SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, finish digging that hole in the front yard and watch the latest episode of Breaking Bad.
Hello, Tuned In readers! While TIME’s TV swami James Poniewozik is on vacation, I’ll be guest-blogging the next two episodes of Breaking Bad. (Now I know how Jesse felt the first time he tried to cook Mr. White’s meth on his own.)
The last few weeks have been measured and patient even by the standards of a show that burns slow. For some viewers, “Cornered” may be the episode that tips anticipation into slight frustration, because much of it felt like summary. (Does that mean we’re recapping a recap?) For instance, the morning after Walt’s boozy outburst, Skyler lays out a case for going to the police that also boils down the show’s premise: “Schoolteacher! Cancer! Desperate for money!” Later, Walt explains to Jesse what we learned last week: that in “saving” Mike from an ambush, Jesse was in fact the unwitting lead actor in a Gus Fring Production, and that Gus is trying to “drive a wedge” between his two cooks. Even the cold open—two of Gus’s henchmen firing on the door of a Pollos Hermanos truck, shooting circles of daylight inside as they die of carbon monoxide poisoning—mirrored the cold open from “Bullet Points” just two weeks back. (Maybe “Bullet Points of Light” should get its own square on Breaking Bad Bingo.)
Familiar, too, was scene after scene of Walter White’s pride and insecurity getting the best of him—blinding him to how to read people, or situations, or emotions other than those attached to his own impulses. Instead of calmly assuaging his wife’s concerns, Walt tries to put Skyler in her place with snarling action-hero posturing. (I look forward to the T-shirts, mugs, GIFs and miscellaneous Internet memes that result from “I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS,” a catchphrase worthy of Daniel Plainview.) Instead of sucking it up and cleaning the lab himself, he waves some cash at three women working at Gus’ laundry facility, which puts them on a bus back to Honduras and no doubt further alienates Gus. Instead of letting Bogdan have his moment of superiority at the car wash, Walt has to bristle and sneer and one-up him, all for the price of a soda. (Something tells me that this is not the last we see of those eyebrows.)
And to judge by his confrontation with Jesse, Walt, too, is reading from a Gus Fring script. Walt’s fatherly love for his former student, as flawed as it may be, is one of his last redeeming traits, but he’s never really figured out how to talk to the kid. In trying to set Jesse straight about Gus’s intentions (“This whole thing, all of this—it’s all about me”), he manages to insult and belittle Jesse just as those field trips with Uncle Mike are starting to build him up following a lost weekend binging on drugs and Go-Karts. Jesse was one of Walt’s worst students, but he’s passed his first two Mike tests with flying colors: first the fake sneak attack, and now the accelerated stakeout at the home of meth enthusiast Tucker and his unnamed companion (who, in a frisson of network synergy, appears to be an extra from the set of AMC’s The Walking Dead). Jesse’s ruse to lure Tucker Methhead out of the house by digging a hole in his yard (why? “You know why”) is hilariously odd, purely intuitive, and utterly perfect—a classic Breaking Bad writers’ curveball (with shades of Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence). Though he has to step in when Jesse makes the mistake of putting thoughts into No-Name Methhead’s head, Mike is impressed.
Is Gus? Only the Chicken Man knows. “I like to think I see things in people,” Gus tells Jesse toward episode’s end—a sphinx-like prophecy that rhymes with the question Walt puts to Skyler at the start: “Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see?” In Jesse, does Gus see only an unreliable weapon to turn against Walt? Or is it conceivable that he at long last sees something more? Knowing Breaking Bad, the answer might be less obvious than it first appears.
Now, in the great Poniewozik tradition, your hail of bullets:
—I’m not entirely sure I understand why, in Skyler’s mind, buying a car wash is A-OK but a bottle of champagne and a flashy car could blow the Whites’ cover.
—Speaking of new wheels, Walter Jr. provides the episode’s sole note of merriment when he plays his dad like a violin at the car lot. Walter Sr., learn from your son how to turn a situation to your advantage!
—Audio of the week: No-Name Methhead shouting for Tucker Methhead with the frothing hysteria of a rabid dog. A rabid zombie dog. A rabid zombie dog ON METH.
—Visuals of the week: The cartel foot soldiers snacking nonchalantly as their targets suffocate a few yards away; the cutaway of Tucker Methhead digging himself into a frenzy; a windswept Skyler looking to her baby for reassurance after the coin toss at Four Corners. Does Holly have a big move in her immediate future?