Breaking Bad: Will Jesse Become a Casualty of Walt's Desperation?

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 29 2011 1:31 AM

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 7: "Problem Dog'

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

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

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Photograph of Bryan Cranston as Walter White courtesy of Ben Leuner/AMC

 

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In the first ten minutes of this episode, Walt takes a gaudy sports car that he shouldn’t have bought for his son in the first place for a joyride in a parking lot, crashes it into a concrete divider, and sets it on fire. He sits down several feet from the car and calmly calls a cab as he waits for it to explode. Walt does this just to defy his wife Skyler, who has asked him—quite reasonably—to return the car so that it doesn’t attract attention to their money-laundering car washing business.

It’s a perfect encapsulation for Walt’s insistence on destruction in this episode—which is definitely a step down from last week’s tour-de-force. He thinks that by stomping around like a petulant child, he can get what he wants, no matter how brazen he is. He doesn’t even thank his delightfully skuzzy lawyer, Saul, for getting him out of a criminal record for blowing up that car. (He gets off with a whopping $52,000 penalty.) Instead, Walt tries to get Saul to help him find a local hit man to kill drug kingpin Gus. Saul, sensibly, tells Walt he is out of his fucking mind.

Instead of dropping the idea, Walt stomps his little boy foot in front of Jesse and tries to strong-arm his emotionally wrecked sidekick into offing Gus instead. Even though Jesse has had a new jolt of self-esteem from Mike and Gus singing his praises, he’s still, almost sweetly, under Walt’s sway. The old father-son bond isn’t dead yet, but Walt’s directives are tearing Jesse apart.

This show is big on doubles images, and the pairing of Hank and Walt Jr. is a pristine version of the father-son bonding between Walt and Jesse. Hank and Walt Jr. are two of the only morally solvent characters left on the show. It’s telling that Hank mentions Icarus in his chat with Walt Jr. about that car—but it’s clearly not Walt Jr. who is getting too close to the sun. It’s his dear old dad. Semi-related: Readers, what do you make of the writers’ decision to make them both physically handicapped? What do you think they’re trying to get across?

I’m glad that Hank is back to his old, chummy self—and that he’s closing in on Gus as the meth king of Albuquerque. As the previews for next week’s episode show, Walt knows that Hank is getting closer and closer to figuring out Gus’s role in the operation, which of course will lead right to Walt. After Jesse’s meltdown at his 12-step program, I’m worried that he’s going to be a casualty in Walt’s desperate attempts to get to Gus before the DEA does. Do you think it will be curtains for the sensitive Jesse, who is lately becoming my favorite actor on the show?

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