Thursday, 28 July 2011

BREAKING BAD, 4.2 - "Thirty-Eight Snub"

Thursday, 28 July 2011

After the relentless tension of the premiere, which capped an equally tense third season, "Thirty-Eight Snub" was a quieter hour of introspection and a chance for the characters to parse everything that's happened to them, and in some cases plan for whatever the future may bring. It was another good episode, stylishly directed by Michelle MacLaren, brimming with confidence. The wonderful thing about Breaking Bad is how you could condense everything down to around 20 minutes, but the show really lives and breathes with the extra time to make scenes sink in and the atmosphere to take hold.

Everyone's reaction to Gale's murder and the vicious killing of Victor by Gus, just to make a point, was very interesting to see. Jesse (Aaron Paul), racked with guilt over pulling the trigger on poor Gale, retreated to his home comforts (a colossal sound system, lines of cocaine, chit-chat with Badger and Skinny Pete about zombie video-games, and eventually a huge house party); Walt (Bryan Cranston) was more pragmatic and developing a naive plan to kill Gus, by buying a .38 snub-nosed revolver from an illegal gun dealer (Jim Beaver) and practicing his quickdraw for when he gets Gus in his sights; Skyler (Anna Gunn) began to worry about the size of Hank's (Dean Norris) medical bills, so took the initiative to approach Walt's old boss to buy his car wash (so they can launder money through it); assassin Mike (Jonathan Banks) tried to drown the memory of Victor's death in a bar, only to be reminded by a spot of blood on his cuff (very Shakespearian); and Marie (Betsy Brandt) continued to struggle with Hank's obstinacy over his disability and fixation on collecting minerals.

There was lots of fascinating character beats in this episode, but I particularly enjoyed Jesse's because it's more understandable. He's a kid who's been through a lot and finds solace only when his mind's distracted by friends, music and drugs. The final shot of Jesse alone, after the party finally came to an end, sat in front of a large speaker that's swallowing him with noise, was the perfect was to demonstrate this. But while Jesse seeks escape from the life he's chosen that, ironically, provide the means of that escape, Walt's grown more confident and accepting of the life he's chosen. He's still rather foolish and his "plan" to kill Gus isn't a clever one—especially as Gus appears to have vanished and, according to Mike, the two men will never meet again. Walt's being kept at a distance to cook his meth in the Superlab, and his movements watched outside of work, so the situation is almost hopeless. The only move Walt had was to get Mike on his side, by making him feel as insecure as he does. And despite the fact he has a point, and as an audience we have some hope that Mike's going to leave Gus's payroll, Walt's attempt to recruit Mike utterly failed. After broaching the subject to Mike in a local bar, Walt was beaten for even suggesting the idea of a partnership against Gus. So is Mike fiercely loyal to Gus? Does he just have no faith that Walt's the man to put his trust in? Does he just need more persuading that even Victor's murder didn't provide? Or is there something else happening in Mike's life we don't know about?

At the moment, the situation with Hank is providing Betsy Brandt with some of the best material she's had on the show, and she's doing a tremendous job with it. It's heartbreaking to see how unkind Hank is being around his dutiful, supportive wife. He's such a proud man that being a unable to walk is difficult enough, but Marie's presence just amplifies his feelings of emasculation. I'm still interested to see where this story goes, although it does feel like an entire season of Hank learning to walk is in order. Maybe Hank getting back on his feet will be the symbolic contrast to Walt slipping further into criminality? It helps that I'm a big fan of Norris's work on this show, and I'm pleased Brandt now has something to play that's worth her time (it beats that kleptomania storyline from season 1), but a part of me is concerned this story's going to lose its appeal. Then again, knowing how fluidly the writers plan their season, it's likely they'll get bored of Hank and his mineral collection around the same time the audience do.

Skyler also has a firmer stake in the story these days, which is great to see. Her business brain could make her a valuable asset to Walt once his empire, assumedly, begins to take shape. But getting their hands on that car wash isn't going to be easy, given the bad blood between owner Bogdan (Marius Stan) and ex-employee Walt. Skyler put together a generous $879,0000 offer, but he wants $20,000,000! Can Walt find a way back into his old boss's good books, or will he have to take more disreputable action to get the car wash?

Another fine episode, considering it was giving us the calm after the storm, but plenty to think about as this nascent season develops.


  • There's a new guy working in the Superlab called Tyrus (Ray Campbell), and you have to wonder if he'll be in any way helpful to Walt and Jesse in the future, or is he going to be as unhelpful as Victor was. Also, now that Gus is asking for the meth to be weighed twice, it looks like Jesse's siphoning of the drug to sell himself is going to be nigh impossible.
  • Nice to see Jesse's ex-girlfriend Andrea back on the show, briefly, although she was more of a plot-device last year than anything else, so I don't blame anyone for having forgotten she existed.
  • Lots of creative POV shots used throughout this episode by director Michelle MacLaren, most memorably with the Roomba device vacuuming Jesse's house, and the windscreen of a vehicle going through a car wash. It all helps give Breaking Bad its distinctive look and feel, but I particularly appreciate the wonderful sonics used in the soundtrack. Sometimes it's like the whole world is buzzing with noise from inside an echoing tube, slowly sending the characters crazy. Interestingly, this noise suddenly quietened the moment Walt put his porkpie hat—effectively becoming his alter-ego Heisenberg as he approached Gus's house. Another nod that Walt asserts control and finds confidence only when he's in that guise.
written by George Mastras / directed by Michelle MacLaren / 24 July 2011 / AMC