(season 5, episode 12)
This last half of season five could be described as many things, but one word that would probably best describe it would be “articulate.” Like season four of Breaking Bad, this season is treating episodes like big chess moves between characters. Obviously, back in season four the characters versing each other were Walt and Gus. Now? Walt and Hank.
And part of that is due to the simplicity of having an antagonist vs. protagonist, or good vs. evil, or just someone trying to catch the other someone for whatever reason. It’s traditional and definitely recognizable in nearly every storytelling medium, though Breaking Bad (like said before) treats it as slow-moving chess moves between the big players, teasing the audience in what pieces will fall down due to that move.
Like chess, though, important pieces generally don’t start falling down until well into the game unless one of the players isn’t an excellent player. Hank and Walt, of course, certainly know all the moves and how to push each other into interesting corners, making the opposing player do his best to get out. Whether it be Walt sending that absolutely awful and seemingly game-changing video last week, or Hank recruiting Jesse to help him win against Walt. It’s all Breaking Bad in the end.
“Rabid Dog” plays with our expectations on what’s going to happen next in this final season: Will Jesse be spared? Two characters (Skyler and Saul) know the likely outcome as this particular problem has been dealt with before and, in all honesty, they’ve all run into much bigger problems in the past. So what’s Walt waiting for when it comes to Jesse?
Hank is explains it best: Walt cares a lot about Jesse. He wants to show him that he can, in fact, be a good person. Of course all of his manipulations and justifications on how he can “be a good person” towards Jesse are incredibly skewed and deteriorate as the show goes on and as the context grows, but that’s not the point. Walt definitely, without a doubt, knows that Jesse is this rabid dog that Saul speaks of, but he doesn’t want to go that far down the rabbit hole this time. Not again, maybe.
That sort of concern raises questions for Skyler as “what’s another?” in terms of solving the problem with violence. It’s not that easy for Walt because, on some fundamental level, he’s loyal to Jesse despite all of his lies and manipulations. In fact, it’s the same situation he has with Skyler: He’s not only loyal, but he wants to be the bigger man without all the violence and greed. His problem is he knows that pipe dream is too far gone now. It’s over.
Which makes the climax reveal that Walt wasn’t trying to trap Jesse with their meeting in the plaza all the more heartbreakingly sympathetic for Walt. Bryan Cranston plays his father-son relationship for Jesse so damn well and poignant. At times, it’s hard to think of another person that Walt has ever given a shit about more than Jesse.
But then again, from Jesse’s perspective (and therefore the audience’s in that moment), he’s completely convinced that Walt is going to kill him. Why wouldn’t he? He’s a loose end, an angry ex-colleague, a betrayed friend. Jesse has every right to turn around, make the threatening phone call to Walt, and let him know that he’s in this chess game as well.
Other than the on-going, slow-moving build to the series finale, “Rabid Dog” gave us time to reflect just on how things have been taking a toll on our characters. Skyler’s drinking and getting fed up with Walt’s constant lying and half-truths. Hank’s obsessed with taking Walt down even if Jesse happens to die. Marie’s talking to her therapist because she feels so betrayed and helpless when it comes to her sister, her niece, and nephew. It’s all a great “vacation” episode, considering that the Whites literally treat their hotel stay as a vacation.
It’s a nice breeze in the middle of these crazy, plot-heavy episodes that are consistently littered with motivation over motivation over motivation. We’re given time with everyone to see what they’re thinking in these end times. And these are definitely end times for everybody.
- The Hello Kitty phone case makes sense now: Hank uses the voicemail on Jesse’s phone to find Walt and attempt to bring him down, just a good ol’ cat and mouse game.
- Marie’s stoic yet determined small scene between her and Hank was fantastic. Her asking if Hank having Jesse in their guest bedroom was a bad thing for Walt showed just enough on where her motivations lie.
- I was convinced this episode was going to pull a Mad Men-inspired “Far Away Places” structure; where we follow one character and see what they’re up to for a quarter of the episode. Once we saw just why Jesse changed him mind about burning down Walt’s house, that’s when my thought process began. Alas, I was wrong. Would have been cool though!
- Marie’s looking for untraceable poison yet Walt’s way ahead of her on that with ricin.
- I want to hear about Badger (or “Beaver,” as Walt thinks his name is) and Skinny Pete’s opinions on Babylon 5!
- The episode’s ending scene connects just how in the heck Todd and his uncle will play into the rest of the season. Oh man oh man oh man oh man.