In which Walt and Jesse “see their way clear to, ya know, cooking again,” as Jesse put it in the previous episode.
There’s been a clear progression here. Walt broke bad and he and Jesse cooked their first batch and encountered their first rivals, defeated them, then had to deal with some of the fallout and the messy remains (literally). After going through that, they both were in a place, Walt moreso than Jesse, of feeling like they were never going to do this again. But something has to bring them back to cooking or the show would be over and the story wouldn’t be that interesting. So plotwise, that’s the real point of this episode, to provide the impetus for each of our guys to get back to cooking meth. Their journeys are separate, but end in the same place.
We start with Jesse. He’s all dressed up and presentable for his job interview (not gonna lie, it’s kind of adorable) where he says he has a “solid background in sales” and “a real self-starter.” The thing is, he really does have those skills, but you can’t exactly put “drug dealer” on your resume, excuse me Curriculum Vitae, and all they want him to do is dress up in a Dollar Bill costume like his friend Badger. Total lame-ass job. Badger (first time we meet him) coaxes Jesse towards cooking and offers to supply some pseudo.
Jesse knows his glassware now. “Basic chemistry, yo!”
Badger makes Jesse look like a genius in comparison (though I love Badger, Combo and Skinny Pete). And Jesse has standards now. The meth he is cooking with Badger’s “help” is not up to the quality he made with Walt, and even though Badger can’t understand it, Jesse keeps throwing it out. He was good at something when he was cooking with Walt. He was doing something at an expert level. When Jesse says that their customers expect a certain standard, Badger says, “What? What are you…? WHAT?!” and eventually does his “helicopter bitch!” move on Jesse. But Jesse wants to get to that level of perfection and purity he had before. He can’t go back. So he is primed to work with Walt again.
In the midst of all this, Walt Jr. tries to get a guy to buy him beer, and the guy turns out to be a cop. He’s acting out, clearly angry with Walt (taking the bus to school instead of riding with him). I’ve said it before I think, but I feel that a lot of times characters with disabilities are portrayed as a little too wholesome and heartwarming, so I’m always glad when we see a more fiery side of Walt Jr, and see him doing all the stuff other teenagers do, like in this case, trying to get some beer.
Skyler and Walt go to Elliot’s birthday party, where they “didn’t get the beige memo,” and there is a huge stack of super expensive gifts even though the card said no gifts. I think of Gretchen and Elliot the same way I think of Jesse’s parents–annoying enough that you can side with Walt. Actually, the couple seems more awful on subsequent watchings. I really can’t stand them! I don’t usually feel this way about characters on the show, everyone else seems to land on a gray area middle ground, but Elliot and Gretchen are so fake that it’s a little sickening.
What I love is that we don’t get a lot of backstory on what happened with Gray Matter and Walt’s relationship with Gretchen and Elliot. The conversation Walt has with Farley seems so organic. I love that Walt was great at crystallography (that shit’s cool) and how the natural reminiscing and Farley’s misinformation reveal that Walt was working with them, was on that level, could still be working with them if something–whatever it was–hadn’t happened to leave Walt out of the company. It also underscores how much Walt has not lived up to his potential, as Farley automatically thinks Walt is working in a university.
We could assume that Walt got cheated out of his chance at chemistry stardom and Nobel Prize fame by Gretchen and Elliot. But it could just as easily be that Walt turned away for whatever reason. Did he give up on his chemistry dreams, take the easy route and then blame them for his lack of success? Or did he get cheated? We don’t know. I’ve always leaned towards thinking Walt wasn’t so innocent in all of it, but Elliot definitely seems to have some guilt here.
All we know is that Elliot offers Walt a pity job, and Walt doesn’t want any of it. Seriously, though, who would with those people? It’s another turning point for Walt though, because he could’ve taken the job and gotten his treatment covered that way. He could’ve gotten money in a legal way, without resorting to cooking up meth. The point is, there was another option. He could’ve made a different choice.
It’s easy to see Walt’s side of things, see why he doesn’t want to take Elliot’s money. On the other hand, he’s being very obstinate. Hank gives a convincing baseball analogy to illustrate why Walt should take the money from “Daddy Warbucks,” and get his treatment, and asks Walt if he gets what he’s saying and Walt just says, “No.” To me, that’s obstinate. He’s a smart guy, he must know what Hank is saying. He doesn’t agree, but that’s not what he says. He just closes it off with that cold, “No.”
The intervention goes awry when Marie and Skyler, and to some extent Hank, all argue with each other over Walt’s choice, almost as if he’s not in the room. This highlights the feeling that Walt articulates later, of never actually making any choices.
When Walt finally gets the talking pillow, it’s very poignant. It’s clear that he does love his family, that they are weighing in on the decision in his mind. And the way he feels, I think it’s pretty normal for someone with cancer. It makes sense. What he’s saying is really heartfelt. And deciding against treatment is a choice that people with cancer sometimes make, for some of the same reasons.
It’s also interesting that the point in his argument that really makes him crack is when he talks about how his family would remember him if he got chemo and died a horrible and protracted death from cancer. He is very concerned about the legacy he’ll leave behind, not just monetarily for his family, but the emotional impact, how they’ll remember him. This comes back around seasons later when he talks about his father’s terminal battle with Huntington’s.
In the end, Walt agrees to the treatment after smelling Skyler’s lotion on the bedside table. That’s really poignant too, and I’m not sure how to interpret it. Is he trying to make her happy? Is he doing the treatment to appease her? Does he realize he wants more time with her and that’s why he decides to do it? We’re not sure, but he is surely motivated by his love for Skyler in some way when he agrees to treatment.
All of these things that Walt does and says humanize him which is important after the way he recently strangled Krazy-8 with a bike lock.
But he still can’t take Elliot’s pity money. He just can’t. So he lets Skyler believe that Elliot is paying for the treatment, he turns down Gretchen’s insistence that he take the money from Elliot, and he tells Gretchen that the insurance came through. It almost seems like it’s this conversation with Gretchen that really seals the deal on Walt not accepting the money from them. He has such a long pause in there.
So now he’s in a corner. He told Skyler they’re getting the money then turned it down. What else can he do? He visits Jesse.
- Breaking Bad Episode 104 “Cancer Man”
- Breaking Bad Episode 103 “…And the Bag’s in the River”
- Breaking Bad Episode 102 “Cat’s in the Bag”
- Breaking Bad Pilot Episode
- Weak Interactions – The Science of Breaking Bad: Gray Matter