‘Breaking Bad’ – ‘Shotgun’: Who’s the guy?

Senior Television Writer
08.14.11 277 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Breaking Bad” – which was just renewed for 16 final episodes – coming up just as soon as I break out the non-fancy liquor…

“You’re not the guy. You’re not capable of being the guy. I had a guy, and now I don’t. You’re not the guy!” -Mike

Why did Walter White walk away from the company he had helped build, and that could have made him millions?


Why did Walt continue cooking meth even after Gretchen and Elliott offered to pay for his treatment and anything else he might need?


Why did Walt go back to cooking even after the experimental cancer treatment worked?


Why does Walt put Hank back on the trail of Heisenberg when Gale made such an easy fall guy?


On “The Sopranos,” Dr. Melfi once asked Tony, “How many people have to die for your personal growth?” With “Breaking Bad,” it’s Walter White’s staggering levels of pride and self-regard that have led to so much death and pain and heartache. And the closing scenes of “Shotgun” suggest that his pride will once again get him and others into deep, deep trouble.

And yet the bulk of the episode is about Gus and Mike exploiting Jesse’s pride to not only refocus him on his work, but possibly turn him into an ally in their ongoing struggle with Mr. White.

On the Jesse side of things, “Shotgun” is actually a very simple episode (albeit another gorgeous-looking one, taking greater-than-usual pleasure in the desert landscapes). “Breaking Bad” is a process-oriented show, and that story is all process. Jesse rides around with Mike for a day, and gets an idea of how the dead drops work, and all of it is just a build-up for the little play that Gus and Mike stage for Jesse’s benefit at the final pick-up spot. A good con requires preparation, and Gus – like Walter White, and like Vince Gilligan, for that matter – is a patient man. He knows that Jesse needs some sense of purpose to shake him out of his nihilist phase. He’s aware of how the Walt/Jesse partnership works: that even though they’re protective of each other, Walt tends to treat Jesse like garbage, and Jesse lets him because he’s hoping for another moment of approval from his surrogate father figure like the one in the hospital room in “One Minute.” And in one well-executed chess move, Gus gets Jesse to start taking pride in both his job and the approval of the men who employ him. And given how standoffish and/or bullying Walt is towards Jesse – except on those rare occasions when he has no choice but to be kind – I can easily see a scenario where the next time Walt and Gus are in conflict, Walt doesn’t have Jesse as his ally.

And that is why you don’t mess with the Chicken Man.

On the other hand, Gus may have another problem to deal with, all because Walt was drunk and miserable and unable to let a dead man get credit for his work.

Though Jesse travels more literal miles over the course of this day, Walt has by far the longer and more complicated emotional journey. We open up with him frantically driving to Los Pollos Hermanos, convinced that either Gus is about to die or he is(*), and making phone calls to Saul and Skyler. But Gus isn’t there, Mike reassures him about Jesse while simultaneously keeping Walter off-balance by not telling him what’s up, and Walt has to muddle through the cook on his own until it’s time to go sign the car wash papers with Skyler. And suddenly the message he left as a possible farewell gets interpreted by a nervous Skyler as a mark of vulnerability and affection from her estranged husband. They fall back in bed together, and the next thing you know, Skyler’s making plans for him to move back in.

(*) And being so unconcerned with his future that he gives his name to the assistant manager.

This is all Walt has wanted since Skyler kicked him out of the house at the end of season 2, and yet it doesn’t seem to be something he wants anymore.

Is it Walt’s damned pride again? Is he just mad that Skyler is the one taking charge and making the decisions, rather than her giving in to one of his moves? Though Walt’s pride is obviously at work at the Schrader dinner table, in this case I think it’s something more complicated. Walt can be arrogant and self-deceptive much of the time, but I think the events of these last few episodes have made him realize just how unstable his life has become. He’s in a dark place, working for a man he believes intends to kill him at the first opportunity, and he no longer feels comfortable slipping back into his old life, bantering with Skyler and Walter Jr., being part of jovial dinner conversation at Hank and Marie’s house. He needs all the wine he can get at that dinner party because of the events of the previous day he, but he also needs to have it alone in the kitchen. This isn’t his life anymore, these aren’t his people, and this is all too much to handle. And the combination of his nerves, and the booze (recall how close he came to confessing about Jane when Jesse slipped him a mickey in “Fly”) and hearing Hank describe Gale the copycat as a genius five-star chef – not to mention one who wasted his intellect on meth when he could have been improving the world – leads him to blurt out his theory that Gale isn’t the man Hank has been looking for.

Hank was out. He’d found closure, was done looking for his white whale. But now he’s on the trail again, and while that sense of purpose has clearly improved things between himself and Marie, it’s also going to put both Hank and his brother-in-law back into harm’s way.

All over stupid pride.

Some other thoughts:

• Lots of speculation last week over whether Hank genuinely suspected Walt while they were discussing the “WW” reference in Gale’s notebook. And I imagine there will be some more after that dinner scene, and the look on Hank’s face as Walt is convincing him that Gale’s not the guy. While there’s obviously meant to be tension in both scenes, I don’t think Hank has Walt on the brain in either one – at least not at the forefront of his brain. Maybe deep down he’s cataloging all these inconsistencies, and the ways in which Walt would make such an obvious Heisenberg candidate. But up front, he still thinks of Walt as his goofy, milquetoast brother-in-law – even his reaction to Walt’s new identity as a gambler is more a source of amusement than suspicion – and I think the look in this episode was just Hank pondering whether Walt is right about Gale, and then about whether he wants to take action about it. I have no doubt that there will come a point where Hank gets wise to Walt, but I think it has to come right near the end of either the series or just of Hank’s life. Even though Hank is now wrapped up in this mess because Walt is paying his medical bills, I still don’t see Hank or the show continuing for much longer past the point where he puts the black hat onto Mr. White.

• This episode’s director, Michelle MacLaren, was also responsible for the shootout in “One Minute,” and I smiled to see that Jesse, like Hank, recognizes the value of a car in reverse as a weapon when you don’t have a gun and your opponent does.

• Gale is described in this episode as “like Scarface had sex with Mr. Rogers,” which is an amusing twist on Gilligan’s mission statement for the series about taking Mr. Chips and slowly turning him into Scarface.

• The song in the pair of Jesse and Walt montages is “1977” by Ana Tijoux.

• Victor’s replacement, Tyrus, hasn’t had much to do yet, but it’s clear he’s very much cut from the Gus/Mike cloth, acting without talking except when absolutely necessary, and projecting an aura of professional cool that puts Jesse and/or Walt ill-at-ease.

• For that matter, I love Mike in this episode. So unflappable, so understandably terrifying to Jesse (who would have had no shot whatsoever trying to attack with his keys), and yet in the end it’s revealed that he doesn’t quite understand Gus’s endgame. Gus needs Mike to protect the operation, but Mike needs Gus for big-picture thinking. Good combination.

• Love that Walter Jr. is drinking out of a Beneke mug as he talks to Walt about Walt moving back in – no matter what happens between Walter and Skyler now, there’s always going to be the whole “I.F.T.” business between them.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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