What a pivotal episode. It’s downright crucial for the rest of the season, even the entire series. Turns and developments occur here that set the tone and establish the groundwork for a lot of what’s to come.
It starts out with red. Rich, deep red of Emilio’s blood and guts as Walter and Jesse clean up his acidified remains and dump buckets and buckets of him down the toilet. We open on a great POV shot–not the first one we’ve seen, but maybe the most emphasized so far. The aesthetic appeal of the opening is striking, the red is so red, saturated, almost leaning more towards the pink part of the spectrum than the brown of stale blood. It plays up the idea that Emilio was, up until recently, very much alive.
Gotta love the touch of Walt and Jesse spraying each other off in kiddie pools after their messy disposal of the body. And the great kicking fight between them as Walt tries to flush Jesse’s meth down the toilet after Emilio.
Most of this episode centers around Walter’s moral dilemma over what to do with Krazy-8 in Jesse’s basement. It’s so crucial for Walt to go through this early on, to figure out if he’s going to stay in this line of business, and what kind of criminal he is.
In the meantime, there’s the whole thing with Skyler and Marie and Hank and Walt Jr. and Wendy the meth-whore. There are so many levels of misunderstanding here. Marie thinks Walt Jr. is smoking pot, then relays this to Hank (while shoplifting of course, and how great is it that we see Marie complaining about her shoes to Skyler a few scenes before she steals the heels and leaves her old white shoes at the store), and Hank, though he thinks that Walt should be the one to take care of this, tries to scare Jr. Jr. has no idea what’s going on, thinks it’s kinda cool that he’s watching his uncle in action harass a druggie, and Wendy thinks they’re looking for pot. Oh yeah, and Jr. is a QB suffering from a football injury, and Wendy thinks Hank is asking her to do Jr. And then Jesse asks Wendy if they asked her about him. Now here is question. Does Jesse ask that just because he’s all high on meth and paranoid? Or can he see Jr out the window of the Crystal Palace and recognize him as Walt’s son and infer who Hank must be? I always assumed the former, but any thoughts on that one?
Back to Walt and his captive in Jesse’s basement. Or let’s backtrack a little more. We see young Walt, in a flashback, breaking down the human body into its chemical components by mole percent (very different from mass percent, btw, which I would think of as the more natural way to think of it but that’s just me). I was trying to freeze the screen to see their full list because I’m pretty sure that Walt and Gretchen are missing some key elements on their list–Potassium, Magnesium, Copper, other trace metals, Sulfur and Phosphorous–but could never get the whole thing in focus. I think this flashback is really deliberate. It’s a detached sort of thing to break the human body down like that (and nice how it coincides with Walt and Jesse literally breaking down bodies with chemistry). There’s a calculated feel to what he’s doing. A coldness.
But when faced with the decision of what to do about Krazy-8, Walt is ambivalent. He continues to feed him, cutting off the crusts of the sandwiches after he realizes Krazy-8 doesn’t like them, and takes care of the makeshift toilet. Krazy-8 tells Walt that he isn’t cut out for this line of business, that he doesn’t have it in him to kill. And Walt at that point doesn’t really know the answer himself.
It’s so fascinating to me that Walt makes the pros and cons list, or rather the “Let him live” vs. “Kill Him” list. He has a lot of philosophical reasons for letting him live, like “Judeo-Christian principles,” and “murder is wrong,” as well as some entries about how murdering Krazy-8 would effect him like, “post traumatic stress disorder” and “won’t be able to live with myself.” On the kill him side, he only has one item, that Krazy-8 will kill Walt and his family if Walt lets him go. It’s the only thing on either list with some real emotional weight behind it. And it also shows that at this point, Walt is thinking about his family. I think there was always SOME truth, early on, in Walt doing this all for his family. At this point, he feels like he’s a dead man anyway b/c of the inoperable lung cancer, but he wants to make sure nothing happens to his family because of the meth-cooking path he’s undertaken.
Except there are already effects on his family. Skyler catches Walt in a lie and tells him to stay wherever he is. So he goes down to the basement, and shares a beer and bonds with Krazy-8. But in the midst of this, he passes out and the plate with Krazy-8’s crustless sandwich shatters on the floor. Walt tells Krazy-8 about his lung cancer, the only person he’s told. Walt asks Krazy-8 to give him a reason not to kill him. “Sell me,” Walt says. It’s very fitting for Walt to approach it this way, as a negotiation, a business transaction. Think about the way he talked about the meth in the pilot, and urged Jesse to negotiate prices on the RV. I think this is a side of Walt that will later emerge as a facet of his drive for empire.
But the two men talk, and get to know each other. Walt seems to feel for Domingo’s family situation, interest in music, and they bond over his father’s furniture store. They even sing the jingle together. Then Walt says he’s going to unlock Krazy-8, goes upstairs to get the key and pauses over the garbage can. He pulls out the broken pieces of the plate to find a huge sharp shard missing. And then, with some hesitation, does what he has to do and strangles Krazy-8 with the bike lock. It’s not a quick or painless murder.
Later, Jesse will come home to find Krazy-8 gone (we assume Walt got a plastic bin and properly dissolved him in HF). And Walt tells Skyler he has something to tell her (and we assume he means the cancer, because as much as that’s a conversation he’s “not even remotely ready to have,” it’s a lot better than telling her he’s cooking meth or that he just murdered two people).
The thing that really struck me on this most recent viewing of “…And the Bag’s in the River” is how important it was for Walt to get to know Krazy-8, for Krazy-8 to be humanized for Walt. If Walt had just killed him in some sort of quick-thinking, high pressure situation, it would be the same as what happened in the RV. Pure self-defense. No recognition of the victims as actual people. They were just rival drug dealers who had knocked Jesse out and were pointing a gun at Walt. It was fast and reflexive.
Krazy-8’s murder is not like that. Walt has gotten to know him, to recognize him as a fellow human. He’s had time to think, to wrestle with the pros and cons, and to bond with the guy. Of course, when Walt realizes Krazy-8 has the piece of plate, it becomes about self-defense again. But there is such a different tone here than in the RV. This time, even with the self-defense factor, Walt hesitates. He takes his time. He knows that he is losing part of his soul in doing this. As far as Walt’s character progression, this is huge.
And then there’s that chilling flashback to Walt and Gretchen talking about the chemical composition of the human body again. Gretchen mentions a soul and Walt says, “There’s nothing here but chemistry.” Almost poetic.
Oh yeah, and we learn that Krazy-8 was actually a DEA snitch. A snitch who turned in his own cousin Emilio and then (remember from the pilot) implied that Jesse was the one who’d turned him in. Walt would’ve been in some big trouble, in several ways, if he hadn’t broken that plate and then discovered that Krazy-8 took that nifty knife-shaped piece.
A few people I know said they loved the pilot but didn’t feel the same about the next two episodes and stopped watching. This is hard for me to imagine, but in a weird way it makes sense. This episode is the threshold, a test if you will go any further, just as it is a threshold for Walt that he crosses over. There is something so haunting about that plate sequence. I remember the first time I watched it, I couldn’t get the images out of my head for a few days, even as I continued on with other episodes. And these two episodes give the show more texture, so that you know it’s not all fast and action. It’s detail-oriented and layered and complex and full of symbolic colors and has slower sequences and fully examines the aftermath. And it’s funny!
And really, really dark.
- Breaking Bad Episode 102 “Cat’s In the Bag”
- Breaking Bad Pilot Episode
- Weak Interactions – The Science of Breaking Bad (some good stuff on the chemical comp of the human body and redox reactions)