Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Open House”

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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.)

Other than two fairly standout scenes, “Open House” was much more of a utilitarian episode of Breaking Bad than it was barn-burner in the sense that it moved some runners ahead a base in order to set up storylines for the future rather than trying to hit one out of the park on its own, but those two scenes alone were worth the price of the episode. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at “Open House.”

Teaser
The consequences of Walt’s impetuousness at the close of season three are still being felt as he shows up for work at the lab sporting a black eye courtesy of his dust-up with Mike at the end of “Thirty-Eight Snub.” As he begins checking the machinery, he notices that Gus has installed motion sensing cameras in a Big Brother-esque move. Walt fires off a big “fuck you” in the form of a middle finger in full view of the cameras, expressing his distaste for the new world order. And title card…

Act One
“I had an argument with a co-worker, OK?”
I’ve mentioned before that I’m having a difficult time connecting with Skyler’s storyline, so the fact that the car wash angle dominates much of this episode is probably why I wasn’t as high on “Open House” as I normally am on Breaking Bad episodes. Skyler shows up to Walt’s condo to talk about (shocker) buying the car wash yet finds him none too keen on letting her in because of the shiner underneath his eye. After finally entering and seeing the damage to Walt’s face that he explains away with an, “I had an argument with a co-worker, OK?!” she begins pressing for more details. It’s a nice move because it demonstrates that while Skyler thinks she’s in deep after learning about how Walt’s making his money, she’s nowhere near as deep as she thinks she is. While her main concern is how to explain away their illegitimate cash influx by purchasing the car wash as a front, Walt is merely trying to stay alive after incurring the wrath of a brutal drug dealer and really has no use for any discussion of trivial thing such as the car wash. To wit, Skyler pleads with Walt to go to the police and turn himself in to save himself further harm, while we (knowing what we know) are aware that this simply is not an option at all. Yet, to Skyler, it’s the best course of action. Walt tries to paint a rosier picture of the fight with Mike by describing him as a “much older man” and saying that the dispute has been resolved but Skyler demands assurances that he will warn her if things grow more dangerous. While the Whites are making plans for the car wash, Marie has been frequenting open houses and making up elaborate backstories [1] for herself in discussions with realtors as a way of coping with Hank’s anger. We know that Marie’s mental stability has not always been on solid footing [2] and it’s likely the stress of serving as Hank’s nursemaid/punching bag has taken its toll. This becomes ever clearer as she returns home to Hank [3], only to have him berate her for picking up Fritos instead of Cheetos and for getting a fantasy football magazine replying, “And the draft isn’t for two months so this is virtually useless.” The outro shot of a ceramic pig on the nightstand is something less than subtle.

[1] In one, she’s a divorcee with a child that she plans on home-schooling, in another she’s the hand model wife of an astronaut who doesn’t want children, and in a third she’s the mother of a child with health issues who used to live in the UK.
[2] Remember her kleptomania from season one?
[3] Who amusingly scrambles to turn off a porno once he hears Marie enter the house.

Act Two
“For what it’s worth? Having the shit kicked out of you? I’d hate to say you get used to it, but you do kind of get used to it.”
At the lab Walt is venting his frustrations to Jesse about the influx of surveillance equipment as they wrap up the day’s cook: “I don’t like it. It’s a violation of the workspace.” Jesse is devolving into a mental mess who’s desperate for company, thus he doesn’t seem as concerned with the cameras but instead more with trying to convince Walt to go go-karting with him. Sensing the desperation, Walt asks him how he’s doing [4] only to have Jesse quickly turn the conversation back to Walt’s eye. Back at Walt’s condo, more car wash talk [5] as Saul’s been brought into the discussion with Walt and Skyler. Despite Saul’s attempts to steer them towards the purchase of a nail salon, Skyler is bound and determined to buy the car wash instead, mostly due to the way that the owner treated her in “Thirty-Eight Snub.” After some delightful miscommunication where Saul thinks she wants to use some giant air-quotes intimidation to get the owner to sell, Skyler plays on Walt’s vanity in telling him what Bogdan, the owner, said about him [6] which quickly brings Walt to her side. It’s clear that the car wash itself is one of the few things that Skyler can control due to all of the changes in her life so that crystallizes the storyline a little more but still, to me, doesn’t justify the time that’s been spent on it thus far. Meanwhile, Marie’s kleptomania arises again at an open house, drawing the suspicion of the realtor while Jesse has gone off go-karting by himself. After returning home [7], we see that Jesse’s house has mutated from debauched house party to, as Alan Sepinwall put it, “an outer circle of Hell.” Seriously, this scene is almost as harrowing as the firecracker-laden drug den scene in Boogie Nights as Jesse’s home now looks like a seedy crackhouse with people aggressively screwing on the floor while others shoot up and generally destroy the place while Jesse sits down on his couch and blankly surveys the damage [8].

[4] Almost as an afterthought, such is the megalomania of Walter White.
[5] Obviously thrilling me.
[6] Basically, that Walter was too much of a pussy to face him on his own so he instead sent his woman to do his dirty work for him.
[7] To the sounds of Fever Ray’s incredible “If I Had A Heart.” I mean, seriously, there may not have been a better choice of music for this scene. The video for the track itself is embedded at the end of this post. Judge for yourself.
[8] This would be one of the two standout scenes that I mentioned in the open.

Act Three
“You know what, fatty? You are so lucky that I’m late for an appointment.”
Things finally come to a head for Marie as she visits her third (that we’ve seen, at least) open house, this time conversing with the homeowners themselves [8] before having the misfortune to encounter the same realtor that suspected her of stealing from the previous house in the episode. The knowing look when Marie realizes that she’s about to be busted is telling and is a nice beat for Betsy Brandt to play. As she tries to escape quickly to her car, the realtor confronts her and grabs her bag, which crashes to the ground and proves that she not only stole from the previous house as suspected, but from this home as well. She responds, tactfully, with the above quote before being seen next at a police station. On the phone call to Hank, Dean Norris plays the scene with a very interesting combination of annoyance and concern that shows that although Hank’s been kind of a major dick so far this season, he’s not far gone enough to let his wife rot in a jail cell. He has a detective friend do a favor to have Marie released after the homeowners refuse to press charges, but in the moment we get an explicit example of the immense pressure that Marie is feeling as she looks terrified to return home, breaking down in the detective’s arms [9]. Cutting back to car wash [10], an EPA agent is confronting Bogdan about the contaminating runoff from the chemicals he uses in the wash’s operations. In attempting to scare Bogdan into retrofitting the wash (at quite a costly sum of money) we’re clued into the fact that this is being orchestrated via Bluetooth by Skyler to an actor posing as the EPA agent. Admittedly, this is a somewhat inventive means to end the story, but I’m just happy that the snoozer of a storyline has seemingly been resolved more so than how it was actually resolved.

[8] And using the UK story, I believe.
[9] My wife, as she watches this scene: “She’s what you would call an ‘ugly crier.’”
[10] Oh, joy.

Act Four
“$79,000? Do you know how much I make in a day?”
Hank is still being Hank as the episode’s final act opens, treating Marie like crap but being pleasant to everyone else as his detective friend stops by for a visit but it soon becomes clear that this isn’t merely a social call. The detective is looking for help with Gale’s murder case and wants to lean on Hank due to the drug connections in the case as well as Hank’s DEA background. Hank’s eager for the detective to pass it off to Gomez back at the DEA, but the cop has career aspirations and doesn’t want the case getting turfed over to the DEA. After being reminded about the favor that the detective did for Marie, Hank begrudgingly agrees to take a look at the case file. I love what Gilligan and his writing staff have done here – essentially diverting the restless energy that Hank’s been expending on his “mineral” obsession and replacing it with finding Gale’s killer and, ostensibly, leading him right to Walt. Meanwhile, Skyler and Walt play a little hardball with Bogdan, ultimately securing the wash for $79,000 less than Skyler had originally offered. Blah… thankfully this is over although, how exactly are the Whites going to explain coming up with the cash to buy a business when they’re supposed to be almost destitute? I trust Gilligan and the staff to come up with a plausible reason for this, but I hope that happens soon. In the den of darkness, he’s tossing dollar bills into an unconscious partygoer’s mouth before tossing a fat stack of bills into the air just to amuse himself by watching the dregs that are occupying the house fall all over themselves for a few dollars. Looks like the jig’s about to be up though, as Tyrus sits outside the house to assuredly report back to Gus about Jesse’s increasing liability to the operation. Really, at this point, Jesse is so far gone that you wonder how the show’s ever going to be able to pull him back, but that’s just another mark of the excellence of the show. You know they will, but you probably won’t see it coming. And we’re left with the second standout, Hank deciding in the middle of the night as he passes time with an infomercial to reach over, grab the file left with him by the detective, and begin to become Hank again. Strap in, because I love where we’re going.

[11] Otherwise known as Jesse’s house.

Overall Impressions: As I mentioned in the opener, this was more of a moving the chess pieces around the board type of episode more than anything else. We spent far too much time on the car wash storyline but it seems to have gained some decent forward movement, at least. The Marie as wacky open house patron storyline seemed kind of odd, but it was the vehicle that served as the transportation for Hank to become the badass law enforcement agent again, and I can’t say enough about the storytelling in regard to his character. Hank’s interest in minerals was the slow burn that displayed the pent-up energy that he had no real outlet for until now, jumping right back onto Heisenberg’s trail. And pretty much everything at Jesse’s house? The show’s obviously done dark before, but this is right up there with the bleakest the show’s ever been. And it works well.

Rating: 78/100

FYI: As promised, here’s the video for Fever Ray’s “If I Had A Heart,” which is about as foreboding as the scene that it accompanies in “Open House.”

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Written by jeremylikestv

August 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm

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