Breaking Bad Episode 413 “Face Off”

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 9.00.49 AMYeah, that happened.

Gus got his face half blown off and walked out of the room and straightened his tie. Maybe gilding the lily, maybe a believability stretch. Still a nice touch. It’s a lot like the scene where Gus makes himself throw up after taking the poison in 410 “Salud,” he was alone, no one was watching, and he was still so Gus. Same here, he’s pretty much dead, in shock, and habit takes over. Gus doesn’t just put on a face for the outside world of this meticulous, inscrutable, insanely professional man. Gus is Gus to the core.

RIP, yo. Gus is dead. Walter White has “won” so he says.

But before that, one of my favorite lines ever. “Did you just bring a bomb into a hospital?” Jesse asks Walt. Great callback to “You brought a meth lab to the airport?” from Walt to Jesse in Season Two. So funny how Walt’s bag sticks to the door.

This episode is just full of great lines and moments. Just a few:
The old lady saying hi to Walt as he’s hiding on Tio’s balcony while Tyrus searches the room
Tio using his nurse and the letter thingy to spell out “Suck my” and “F-U-C-” to the DEA.
When Tio rings the bell to summon the nurse and she comes in and asks if he needs to go poopy, or if he already did. It’s just so funny to see her saying that to this badass cartel dude.
Hank, “At least he didn’t shit himself this time.”
Burning down the superlab – another RIP. Beautiful filming, love that fire.

So Walt does something pretty terrible here. Well actually, several somethings. But this one is pretty bad. He thinks there may be assassins in his house and so he asks his old lady neighbor to go in and check on the stove. He does what he needs to do to survive.

It’s funny, on rewatching all the episodes and writing up these posts, I think I’ve come to feel more for Walt than I did the first time around. I never hated Walt, but I will say that by Season Five, I’m not on his side so much. For me, the turning point (and we’ll get to this later in this post) was his poisoning of Brock, and especially what he does later on in Season Five to further this manipulation on Jesse.

413imagesOr maybe it’s even the “I won” moment mixed in with the poisoning. It’s triumphant, and you want to cheer that he’s outsmarted Gus, that Walt and Jesse are back on the same side, that everyone is, for the moment, out of danger, that Walt has become the evil genius. But there’s a certain coldness in that “I won,” a coldness that startled me the first time I watched this episode. A new Walt has emerged already. Every time Walt does what he needs to do to survive, he loses more of his soul. And now these things have racked up. He’s done lots of small things. He’s done big bad things. He’s cooked a lot of meth; strangled a guy with a bike lock (after making a list of the pros and cons of murder); he’s gone back to the meth business after getting out, again and again; he let Jane die; he ran over the dealers; he forced Jesse to kill Gale, and then was pretty insensitive to Jesse’s suffering thereafter because of killing Gale; and now he’s poisoned a child, sent an innocent old lady into his potentially killer filled house, and killed the biggest kingpin he’s ever faced. He’s lost a lot of soul at this point, and to me, there is something empty in the “I won.” Not that Walt hasn’t actually won–he surely has–but that there’s something hollow in Walt himself.

And he runs with that. He gets worse in Season Five. So at the current point of the show, I’m in a place where I have a lot more sympathy for Jesse (duh) and Skyler and Hank than for Walt. But rewatching has been good because as much as Walt is just riddled with rationalizations for everything he does, you can always see his reasoning. And there’s something admirable in his ability and willingness to do whatever, truly whatever it takes to survive. And so he sends a sweet old lady into his house, knowing it’s dangerous, but that’s what he needs to do to get back in for the moment. As much as Walt has lost much of his soul and his humanity, there is something very, very human about that survival instinct.

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 8.59.55 AMWalt is such a complex character. I think he’s very damaged, by shattered and unfulfilled dreams, by a father who died when Walt was young of a horrible disease, by other family troubles we don’t know about (we know he doesn’t get along with his mother), by getting screwed over and possibly playing a part in screwing himself over with Gray Matter, by not living up to his potential as a chemist, and by, in a general sense, being asleep to life for too long. And it’s sad but I think some of this is just the facts of adult life for most people. There’s something almost mundane about Walt’s story before the pilot episode because, to varying degrees it’s everyone’s story.

That’s not to say people aren’t happy with their lives or don’t have plenty of love and joy in their lives, but I think all of us, in some way, aren’t living quite the life we imagined. Because it’s impossible. Because it doesn’t exist. Because to do one thing, or to do three things, or however many, there are always other things, dreams, that have to fall by the wayside or fade to the background. We are all damaged by life. Walter White has perhaps been more damaged by life than others, and certainly does something different with it than what most would do and even handles it differently than a lot of others in the Breaking Bad world. But his origin story? I think it’s like that for most of us.

I’m getting a little off track here and veering into territory for another post I’ve been working on (which discusses the idea that there’s a little WW in all of us) but the point is that this time through the first four seasons, I found myself siding with Walt, or at least understanding his decisions, even more than I expected to. And yet that “I won” moment, as triumphant as it is, signals another big loss of Walter’s soul. And it changes things. It has to.

For one thing, he says it to Skyler. Skyler has seen a lot of Walt’s dark side by now. She saw his whole, “I am the danger” speech. But she was still in the dark. She thought, early in the season, that they don’t do violence. This came up when they were trying to figure out how to make Bogdan adjust his attitude about selling them the carwash. And Walt says, an episode or two later, that Skyler has this idea that he goes to this safe little job in a safe little meth lab. This “I won” moment is when Skyler sees the truth of who Walt has become. He has blown up Gus Fring and a cartel guy in a nursing home. He does do violence, he does murder (which she didn’t know before) and his reaction to it, I think, scares her. This is not the man she thought she married. Not at all. And the coldness in his voice, the phrasing of it as “I won,” that all adds to it. There’s something so odd about what he says to her. It would be one thing if he said it to Saul, but he’s saying it to his wife who has been terrified and held in protective custody because of Gus’s threats. It’s his ego needing so desperately to boast. All her illusions about the safe little drug lab are completely shattered. Their marriage won’t be the same after this.

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 8.58.41 AMAnd is it triumphant that Walt and Jesse are back on the same side? In a way, yes, absolutely. I’m sure I’m not the only one who just loves seeing these two interact and fight and scream at each other and yet have this undying loyalty. They’re magic on screen together, well, magic in a could-combust-at-any-moment kind of way.

I can say, unequivocally, that ricin was never mentioned on House, Jesse. Pretty cool to see that show mentioned though; House was my first TV show obsession as an adult (after going through several years of living without TV).

It was Jesse’s turn to get tasered and kidnapped and then handcuffed in this episode. As much as I love Jesse, I love seeing his character in jeopardy to a really unhealthy degree, so this was a great moment, at least to me. And then Walt busts into the superlab and saves the day.

But in another way, hmmm. I’ve heard VG and the writers describe this season as the battle for Jesse’s soul. Should Walt really have won that battle? Of course, as much as maybe we’ve come to feel for Gus, I think he would’ve wasted Jesse at the first chance he got. I think the reason he sided with Jesse against Walt this season is that Jesse may be an ex-junkie (for now), but Walt was actively trying to kill him and Gus knew it. So better, in Gus’s mind, to alienate Jesse and Walt, make Jesse the cook. But as soon as Gus could’ve trained or found someone else, Jesse would be dead, no doubt. But Mike is solid, and Mike is showing up as another father type figure for Jesse. And he might be the most reliable of them all, and the most even keel.

413aimagesBut Walt has a certain (albeit sorta warped at this point) loyalty to Jesse, and Jesse to Walt. So they are indeed back on the same team. Just look at the extremes Walt went to in order to win Jesse’s loyalty back. He poisoned a kid to make Jesse think Gus did it to make Jesse think Walt did it. So Jesse believed Walt instead of shooting him (and how GOOD does Bryan Cranston play all that in 412 “End Times”? He didn’t immediately blame Gus but instead went roundabout before putting the blame on Gus and went through that momentary maniacal laughter first, and also so smoothly pretends at first that he thinks Jesse’s upset about his calling the DEA about the hit on Hank).

This does indicate a certain descent for Walt, which is explored more in Walter White’s Moral Demise and the People Jesse Pinkman Loves, where Walt takes the active and purposeful step to poison a child. Now he uses Lily of the Valley instead of ricin, so not as dangerous for Brock. But still, I believe it was a crapshoot, that Walt did this unsure if Brock would indeed survive. The reason I say this is that Walt seems so genuinely relieved when he says, “Oh thank God,” after Jesse says Brock will be okay. The genuine relief makes me think he was reasonably worried Brock might not make it.

By the way, if you’re having any trouble believing that Walt did the poisoning, or having trouble following this extremely convoluted plotline, check out How Walter White Poisoned Brock and What Happened to the Ricin Cigarette.

Ding, boom.

So, Tio’s dead, Gus is dead, Walt’s money is gone and Walter White has won. What’s next?

~Emilia J

Next Episode: Live Free or Die

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