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Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Thirty-Eight Snub”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

The fallout continues from the season opening “Box Cutter” as every man (save Gus, who’s unseen this week) who was in the super lab to witness Victor’s brutal murder is coming apart at the seams. One of them seems willing to take drastic measures, one is retreating into a self-medicating haze, and the other seems shaken to his core. Let’s take a closer look at “Thirty-Eight Snub.”

Teaser
“Either way, you’re gonna wanna practice your draw. A lot.”
After watching Gus dump Victor’s lifeless body literally at his feet last week, Walter’s response is to set up a meeting with an illegal gun dealer (played by Deadwood’s Jim Beaver) in order to procure a firearm, presumably to be used on Gus despite Walter’s claims [1] that it’s strictly “for defense.” It’s an incredibly well-written scene that’s boosted exponentially by the presence of Beaver, one of my absolute favorite character actors from his work as doomed prospector Ellsworth in Deadwood and as father-figure Bobby Singer on Supernatural. Beaver imbues Lawson the dealer with a sense of humanity (as he continually presses Walt on why he’d need a gun with a filed-off serial number if it’s just for defense while also advising him on his need to practice drawing it lest he hurt himself) when Lawson could have easily just been a stock type of character. I’d love to see more of Lawson should they find a way to fit him into the future narrative in part because the dialogue in this scene is just crackling and in part because Beaver’s just that great. Excellent jumping off point for the episode.

[1] Read: attempts to convince himself.

Act One
“Kinda like, just wanna stare at ‘em.”
We open with Mike sitting alone in a bar looking extremely rattled, in his particular Mike way, as he notices a spot of Victor’s dried blood on the cuff of his jacket. In a great touch, he does his best to scrape it off but it establishes that he’s barely keeping things together and that if Gus is that ruthless in dispatching his employees, Mike is painfully aware that he could be next. Jonathan Banks, to this point, has played Mike as so calm and collected that seeing him with such concern for his own well-being is not only jarring, but speaks to what a badass Gus is to have a guy like Mike all but trembling in fear of him. Speaking of barely keeping things together, Jesse is clearly on a downward mood swing from where he was at the Denny’s at the end of “Box Cutter” as he’s now trying anything and everything to drown the world out, from spending lavishly on a very, very loud new stereo system to doing blow with Badger and Skinny Pete while a Rhoomba vacuum combs the room ominously. He looks like he’s about to crawl out of his own skin as he organizes a massive and debauched house party in an attempt to flee from the reality of being a murderer. Episode director Michele MacLaren makes a couple of nice stylistic touches in the party scene (quick cuts, dropping the music out of the mix) that viscerally convey the desperate mood of the event. Aaron Paul is also notably carrying himself much differently thus far this season, in much more world-weary way which is fits Jesse’s despair perfectly. We then see Walt practicing his draw just as Lawson suggested, albeit not very convincingly.

Act Two
“You have reached Walter White. At the tone, please state your name, number and the reason for your call. Thank you.”
Hank’s mental state is deteriorating and he’s stepped up his usage of Marie as a metaphorical punching bag while at the same time deepening his interest in his “minerals,” even at 2:00 in the morning. He answers Marie’s benign question about what he’s doing that early in the morning with, “Last I counted, Marie. There are four bedrooms in this house. You know, I mean, if I’m keeping you awake.”  MacLaren, in a nice touch, bookends this scene with shots of Marie both adjusting up and then adjusting down she and Hank’s mechanical bed in a nod to Marie’s need to put on an act when dealing with Hank. As badly as Hank is slipping, Jesse’s fragile mental state is even worse. The sight of his trashed house via a POV shot of the Rhoomba combing his living room and surveying the after-effects of the night before as one party guest mindlessly thumps a tennis ball against a wall? Perfect – PERFECT – choice to convey the stink of desperation that’s so clearly present, even more so when Jesse makes it clear that he’s hanging by a string by throwing money at Badger and Skinny Pete and demanding that they keep the party going. This leads nicely into Jesse going to work at the lab, mindlessly completing his duties with headphones on [2] while Walt paces around and readies to draw the gun from his waistband upon hearing the lab door open.  Both of these men are coping in their own, unique fucked up ways. After realizing that Gus isn’t present and that it’s just Mike and Victor’s replacement, Tyrus, that have arrived, he tucks the gun away and demands a meeting with Gus via Mike. Mike’s stone cold response: “Walter, you’re never going to see him again.” Very, very interesting wrinkle, that.

[2] Still clearly trying to do anything and everything to drown out the world.

Act Three
“Go home, Walter.”
Skyler sits outside the car wash doing some due diligence to further waste some time on the car wash storyline. Honestly to this point, I’m having a little trouble with this car wash thread and I see it as probably the season’s lone weak spot thus far, in large part because Skyler feels off on an island. Sure, he’s connected to Walt to a point, but her storyline exists largely outside the bigger picture. I also understand the need for the Whites to have a legitimate business to cover Walt’s drug earnings, but the pursuit of the car wash itself isn’t resonating with me like I’m thinking that it’s supposed to. I do trust Vince Gilligan and company almost implicitly so I trust that they know what they’re doing, though. Back at the Schrader house, any thoughts that Hank’s lashing out at Marie simply because she happens to be closest to his frustrated rage are thrown out the window after seeing him interact with his therapist. The therapist is cheery and positive (much like Marie attempts to be) but Hank is much more receptive to him than he is to his wife. He wants to have almost nothing to do with Marie, to the point that as she gives him positive reinforcement following his therapy session he responds coldly, “Marie? Get out,” while she desperately tries to put on a brave face. We know from watching Hank over the past three seasons that he’s a proud and brash person so he doesn’t know how to handle the inability to do almost anything for himself but his treatment of Marie is so over-the-top [3] that there almost has to be something else behind it. Meanwhile, Andrea shows up at Jesse’s house as the party is reaching its second full day to confront him about money that he left for her after disappearing in last season’s “Half Measures.” Jesse advises her to use the money to get her and her son, Brock, out of the slum that they’re living in because he clearly sees she and Brock as a redemption of sorts, one that he’s in desperate need of at this point. The third act ends with Walter sitting in his car (presumably outside Gus’s home) readying himself to take drastic measures. He puts on the porkpie hat to become Heisenberg, exits the car, begins stalking his way to the house only to have his phone ring and the voice on the other end tell him, “Go home, Walter.” It’s not immediately clear whose voice it was on the other end giving the warning, although it seems from what Gilligan said to Alan Sepinwall that it was actually Tyrus.

[3] And by that I mean the way the Hank character is acting. Dean Norris’s portrayal is note-perfect for where Hank’s mental state currently sits.

Act Four
“You won, Walter. You got the job. Do yourself a favor and learn to take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
Everyone’s cracking in “Thirty-Eight Snub’s” final act. From Marie emptying a bedpan and suffering more of Hank’s anger and demands to check boxes after a mineral delivery – “Those delivery jagoffs. I’m not getting ass-raped by those bastards.” – to Skyler finally making her play for the car wash only to be shut down by the owner simply because she’s Walt’s wife [4], people are starting to break, but none more so than those who were in the lab in “Box Cutter.” Mike sits in the bar (again) watching the latest Saul Goodman low-rent assault on humanity on the television [5] while drinking his worries away, only to have Walt enter (unsurprisingly to Mike) to try to pitch an idea to eliminate Gus from the equation and, in Walter’s mind, erase all of their problems. Throughout their exchange, Mike’s contempt for Walt is as visible as a neon sign though he lets Walt get through his hard sell to “get me in a room with him (Gus)” before asking, “Are you done?” Mike then brutally beats and kicks Walt in full view of the other bar patrons [6] after cautioning, “You won, Walter. You got the job. Do yourself a favor and learn to take ‘yes’ for an answer.” As he leaves a beaten Walt on the floor, he mutters, “Thanks for the drink.” We end back at Jesse’s as the party winds down after three (THREE!) days, leaving Jesse alone slumping in front of his new stereo system looking about as far in the pits of despair as one person could possibly be. Paul, possibly on the basis of this scene and reaction alone, may have just locked up his second Emmy.

[4] The owner is still holding a grudge from the manner in which Walt quit back in the pilot. Blah, blah, blah… this storyline is still a time-waster right now.
[5] I seriously can’t say enough about the importance and quality of the comedic relief that Bob Odenkirk brings to the show. Maybe it’s because the rest of the show is so dark that his bits seem so funny or maybe it’s because Odenkirk really is that damn funny, but his is a very welcomed presence on the show
[6] Yet another crack in Mike’s veneer. He’s usually much smarter than to sloppily do something like this.

Overall Impressions: Though not quite as classic as the opener, this was still a very, very strong episode that deftly portrayed the fallout from Victor’s murder. We’re seeing the first cracks in the heretofore rock solid Mike character, Paul’s work is just growing more amazing with each passing episode, and Walt seems determined to bring things to a head with Gus. Although the car wash storyline is emerging as a weak spot, almost everything else is on point and is moving the story forward to a very dark place. And on Breaking Bad, “very dark” almost always equals “very good.”

Rating: 94/100

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