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‘Breaking Bad’ Watch: Pulling the Rug Out

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, turn off Three Days of the Condor and watch last night’s Breaking Bad.

In my write-up of last week’s Breaking Bad, I looked at how Walt’s talk with Walt Jr. pointed up a cruel irony: that he had gotten into the drug business to provide for his family after his death and may have ended up leaving them precisely the legacy he didn’t want to. In that case, I was referring to how, in trying to keep Walt Jr. from having the same regrettable memories of him that he had of his own dying father, he ended up replacing them with equally or more regrettable memories.

“Crawl Space” returned to that theme of Walt’s bringing about exactly what he was trying to avoid. But not in a figurative, leaving-your-family-with-bad-memories way. More like an oh-my-God-what-has-he-done-and-how-could-anyone-get-out-of-this kind of way.

The closing moments of this episode were harrowing: Walt literally at his lowest possible point, looking up from a gravelike hole covered with dirt, his screams turning to sobs turning to hysterical laughter, as he realizes that he may have destroyed his family by trying to save it. Having sold his soul to ensure they would be provided for after his death, he may have instead — in combination, of course, with Skyler’s rash loan to Ted — brought a death sentence on them. Bryan Cranston’s reaction as Walt finds out what happened to the money is nothing short of bloodcurdling: it is as if he were already watching his wife and children being murdered before his eyes.

The episode, I have to assume, was written and completed before Breaking Bad struck a deal for a final season, but it made me glad that they did. Whatever comes of this situation, it’s hard to imagine the series credibly going on for several seasons from this point.

I give the episode credit for going somewhere I didn’t expect. I doubt it surprised any of us that Gus, having seen Jesse cook to save his life, would conclude that he is now free to end Walt’s. But at first, when Jesse — for all his bad blood with Mr. White — still refused Gus, I thought we were heading for some kind of season conclusion in which Gus plays Walt and Jesse into some kind of prisoner’s-dilemma situation, trying to see which one would agree to betray the other.

Instead, things quickly spiraled into the kind of crisis I might have expected to see a few episodes before the end of the series, with Walt hitting the eject button proffered by Saul’s professional vanisher — and then finding that he is unable to make it deploy. And now that the DEA has been tipped off — what Gus said would trigger a death sentence on Walt’s family — he has maybe hours left. (A confession: I have next week’s episode too. I have not watched it yet, as I write this, but I’m not sure I can keep myself from popping it in the second I finish this review.)

And what a stunning reversal that the only thing that has kept him alive is the decency of Jesse Pinkman. Jesse hasn’t forgiven Walt, not by a long shot, but even more powerful than the scene in which Walt comes begging to him is a scene in which they’re not even together yet are linked: Walt realizing, bound at Gus’ knees, that the reason he is still drawing breath is that after all that Jesse remained at least that loyal to his undeserving ass. It seems like a reprieve, until we find him, by the end of the episode, not simply on his knees in the dirt but on his back, trapped, in hell. It feels like a setup, not just to the end of the season (two episodes away), but to Breaking Bad‘s ultimate endgame. Can Walter White possibly get any lower than this?

Now for the hail of bullets:

• I’ve judged Walt pretty harshly here — because, well, come on — but it’s worth pointing out that he is in the situation he is at the end partly because of one last act of conscience: asking Saul to make a call and save Hank’s life (even if he was doing it on the assumption that he and his family were on their way to safety), which, if Gus is speaking true, which prompt payback. You could say it was the least Walt could do, but it was at least something.

• Having said which, it seems in retrospect inevitable that Walt’s kids should end up threatened — Walt in danger on his own is only going to generate so much sympathy. At this point, the reasons to care if he succeeds are the innocents.

• I asked followers on Twitter this question the other day, and I’ll put it to you: Is the ricin cigarette — still, as far as we know, in Jesse’s pocket — the Chekhov’s gun of this season? Or will it fail to smoke anyone?

• For that matter — I almost forgot — is Walt’s actual gun a Chekhov’s gun? That stage is crowded with weapons to go off.

• The last quarter or so of the episode was so gobsmacking that it overshadowed another fine scene, as Gus shows up to taunt Tio Hector with the necklace and the end of his bloodline — and yet, even at that bitter end, cannot get the old man to look him in the eye.

• I have not loved how the Skyler-Ted story line has been handled from beginning to end, but here at least it rejoined the A story line of the series. Last week, I wrote that I didn’t see how Ted could come out of this alive. I didn’t quite see it happening this way, and while having him go by means of rug was a little sitcommy, in the way his subplot has been all season — why not just make it an ottoman? — the absurd accident actually lent Walt’s final scene of anguish a cosmic dimension, as if fate were conspiring to help put him in his hole. (One caution, and I may be reading too much into this: Did I miss something, or isn’t it true that Saul never explicitly said that Ted was dead?)

• Finally, I’m going to take Vince Gilligan and crew’s word that Walt did not have enough money stashed to cover both Ted’s IRS bill and a half-mil payoff to Mr. Disappearo. I would have guessed he had more, given his multimillion annual income, but I’m going to guess that, between the amount of time he’s been working for Gus and little expenses like the purchase of the car wash, it adds up. Does anyone recall our getting a more specific number recently on his nest egg?

• Oh, yes: the Breaking Bad Visual of the Week. Either Walt looking up at Skyler from the crawl space or us looking down at Walt. Your pick?

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