Season 4's really cooking now. "Bug" eroded the tense relationship between Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who started this series as unlikely accomplices, then forged a tenuous friendship, but now it looks like their vacillating partnership's reached its end. What's deliciously frustrating is how this episode proved Jesse's stayed quietly loyal to Walt, but Walt's paranoia and lack of faith in Jesse is what ultimately causes their split.
Gus (Giancarlo Esposita) is still having trouble with the cartel, who in one bravura sequence sent a sniper to kill some of Gus's men at the his distribution farm; managing to pick off one unfortunate employee, and almost getting a hit on Jesse until Mike (Jonathan Banks) tackled him to the floor. Gus himself is immune to any lethal intervention, as he proved by marching out into the line of fire as bullets exploded in the sand around him. The cartel need Gus alive because he's the only one who knows the meth distribution system. Still, the incident is enough for Gus to call the cartel and reluctantly agree to their terms, which appears to be 50% of his profits and delivery of a cook to teach the Mexicans how to produce blue-meth. And that cook's going to be Jesse, as he confessed over dinner with Gus that he can reproduce Walt's recipe.
Poor Walt got increasingly anxious this week, as brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) correctly theorized that Gus's meth distribution centre is the remote Los Pollos Hermanos chicken farm. Even discovering his illegal "bug" placed on Gus's car didn't capture any unusual movements wasn't enough to put Hank off the scent. Luckily, Walt managed to delay Hank's trip to scout out the farm by pretending to be sick, giving Mike enough time to clean the farm of forensic evidence for meth-cooking using an ultraviolet light, but Hank's becoming a bigger problem than ever before. Still, as Jesse surmised to Mike, Gus still can't kill Hank because it would mean he loses Walt. That said, if Gus now thinks Jesse's capable of cooking Walt's blue-meth (or a close approximation), what's to stop him getting rid of Walt? He still can't really kill Hank, as it would look too suspicious if the DEA agent with a wild theory about Gus being a druglord is found dead, or vanishes, but Walt's position is definitely less secure than before. Or maybe Jesse's exaggerating his abilities and his cook will be markedly inferior and unsatisfactory to the cartel?
There was also the unanticipated return of Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins), Skyler's (Anna Gunn) old boss whom she had an affair with. Ted came to see her because he's in dire straits with the IRS, who are due to audit his finances and will undoubtedly uncover the financial irregularities Skyler was part of. I wasn't too excited by the idea of bringing Ted back, as that storyline felt over with, but it actually worked quite nicely as a supporting story. Skyler's clever plan, to pretend she's a bimbo around the auditing CID agent (Rob Brownstein), explaining the poor bookkeeping as regrettable ignorance instead of intentional criminality, also worked nicely. (I'm not convinced claiming ignorance would be a good enough defense with the Inland Revenue here in the UK, buy maybe things work differently in America?)
It was fun seeing Gunn save the day, though, as she was forced to intervene because an IRS investigation would result in her phone being tapped and mail checked, which could expose her money-laundering operation with Walt's millions at the car wash. It feels likely that Skyler's going to give Ted the thousands he owes the IRS (hence her pensive look at her vacuum-packed money beneath the floorboards), and is that a way for Ted's suspicions to be aroused about the White's financial status? Would someone like Ted buy the White's gambling cover story?
The big climax was an earth-shattering confrontation between Walt and Jesse, with Jesse revealing he's being sent across the border to cook meth for the cartel, looking desperate for Walt's help to prepare in case the cartel ask him complex chemistry questions. But Walt's more interested in the fact he's used Hank's "bug" to track Jesse's dinner trip to Gus's home, and is outraged that Jesse missed an opportunity to poison Gus's food with ricin, as they agreed he'd do. Knowing that Jesse's been lying to him all these weeks, Walt couldn't accept that Jesse may have valid reasons for doing so, so their argument quickly turned into an uncharacteristic punch-up in Jesse's living room. By the end, both were bloodied and battered, with Jesse ordering the bleeding Walt out of his home.
It's a break-up of the show's central partnership that's bound to have big ramifications going forward. They probably won't have to put up with each other at the Superlab for long, if Jesse's being packed off to Mexico, but Walt's lost a key ally because of his narrow-mindedness. I'm pretty sure they'll put aside their differences eventually, but will this year's finale see Walt and Jesse still separated? Jesse risen to the position of a "trusted" meth-cook who helped Gus prevent all-out war with the cartel; Walt the lone dissenter rapidly running out of reasons for Gus to keep him alive—particularly if Hank can be quietly dealt with without arousing suspicion.
As we enter the last stretch, I'm very keen to see how this season plays out because it's so unpredictable. I also think that, while season 4 hasn't delivered quite the same level of jaw-dropping moments season 3 had by this point, it's better paced and the developments in the story feel less improvised. There have actually been some very clever storytelling in the handling of Hank's one-man investigation, and Walt's secret plan to depose Gus. I wonder if the "chicken man" will still be avoiding those bullets into next season, or if there's one out there with his name on it...
written by Moira Walley-Beckett & Tom Schnauz / directed by Terry McDonough / 11 September 2011 / AMC