Tuesday, 1 June 2010

'BREAKING BAD' 3.11 - "Abiquiu"

Tuesday, 1 June 2010
WRITERS: Thomas Schnauz & John Shiban
DIRECTOR: Michelle MacLaren
GUEST CAST: Charles Baker, Jere Burns, Matt Jones, Antonio Leyba, Angelo Martinez, Virginia Montero, Ian Posada, Emily Rios, Krysten Ritter, Mike Seal & Marius Stan
[SPOILERS] After three weeks of introspective, experimental episodes, Breaking Bad starts a sprint to the finish-line with "Abiquiu". This was a really great episode, in that it developed the story well, added some wrinkles, and gave us some wonderful insights into the characters and their shifting relationships.

We began with another of those flashbacks Breaking Bad has employed a few times already this year, where old characters and events are revisited. Here we saw Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Jane's (Krysten Ritter) day trip to an art gallery (only mentioned in season 2), and were reminded of just how well they connected as people before Jane's tragic demise. In discussing Georgia O'Keeffe's painting "My Last Door", Jesse saw only repetition of a boring subject matter in an effort to achieve perfection, whereas Jane believed the artist was trying to make a good feeling last -- which is exactly the problem drug addicts face in trying to quit their habit. It was a particularly nice touch seeing Jane leave a cigarette butt with lipstick in Jesse's ashtray, which he discovered last week to trigger memories of their time together.

There was a huge change in the dynamic between Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Skyler (Anna Gunn) this week, as Skyler realized just how expensive Hank's (Dean Norris) rehabilitation is going to be and starts getting practical about how they're going to afford it. In a fun development, Walt took Skyler to a meeting with his crooked lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk), who didn't exactly make a new friend thanks to his chauvinistic attitude and unconvincing idea to launder Walt's money by purchasing a laser tag business with his alleged poker winnings. It was a nice surprise to be reminded that Skyler (a trained bookkeeper) isn't as clueless, or as strictly moral, as she's often perceived on this show. Skyler's the one who hatched the idea to instead have Walt buy the local Car Wash (a business he's worked at before, so it wouldn't arouse as much suspicion.)

It was clear after this episode that Skyler's basically decided to join her husband as his accomplice, despite the fact he tells her he's still cooking meth as part of a professional contract. She even put herself forward to be the so-called "Danny" (a business partner in the laundering business who can be trusted to turn a blind eye to financial irregularities -- which is pretty much the same thing she refused to do for boss Ted earlier this season.)

Walt was understandably surprised to discover Skyler hasn't even filed their divorce papers, and the fact they're still legally married might be beneficial from a legal standpoint because "married couples can't be compelled to testify against one another." I still believe the reason she did that was because she still loves Walt and hoped for a reconciliation, but it's possible she was aware that their marriage would be beneficial down the line. Either way, Skyler's proving to be a shrewd partner-in-crime who's likewise decided to "break bad" for the perceived greater good of her family (helping Hank to walk, pay for her family's expenses -- like Walt Jr's requirement for a car now.) She definitely has more a reason to stay loyal to Walt than money-grabbing Saul, but is Walt right to entrust his wife with so much?

Jesse also had a great storyline this week, as he's growing frustrated with Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete's (Charles Baker) inability to sell the blue-meth he's been smuggling out of the superlab -- particularly as that source might soon dry up because Walt's taking more notice of his activities weighing the quota. Jesse's callous plan to sell drugs to the NA group's recovering addicts isn't working either, partly because his friends have actually started to enjoy the process of kicking their habit -- ironically.

It came down to Jesse to start making some headway, targeting a beautiful newcomer to the support group called Andrea (Emily Rios) who sounded unconvinced about her presence there. Perhaps also as a way to move on from Jane with a new relationship, Jesse started to date Andrea and smooth the way towards her becoming a regular customer of his meth. But he soon cooled on the idea when it became clear she's a single mother to Brock (Ian Posada), a cute six-year-old called who takes a shine to Jesse.

For the second time, Jesse's fallen on his feet in some respects: finding himself in a situation that could easily blossom into love and normality with a readymade family to channel his energies into. However, Andrea later dropped an unwitting bombshell that her 10-year-old brother Tomas (Angelo Martinez) joined a drug gang and shot someone dead as part of an initiation ceremony. What stung Jesse more was realizing the details confirmed that Tomas' unfortunate victim was his best friend Combo.

This was another case of bad decisions coming round to bite characters in surprising ways, not dissimilar to how Walt's decision to let Jane die led to her father causing an airplane disaster over the city. It's perhaps a stretch that this bad karma effects the characters in such poetic ways, but it's also a part of what the show wants to say about how doing bad things infects, contaminates and destroys everything you hold dear.

There was also an engrossing scene with Walt invited to dinner by Gus (Giancarlo Esposita) and arriving at his plush residence, somewhat astonished by the extravagance he lives in without the community raising eyebrows about how he can afford such luxury. Owning a chicken farm and fast-food restaurant must be more lucrative than it sounds. The invite was possibly a genuine desire for Gus to get to know his latest employee on a personal level, or at least keep him sweet by extending to him this privilege to "break bread" with him, but Gus is still something of an enigma. He's such a demure man that I'm sure we're going to see some shocking rage from him soon, or something to seriously sour the Gus/Walt allegiance – most likely when he discovers Jesse's stealing from him and blames Walt for it.

But is that enough for Gus to sever ties with Walt, who's such a goldmine for his business? I doubt it. But maybe Gus will take steps to punish a thief like Jesse that Walt's powerless to stop but doesn't agree with to the extent he quits? And maybe Gus won't let Walt slip away that easily without getting some leverage over him. He certainly can't just threaten to expose Walt to the police, as he'd be taken down with him.

Anyway, for now Gus simply gives Walt some advice he was never given himself: "never make the same mistake twice." Is Gus referring to something in particular he knows from Walt's history, or reminiscing about a mistake he made himself as a younger man?

Finally, trouble brewed when Jesse arrived at the street corner where Combo was shot dead by Tomas, there to do business with the rival drug dealers while actually sizing up those who killed his best friend. It's certainly a knotty predicament for Jesse, whose contained fury as he marched away appeared to signal he's out for revenge, but is he really the kind of person who would go after a kid? Or is he forgiving of Tomas because of Andrea's connection to him, and more upset about how Tomas's life has been ruined by the gang he's fallen in with? Jesse's doesn't tend to think things through logically like Walt, so it wouldn't surprise me if he's going to do something that will only cause further heartache and destroy another burgeoning relationship. That's how Breaking Bad tends to work.

Overall, "Abiquiu" was excellent on many levels and did an impressive job of setting some things up for the fourth season (particularly the Car Wash cover and Skyler's allegiance), and I'm interested to see if Jesse/Andrea is something the writers are going to pursue further, or if it's just a last-minute idea to give Jesse something juicy to deal with in the final episodes.

  • A few good scenes with Hank this week, as he tries but fails to walk with the aide of his physical therapist. Seeing Hank reduced to looking like a giant baby in one of those "baby bouncers" (his electromechanical patient lifter) was a memorable visual. It was also interesting to note that Hank's against going home to continue his therapy, and wants to do everything at the hospital. He seems to be compartmentalizing his problem and can only cope if his disability is something confined to a hospital setting.
  • The titular Abiquiu is a small-town in northern New Mexico that's popular as a TV/film shooting location. City Slickers, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and Wyatt Earp were all filmed there.
  • Is Skyler's Yoko Ono in Saul's eyes, does that make Walt and Jesse the Lennon and McCartney? It's more Lennon and Ringo, right?
  • Gus handing that kitchen knife to Walt, blade pointed at his own stomach – a sign that Gus trusts Walt complicity? Or a gesture Gus performed on purpose, to make Walt think exactly that and continue to relax his guard around him? They're partners now, why not be friends, right?
30 MAY 2010: AMC, 10|9c