Breaking Bad: Who Will Win the War—Walt or Hank?

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 15 2011 12:09 AM

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 5: "Shotgun"

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

Photographs courtesy of Ben Leuner/AMC.




Jess, what did you make of this episode? I found it frustrating. There are certain things that abound in life but are better left unrepresented in art, and one of them is the mind-numbing boredom that makes up 95 percent of life. I liked the episode’s evocation of the dull repetition of Jesse and Mike’s dead-drop pickups followed by 45 seconds of intense, sweaty theft-prevention. Also the mindless inanity of Walter and Skyler’s bromide-filled conversations, followed by 45 seconds of intense, sweaty ex-sex. But for me the 90 seconds of excitement did not justify the 45 minutes of tedium.

I was also surprised by my negative reaction to our being let in on the secret that Gus had set Jesse up to play the hero. In general, I dislike “maybe-he-is, maybe-he-isn’t” open-ended “resolutions” to stories, but knowing that Gus was playing games with Jesse just annoyed me, a feeling I didn’t need to experience again this episode.


June, I actually rather liked this episode. I liked the bonding between Mike and Jesse—Mike's replacing Walt as Jesse's dark-side father figure. There was a lot of nice twinning of Walt and Mike and shots of Mike's bald head against the New Mexico desert. (See this New York magazine slide show for a further unpacking of Breaking Bad's bald men and their symbolism.) Even though Jesse's self-esteem boost turned out to be a ruse, I still felt like Mike was warming to the lil' rascal and starting to care about what happens to Jesse. The same can't be said for Walt these days—he's only interested in Jesse when he can use his erstwhile protege to advance himself.

I'm with you on not enjoying the Walt and Skyler fireworks, but I was still happy to see them get back together. I want Walter Jr. and Holly to have a dad in their lives! But it seems like Walt is hell-bent on busting that up too: What do you think about his needless self-destructive impulses displayed at the family dinner? Hank effectively said that the case against Heisenberg was closed, but Walt couldn't let it drop. Do you think the writers are setting us up for a showdown between Hank and Walt, in which Walt may have to kill his brother-in-law?


Oy, Walt. Once again, I don’t understand most of his motivations. Why was he driving like a crazy man through Albuquerque traffic leaving panicked messages for Saul and Skyler in the cold open? (And how could he possibly forget those messages after the fact?) I get that he was worried sick about Jesse (and his genuine terror convinced me I’d been underestimating the sincerity of his affection for the lad), but why the insane haste? What could he possibly hope to achieve by confronting Gus with his 38 snub—and by giving his real name to the restaurant manager and sitting in a public, camera-monitored space while he impatiently waited to see the guy?

But, yes, his most outrageous mistake, one that might well cost him his freedom or his life at some point, was his inability to keep quiet—one of the night’s big themes—when Hank was ready to declare Gale a crazy genius of a three-star meth chef and close the case. Pride has always been Walt’s downfall. In earlier series, it was more benign—he started cooking to pay for his medical treatment, even though Elliott and Gretchen had offered to foot the bill—after all, no one likes handouts, especially from former peers. But Walt’s unwillingness to allow someone else to get the credit for his great work—even if that would take law enforcement off his trail—was just plain stupid.

I think the writers are definitely setting up a showdown between Walt and Hank, but I foresee a different outcome: My money’s on Hank.

Readers, what do you think? Who will win the war between egghead Walt and dogged Hank?


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