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Breaking Bad Watch: Hostage Situation

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

“This is not about violence. This is about–trespassing.” –Skyler White

There was plenty of violence, and the threat of violence, in the third episode of Breraking Bad’s season 3. (R.I.P., Tortuga, who got, well, Tortuga’ed by our two new friends.) But it’s a credit to the show that in many ways the most tense, menacing section of the episode took place in the White home, without a gun or machete drawn or even an intimation of bloodshed.

But while the standoff at home between Skyler and Walter was not violence, the ten-minute scene was as full of foreboding and brinksmanship as any shootout. Skyler arrives home, with baby in tow, and finds Walter in the living room. She threatens to call the cops and tell everything, and he calls her bluff. “Do what you have to, Skyler,” he says. “This family is everything to me. Without it, I have nothing.”

He has a funny way of showing it. The passive-aggressive way Walter handles the scene is testament to how a life of crime has made Walter a stone-cold poker player, and a reprehensible heel. It’s also a demonstration of Breaking Bad’s masterful use of pacing to build anxiety. There’s a lot of waiting—almost unbearable waiting—in this scene.

A lot of shows would have cut away as Skyler hangs up the phone and sits, silently, to wait for the cops. Not Breaking Bad. The seconds tick away, and then there’s the door—but it’s Walter Jr., not the police. Whom Walter proceeds to essentially use as a hostage, making him a grilled cheese and essentially defying Skyler to shatter her son with the truth. When the police arrive and Walter poses with the baby to offer her a bottle, she’s no more than a human shield. It’s emotional violence, but violence all the same.

The police officer, who no doubt knows how the dynamics of domestic abuse work, senses something is up, and all but begs Skyler to make an allegation against Walter. At the end, her children held hostage in front of her, she blinks.

The episode also advanced the drug storyline, as Sol end-arounded Walter to approach Jesse, and the Mexicans went to Gustavo with their vendetta against Walter. (The deal: Gustavo can try to squueze one more payday out of White, but then he belongs to the narco mob.) But both these stories and the dissolution of the White marriage are playing out with the same confident deliberateness of pace. A showdown is approaching, slowly but surely, in both the domestic and the drug dramas. It’s hard to say which one is scarier.