Ahead of Breaking Bad‘s Netflix sequel movie, El Camino, I hereby confess to a weakness for “bottle episodes.” When they work, they’re fantastic — often heavy on dialogue and emotion and dynamic development, and chock full of reminders of past grievances and hints of more conflict to come. Production teams love these episodes because they’re limited in setting and cheaper to crank out. They’re also primers on how and why characters relate to each other in the varying ways that they do. Suspicions surface, motivations expose themselves, and maybe a resolution occurs, but often not. What matters is that we received a Walter White/Jesse Pinkman counterpart to The Sopranos‘ “Pine Barrens,” all drenched in nihilism and suggesting high-stakes revelations. Or Atlanta‘s “Teddy Perkins” when it comes to packing a tension-filled, unsettling punch. Or even like Justified‘s “Blowback” in terms of playing with authority-figure dynamics. All these bottle episodes succeed, but none of them do so the same way as Breaking Bad‘s third season effort, “Fly.”
Really, if you’ve got very little catch-up time — and let’s face it, you’re a busy person with a stuffed Netflix (and Hulu and Amazon and HBO) queue already — this is one episode to revisit before El Camino arrives on October 11.
Alan Sepinwall loved “Fly” when it aired, and the thing still holds up. I’ve rewatched this Rian Johnson-directed episode twice ahead of the Jesse-centered movie, and there’s a reason why it lands on almost every top 10 episode list (including our own). I do think it’s my favorite of the series. Yes, I’m serious and unsophisticated and realize that most folks prefer “Ozymandias” or “Felina,” and I’ll take those punches. Yet “Fly” acts as a companion to the scene that Aaron Paul recommended rewatching within a season 3 episode, “One Minute,” when Jesse attempts to shove Walt out of his life. That’ll catch you up on Jesse’s mindset going into the film, but “Fly” comes a few episodes later. It fleshes out the structure behind the corrupt dynamic, and it shows Walt unable to steer the train no matter how hard he struggles. It’s funny, and oh, it’s dark.
We begin with Walt crunching numbers in his lab (now his refuge from his shattered world), and soon enough, he’s lunging with a clipboard at an insect. This swiftly devolves into busted glass, a terrible fall, and (oh yes) a boot thrown in desperation and futility.
Of course, none of this drama so far is really about a fly.
Yet all the persistent annoyance dredged up by this buzzing nuisance keeps tensions high. It’s a splendidly executed episode, and the absurdity of Walt’s quest leaves Jesse looking like the completely levelheaded one, as soon as he reenters the scene to a wild-eyed Walt. The man known as Heisenberg, who runs a meth manufacturing empire (despite the supposed 50/50 partnership at hand), is now gripped within a paralyzing fear of losing that control. At least, that’s the widely accepted interpretation of this episode, given that Walt rants about this tiny “contamination” that could, as he declares before episode’s end, leave them dead if the menace is not eradicated.