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TV Review: ‘Breaking Bad’ – Even a “Rabid Dog” Has Its Day

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We have reached a point in this final season of the phenomenal series Breaking Bad where the characters are self referential, and when we hear them speaking of metaphors and euphemisms, we do not even bat an eye. That is the nature of Breaking Bad, which is like a rich, textured novel, and it forces us to keep turning the pages, wanting to know what happens but wishing it would never end.

In episode 12 entitled “Rabid Dog,” we have sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) actually sounding like a logical Spock to the more emotional Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) Kirk. While Saul references the film Old Yeller in suggesting how to deal with an out of control Jesse (Aaron Paul), Walt is not ready to consider this. Those of a certain age do not even have to be told anything about the film, as they no doubt cried throughout the ending the way other generations did during Bambi and The Lion King.

As Walt notes later on to his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), Jesse is not some “rabid dog,” but a human being whom he thinks of as family. It is telling that both Saul and Skyler are voices of reason – sort of insidious voices similar to Iago in Othello and Lady Macbeth in King Lear respectively – but Walt is not having any of it. Even after Jesse pours gasoline all over Castle White, Walt refuses to think about killing him off because of some warped fatherly allegiance that goes beyond even what viewers have expected at this point.

Jesse (Paul’s acting becomes more and more outstanding each week) is going off the deep end. He is snorting coke or meth off a CD in Saul’s stolen car before he breaks into Walt’s house, but as he prepares to create an inferno worthy of Dante, DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris) stops him from doing it. Instead, Hank offers an unholy alliance of a sort to “burn” Walt truly, madly, and oh so deeply.

bad 2Later on, the most humorous and tragic scene of the episode occurs when Jesse wakes up from his druggie haze on a bed in Hank and Marie’s (Betsy Brandt) guest room. He finds himself staring at a picture of Walt dressed as Santa Claus, and the expression on Jesse’s face depicts all the emotions the audience feels. Yes, I was thinking Bad Santa as many others probably were too, but this picture of a smiling Walt is clearly from before his cancer and fall from grace. This is the “Mr. White” Jesse knew from high school, the teacher whom he truly admired.

Jesse does provide Hank and his partner Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) a video confession, wisely done off stage. But before he spills the beans, Jesse provides a qualifier for Hank and his partner. Walt is “smarter” than they are and he is “the devil.” This is sort of like townsfolk talking to the sheriff before the bad guy rolls into town, and Jesse also reminds them that there is no tangible evidence, that it is his word against Walt’s (dueling video confessions as it were).

bad 4Meanwhile, Hank’s wife Marie is going off the deep end herself. She admits to her therapist that she is researching untraceable poisons, and we kind of wonder about this as a Gertrude from Hamlet moment, sort of akin to Skyler’s Lady Macbeth who shrugs her shoulders and says of killing Jesse, “What’s one more?” Yes, the Lambert sisters have come a long way and it is getting uglier each week. If both their husbands’ hands are dirty, we kind of feel like it’s because these women aren’t willing to clean up the mud.

Perhaps the most crucial scene of episode 12 occurs when Jesse is wearing a wire and goes to meet Walt in Civic Plaza, an open air public place in Albuquerque. Surely, as Jesse is walking towards Walt, he believes Walt is setting him up. Jesse’s face is a tortured mask as he looks around, spots someone whom he believes is a shooter waiting for him, and then runs to a public phone and calls Walt. Here, Jesse makes either the biggest mistake of his life or the move that will finally bring down Walt/Heisenberg. He tells Walt he is coming for him and that he is going to get him “where he lives.” Yes, the rabid dog does have his day in this episode!

We can assume that Jesse doesn’t mean the less than impregnable castle that he has already invaded, but the inhabitants of that abode. Jesse understands better than anyone Walt’s allegiance to family, so the threat seems to be to get Skyler and the children (we have to wonder how far Hank is willing to go at this point).

Now, we haven’t seen Walt don the Heisenberg hat yet in these new episodes. When he went to get the gun from the car wash, he didn’t stop somewhere else and put on the hat. I think this is purposeful, the duality of the man clearly defined by that chapeau. While he is still Walt at this point, none of us are convinced Heisenberg is gone for good. It’s sort of like Dr. Jekyl not being able to control Mr. Hyde. Eventually, Walt is going to put on that hat again, and then we will have that bad man rolling into town indeed.

bad 3The last scene involves Walt calling Todd. In keeping with the series’ inherent Shakespearean connections, Jesse is kind of like Edgar (the legitimate son in King Lear) and Todd is more like Edmund, the bastard and pretender. Jesse is a lot like Edgar – mostly not in touch with reality and not up to inheriting the castle – while Todd is a good deal like Edmund – devious, calculating, and homicidal. If anyone is capable of running Heisenberg’s empire, it is Todd (who has spoken admiringly of the man in the black hat). We assume that when Walt asks for Todd’s help, it means that he has exhausted his feelings for Jesse and now will have him killed.

Of course, another “son” comes into play here – Walt’s biological son Walter Junior (RJ Mitte). Perhaps the toughest of all characters to deal with on an emotional level, Junior asks Walt to just tell the truth, and our hearts break because he believes the cancer is causing Walt’s trouble, but we all know Heisenberg is hiding behind the curtain. The revelation of Walt being Heisenberg is going to be most devastating for Junior, and that is a scene we have to dread though we know it’s coming.

And we can make no mistake because it will be revealed. We recall the flash-forward from episode 9 when Walt goes into his abandoned house and sees “Heisenberg” spray-painted on the wall. The ugliest of truths is coming, and show creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan teased us with that view of future Walt (with full head of hair), retrieving the infamous ricin cigarette from the ravaged house. We also got a teasing glimpse of the Schwarzennegger machine gun in Walt’s trunk, and that has me thinking of all sorts of crazy endings, just as I am sure Gilligan intended.

Now that Walt has called in Todd, we realize things are going to go from bad to worse. The question is exactly how it will transpire. Before episode 9 I had predicted Walt would wither away from cancer, but now it could be that he goes out in a blaze of glory, sort of like Al Pacino in Scarface on that balcony with the machine gun. Walt has the ricin and the big gun and could be heading off to a showdown with other drug dealers, the DEA, Todd and crew, or a combination of adversaries. It is so exhilarating to think about yet exasperating at the same time.

Meanwhile, as always with Breaking Bad, we have more questions than answers. What happens to the Whites now? Do they ever go back to that gasoline-soaked house (my feeling is that Skyler will never feel safe there again)? Will Marie use that poison on Walt or, in a fit of madness, on Hank? Will Todd be called in to kill Jesse (as we assume), or will it be to go after Hank?

My feelings about this being like a Shakespearean tragedy continue to be confirmed as Walt, the tragic hero with more tragic flaws than Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear combined, heads toward that final scene of the last act and it figures that the stage will be littered with bodies. Will we count Skyler and Marie among them? Will Jesse somehow survive and walk on stage like Fortinbras and look down at all the dead bodies?

bad 1No one can be sure at this point, but the most frightening image of the night involved Walt sitting at the hotel swimming pool and staring into the night. No doubt he is slipping into Heisenberg mode at this moment, plotting and planning as he has before, and when that happens there is impending doom. We all know what’s coming – like a killer tornado – but it seems none of us has the desire or ability to get out of its way. That is why the dubious pleasures of Breaking Bad keep us wanting more and more. With four episodes remaining, I want to savor every excruciatingly solemn and glorious moment, like the funeral of a beloved friend that we wish would never end.

Photo credits: AMC

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • ww

    the best review yet for any breaking bad episode / general perspective, and i’ve read them all.

  • hugo

    i think “I will get you where you really live” rather then being a threat to his family it could be jesse having a hunch about where Walts has hidden the loot.

  • bliffle

    Good review! BB seems to provoke interesting commentary.

  • Victor Lana

    Thanks for the great comments. I have been hearing from other people via email, and I’m surprised how many want Walt (but not Heisienberg) get away with it. I doubt it, but then there are those DVD sales to think about.