‘Breaking Bad’ – ‘Thirty-Eight Snub’: Death by stereo!

Senior Television Writer
07.24.11 237 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Breaking Bad” coming up just as soon as I leave recorded proof of my intention to buy a car wash…

“Do yourself a favor and learn to take yes for an answer.” -Mike

What do you do the day after your world stops making sense? What do you do the day after you’ve lost big? What do you do the day after you thought you were going to die but didn’t? What do you do the day after you killed a man for the first time?

Five men entered the Super Lab in the season premiere. Four went out the front door, and one went out decomposing in a barrel alongside the rest of the chemical waste. And in “Thirty-Eight Snub,” the four survivors are all trying to move on from what they saw, and what they did, on that crazy night.

For all we know, Gus is doing fine with it. But we can only guess, because in the wake of being badly outplayed by Walter White, Gus has removed himself from the board, realizing (probably much too late) that he’s better off not being in the same room with his unpredictable chemist.

The other three, though, are clearly struggling with it. Mike sits in his favorite bar, drinking his coffee, trying to out-out the damn spot of Victor on his jacket, and the man who usually has all the answers for the moment has none. He had thought himself invulnerable, the most essential component of Gus’s operation other than Gus himself. But if Gus would murder Mike’s number two(*) and let Walter White live, then maybe Walt is right and he’s the only truly irreplaceable part of the machine. And yet for all his doubts, he understandably trusts Walt even less than Gus, and lays a pretty rough beating on Walt for daring to suggest they conspire to kill the Chicken Man.

(*) There was, unsurprisingly, a lot of debate in the comments last week about why Gus did what he did: whether it was purely to send a message to Walt and Jesse, whether he was punishing Victor for showing himself to witnesses at Gale’s apartment, for allowing Gale to be killed in the first place, or for the audacity to think he could use Gus’s expensive equipment and chemicals to cook Walt’s recipe. Vince Gilligan offered his own thoughts in an interview with Grantland, but he also says repeatedly in that interview that he wants viewers to make up their own mind on matters like that.

Walt does what he’s done so often, and usually so well, ever since he made the decision to get into the drug game: he scrambles to find a way out of what seems to be an inescapable death trap. But even though Walt has successfully handled a gun before (“Run!”), he’s no Wild West gunslinger – even if the show itself often takes on the airs of a 21st century Western – and he’s fooling himself if he thinks he can kill Gus at the lab, or at his home. And though Walt’s had success in physical confrontations in the past, they’ve tended to involve opponents who aren’t ready for him, and Mike will never not be ready for him after all they’ve been through over these last few months.

And Jesse? Well, whatever brief inspiration he got from seeing Gus’s bloody demonstration has faded, and now all that’s left is the knowledge that he killed a man in cold blood, that he’s never escaping this life Walt pulled him so deeply into – and he can’t deal with any of that. He killed Gale to keep the two of them alive, but now seems to view life itself as a burden that can only be endured by blotting it out with drugs, loud music and a non-stop party. He has some hope for Andrea, who returns to confront him about the cash he gave her out of guilt over her brother, but he has no hope for himself.

At this point, it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising how incredible Aaron Paul is, and yet he keeps finding new layers of Jesse, and new talents to show them with. Like last week, this is an episode where Jesse is largely silent, and yet Paul shows you just how badly Jesse needs to have people around him, how hard he’s trying to force all memory of Gale and Victor and Walt and the rest out of his mind whenever he’s not at work. That final shot of Jesse sitting in front of the speaker, the red glow washing over him, his neck vibrating from the bass, was just haunting.(**)

(**) Very high marks for director Michelle MacLaren (and, as always, director of photography Michael Slovis), who went to town on filming all those party scenes in a way that let you experience the chaos just as Jesse was trying to. And not only did we get a Roomba-cam in the party, but then a car wash-cam when Skyler went to make her offer. I eagerly await the episode shot entirely from the point of view of the doll’s eye in Walt’s drawer, or maybe baby Holly as she sits patiently while Skyler runs one crazy errand after another.

Mike tells Walt that he won, and should accept his victory, but at least for this terrific, unsettling hour, all of the key players we see are feeling very much like losers.

Some other thoughts:

• That was friend of the blog (technically, friend of the internet/fandom/etc. at large) Jim Beaver making an impression simply by being quiet and patient as the illegal gun salesman, which gives me a good excuse to remind you about my summer-long revisit of “Deadwood” season 1, where Jim’s comments each week (on the veterans-only versions) have easily been the highlight of the project. And whether Beaver was hired for the “Deadwood” connection or just for his general awesomeness, his presence does add to that Western vibe I was talking about. Of course this is the man Walt would buy a gun from.

• My one complaint about the Jesse storyline: the dude buys a ridiculous new stereo, and he buys a Roomba, each separately, when as Tom Haverford has taught us, combining your music and robot-cleaning options into one supper-gadget makes everything better. DJ Roomba is dead. Long live DJ Roomba!

• With Walt’s safety secured (for now), Skyler gets back to investigating the car wash, which brings us back to a setting and characters we haven’t seen since the series pilot. I can’t find my notes from the set visit, but I believe one of the producers told us that the man who plays car wash owner Bogdan, Marius Stan, wasn’t really an actor, and only appeared in the pilot as a favor to his aspiring actor son. And now, many years later, he’s back on the show.

• Things remain thoroughly unpleasant at Casa Schrader, where Hank is getting along with his therapist and using Marie as a punching bag – and hauler of rocks (sorry, “minerals”) – to vent all his frustration with his condition.

• Surprised it took Gus and Mike this long to realize they should weigh the batches a second time, which should theoretically put the kibosh on any plans Jesse might have to revive his skimming operation.

• Love that Saul is finding ways to cash in on the airplane crash Walt caused. Wonder if he has any idea if this is yet another windfall from his biggest client.

UPDATE: There’s been so much debate in the comments about who called Walt – Gus or Mike – that I went and asked Vince Gilligan. I don’t view his answer as any kind of spoiler (as it’s info from an episode that’s already aired), but in case you do, don’t read the next short paragraph: 

So as it turns out, it wasn’t Mike. And it wasn’t Gus. It was, instead, the new third man in the operation, Tyrus (played by Ray Campbell), whom we saw earlier weighing the batch. And that explains why no one could agree on whether it was Esposito’s voice or Banks’s voice, I suppose.

What did everybody else think?

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