Breaking Bad Episode 211 “Mandala”

04-breaking-bad-jesse-heroin-sceneThe whole season has felt like a gathering storm. Like every episode, Walter and Jesse are doing things that are bound to come back in some way and just wreak havoc. Those weird black-and-white flashforwards showing all kinds of destruction and a floating eyeball and a creepy awesome burnt bear in a plastic bag help with the growing sense of dread. And up until this episode, Walt and Jesse have experienced some crappy things, some strong winds but nothing they can’t handle.

But now, the storm is here. And it’s gathering speed. Combo is dead. Jesse’s on heroin. Walt’s missing the birth of his baby for a drug deal. No good can come of this.

Note that Walt wants to live now. He’s out of the limbo and shock of the last episode, probably prompted, at least in part, by assuming his Heisenberg persona at the end of “Over.” He’s not unsure if he really wants his good news anymore. He wants the surgery. Done deal. This is a different Walt than we saw in Season One.

Combo. So sad. I don’t know about anyone else but I loved that character. All three guys of Jesse’s crew are in some ways, a lot like him, kinda in over their heads with this drug dealing stuff. All you have to do is watch the scene when they’re at the Atomic Museum to remember that these guys are kids. They’re not gang-bangers or hardcore bad guys. And how horrible is it that Combo is shot by a little kid? I think that paints the real contrast between Jesse’s crew, who are all fairly small-time drug dealers who have mostly gotten bigger time because of Walt and Jesse, and that corner where Combo is selling. Those guys there are for real, are hardcore enough to have a child shoot someone. It just paints the picture of Walt’s operation and Jesse’s crew being in way over their heads when faced up with real “bad guys.”

It’s interesting how blame gets passed around for Combo’s death. Jesse blames Walt for pushing him to expand their territory. He’s always had a much better sense of the rules of the streets and the realities. A few episodes back he told Walt that if he wants exponential growth, that means guys are gonna get busted. It was only because people thought Jesse had killed Spooge that he got away with expanding for awhile, but since now, as Skinny Pete tells him, everyone knows he didn’t, that clout is gone.

Jesse also calls Walt on his shit a little, by saying he doesn’t believe Walt is really out, that he’ll come up with a new reason, a new number he needs to reach, any rationale to keep cooking. Will Walt ever really be done?

Walt will hear none of the blame. The best line, the one that just shows exactly who Walt is and what he thinks of the people working for him, is when he says to Jesse (re: Combo’s death), “Which one is he again?” Walt accuses Jesse, with not a thought that this guy’s good friend just got murdered, of not managing the territory expansion well (as if managing it any other way would have stopped a turf war) and calls Combo’s death a setback. There’s something sort of heartless about all of that.

Later in the episode, Jesse accepts the blame for Combo’s death. He tells Jane it was his fault, that he put Combo on that corner. I think he knows, has always known, that the expansion was a bad idea and he went along with it anyway. Like in a lot of father-son relationship (or surrogate one in this instance), Jesse is often trying hard to impress Walt, to live up to Walt’s expectations, even as they argue and fight. A moment comes to mind from “Better Call Saul” when Jesse says to Skinny Pete on the phone, “I asked you a straight up question and I expect a straight up answer,” and then gives Walt this look, like, so there. So Jesse has some guilt and he wants to smoke it away with some crystal and asks Jane to leave the apartment since she’s in recovery.

Again, I want to take a moment to look at the exquisite structuring of this season. How perfectly things have been layered and put in the perfect order to create this storm. If this, Combo’s death, had happened earlier, Jane might have just left. But they’ve been together for several episodes now, and the one before this one established at the end that they are having a real relationship, that they’ve gotten to that level of girlfriend and boyfriend, that they’re more than casual. So she has a harder time leaving. She asks him to go to a meeting and he says no. She eventually does leave, but you can see her thinking.

And when she falls off the wagon, it’s a complete, all in, type of fall. Jesse’s never been on the wagon but he’s going deeper into a meth stupor here than before, and she’s going to follow him and take it to a whole new level when she brings heroin paraphernalia back to his apartment. And there they go into oblivion. Jesse is all floating and “Enchanted” and it’s an interesting artistic choice, the song, the floating. Definitely gives the feeling that Jesse will do this again. And there’s something realistic about it. Anyone I know or have talked to who has ever tried it (including several people who’ve been clean for a really long time), always says that the first time you do heroin is the best feeling you can ever imagine, which is of course, why it’s so dangerous, why people chase the dragon. And I think this episode captures that feeling that Jesse is having while also keeping some distance, showing how absolutely out of it he is when Walt breaks in. The ecstasy and the downward spiral were captured at once. Jesse has fallen down a big dark rabbit hole and it seems all he will want to do is keep falling. In that moment, Combo, Walt, all of it is forgotten.

211imagesSo Walt has to raid Jesse’s kitchen and find his 38oz. of meth. But wait a minute, let’s back up to the Los Pollos Hermanos chicken joint and Walt’s meeting with his new distributor first. Gustavo. What a character. I really love his voice. He does this interesting switch. He’s all professional and soft-spoken, and then when he finally decides to acknowledge that he is indeed the person that was supposed to meet Walt, his whole demeanor switches. His face and his voice get harder. There’s something kinda deadly about this subtle shift. I wouldn’t want to mess with him. He says that Walt is not a cautious man (and there’s lots of evidence to support this, he’s been a bit reckless this season, and the guy didn’t even turn the vibration or the sound off on his drug phone in the ceiling of his classroom). And what’s with him saying that Walt can’t trust Jesse?

But Gus relents, and Walt comes back to the restaurant looking for Gus to get instructions. Instead he meets Victor (we don’t know that’s his name yet) who tells him the location for the deal, that he has one hour, and that this is a one-time only type of offer. I can’t even say exactly why but I love Victor.

211indexWalt then rushes around, kinda frantic, speed is picking up as time counts down in that one hour. He breaks into Jesse’s place and is destroying the kitchen in a fast-paced panic looking for and then collecting the blue bags. And then he gets the text message from Skyler that the baby’s coming. And everything slows down. Walt, who is a rush, takes a pause, and that pause is drawn out, lingered on. It’s so well done because it portrays Walt’s dilemma, that he doesn’t want to miss the birth of his baby, so perfectly without any words other than Walt’s mutterings. It lends poignancy to the scene and humanity to Walt. This is actually tough for him. He might even, for a second, think about going to Skyler instead of the to the drop.

But it’s 1.2 million dollars, yo.

~Emilia J

Next Episode: Phoenix

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4 thoughts on “Breaking Bad Episode 211 “Mandala”

  1. I was wondering… how does Walt work out that Gus is his man? WE, the audience, have an unfai advantage because of the way those scenes were shot, but let’s face it… Gus didn’t give the game away at all. Still, Walt guesses it right at his first attempt. This is something that puzzled me the first time I saw it and is still puzzling me now.
    Have you got any insight on this?

    • That’s a good question. I think it was partly how Saul described Gus to Walt, as a professional, a businessman, someone careful. You see Gus and he just fits that description. And then again, isn’t there a saying that a con can sense another con? Maybe it was that too.

      When I was watching it the first time, I definitely knew Gus was the guy as soon as I saw him. That definitely is due somewhat to filming and directing choices, but also there’s something about Gus’s presence that makes you go “That’s the guy!” right away.

      ~EJ

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