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Breaking Bad Watch: Working at the Car Wash

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Brief spoilers for last night’s Breaking Bad coming up after the jump:

This Breaking Bad episode played as largely a place-setter, putting situations in place for the remaining two episodes of the season. But it was an example of the strength of the drama’s cast, beyond the performances of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul that we usually focus on. Anna Gunn, for instance, was riveting as Skyler announced her intention of joining Walt as part of his money-laundering cover business.

Anyone who’d followed the show over three seasons probably has to wonder at the wisdom and motivations of Skyler’s actions here. Morality and her resentment of Walt’s lies and criminality aside—not to mention her suspicion that he was involved somehow in Hank’s assault—you’d think the simple risk to herself and her children in directly abetting Walt’s criminal career would put her off. On the other hand, there is the fact that she “never actually got around” to filing for divorce. Whether this is a good idea, and I can’t see how it ends well, Gunn sells the complexity of Skyler’s feelings, as she draws Walt in closer while still keeping him at arm’s length. (A question, though: is Skyler actually correct when she assumes that married couples cannot be compelled to testify against each other, or has she been studying at the Adriana La Cerva School of Jurisprudence?)

The choice, of course, puts her directly in conflict with Saul as Walt’s laundering adviser and consigliere, and Bob Odenkirk had some fine scenes in this episode, demonstrating both Saul’s glad-handing cluelessness and the savviness that still makes him useful. Yes, he’s the guy who has a LWYRUP vanity plate, thinks that a laser tag business is a perfect cover for a scientist and tries to charm Skyler by saying, “Clearly his taste in women is the same as his taste in lawyers. Only the very best–with just the right amount of dirty. That’s a joke!” But he also astutely reminds Walt that the important thing about the laser tag place is not the business but the manager’s absolute, need-driven loyalty, as opposed to the car wash: “You buy this place, all you got is a big building that squirts water.”

Giancarlo Esposito, meanwhile, has been killing in his expanded role as Gus, whom he makes suavely persuasive and quietly menacing while he does something as simple as cook and eat dinner. His menace here, though, is not directly aimed at Walt but at Jesse, whom he sees not just as a weak link but, presumably, a point of vulnerability. “One must learn to be rich,” he tells Walt. “To be poor, anyone can manage.” Gus’ advice: “Never make the same mistake twice.”

As we see both at the beginning and end of the episode–and as the conflict in “The Fly” hinted–Jesse doesn’t yet seemed daunted by, or aware of, the golden handcuffs that come with working for a guy like Gus, or what should happen if he attempts to slip them. (And running into the 11-year-old who killed Combo is not exactlylikely to help clear his head.) Walt is aware, and yet he’s too bound by their shared past and the bonds of loyalty. The question may be whether the bonds that tie Walt to Jesse and stronger than Gus’ golden handcuffs, and what happens if they start pulling in opposite directions.