Before I even start this post, I want to give a shout out to @Jesus Jr (Gonzo) and @Steven Michael Quesada (Gomez), who are both in this episode, and who have both followed me on Twitter – thanks guys! Click on the links to follow them.
So, Season Two. Visually, it starts out really differently from anything we’ve seen so far, setting this season distinctly apart from the previous one. The teaser is a total mystery. Black and white. Water, and more water. The sound of sirens. A floating plastic eyeball. A pink stuffed bear that slowly turns to reveal it’s singed side. What the hell is going on here? I won’t say, in case anyone reads this before getting to the part in the show where it’s all revealed. I will say I find this teaser artistically pleasing. I like the mystery, the starkness. And I totally want a pink bear like that, but not burnt.
Another thing that sets Season Two apart from the others is that this one was planned out in exquisite detail before it started. So there’s a lot of advanced planning going on this season. And there is so much that actually comes back, from this episode and others in this season, in future seasons. Lots of reverberation.
Speaking of reverberation, after the title sequence, we return to the end of Season One, relive the scene where Tuco beats the crap out of No-Doze after buying blue meth. If you notice early in the scene, Jesse’s hanging back more than Walt. And Walt still has some…I don’t know, the word that comes to mind is tenderness, to him. When Tuco brings No-Doze back and asks Walt to do CPR and Jesse to do mouth to mouth and Walt yells that No-Doze needs an ambulance, there’s just such humanity in Walt at that moment.
I think if I were to sum up this episode, I would say the main theme is building the suspense, and about Walt and Jesse as somewhat inept criminals. One main theme of the season (I know the writers have said it’s about consequences) is Walt getting greedier. The first words out of Walt’s mouth after witnessing this horrible beating are, “Adjusting for inflation…” Jesse can’t say anything. They’re both pretty traumatized by the whole thing. Jesse gets paranoid, which helps build the suspense. Walt goes home and sort of spaces out, dissociates.
Which leads to the rapey avocado face mask scene. This is one of those places where you can really see things from both perspectives. I mean, looking at it from Skyler’s point of view, her husband, who has been acting really freakin’ weird for awhile now, has been out again, without telling her where he was, again. She doesn’t even look at him when she asks where he’s been as she’s unwrapping the Albertson’s dinner, and to me that says she’s afraid of his answer or knows he will lie to her. And then when he gets all aggressive on her, she’s into it at first but he just gets too aggro, she has no idea where it comes from. Walt has just witnessed a man being beaten to death, and I think he is not cold to that. I think it really affects him and he’s looking to Skyler for some comfort, for some human connection, but he takes it too far. It’s a really powerful scene, punctuated by that shot when Walt Jr. comes in and sees the messy avocado from Skyler’s face on the fridge.
As for Jesse and Walt being not exactly born criminals, Hank highlights this by making fun of their break-in video when they stole the methylamine. By the way, I never realized before that the place they broke into is called Southwest Aniline. Aniline is a chemical (pictured on the side) that my organic chem prof used to call “the beast” because it’s so reactive that you have to “cage the beast” (turn the amine into a less reactive amide) and protect the aniline so it doesn’t react in ways that would destroy your synthesis. Anyway, that was just an aside but you know me, gotta throw in some chemistry. Hank also ups the suspense in that scene with his remark that the guys stealing the methylamine better hope it’s the DEA that catches them and not “those boys from Juarez.”
And since I already mentioned chemistry, if anyone’s curious about what this “P2P” is that they’re always talking about, it’s phenyl-2-propanone (pictured on the side), another precursor chemical, basically it’s what they react with methylamine. It’s the thing that gets reduced in reductive amination (well typically that carbon with a double bond to oxygen is what gets reduced). And all of these things are scheduled substances. Sorry for the digression, I just can’t help myself–there’s something comforting to me about seeing molecules and I love any excuse to make them in ChemDraw.
So Jesse and Walt argue about what to do about Tuco. Oh yeah, in an earlier scene, Jesse bought a gun. He brings it out and Walt says “no” while Jesse insists “It’s him or us!” This definitely has reverberations throughout the rest of the series. But Jesse can’t even figure out how to work the gun and Walt points out how unprepared he really is, that he hasn’t thought it through. Later, when Walt says he has a better idea than the gun, Jesse puts the gun away and calls Walt Mr. White. Mr. White’s idea may be a bit better, making ricin (Jesse’s “rice and beans” line is classic), he hasn’t thought it all the way through either. He doesn’t know what to tell Tuco, says it doesn’t matter since Tuco will snort anything.
When they roll play about how to give ricin-laced meth to Tuco, Walt suggests, “say it gets the user incredibly high,” and later refers to Tuco’s henchman as his “associates,” and this language separates Walt a bit. It’s like what an academic who was studying drug users might say, and makes him seem less like a badass criminal.
Several other things in this episode help build the suspense that it’s building to. Walt sees that car on his street when he pulls in one time. I could be wrong on this but I think it’s NOT Tuco’s car, right? Walt’s getting a little paranoid? Then there’s the camera angle on the knife Walt had with him as he sat by the window all night watching his street and the sound it makes when Walt returns it to its place. There’s of course also the fear and paranoia that Jesse and Walt verbalize. And there’s Walt’s discussion of ricin, how it was used to kill a Bulgarian journalist in an amount no bigger than the head of a pin. That definitely reverberates too. Even when Hank knocks, it seems startling and creepy, and helps up the suspense. I never noticed before that Skyler was looking at a picture of her and Ted just moments before Hank shows up.
Some of Skyler’s frustration at Walt gets turned on Marie (who to be fair, has done some shitty things, and who can’t help herself from making a nasty comment about Skyler’s pregnant size on the answering machine) indirectly through Hank. It makes sense, at least with Marie, Skyler knows what Marie is up to, there’s something specific she can be mad at. She knows Marie stole that baby tiara. And her response to Hank saying they need to “support the shit out of” Marie just felt very real for a scene about sisters.
And Hank, it really struck me how devoted he is to his family in this episode. He wants Marie to get help, to go to therapy and encourages it even as she lies to him about the day of her appointment changing. He tries to patch things up with Marie and Skyler. He wants to support Marie even though she’s breaking the law shoplifting. Later, he calls Walt in the middle of a crime scene to apologize for possibly making things worse between the sisters. Then of course he has to send Walt the picture of dead Gonzo, and remark that Gonzo must’ve messed with “the wrong guy,” only amping the Tuco suspense further.
And then something strange happens. We as viewers get to see that Gonzo wasn’t murdered by Tuco, but Walt and Jesse don’t know that. Walt is freaking out. He takes Jesse’s gun. He goes home and acts all weird, comes to sit by Skyler in the tub after stashing the gun and his drug money in a diaper box. He almost tells her everything but then he gets that call from Jesse and goes outside and Tuco emerges from the back with his gun and says, “Get in.” All the suspense, some of it somewhat false, has culminated in this moment. And Jesse and Walt, are they really prepared for a criminal like Tuco?
This was also the first episode that featured a podcast, hosted by Breaking Bad editor @Kelley Dixon. From now on, the podcasts will be linked in the related articles section.
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