Tuesday, 9 August 2011

BREAKING BAD, 4.4 – "Bullet Points"

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

There's been grumbling that season 4 hasn't exploded out of the gates, but I can't agree this has been a failing. It's just that season 3's climax required a more delicate approach when handling the repercussions of Jesse (Aaron Paul) murdering Gale (David Costabile). But "Bullet Points" should restore some faith in people, as it most definitely delivered some big moments and developments that won't fail to get Walt (Bryan Cranston) more proactive than he's been so far. Walt's been quietly preparing for a war with his boss Gus (Giancarlo Esposita), and the events of this episode suggest the battle lines have been drawn.

The episode began on a stirring note, with Mike (Jonathan Banks) in the back of a refrigerated Los Pollos Hermanos truck smuggling meth, which was attacked by gun toting rivals who pumped the vehicle full of holes, but didn't expect an armed hitman to be lurking inside when they pulled open the doors to inspect their handiwork. Mike, a chunk taken out of his ear by a stray bullet, may have survived this close encounter, but it's clear sign that Gus's slick operation isn't safe from interference. Could this be a sign the Mexican cartel are trying to regain a foothold in Albuquerque, with someone intending to disrupt Gus's business? If so, might they be people Walt could ally himself with, or is it better the devil you know?

After such a tense and exciting teaser, the rest of the episode was a more sedate affair. It was an episode where Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walt prepared for the moment they'll lie to their family about winning enough money to pay for the car wash. A story that paints Walt as a pitiable gambler who risked his family's financial future in a moment of weakness over his cancer, and just got lucky, requiring him to learn how to count cards and attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings. As I've said before, it's notable how organized Skyler is as an accomplice, but she can still afford to be so levelheaded about their situation because she's blissfully naive to the horrors that Walt's seen and participated in. As Walt opines to crooked lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk), his wife thinks being a distinguished meth-cook is just like any other nine to five job, when the truth is he's been pushed into killing people and had to dissolve bodies in acid.

Presenting their gambling story to Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt) was the first obstacle to overcome for the Whites, and it went surprisingly well over a meal at the Schrader's. Of course, Walt was distracted by the realization his brother-in-law's started consulting on Gale's murder case, believing him to be mysterious meth-cook "Heisenberg" after poring through the heavily-detailed "Lab Notes" journal police found at Gale's home. Gale even returned in a darkly amusing Banquo's Ghost moment, when Hank showed Walt a tacky video of Gale singing karaoke for them to laugh at. For Walt, the journal's existence and level of the DEA investigation signals trouble, particularly after discovering the police found fingerprints at the crime scene that might belong to Jesse, together with an eyewitness.

I also liked the brief moment when Hank was excitedly explaining one of his minerals to Walt Jr, only for Walt to interrupt and provide far deeper and more complex knowledge of the mineral in question. It was another little dig that Hank's losing his alpha male status. He's not even the amateur authority of his new pastime, having to defer to his brother-in-law's expertise because of its connection to chemistry. The Ying-Yang quality of Walt and Hank is one of the show's best pieces of subtext, as the two men in this family jostle for superiority. There's even a visual element now, with Walt towering over burly Hank in his wheelchair.

Jesse continued on his downward slide, but this week his lifestyle came to the attention of both Mike and Walt. The latter, arriving amidst the squalor to interrogate Jesse over his movements in Gale's apartment (just to be sure the cops won't have any evidence to incriminate him), didn't last long before he was forcibly ejected from the house by Jesse's "friends". Mike didn't fare much better getting through to Jesse, despite apparently helping by catching a tweaker who stole all of Jesse's money from a bedroom drawer. Jesse's so far gone that discovering his small fortune's been stolen didn't even raise a flicker of emotion from him, as he proceeded to play a video-game with a girl, and even Mike's scare tactic of inferring he'll kill the thief didn't work. Jesse may be self-destructing to numb himself from the horror of killing someone, but he's not stupid: you don't bother blindfolding someone you're about to kill.

This was a real turning point episode; both because the Whites have taken their first public step into a criminally-funded lifestyle, but also because Gus returned and took measures to deal with Jesse in light of Mike's concerns about his mental state and professionalism. The episode ended with Mike driving into the desert with a docile Jesse, who's perhaps accepted what's going to happen. A bullet to the head will bring him the peace his guilty mind is craving. If that's what Mike has planned. And Walt knows his partner's been taken, but can only yell his frustration at the all-seeing eye of Gus's Superlab surveillance camera. Walt only agreed to return to work if Jesse was part of the deal, but what choice does he have if Gus removes him from the workplace? The only lifeline Walt has is that Gus needs a cook of his caliber to produce high-quality meth. It'll be interesting to see if this forces a stand-off, or at the very least a face-to-face meeting between Walt and Gus.

Overall, "Bullet Points" was a brilliant mix of what Breaking Bad does best: taught and efficient action mixed with clever, tense character moments. Walt and Skyler's early extended scene, trying to ensure there are no holes in their story, also worked very well; Walt upset he's being painted in a bad light, and Skyler mistaking her husband's rehearsed apology as genuine. As she said, he's a fantastic liar.

I'm also glad the plan involving Walt's gambling cover-story and car wash is going ahead after all the talk, but the real satisfaction came from the sense that the abduction of Jesse is going to force Walt into tackling Gus and Mike head-on. But given we're not even halfway through the season yet, maybe there's something very different in store for Jesse when Mike's car reaches its destination? Maybe Mike's run-in with those gunmen at the truck was the wake-up call he needed to plot a way to remove Gus from power, and he needs Jesse's help? Looking forward to seeing what episode 5 brings... can't believe anyone wouldn't be.


  • What will Hank do when he discovers that Walt and Skyler's "gambling fortune" has also been paying his medical expenses?
  • Fun callback to "The Learn'd Astronomer", with Gale's journal dedication "To W.W. My Star, My Perfect Silence" probably referring to "Walter White", who introduced him to the verse. Luckily, Walt managed to pin the initials on the poem's author, Walt Whitman. Out of interest: do you think Gale's dedication proves he was gay and attracted to Walt?
  • Interesting to note Hank making more of an effort with Marie in the company of the Whites. You'd never know from their civilized meal together than the Schrader's marriage is hanging by a thread.
  • Walt didn't like the desperate option Saul suggested he consider (paying a large amount of money for a "disappearer" to get his family out of harm's way and with new identities), but the fact it was even mentioned may mean something. Perhaps Walt will reconsider towards the end of his season?
  • Why was Mike in the back of a refrigerated chicken truck anyway? He can't possibly travel like that for every meth transportation for Gus. Was this a particularly dangerous route that required his presence? Or an especially valuable shipment?
written by Moira Walley-Beckett / directed by Colin Bucksey / 7 August 2011 / AMC