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Breaking Bad, Ep. 4.09: “Bug” is an Exceptionally Difficult Episode to Gauge on its Own

When you were watching Walt’s blood trickle down towards the frame in “Bug”‘s typically striking cold open, was there any doubt in your mind that it was Jesse who’d dealt the blow? Mike’s already gotten his kicks at Walt’s expense, Hank isn’t quite up to the task yet (give him a few weeks), and Gus isn’t really the hands-on sort unless there’s a blade involved.

Despite the fact that the eventual outcome of “Bug” was easy enough to predict – Walt and Jesse’s finally coming to blows is the culmination of tensions that have existed since Walt gave Jesse the order to execute poor Gale, and even before that – “Bug” was notable for its accelerated pace and quick accumulation of little narrative twists, a marked contrast from the leisurely pace of the rest of the season. Much of that was attributable to the increased level of dialogue between Jesse, Mike, and Gus. After a cartel sniper – we’re told – picks off one of Gus’s men (in a nicely staged little sequence – emphasis on staged), Jesse demands answers from Mike – who suggests he talk to Gus directly. And so Jesse and Gus finally have the pow-wow Walt has been angling for over the last few episodes – but it doesn’t go the way Walt would like.

Gus is proving to be one of the most elusive villains in pop-culture history. Despite last week’s humanizing extended flashback, his actions and motives are no less inscrutable than before. This week, to what end we still can’t be sure, he plays poor Jesse like a fiddle, discerning whether or not he can cook Walt’s meth through the revelation of his organization’s struggles with the cartel, rather than as some obvious play against Walt. Earlier in the episode, Hus is seen talking to some sort of cartel representative just long enough to reply in the affirmative – but to what, and who? It’s no wonder no one’s been able to poison or otherwise kill off Gus this season; the Gods of TV know he’s simply too valuable to the show.

Less exciting and inscrutable was Skyler’s subplot this week, which brought back dear old “I Fucked” Ted and, by the episode’s end, Wacky Rescue Skyler, who dons a ridiculous outfit in order to save Ted’s insolvent ass via the magic of cleavage and ditzery. It’s nice that Skyler’s past trespasses haven’t just been discarded, I suppose, but to what end is Ted making an appearance now, just when so many other, more interesting narrative threads are heating up? One thing seems certain: if he sticks around for any length of time, Ted seems like a natural casualty.

Bug” is an exceptionally difficult episode to gauge on its own, as we still have no idea where any of this is headed. (Or, at least, I don’t.) The cartel is still a force of unknown quantity. Gus’s moves are difficult to anticipate. And, further complicating things, Walt is still as uselessly resourceful as ever. He picks up Hank’s habit of bugging cars in order to track Jesse, but it only serves to piss him off and fuel Walt’s richly deserved thrashing. With Walt and Jesse well and “broken up,” it’ll take some serious plot contortion to get them back to being remotely friendly. Though their tentative partnership has driven the last few seasons, even taking their reunion as a given seems foolhardy now.

Simon Howell

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Simon is a sometimes writer and podcaster living in Toronto.

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