Tuesday, 3 September 2013

BREAKING BAD, 5.12 – 'Rabid Dog'

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

written & directed by Sam Catlin

The quietest episode in awhile, and yet still bristling with intensity and surprises. Knowing there are only five episodes left of Breaking Bad, you can't help but predict when certain dominoes will be toppled. It's long been expected Jesse (Aaron Paul) will unite with Hank (Dean Norris) in bringing his former partner-in-crime Walt (Bryan Cranston) to justice, or kill him in the process, and yet I was pleased with how "Rabid Dog" adjusted the battle lines without appearing too predictable.

After last week's climax with Jesse soaking the White's front room in gasoline, I didn't expect a gun-toting Walt to find the premises empty with a discarded canister staining his carpet—although folks had commented about the flash-forward proving the house doesn't incur any fire damage. In retrospect it was beautifully obvious Hank must have stopped Jesse from torching the joint, and yet I'm pleased I have the ability to watch things 'in the moment' and don't like to try and guess the future while something's happening. So I loved how the narrative skipped backwards; letting us witness Hank preventing Jesse from igniting the fuel, before whisking him away to his own home and a warm bed—to become a key witness as he tries to build a case against his brother-in-law, despite still only having anecdotal evidence.

"Rabid Dog" also provided some nice insight into how Walt and Hank's wives are both coping with recent events. Skyler (Anna Gunn) appears to have done a complete U-turn from her stance earlier this season; clutching to the belief this nightmare will end if they ruthlessly ride out the storm together. The scene where Skyler gave permission for Walt to kill Jesse, because it would eliminate the danger he represents (believing there's so much blood on their hands that a more won't make enough of a difference), was arguably this episode's most chilling moment.

That scene cemented a massive transformation of Skyler's character, which has enlivened the story enormously as we approach the end, although I think the change in her views required more work in an ideal world. There have been a few short-cuts in season 5 that I don't think Breaking Bad would have taken if the writers had been granted a sixth season. Considering the ratings surge as this show continues to build an audience during its hiatuses (thanks to box-sets, streaming, and piracy), my guess is AMC are kicking themselves for not allowing that. We could have had a whole season of Walter White atop his drug empire, whereas this season's had to cut corners.

While Skyler sinks into the moral quagmire alongside her husband (Lady Macbeth-like), her sister Marie's (Betsy Brandt) is taking more sensible steps to deal with the Walt situation: seeing a psychiatrist to work out her problems, although he isn't proving much help because she can't give him details about what's wrong. However, just like her sister Skyler, she's supportive of her husband to the nth degree. Now Hank has Jesse in his corner, her desire to put Walt behind bars for what he's done to their family has been given a huge boost.

So what of Jesse? He's the character we've identified with most over the years, and he's now determined to bring Walter White down in flames (almost literally). There doesn't appear to be any going back from this, so anyone with a tenuous belief Walt and Jesse will rejoin forces won't have enjoyed this episode's direction. Walt is described as "the devil" by Jesse for what he's done (as Marie jokingly did before Hank's bathroom epiphany), and from his perspective this is an understandable comparison. You tend to forget characters like Jesse (loyal sidekick to Walt during his degeneration from affable chemistry teacher to pitiless drug lord) don't have all the facts, compared to the omnipresent audience. In us, there's residual sympathy for Walt because we've seen how power corrupted him, and how his ego swelled because of the respect drug-making gave him. It's more understandable, to us, how he's reached this low point; whereas for Jesse he's just an unfathomable manipulator, not above poisoning an innocent child to get what he wants. The thing is, Jesse's absolutely correct. I guess the warped genius of Breaking Bad is how you can have two very different opinions of Walter White at the same time. He's both compelling anti-hero and hubristic villain.

Walt's in a world of trouble now; largely because he's unaware of everything happening around him. He naively believes Jesse simply had a change of heart mid-arson attempt, when in reality he's been tucked under Hank's wing—ironically, still being manipulated, as Hank's only playing 'good cop' to the "junkie murderer" because they have a common enemy.

Walt sending Jesse voicemail may be hard to explain in court one day, as he's unaware Hank's listening to them... and, at the end of this hour, he almost fell into Hank's trap of being recorded while trying to explain his actions to Jesse in the middle of a busy plaza. It seems Jesse, overly paranoid about Walt's ability to outsmart people, isn't going to go along with what Mr White wants him to do now, or even what Hank needs him to do. He has his own plan to punish Mr White.

Overall, "Rabid Dog" was an episode that managed to build tension in a less kinetic story than previous ones this half-season, as the characters prepare for a final battle of wits. As usual with Breaking Bad, there was also so much to enjoy in its smaller, subtler moments: the White's temporarily living the high-life in a luxury hotel (a lifestyle befitting the fact they're multi-millionaire criminals); Hank realising Walt has fatherly feeling for Jesse, even if Jesse himself doesn't see their relationship that way; and the final scene with Walt regretfully making the Skyler-approved decision to "deal with" Jesse by calling in Todd's nefarious Uncle Jack to kill the "rabid dog" (as Saul earlier compared Jesse to Old Yeller, the tragic pooch killed for contracting rabies in the 1957 film of the same name.)

I just wonder who will get to whom first; as Jesse appeared to threaten Walt's family with his "next time I'm going to get you where you really live" parting line. The flash-forwards prove Walt survives until his next birthday, but has Jesse killed his wife and son in that glimpsed future? That would surely sour whatever loose partnership Jesse's got going with Hank. It's hard to see Jesse being that awful, so he must have been threatening something else entirely on the phone... but where does Walt "really live"?

  • It makes sense that Hank has brought Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) into his circle of trust, and I actually quite liked how they just presented us with that development so matter-of-factly. Gomez has been such a loyal partner to Hank over the seasons that it makes sense.
  • It was great to see how Walt's lying about his gasoline mishap didn't work its magic on Skyler, and for a second there I thought Walt Jr was demonstrating unexpected insight... until it became clear he just thinks his dad's cancer and dizzy spells were partly to blame. Speaking of Walt Jr, I liked his father-and-son scene by the pool. I just hope RJ Mitte does a credible job if and when Walt Jr realises his father's a crime boss.
  • Odd to have a scene where Marie mentions researching untraceable poisons. Given the fact Walt's ricin is still a significant part of the puzzle between present and future events, is this a clue? Did Walt return to his house to retrieve the vial of ricin to in some way incriminate Marie?
  • I've heard it mentioned that Jesse wasn't given a mug marked 'DEA' at the Schrader's, but it actually said 'DEAD'. Unsubtle foreshadowing of Jesse's doom? Or does Hank love his job that much he takes merchandise home?
  • I loved the way a plaza clock struck the hour after Walt's rendezvous was called off by Jesse from a nearby payphone. The bell carried a spooky funereal feeling, as it's perhaps now only a matter of time before Jesse catches Mr White on his own terms with the help of Hank.
1 September 2013 | AMC