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Breaking Bad, Ep. 4.02: “Thirty-Eight Snub”

Breaking Bad gained another Deadwood alum (to go with series regular Anna Gunn) this week – though probably as a one-scene wonder. Jim Beaver – aka Whitney Ellsworth, or Bobby if Supernatural‘s more your speed – graces the cold open this week as Saul Goodman’s go-to guy for untraceable weapons, Lawson. Walt has come to Lawson for a very simple reason: after the events of last week, he feels as though Gus needs to be taken out. So Walt buys himself a snub-nosed pistol small enough to hide behind his jacket. In questioning Walt, Lawson unknowingly exposes just how far down the proverbial rabbit hole Walt has gone over the last couple of seasons, displaying how he’ll rationalize his way into doing whatever awful thing his mind tasks him with. “It’s for defense.”

This past week, Chuck Klosterman wrote a brief piece explaining why he thinks Breaking Bad is the best thing on TV, and boils the show down to a series of decisions – more specifically, it’s the story of a man who consistently chooses to do bad, rather than being forced into it. That’s certainly an accurate description of Walt, but where does that leave Jesse, who actually gets at least half of the screentime this week? Both the ends of Season 2 and Season 3 found Jesse facing deeply traumatic events, but the reactions to those events couldn’t be more different. Where Season 3 saw him get clean (albeit more or less forcibly) and gain some perspective, ‘Thirty Eight Snub’ expands on the anarchic Jesse we caught glimpses of last week. He’s become Walt’s antimirror – where Walt is a self-perpetuating nightmare running on greed and arrogance, Jesse’s behaviour is that of a young man who’s lost all sense of self-regard, and in the moment when his never-ending party finally ends, and he’s left only with the company of his expensive stereo and busted Roomba, he’s literally left shaking. (We do, however, finally understand how Walt’s pizza toss last season was made possible: unsliced pizza!)

Actually, it’s not a particularly great week for anyone. Marie is beginning to buckle under the considerable weight of caring for Hank, whose combination of helplessness and hopelessness is uniquely draining. Hank himself still seems to be mindful of only his ever-growing collection of minerals – actually, this week, it’s blue minerals, more or less confirming my suspicion that his hobby is work-related. (Hank’s buffoonishness still helps to conceal that he is, in fact, very good at his job.) Skyler makes a play for the car wash, but is thwarted by Walt’s old manager. Then there’s Walt. After his firearm purchase, he readies himself for the act of killing Gus – only for Mike to inform him that Gus will never make himself available, ever again. (Walt’s feeble efforts culminate in a wonderfully moody sequence wherein Walt approaches Gus’s home with intent to kill, only to not even make it across the street.)

It’s not yet clear how to take the beating Mike doles out to Walt after he makes a boneheaded attempt to align Mike against their shared employer. Walt might actually be right about Mike’s state of mind, but he’s so upfront and graceless in his suggestion that a beating seems like the only reasonable response. Yet Mike’s actual position is no clearer once the beating’s through – is he truly determined to protect Gus’s interests, even in the wake of Gus’s actions last week? Given that this is a show starring Bryan Cranston and not Giancarlo Esposito, the answer seems obvious, but Breaking Bad has ways of tweaking the obvious.

Simon Howell

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Simon is a sometimes writer and podcaster living in Toronto.

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