Breaking Bad Episode 204 “Down”

204indexI think this episode can be summed up by something Skyler says: “Obvious, desperate breakfasts” just about does it. This is actually one of my favorite episodes of Season Two.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Jesse fan (freakin’ <3 that dude, totally Team Jesse) and whenever I think of this episode, and how much I love it, I think of my friend Lissa. When we were like thirteen or fourteen and first starting to hang out, she was telling me about TV shows she used to be really into, and how she was an “Evil Lucas Fan.” Now I don’t know what show it was, or who the fuck is Lucas (maybe Lissa can come by and clarify), but I remember her telling me that being an evil fan had something to do with loving the episodes where your favorite character is in peril, or as it applies to this case, having the shittiest (literally) day you can imagine. I’m kind of an Evil Jesse Fan here, not because I want bad things to happen to Jesse (not at all) but because I really love this episode. I think it has to do with how freakin’ brilliant Aaron Paul is at making the character of Jesse so compelling, especially when he’s crying into a gas mask in a methmobile RV and covered in blue porta-potty goo.

But first there’s another weird black-and-white teaser and that burnt pink stuffed bear (still want one of those so bad). There’s a little more but does any of it make sense? Not yet. I love how these teasers are woven in, leading to something we don’t yet know, flashforwards that build on each other, and are striking artistically because they’re so different visually from the rest of the show.

Walt’s first obvious, desperate breakfast is perhaps his most valiant effort. It is very transparent. He is over-acting here, playing the part of the sitcom dad, cooking up all those pancakes and prattling on like they have the most normal, wholesome family life. The part of me that loves to hear chemistry words just goes “awwww” inside when Walt talks about the polyphenyls and aluminoids in grapefruit juice, even though I don’t really know anything about either. Walt is, at heart, a chemist, and I love when that comes through in his day-to-day life and dialogue.

Walt brings up a fiction writing conference in town for the week. It’s easy to have forgotten that when we met Skyler in Season One, she was a short story writer. And now? Well, this may go to the crux of why I may like and feel for Skyler more than some fans. This part, as a writer myself, is so sad. I was never married to a cancer-stricken, murderous meth cook who disappeared and lied all the time, but I did, for awhile, live with a guy who was battling his own demons and who checked out mentally, had odd behavior and disappeared and lied far too often, and I remember what it was like to be so preoccupied and stressed by trying to keep track of the shifting shapes of our relationship that I hardly even had the notion to write. And how, over time, my writing frequency really petered out. And I didn’t have nearly as much going on as Skyler does (although of course, as with any troubled partnership, I had plenty of my own issues, two-way street and all that) so I really feel for her. I find the fact that she has really abandoned her aspirations as a writer to be sad. You get the sense that if all of this hadn’t happened–the unexpected baby on the way, the cancer, the strange behavior coming from Walt–maybe she’d still be writing fiction and going to that conference. But that’s also kind of life, these unexpected things come up and shake everything apart.

But back to this episode at hand. Walt lied pretty well in the last episode. He and Jesse both did. In a way, there was much more at stake. Walt had to get out of the hospital and Jesse had to get out of DEA questioning. But now that their lives have returned somewhat to normal, their lying gets pretty outrageous in this episode, and a lot less believable. There is Walt’s convoluted explanation about how he doesn’t have a second cell phone, that it was really a medication alarm. He just overplays his hand, and says it all while busying his hands with dishes and not looking at Skyler for most of it. Pretty see-through.

But not as bad as when Jesse responds to his mom saying a DEA agent came looking for him by saying it’s because he’s helping the DEA, that he could get in trouble for even telling her he’s helping them. HAHAHA. Totally transparent. I don’t think his parents would’ve believed that for a second even if his mom hadn’t found his Willy Wonka meth lab while he was away being held captive by Tuco. By the way, my favorite thing about that scene might be how the moment Jesse sees his parents, he goes, “Not another intervention.” I don’t know why but that totally made me laugh. That yellow he’s wearing is so striking. I’m not usually a big fan of yellow clothing but it works here.

There’s a lot of silence in the White house in this episode. After Skyler leaves (several days in a row), when Walt’s home alone, and sometimes when they’re talking, the sound of the clock ticking is loud in the background. I think that’s a really effective way of creating that sense of aloneness in the house that Walt is feeling. And now Walt Jr wants to be called Flynn, which only alienates Walt further. There’s a sense of a lot of empty space and empty time for Walt. Something feels a little hollow and I think he feels it. He wants to get back to normalcy but he doesn’t quite know how. Each day, as it continues to fail, he puts less effort into the breakfasts.

But he does make a somewhat valiant effort later on, to get back in Flynn’s good graces by taking him driving. I actually hate that whole driving scene. It says a lot, it’s an important scene, but I find it painful to watch. Walt is trying too hard to connect with his son by being the cool dad who lets his kid skip school to go driving instead, but he’s pretty insensitive to his son. When Flynn says his legs just don’t work that way, Walt tells him basically to will himself out of his predicament, which is not uncommon, but is kinda assy at the least. Of course it doesn’t end well. He’s just trying too hard and focusing on the wrong things. He also calls his son “Walt” repeatedly in that scene, never Flynn.

A real rift is starting to form in the family. And Walt will do just about anything to bring it back, but he won’t come clean. He tries, towards the end. He admits he hasn’t been a good partner to Skyler, says he wants to talk, but when she pushes him, he won’t. He deflects into swearing that he’s not having an affair, and it seems a pretty obvious deflection. No one’s really buying his BS this episode.

And also, I think, in an effort to reconnect and mend fences with his family, he’s cutting off ties with his “other son” for the moment. Just like in the last ep, he seems kinda oblivious to Jesse’s money troubles or what role he played in it, or that this person who he’s worked with is in really bad circumstances, that his housing situation “went all testicular” on him (love that line).

But it starts even before Jesse starts calling or parking the RV outside Walt’s house. In that market, early in the episode, where Walt gives Jesse a bit of cash and they talk briefly, Walt is so freakin’ controlling. He’s all Heisenberg. No, no, I leave first. His tone is so condescending. I think it has something to do with not being in control at home, knowing that his breakfast was desperate and obvious. But I also think, though he did risk himself for Jesse just a few episodes ago, that he thinks of Jesse as a lesser person, as a person who’s life is worth less than his, because Jesse’s a drug addict. And from Walt’s perspective, it makes some sense. Walt is an educated man with a family. Jesse, as he sees it, is this degenerate druggie loser. And so he can be contemptuous. But then I think of the other side, which is that Jesse’s really young, that Walt is a father figure and was a teacher, Walt blackmailed Jesse into working with him. Sure Jesse could’ve gotten into plenty of trouble on his own, but Walt has gotten him in deeper than he ever would’ve gotten himself. Walt is the one that wanted to forge ahead, who wanted to work with Tuco. It’s not exactly an even power dynamic, and it seems that since Walt has more of the power, he should also be more…I don’t know, charitable, towards Jesse. And if Walt wants to go forward with cooking as he indicated he does in the last episode, he needs Jesse. Walt is still a bit bumbling when it comes to being a criminal and doesn’t really know anything about selling meth.

And that housing situation is another one of those classic BrBa situations where you can really see both sides. Watching that argument between Jesse and his mother, I really get the feeling they’re both being somewhat truthful. I believe Jesse was really there for his aunt when she had cancer. He brings it up so much, mentions lots of details of her treatment and disease (some of this hasn’t shown up yet but will later) and I believe that she wanted him to have the house, that they were close, that he took her to appointments and all that. And that maybe there’s even some truth to what he starts to imply before his mom cuts him off, that maybe his parents weren’t there for his aunt the way they should’ve been. But I also totally believe Jesse’s mom when she says he didn’t make Aunt Ginny lunch every day. I mean, he was a drug addict delinquent kid, not exactly the most reliable. The truth is probably somewhere between their versions of the story. And there’s verisimilitude in that. But also, from the mom’s perspective, there was a meth lab in the basement. It’s kinda easy to see why she wants to kick him out, that she really does want him to turn his life around, that he’s probably played on her sympathies way too many times, given the “this is a good wake-up call” runaround more than a few times.

Another transparent lie in this episode is when Jesse’s friend says he can’t stay because of the in-laws coming. And Jesse knows it. His luck just gets worse from there. But as is typical of BrBa, even in the sequences of Jesse’s predicament getting worse and worse, there is some cinematic beauty interspersed in, like the richly saturated orange of the ground in the long shots of the RV. And even the blue of the porta-potty goo, there’s something poetic about that, about how blue is used in general. That moment when Jesse falls into the porta-potty and busts out the door is sad and funny at all once. But man, when he goes into the RV, blue and crying and puts on that gas mask to try to sleep, it’s just kinda gorgeously heart-breaking. And a little funny still.

For more info on the chemistry of the blue, check out the Weak Interactions link below.

Also gotta laugh at Jesse saying that things are “pretty hectic out there, female-wise” to his friend Paul because the only female we’ve ever seen him with so far is Wendy the skanky meth whore. Oh, well I guess there was also the girl in the pilot, but that seems like a lifetime ago with all that’s happened since.

That fight scene between Jesse and Walt in the RV feels like it’s been coming on for a bit. Both are in such bad spots in such different ways, and it just had to unleash in some way. Walt calls Jesse a pathetic junkie, says he doesn’t know how to think, and all that, but Jesse gets the upper hand in the fight. After Walt divvies up the drug money (keeping a bit extra for himself, of course), when he offers Jesse breakfast, something that has utterly failed with his own family members this whole episode, and Jesse nods yes, it’s almost saying that Walt is now closer to his “other son” than to his actual family.

The bonds of being criminals together, of having both barely survived Tuco together, the bonds of chemistry, are these bonds going to be stronger than marriage or blood relations?

~Emilia J

Next Episode: Breakage

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