to the commenters. Are you finding Walt as unsympathetic as we are these days?  And will Jesse turn against him as some of us viewers already have?

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