Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 3: “Open House”

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 31 2011 11:03 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 3: “Open House”

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

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Photo of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Skyler White (Anna Gunn) courtesy of Ursula Coyote/AMC.

 

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June:

Jess, let’s talk about how much we love Marie. Or should I say Tori Costner, a divorcee and potter who home-schools her high-testing 4-year-old Gemini? Or Mimi, who wanders around Europe with her illustrator husband? Or is it Charlotte Blackner, hand model, proud sister of a Peace Corps volunteer, and astronaut’s wife? Oh, but NASA, one of our spoons is missing! I know Marie’s flights of fancy are deceitful and that stealing is wrong, but I love the little worlds she conjures, and she only lifts stupid stuff. (Plus, she’s right, Puerto Rico is a territory.)

It seemed faintly ridiculous to haul her off to the cop shop, though I suppose the real-estate agent had to set an example. What did you make of the last word in Hank’s question to her, “Are you seriously doing this to me again?” A straightforward reference to shoplifting, or is he indeed blaming her for the incident that led to his being shot up? Either way, it seems to have worked out—her arrest meant he had to call in a favor, which in turn allowed the friendly cop to ask for Hank’s help. Whether or not it was a pity favor—I tend to think not—it’s surely the beginning of the end of Hank’s moping (and perhaps the end of Gus’ empire).

Walt continues to annoy. His uselessness in the negotiations with Bogdan was another reminder that he’s a terrible poker player—the man cannot bluff—and his condescension to his creative and capable wife was exasperating.

I was a bit confused by Skyler’s concern for Walt’s safety when she saw his black eye, though. Her oddly panicked, tin-eared advice to him—“Go to the police. Tell them you’re a drug dealer. Tell them you’re in danger”—seemed out of character. Surely Skyler, so quick to connect the dots in other ways, realizes that they’re all in mortal danger; that one way or another Walt dies at the end of this? He got into the meth business to stay alive, but it will kill him. Is it that as a bookkeeper she knows about the kinds of problems that stem from cooked books and a lifestyle incommensurate with reported income but she has no lens to understand the brutality of the drug business?

Jess:

June, at first I agreed with you that Skyler’s reaction to Walt’s black eye felt like a false note. He’s a drug dealer: It’s a wonder he’s not shot full of holes every week. But when you put it in the larger context of their relationship, it made sense to me. The drama of the show is predicated on Walt and Skyler’s painfully traditional, even outmoded, marriage—he insisted on selling drugs so that Skyler and the kids would be supported forever, and he hated the idea of her working. When you think of them that way, Skyler clucking and panicking over a mere black eye is part of that old-fashioned gendered dynamic.

Walt’s condescending reaction to Skyler’s balls-out negotiating is also of a piece with their antiquated relationship. It irked me, too, but still: I continued to enjoy Skyler’s stakeouts of Bogdan’s car wash, with baby Holly cooing contentedly in the backseat. Skyler’s manipulative side really shines here, and she’s proving herself to be a real partner in crime to Walt. He’s going to need it, now that Jesse’s downward spiral is continuing unabated.

Speaking of Jesse, the writers took things a bit too far with the lad this week. His go-kart ride of misery was hard for me to take seriously. Ditto the over-the-top sordidness of the never ending party at Jesse’s casa. The gross couple having violent sex on the floor, the graffiti on the walls, Jesse’s scattering money among the plebes while they scramble for dollars—it all seemed ridiculous. What did you think about those scenes? Is Jesse not long for this world?

I felt the reference to Marie’s shoplifting was straightforward—and like you I love, love, loved those scenes. I am really liking the way Marie’s character is developing this season. She’s always been so perfectly manicured on the outside that it makes her internal falling apart more jarring. My heart broke a little when Hank reamed her out for getting Fritos instead of Cheetos—the return of her kleptomania is directly related to her unhappy home life. It’s fitting that she was touring potential new homes with her new personae; her real home and her real self are just too upsetting right now.

I didn’t think that Hank’s cop buddy was taking pity on him at all. He wants Hank’s expertise and he doesn’t want to give the case up to the DEA—that explanation checked out. Do you really think that it will mean the end of Gus’ empire? The show is going to last at least another season and a half—there have to be more twists and turns in store before the entire operation comes tumbling down, don’t you think?

June:

The scenes Chez Jesse made me realize what Trainspotting, one of my favorite movies, would’ve been like if it had been the product of a less accomplished creative team. When he walked through his front door, I thought Jesse had entered Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Much too much! Despite his supremely self-destructive behavior—never mind his drug use, flashing massive sums of cash is a sure-fire way to attract a blade or a bullet (he should’ve bought a state-of-the-art alarm system, not a blinging sound system)—I cannot believe that the BrBa creators would kill off Jesse. He’s necessary for the show’s humanity. And although I think Walt’s fatherly affection for the likable screw-up is real, I also think that Walt gets an ego boost when he compares himself to Jesse. (That’s why Walt fired Gale back in Season 3. It wasn’t Jesse’s meth-cooking skills that he missed, it was his second-rateness. Gale was far too smart for Walt’s comfort.)

Your description of the Whites’ family dynamics is convincing, so I’ll cut Skyler a break. I was still confused by what she said when Saul suggested that they sic Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Bogdan’s workforce. “I’m not getting poor, innocent people in trouble,” Skyler said. But the family’s newfound fortune comes from getting poor people in trouble. Meth users don’t count as “innocent,” perhaps—though neither do undocumented immigrants, I suppose. (Maybe Saul was right when he thought she just didn’t want to lose the illegal workers.)

Let me deflect your Godzilla v. Mothra question about whether Hank can bring down Gus to the readers. (But only after I’ve given my view: As efficient as Gus is, my money’s on Hank. He might well have gotten his hands on Heisenberg that day at the wrecking yard if he hadn’t had that Marie-shaped soft spot. And he doesn’t seem so sweet on her now.) Also, does anyone know how Gale’s Rube Goldberg coffee machine works? That thing serves up a good cup every time.

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