Aug 16, 2011

BREAKING BAD, 4.5 - "Shotgun"

This should satisfy viewers who've been itching for something more explicitly exciting that swerves the show down a new direction. "Shotgun" was another terrific episode, as Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) spent a day together, leaving Walt (Bryan Cranston) panicked over his young partner's disappearance. Both Walt and Jesse were on emotional journeys of very different kinds here, and it became clearer than ever that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) is a masterful opponent for Walt, who again let his pride get in the way of his common sense...

The situation with Jesse and Mike was fascinating to watch, as we assumed the world-weary hitman was under orders to drive Jesse to a remote part of the desert and shoot him in the head. Instead, Jesse was merely accompanying Mike on pickups: collecting drug money from six dead drops across the state. And while Jesse's role was surplus to requirement, he proved his worth by thwarting an attempted robbery by a rival outfit, reversing Mike's car do at a hoodlum approaching with a shotgun. But then came the cruel twist: the whole day had been a long con, orchestrated by Gus to give Jesse a sense of camaraderie with Mike and a feeling of self-esteem. That should make him acquiesce with Mike's commands, and pull his social life out of its nosedive. It's a clever play by Gus to make a play for Jesse's heart and mind, with Mike almost being setup as an alternative "father figure" to Walt—but one who may treat him with greater respect than the prickly, condescending Walt.

Walt spent some of this episode on the offensive, but found it impossible to find a target for his anger. The episode began with Walt speeding to Gus's Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant for a confrontation over Jesse's abduction, but Gus wasn't around to yell at. Or had wisely decided to leave the premises, having seen Walt's arrival on a surveillance camera. And then Walt's calming phone call from Mike and Jesse led him to accept Jesse's life may not be in immediate danger, forcing him back to the Superlab to work alone. But even after that proved difficult and dangerous, the unblinking eye of Gus's surveillance camera henchman Tyrus to assist with the cook. There's really no way Walt can escape from his invisible chains, as he's kept at permanent arm's length by Gus and has probably lost some influence with Jesse now—who eventually returned from his day trip under the sway of Mike, whose hard shell cracked slightly in gratitude for how Jesse dealt with their would-be robbers. He even let him smoke in his car as a reward.

The one positive for Walt this week was a sign his marriage to Skyler (Anna Gunn) could be rescued, which came about completely by accident when Skyler heard Walt's desperate voicemail message in his presence, recorded when he was convinced his confrontation with Gus may end badly. But there are signs Walt's not really happy for things to go back the way they were (his silence over Skyler's suggestion he move back in spoke volumes). Has he grown to value his independence? Or is he perhaps just wary of getting his family mixed up in his life, which he's still trying to compartmentalize?

Perhaps most interestingly for Walt was how his pride got the better of him, once again. Hank (Dean Norris) has come to accept that "Heisenberg" was the dead meth-cook Gale, and for all intents and purposes the case was about to be closed... only for Walt to take umbrage at Hank's dinner table comments about Gale being a "five-star meth chef" and "genius", which made him plant the seed in Hank's mind that Gale was just a starry-eyed accomplice to the real mastermind. Maybe a part of Walt wants to be caught, because at least that would mean his family would have to accept he's the "genius" and someone of great notoriety—instead of the "gambling addict who got lucky" tag his cover story paints him as. Whatever the reason, Hank got the message and began poring through the boxed evidence from Gale's apartment, noticing the incongruous presence of Los Pollos Hermanos fried chicken packaging in a vegan's home. "Since when do vegans eat fried chicken?" indeed.

Overall, I really enjoyed "Shotgun" and it helped deliver a sense of where season 4's headed. Can Mike and Gus get Jesse to dance to their tune, simply by giving him respect and a role in the business away from mindlessly shadowing Walt at the Superlab? Is Mike going to continue with this facade, or will he be charmed by Jesse and eventually confess? What can Walt do to snap Jesse out of this spell? And if the DEA start snooping around Los Pollos Hermanos, at the behest of Walt's brother-in-law, Gus isn't going to be happy...


  • Is Mike's initial refusal to let Jesse smoke in his car a sign that Mike has lung cancer and didn't want to passive smoke? There's been a suggestion online that Mike's health could be an issue, and is perhaps the reason why he's not willing to rock the boat with Gus and depose him with Walt's help.

  • Loved Hank's description of Gale being "like Scarface had sex with Mr Rogers", knowing that Walt's intended arc has always been described as Mr Chips becoming Scarface by showrunner Vince Gilligan.

  • Did you notice Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) drinking from a Beneke mug, belonging to the man whom Skyler had an affair with? A subtle sign that the White's marriage still has visible scars.

  • More lovely directorial touches from Michelle MacLaren, most notable with time-lapse photography with Mike and Jesse on the road. I wonder how long those scenes took to film, so they'd last as long as they did when sped up?

written by Tom Schnauz / directed by Michelle MacLaren / 14 August 2011 / AMC

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