Breaking Bad, Ep. 5.12: “Rabid Dog” and Setting up the Endgame
“He’s smarter than you. He’s luckier than you.”
“Rabid Dog” is more or less all talk, no (explicit) action, but as the Breaking Bad endgame begins in earnest, it does some important heavy lifting as to just how its disparate characters respond to the ongoing realization that the universe they inhabit does not operate in a just or even sane fashion. When Jesse, angry but more composed than he was in the wake of last week’s revelation, tries and apparently fails to make tenuous new ally Hank understand the level of Walter White’s mastery of evil, the second quoted sentence is much more important than the first. Yes, Walt has pulled some truly cunning, devious moves to get where he is and get off scot-free to this point, but a million other things had to go precisely right (or wrong, as it were) in order to help him along.
If you really begin to parse what Jesse’s trying to say, it’s a weirdly compelling moment of meta-commentary. It’s Walter White’s world, Jesse is saying, we’re all just living in it – and only for now. What does it mean to have a villain – not an antihero, an actual villain – as your protagonist? What does having a central figure whose every action has casually catastrophic consequences do to the fictional universe he inhabits? On The Shield, a seminal series that similarly hinged on a central figure who grew more and more openly loathsome over its run, Vic’s monstrosity was relatively contained, while secondary characters soldiered on in separate plots, making Vic the center of his own hellish universe. There’s no such escape in Breaking Bad: every single character, no matter how peripheral, has been negatively affected by Walt’s actions. If “Mr. White” – and really, is there a more jaw-droppingly loaded appellation in TV history? – really is not just a terrible person, but “the devil,” where does that leave the mere mortals?
That depends. The Shield – don’t worry, no spoilers – contrived a fate for Vic and those in his circle that can serve as a working definition of dramatic irony. Does Vince Gilligan see the world of Breaking Bad as supporting that kind of resolution? In the other openly meta moment of Jesse’s speech, he warns that “whatever you think is supposed to happen, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen.” So when he decides to take matters into his own hands in a proactive way in the episode’s final minutes – though what that means, precisely, we have yet to determine – he’s making a conscious decision to try to change the proverbial game, to finally act where he used to merely, meekly react. His fate hinges on whether or not his previous, mythic take on Walt is correct or not.
Then there’s the small matter of Walt’s personal feelings about Jesse. Yes, he saved Jesse’s life, probably more than once. Yes, he (apparently) was being earnest when he told Jesse he was leaving his fate in Jesse’s hands. Let’s assume it wasn’t just another long con. Does it matter? For Skyler, eliminating Jesse is a painful no-brainer; “We’ve come this far – what’s one more?” For Walt, that’s not the case at all. Walt’s paternal concern for Jesse is, quite arguably, the very thing that enabled him to pull off so many heinous acts in the first place. He can poison, murder, scheme, and manufacture vast quantities of chemically pristine poison with impunity, because at heart, he’s looking out for the best interests of a wayward former student, and isn’t that something? So the most significant moment of “Rabid Dog” comes, as with so many recent Breaking Bad episodes, in the final seconds, when Walt finally comes to Saul and Skyler’s way of thinking, severing his final, tokenistic tie to any semblance of humanity. Does it pain him? Certainly. But his reticence is the very thing that enables him to give Todd’s uncle the green light. As with every horrible thing Walt has ever done, it’s to service his own continued prosperity, whatever the damnable cost. Perhaps the only logical end to Breaking Bad will entail Walt seeing himself for what he truly is, beyond his own pathetic self-justifications, but of all the possible twists and turns in the Breaking Bad universe, that may be the least likely outcome of all.