Tuesday, 27 September 2011

BREAKING BAD, 4.11 - "Crawl Space"

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

This antepenultimate episode was one of the best hours of television this year, perhaps the best. I'm amazed by how brave this show continues to be, as it's so unafraid to shake up its own dynamics, which is a very risky business. Remember when you couldn't imagine the show without Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) as an unconventional yet immovable partnership at the heart of the show? "Crawl Space" makes it look worryingly naïve that the show would sustain their double-act, as this episode has Walt's life falling apart with devastating cruelty.

After last week's remarkable "Salud", we're dropped into a very exciting sequence with Jesse driving the poisoned Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) and wounded Mike (Jonathan Banks) to a MASH unit hidden inside a Mexican machine shop. An unexpected example of Gus's wealth and forward planning, paid medics are on hand to attend to Gus (and Mike's injuries, but only after giving the man who pays their salaries their full attention). Mike was left behind to recuperate for a week, with the recovered Gus and Jesse walking six miles to the Mexican border to be smuggled back into the US.

With Gus and Jesse away in Mexico, Walt was completely in the dark and doing solo cooks in the Superlab, trying to wheedle information from the brick wall called Tyrus (Ray Campbell). Even worse, Hank (Dean Norris) wanted to continue his one-man investigation into Gus Fring, but put Walt into an impossible position by insisting on an impromptu visit to the industrial laundry where the Superlab's hidden. There have been some amazing moments of tension between Walt and Hank this season, but this episode's just about beat the lot as Walt just couldn't allow his brother-in-law to snoop around where he works. Some of the immigrant workers there may acknowledge him, and what if Gus or Jesse arrive on the scene? He doesn't even have time to warn anyone of their arrival. It was such an impossibility that Walt took the drastic measure of intentionally swerving his car into oncoming traffic, temporarily putting Hank back into convalescence at home. But how long has he delayed the inevitable, especially now Hank's making plans to get a "gimp-mobile" with hand controls to drive himself around town?

Skyler's (Anna Gunn) subplot continues to be dark fun, as she let Ted (Christopher Cousins) know about her husband's illicit gambling and the winnings she's used to pay his IRS debt. Maddeningly, Ted's not prepared to accept her money, because it wouldn't be enough to save his failing business. Skyler took this to mean he wants more money from her to turn his life around completely, but decided to play hardball by getting Saul's (Bob Odenkirk) help to "persuade" Ted to sign a cheque to the IRS. Saul's henchmen Kuby (Bill Burr) and Huell (Lavell Crawford) duly arrived at Ted's home, forcing him to sign the cheque and wait with them for a few days while it clears. A situation poor Ted was utterly bewildered by, unable to fathom that Skyler would resort to hiring thugs to get her way, before accidentally knocked himself out while trying to run away and tripping into a kitchen island. Or did he die? The episode kept Ted's fate ambiguous. It would probably help Skyler if he was dead, and given how there's only one episode left this year, it's probably true the writers have just found a way to eliminate Ted. Regardless, it was one of the show's few moments of (very dark) comedy, and one that was definitely needed given this episode's ominous, disturbing climax.

Jesse has proven to Gus that he can cook blue-meth, so Walt is now surplus to requirement and too much of a hindrance given the untenable situation with prying Hank. Walt knows his days are numbered, after noticing someone's been cooking at the Superlab without him already, but his relationship with Jesse's at such a low point that even begging Jesse to help him doesn't work. Instead, Walt's cast out into the cold as Jesse goes inside to play video-games with Andrea (Emily Rios) and her son, and then zapped unconscious by a tazer belonging to Tyrus... awakening in the hot desert, on his knees, with a black hood over his head. It's the moment Walt's always feared would happen, as Gus stands over him imposingly, to give him the "you are done" speech. But credit to Walt for keeping his composure and reasoning that he's not going to be shot, because Jesse would still never cook for Gus if Walt was murdered. A truth Gus aims to change, in time, but for now Walt's required to keep his distance from Gus, Jesse and the Superlab's activities.

It could be a way out for Walt, but it's obvious Gus will never allow a loose-end like Walt to exist for too long (he said as much to Jesse while waking to the border). But a more pressing issue is that Gus is now free to deal with Hank, seeing as Walt's been unable to keep his brother-in-law under control. It'll be interesting to see what Gus's plan is, as it would look very suspicious if Hank was killed after spending these past few weeks looking into Gus's affairs. Whatever his plan, Walt's only option appears clear: flee. Taking Saul up on his offer to "disappear" his family and give them new identities, Walt races home to grab the half-million he'll need to pay for the unlawful process. A moment that turned haunting when Walt dived into the crawl space beneath his home, discovering that the vacuum-packed bags of cash he's earned from his cooks aren't all full. And when questioning Skyler about the missing cash, and hearing her admission that she's given it to Ted Beneke, all Walt could do was let out a primal howl of anger and frustration, that unnervingly twisted into weird cackling. Walt's half-crazed giggling then become the background to a voicemail from sister Marie, who tells Skyler there's another planned Cartel hit on Hank (an anonymous tipoff from Saul, at Walt's request). The final scene was particularly brilliant: Walt visually trapped beneath his home, the weight of everything symbolically on him, his world shrinking to the size of the hatch he's lying under, reduced to delirium as his family's lives hang in the balance and he has no money to escape an inevitable demise.

So where do we go from here? How and what will the finale choose to resolve? I think it's safe to assume Jesse will have a change of heart about Walt, and perhaps refuse to cook for Gus and put them both in the firing line. But that would also give Walt a valuable partner, and someone to help him defeat Gus. Is the ricin still a possibility? Could Walt simply direct the DEA towards the Superlab, risking being implicated himself, because the certainty of Gus being arrested/killed is better than any alternative. I'm not sure, because I think the show's still headed towards a moment when Walt succeeds Gus as a druglord, and he'll need Gus's infrastructure intact. But how can he put Hank off the scent with the chicken farm and laundry, given the compelling evidence they're part of the Heisenberg empire? Maybe Gus's whole operation's going to be destroyed, so Walt will have to start from scratch next season? Is there enough time for the show to complete its intention to turn Walt into a Scarface figure, if that happens?

Incredible episode. This is why I watch television. Such diamonds are rare, but they're worth waiting for. I'd usually be incredulous about the remaining two episodes getting anywhere near this quality, but they'll probably exceed it. Maybe I should create a brand new five-star rating in lustrous gold.


  • Is that the swansong for Mike for this season? Will he make a return in the finale, perhaps choosing to side with Jesse because of the kindness he showed him at the MASH? Mike does owe Jesse his life, after all.
  • Brilliant scene between Gus and Hector (Mark Margolis) at the nursing home, with Gus delighting in letting Hector know that his beloved Don Eladio has been killed, along with all his men, including Hector's own grandson Joaquin (his last surviving relative). I never thought I'd feel sympathy for Hector, who was fuming at the news, but still refused to give in entirely and look Gus in the eye. Also note that Hector was watching "Bridge Over The River Kwai"—in particular the famous moment when Alex Guinness destroys the bridge his men have spent years building for the enemy. Is that what Walt's about to do, regarding the Superlab?
  • There was no explanation for the pill Gus swallowed just before he drank the tequila poison last week, so I assume they were just something to aid his vomiting later.
written by Sam Catlin & George Mastras / directed by Scott Winant / 25 September 2011 / AMC