Last post, I explained that my wife and I had just finished Season Two of AMC’s excellent series Breaking Bad. That post was a recap. This post will be observations. Hopefully it won’t go on too long.
Tuco, the Atypical Big Bad
From the end of last season and the beginning of this season, I assumed that Tuco was going to be a serious problem for Walt. That much of the season would be Tuco being the “big bad” that Walt would have to overcome.
So I was surprised when Hank kills Tuco in episode two of the season. But Tuco was like a gift that keeps on giving. He’s totally the big bad, even though he’s dead.
Tuco’s abduction of Walt and Jesse had tremendous effects on nearly everyone. It lasted through the season, up through the final episode. Walt takes a call on his second cell phone (from Tuco’s prisoner Jesse) in front of Skyler, which led to the investigation into Walt’s second cell phone.
Hank following leads alarms Jesse’s mom, who has Jesse evicted from his home. Thanks Tuco.
The shootout messes Hank up, emotionally. Thanks Tuco.
Since Tuco is dead, Walt and Jesse need to boost their distribution on their own, leading to Combo’s death, Jesse’s despair, and Jane’s relapse. Thanks Tuco.
Tuco’s uncle and the bell ringing comes back around to the chime of the donation website that Walt Jr. sets up. It’s no wonder Walt was edgy during the donation process. Ding! Ding!
Finally, Walt admitting while in the twilight of pre-surgery medication that he has more than one cell phone puts Skyler back on the scent, and she digs into Walt’s stories, debunking them. Thanks Tuco!
I guess I could put the blame on No-Doze, Tuco’s associate that said the wrong thing at the wrong time during the otherwise productive drug-money swap between Tuco and Heisenberg at the end of Season One. No-Doze’s beating and death pretty much set up everything bad that happened in the season. Thanks No-Doze!
The Three Faces of Walter White*
Obviously, people are complicated and aren’t all one-note (or they shouldn’t be) so it’s not hard to identify different aspects of Walter White. We already know that there’s his pseudonym Heisenberg, and I’ll be rolling that in with my discussion. But I do think Walt usually operates commonly with three outward aspects, the Camouflage, the Critic, and the Criminal.
Much of the time, especially when dealing with Skyler, Walter White is very accommodating. He’s the go-along-to-get-along type of guy. It’s not like he’s a control freak all the time, if there’s no need to be in control of a situation and he can adapt, he does, just like a chameleon. This is his camouflage setting. He appears harmless. Hank thinks this is really who Walter White is.
But when he has to be in control of a situation, when he feels he’s in the right and needs to argue his case, he becomes Mister White (as in… the title that his students call him – I know he’s Mister White all the time… bear with me.) This is him being his most critical (both in analytical and crabby meanings.) I also call this his complaining mode. He’s not being evil, per se. He’s just being really bossy. This is how he often is around Jesse.
And finally, sometimes he’s Heisenberg. I don’t really need to define the Heisenberg traits, but I guess I’m going to anyway. Cold, scary, menacing, unemotional. Kind of like Critical Mister White, but more … sociopathic? Fearless?
I mean, it’s all Walter White. All three are smart. But Camouflage/Chameleon White is more empathic, less confrontational. Heisenberg is pretty unempathic and aggressive. And Critical Mister White is somewhat in between.
Again, a lot of this discussion isn’t that relevant and groundbreaking, and usually it’s more interesting just to point out when he’s Heisenberg and when he’s not. I know from things I’ve heard that in later seasons, Heisenberg becomes more of a separate personality, we see the beginnings of that this season at the pool party. But I think it’s worthwhile, at least from my perspective, to point out when Walter does bad things and he’s not necessarily in full Heisenberg mode.
It was depressing seeing Walt get his final chemo infusions this season, because he was sitting in the infusion area alone. Well, there were other patients there, but there was no one there with him. Skyler just didn’t want to be near Walt this season.
Chemo infusions can be hours long and an all-around uncomfortable experience. It helps to have someone with you, and seeing (in a sped up motion) Walt in his chair while the other patients had friends and family visiting them, attending to them, cheering them up, sharing the experience, was pretty hard. It’s just not something that I would wish on someone.
Thanks to the chemo, Walt’s cancer went into remission. The tumor shrunk and crossed the threshold from inoperable to operable. This had an interesting effect on Walt. He had expected bad news and he’d already taken care of business, Jesse had 40 pounds of meth that he could sell and had promised that the proceeds would be split with Walt’s family. When he heard about the remission, Walt kept it together long enough to blow up with rage alone in the bathroom.
This wasn’t a Heisenberg moment, this was Walt at his least Heisenberg: emotional, scared, and frustrated. He’d already made his peace and was in the mode of going-along-to-get-along in regards to the cancer. He’d take care of his family, he could face his end, but now he’d have to continue along and keep managing with his lies.
Later in the season, the surgery to excise the tumor was very successful, the surgical oncologist reported that the margins looked good. The margin he’s referring to is healthy tissue that is removed with the tumor; to make sure that all of a tumor is excised the surrounding tissue is also cut out and closely examined. As long as the outer layer of the excision shows no cancerous tissue, the likelihood that nothing has been missed is very high. Clean margins are a very good thing.
I mentioned last post that chemo kills healthy cells along with the cancer cells, and made an allusion to the innocent people who were affected by Walt’s criminal activities as being a by product of his meth-lab financing. The concept of the margins strikes me as similar. Walt’s choice to pay for his cancer treatments by producing drugs is paying the bills, but his actions and decisions are having an effect on innocent people, outside of the drug distribution chain. Just like healthy tissue, minding their own business, and then getting cut out along with a tumor.
The Walter White Death Toll
Last season, Walter killed Emilio with mustard gas and strangled Domingo with a bike lock. Both times, Walter had more or less found himself in a bad situation and there is some aspect of acting in self-defense. But their deaths are on his hands.
This isn’t a death, but last season, Walter’s activities led to the arrest of the high school janitor, caught up in Hank’s investigation. Walter’s not responsible for a death in that case, but he is responsible for Hugo’s arrest. He knows that.
This season, Walter was indirectly responsible for assumedly dozens of deaths, with the events of 737 Down Over ABQ. (I assume I’ll get a more accurate death toll in the first episode of season three.) This all stemmed from one particular event, the death of Jane Margolis.
Jane’s death is one of those that Walter is pretty directly responsible for. He didn’t mean to kill her, but he did roll her over on her back while she was high on heroin. She threw up and he let her choke. You can see the wheels turning in his head, but he wasn’t Heisenberg at that moment. He still had the capacity to empathize and think things through. He’s the father of a newborn girl, he knows about putting a child on their side so this very thing wouldn’t happen. That had to have gone through his head as he watched her choke.
Not cool, Mister White. Not cool.
Unfortunately for Jane, Walter was afraid of her. She’d threatened him with blackmail and she had influence over Jesse. Her death would take away that fearful situation. It’s not an excuse, but it’s a motivation that isn’t inconsistent with Walt.
Most of the main characters have a pretty rough season and Skyler is no exception. Walt, freaked out by watching Tuco beat No-Doze to death, nearly rapes Skyler in the kitchen. She managed a massive “have-you-seen-this-man” search campaign for Walt when he’s abducted by Tuco, she’s rocked by the unexpected news of a second cell-phone, and isn’t satisfied by Walt’s lies concerning his fugue state.
She hopes to get some security and normalcy by working for Ted Beneke, but there’s the distraction of their attraction and the fact that she becomes aware and therefore is complicit in Ted’s tax-evasion.
She delivers her daughter Holly without Walt and on the verge of his lung surgery has the second-cell-phone confirmed. Thanks again Tuco for that abduction.
During the 7 week recovery after Walt’s surgery and the news that Walt can be more independent, Skyler has uncovered that Walt lied to her about visiting his mother (to cover the marathon meth-cooking), and about the Schwartz involvement in funding his chemo treatments.
Skyler made her decision to evict Walt from the house. She’s cutting him out and hoping to get good margins. That’s not going to happen. It’s pretty clear that she can never have a good margin in this.
And things won’t be good when Walt finds out about the inevitable affair between Ted and Skyler. It’s kind of a requirement after a woman sings you Happy Birthday in the style of Marilyn Monroe, you’ll be having an affair. For all I know, something has already happened in the 7 weeks recovery.
Anyway, kudos to Skyler for supporting Walt until he was healthy, before making her move.
Hank ends the season similar to how he started, the senior agent for the DEA in Albuquerque, but he goes through the ringer during the season. The aftermath of killing Tuco revealed a different side of Hank and it was jarring seeing him as a rude fish out of water in El Paso. Hank got to see his professional limits while trying to integrate in with El Paso, and then his hard experiential limits for beheadings and explosive turtles.
And then Hank gets to meet Heisenberg over a tequila bottle in the pool party. That had to be disturbing to Hank to be confronted by his mousy harmless brother-in-law. Hank is used to chameleon easy-going Walt. Suddenly he has to deal with Walt’s sociopathic, scary persona.
I liked Hank a lot this season, mostly because he had very human reactions to some pretty tough stuff, but feels the need to hide it. That can’t be easy for him.
Hank’s smart. He’s on Heisenberg’s trail, it’s just unfortunate for him that he can’t recognize what’s going on right in front of him. In some ways (to paraphrase Domingo), Hank might not be suited for this line of work.
I was hoping Marie would be acting as crazy as last season, but she was pretty subdued this season. Maybe she’ll turn up the crazy again next season. I have faith in her. And we haven’t met her therapist Dave yet (he’s been mentioned though.)
RJ Mitte is just excellent as Walter Jr. – although I should call him Flynn. I love that. To quote Walter: “Flynn? Why Flynn?”
Last season I was wondering exactly what his situation was, and that was answered this season when Walt mentioned Flynn’s cerebral palsy to the doctor holding Walt for observation in regards to the fugue state.
Flynn didn’t have the oddball brushes that he had last season, with Hank trying to scare him straight and bailing him out when caught trying to buy beer. But he was a great support to his mom during Walt’s abduction and in setting up the heartfelt donation website. It’s kind of awful that Flynn’s efforts were being used for money-laundering. Thanks Saul.
It’s interesting to me that Walt has a son who no longer wants to use the name of junior, and Walt ends up practically acting as the father of Jesse.
Who doesn’t need a hug more than Jesse?
I do assign some blame for Jane’s death on Jesse, since his passive influence pulled her off the wagon. It’s not his fault, he didn’t force her to introduce him to heroin, but he contributed.
Jesse had such a bad season. Abduction, eviction, addiction…, a lot of the bad “ction” words.
Sober Jane was perhaps the only bright spot for Jesse. The meth empire he and Walt had started to build was keeping him in funds, but she was wonderful for him. I really wanted them to go see the Georgia O’Keefe vagina-art museum.
Jesse is always an interesting contrast to Walt. Saul Goodman’s suggestion that it’d be just easier to kill Badger gets a “No!” from Jesse and a “hmmmm” from Walt. Jesse’s humane treatment of Spooge’s child, and his distress over Combo, and obviously Jane, was to his credit as someone who connected with other people.
Jesse has grown on Walt. Walt’s fond of him, in his way.
When Jesse shows up with the RV at the White household, covered in port-a-potty blue, Walt ends up feeding him breakfast because he has no one else that will interact with him. Walt doesn’t want to give Jesse the big payout, not only because he’s being a control freak, but also because Walt cares for Jesse.
When talking family to Donald Margolis, Walt refers to Jesse as his nephew. It’s not a huge family admission, uncle is one of those roles that can be assumed by a non-relative, but it is there.
Anyway, as seasons progress, I assume Jesse will have more and more of a bad time, because unlike Walt, he’s more likely to be distressed by the drug kingpin downsides.
That Pink Stuffed Animal
Before we started the season, one of my friend’s who is big into Breaking Bad (you can read Scot’s recaps of the later seasons over at esotericcandy.com) mentioned that the titles of the episodes were significant, but they would only make sense after the season. And that I should NOT try to Google ahead of time about them.
After I’d watched the season, another friend of mine had asked if I had noticed the titles of each episode that featured the black and white flashforward sequence with a pink stuffed animal. I knew what my friend Michelle (hi Michelle!) was talking about, but I couldn’t remember the exact episodes.
Turns out those episode titles were Seven Thirty Seven, Down, Over, and ABQ, referring to the crash of a 737 aircraft collision over the city of Albuquerque.
When watching the season, of course I had noticed the unusual openings of some of the episodes. The scenes were in black and white, with the pink toy (missing an eye and slightly burned) being fished out of Walter’s pool and placed into an evidence bag.
I was totally fooled watching this season into thinking that some violent gang altercation was going to happen at Walt’s, poolside. I had no idea what the stuffed toy meant or how things were going to be happening.
In the second to the last episode, I was thinking that this might be a long long tease for a season three event. Once the final episode showed the NTSB van though, I knew it had to involve a plane crash. When Donald Margolis, Jane’s grieving father, sat at his air traffic control station, I knew what was about to happen. That was all super-chilling.
The black and white scene featuring the color splash of a dead child’s toy reminded me strongly of Schindler’s List, where the only color is a child’s coat, one that she wears in life and then is seen on her corpse.
Color (and Sound)
When talking about last season, I had mentioned a couple of times where Walter seemed focused on color. And how everyone had pretty colorful names. There didn’t seem to be so much of that this season (although Walt did zone out when he was being held for psychiatric evaluation, more interested in a painting than in what the doctor was saying about his fugue state.) But there was notable use of sound this season.
One of the sounds that I thought hit me as hard as the pink toy was the sound of the moving of Jane’s body by the OMI personnel. Her corpse being maneuvered onto the body bag was ridiculously loud. And since her father was the observer we were getting the point of view from, it represented this terrible assault of sound. Just rough.
And I already made some mention of the similarity between Tio’s bell and Flynn’s website chime. DING! DING!
There were deliberately displayed parallels between Walt’s daughter Holly and Donald’s daughter Jane. It wasn’t hard to notice the connection between Walt and Marie making sure that Holly was propped up on her side (how cute) for naptime, and Jane making sure Jesse was propped on his side during heroin time (how cute! Er, I mean, uh oh!)
Showing a scene where Donald Margolis was picking out a dress for Jane’s funeral, straight to Holly all ready for a diaper change… the show was killing me.
A Criminal Lawyer
Finally the show gets around to introducing Walt (and me) to Saul Goodman. I’d heard a lot of chatter about “Better Call Saul”, and I was delighted that he’s available to guide Walt and Jesse. Not that I approve of their criminal enterprise. You know what I mean. There was only so much I expect Jesse to be able to do, and Saul (and with the introduction of Gus the druglord) adds a lot of options and avenues for them to take. I don’t want Walt and Jesse to accidentally escape the DEA and the ABQ PD, or just get lucky, I want to see them do so by using their resources.
Saul represents a snarky bag of sleezeball opportunistic resources. I’m also happy that the cooly ugly Jonathan Banks is part of Goodman’s criminal associates as Mike the fixer.
The Three Drugsteteers
Last season, we were introduced to Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete.
This season, one got busted, one got killed, and one got ripped off.
I have no idea what’s going to happen to them next season, but I am really looking forward to finding out. Yo.
Okay, time for predictions. I’ve already said that Skyler and Ted are totally going to get busy. That’s not going to be good for Ted.
I really want to know what Walt is doing under the house. When he was in the home improvement store (right before he became Critical Mister White and began to lecture the dude on meth-making supplies) over the loudspeaker in the background I heard “everything you need to stash your stuff.”
Gus knows that the guy he bought 39 pounds of super-meth from is the brother-in-law of a DEA agent. That can’t be good for Walt.
Thanks to Flynn’s donation website and Marie bringing in the press, Walt’s been on the news, looking like Heisenberg. (Well, a smiling happy Heisenberg. Go with me on this.)
That can’t be good for Walt.
So, Season Two was a big unhappy day for nearly everyone. I have friends who stopped watching Breaking Bad because they couldn’t handle the bleakness. THE FOOLS!
Anyway, looking forward to starting up Season Three, yo.
Images are obviously from AMC’s Breaking Bad.
I make no claim to any of the artwork obviously, but I do make some claim to the text of this posting. So there.
* I want to credit my wife for her observation of the three aspects of Walter White. But since I put it here at the end, and no one’s reading this, I actually totally can take the credit. Win!
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved