Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Bullet Points”

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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.)

Jesse’s nadir looks to be on full display [1], Walt and Skyler develop an elaborate lie to explain their purchase of the car wash, and Hank’s storyline that began in last episode’s “Open House” apparently comes to an abrupt end in the season’s fourth outing, “Bullet Points.” The oddly structured episode essentially shunted the series’ leads into one half of the episode or the other, with the first half focusing almost entirely on Walt and the second half acting as Jesse’s show. But the ending… oh, the ending, a patented Breaking Bad cliffhanger that, were this any other show, would have a predictable resolution. But then, this isn’t just any other show is it? Time to dive a little deeper into “Bullet Points.”

[1] Giving Aaron Paul yet another chance to demonstrate his evolution into one of television’s greatest actors.

Teaser
A distinctively Breaking Bad visual puzzle opens “Bullet Points” with Mike sitting in the back of a refrigerated truck, leaving the audience wondering, “When are we?” Is this present-day? Or are we seeing a flashback of some kind? By the time that shots are fired through the back of the truck by a couple of unknown assailants, splattering packaged chicken batter all over the trailer like so much goo [2], the only explanation for the attack seems to come from the episode’s “Previously On” segment, which included a clip of Gus’s retribution against the Mexican cartel boss from last season. That looks to be really the only thread that connects the scene to the present narrative. Mike, badass that he is, responds in kind by single-handedly killing both shooters, leaving himself to tend to an errant gunshot that’s taken a chunk out of his ear. As he examines the damage to his flapping ear, the title card hits…

[2] Which was a very nice visual touch by episode director Colin Bucksey.

Act One
“For a fired schoolteacher who cooks crystal meth, I’d say you’re coming out pretty much ahead.”
An extra-long first act begins with Skyler in bed, alone, scribbling something onto a notepad an attempt to create an elaborate script to explain away the Whites’ sudden windfall that’s allowing them to purchase the car wash, despite neither of them being currently employed in the legal sense of the word. I mentioned in the review of “Open House” that I was hoping for something to tie up this loose thread as soon as possible and, again, the writers have delivered and I’m glad that they’ve done so in such quick fashion. Quick cut to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, so the explanation is that Walt is a recovering gambling addict and the cash has come from his winnings. Inventive and not really the angle that I would have predicted them going with but it makes a kind of sense and the resulting shot of Walt struggling to stay awake in the GA meeting is rather humorous to boot. Back at the house after the meeting, Skyler and Walt decide to lay their cards out on the table (pardon the awful pun) that night to Hank and Marie as they discuss, in painstaking detail thanks to Skyler, the best way to keep their stories straight. When Walt voices his opinion that he’d rather just tell Hank that the Whites’ are paying his medical bills (a secret Marie is still hiding from him), Skyler responds, “I seem to recall that you’d rather sell drugs than take help,” which is a nice callback to season one and demonstrates the resentment that she still harbors toward Walt even as they’ve found some semblance of civility and even camaraderie with one another of late. That said, Skyler has simply become a disagreeable character and, other than the scene where she charms her way into Walt’s condo in “Box Cutter,” I can’t think of anything she’s done this season that’s resonated with me. Even in this situation, her call for extreme detail and penchant to micromanage in order to feel in control is off-putting. Her script includes the line, “We want to tell you the whole story. It’s a doozy, so hold onto your hats,” and really shows how out of her depth she really is. Walt is barely able to feign interest but his vanity and huge ego rears its ugly head when he takes issue with the word choice, spitting, “This whole thing makes me look like crap. Where’s the ‘I slept with my boss’ bullet point? I can’t seem to find THAT anywhere,” once again reminding her of the reason for his current line of work, before apologizing to her but only in the context of the script which is a nice touch that’s fitting of Walt’s arrogance and stubbornness. The act then continues as the Whites’ with Walt Jr. in tow [3] arrive at Hank and Marie’s for dinner and we see a cleaned up Hank [4] make small talk before taking both Walt and Walt Jr. to take a look at his baby, the mineral collection where Walt essentially emasculates Hank through his vast chemistry background as Hank tries to attempts explain some basic facts about the collection himself. However, Hank (unwittingly) gains a measure of payback for his embarrassment after pulling out the file on Gale’s murder and popping in a DVD of the deceased chemist performing a bad karaoke version of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom.” The fear on Walt’s face as he realizes how his worlds are colliding is astonishing as the act (finally) concludes.

[3] Seriously… when’s the last time we’ve seen this kid this season? Have I mentioned him in these reviews at all? The baby’s been more visible so far, for crying out loud.
[4] Which is kind of jarring but maybe that was the intended effect.

Act Two
“Walter H. White. A man of hidden talents.”
At the dinner table, Skyler spins her intricately planned story about Walt’s gambling problem prompting Hank to utter the above quote. Conveniently enough, though, just as Skyler needs Walt to remember minute details about their lie, he’s rattled and completely preoccupied with what Hank has just shown him. Whereas his disinterest with the story was somewhat of the crux of the first act, his all-encompassing fear of being caught is what precludes him from paying full attention to it here. It’s an interesting shift. Quickly excusing himself from the dinner table, he sneaks back into Hank’s bedroom to frantically page through the file. He finds the lab notes binder that we saw at the end of “Box Cutter” but has to hastily put it away once Hank comes back to check on him. There’s a wonderfully awkward scene in the hallway as Hank offers an ear to Walt’s gambling problems – “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere,” while Walter selfishly reciprocates the gesture and, for the slightest instant, it appears that Hank may be onto him but that quickly passes. With the fact that all of this Heisenberg evidence has essentially been under Hank’s nose for the entirety of the series, is it worth wondering if Hank’s actually as good at his job as he’s portrayed? Or is that a little unfair? As it turns out, Hank’s operating theory is that Gale – not Walter – is Heisenberg and that’s an interesting wrinkle that I didn’t see coming. You almost have to wonder if Walt’s ego and vanity will allow him to let this pass, however. Hank almost seems resigned to the fact that his Heisenberg is now a lost cause as he laments that he’ll never get a chance to bring him in himself, making a nice reference to Popeye Doyle’s similar circumstance in The French Connection, but does make a passing mention that it shouldn’t be too hard to track down his killer. This, of course, leads to Jesse’s first appearance as Walt barges over to the Pinkman house to confront him over his sloppiness in carrying out the murder. This is the first time that he’s seen Jesse’s home in the “seventh circle of Hell” mode but Walt is too egomaniacally self-centered to care as he walks in to see a newly shaven-headed Jesse shaving some random stranger’s head on his staircase. The first and only thing on his mind is pressing Jesse [5] for every little detail about the shooting to make sure there aren’t any loose ends in what ends up as an incredible scene. Their mindsets are in perfect contrast – Walt wants every minute detail spelled out just as Jesse has done everything short of suicide to make himself forget. It’s masterfully played by both Paul and Bryan Cranston, and, I’m bordering on becoming a broken record of sorts, but if Paul doesn’t win an Emmy for this season [6] there’s really no justice in the world. Walt finally gets Jesse to concede that he forgot to remove the shell casings from Gale’s apartment before he pays one of the partygoers to forcibly remove Walt from the house.

[5] Who’s initially very nonchalant about being tracked down by the police, figuring that if they had anything of substance they would have gotten to him by now.
[6] And, Jesus… we’re only four episodes into the season. I can’t even imagine what else may be in store for Paul to play before it’s all said and done.

Act Three
“Yeah… you do have a little shit creek action happening.”
A couple of very interesting seeds are planted as the third act opens. First, in a scene between Hank and his detective friend from “Open House,” credit goes to the writing staff for reminding us that Hank is still aware of Jesse’s involvement in the sale of blue meth from the events of season three. It would therefore stand to reason that he could suspect Jesse of being involved in Gale’s murder, which opens the possibility that Hank could conceivably come back to Jesse at some point in the course of his investigation. Score a victory for continuity. Secondly, during a meeting between Walt and Saul [7], after expressing his frustration with Jesse’s mindstate (his vanity again coming to the fore as he exasperatedly wonders, “Why am I the only person capable of behaving in a professional manner?”), the car wash situation [8], Skyler, Mike, and pretty much everything else, Saul opens the door for what he calls a disappearing act. He mentions to Walt that he’s willing to provide him with the number for an individual that he’s worked with in the past who could erase Walt and his families’ identities for a large sum of money. He stresses that this is only a last resort type of move and is not to be taken lightly. Ultimately, Walt declines to take his card but this is clearly a possible season endgame. There’s almost no doubt that the conflict with Gus will come to a head at some point before this season ends – there’s too much tension for it not to – so this would seem to be a route that Walt could be returning to in the future. Otherwise, why introduce it now? The act closes with Jesse returning home from work to find a suitcase full of money missing from his dresser, responding to its loss with apathy and by playing some Xbox with some random chick in his house. Surely, this sloppiness is going to end up costing him, but how soon?

[7] And in a classic Bob Odenkirk levity moment he says of Hank’s possible pursuit of Jesse, “(He) goes after him how? On his Rascal scooter? That perhaps sounded insensitive.”
[8] Hey! Me too!

Act Four
“I know he and Walter come as a team and he won’t like it, but something has to be done.”
The final section of “Bullet Points” opens with Jesse being awakened unexpectedly by Mike, raising the question of how Mike ended up there? Was it through Tyrus’s surveillance or through Saul tattling after his meeting with Walt? Jesse learns that Mike has “invited (his) guests to leave,” and has tied up one of the partygoers for stealing the $78,000 that was in Jesse’s dresser that he seemed less than distraught to lose. After displaying extreme nonchalance with Mike’s actions and the implications of the thief’s fate (“Is this the part where I’m supposed to beg you not to do it?” is Jesse’s response), he trudges back up to bed while barely changing his expression, as a backlit Mike [9] at the bottom of Jesse’s stairway warns, “You’re on thin ice you little shithead. You know that?” Cutting next to a meeting between Mike and Gus [10], Mike describes Jesse as “increasingly uncautious” and seems to suggest a drastic course of action to Gus. Were this any other show, we’d know that nothing’s likely to happen to Jesse but here? I’m not convinced. Paul has been given such meaty work so far in the fourth season that it realistically could have been his goodbye, and that’s only a small measure of the greatness of the show showing such unconventional approaches to storytelling that killing off one of its leads is a truly realistic possibility. In the lab, Walt is becoming increasingly agitated at Jesse’s absence, so he abruptly leaves to tear into Jesse yet again about his “unprofessionalism” but finds Jesse’s house empty to his dismay, even more so once he calls Jesse’s cell phone only to hear the phone ring just feet away from where he’s standing. Knowing that something isn’t right, he returns to the lab and growls into the security camera, “Where is he?” The final image is of Mike and Jesse alone in a car driving into the middle of the New Mexico desert and Jesse’s clinical apathy leads to a final chilling exchange. Mike: “Wanna ask where we’re going?” Jesse: “Nope.” With as on point as Paul has been so far this season, we can only hope that this isn’t the beginning of the end for Jesse Pinkman.

[9] A very ominous visual, that.
[10] Which is the first time we’ve seen the chicken man since “Box Cutter,” adding to the gravity of this situation.

Overall Impressions: “Bullet Points” was on par with both “Box Cutter” and “Thirty-Eight Snub” as upper echelon episodes of Breaking Bad, and the fourth season is off to a rollicking, tension-filled start. Aaron Paul has been beyond phenomenal this season, turning in some of his best work yet in this episode. Selfishly, I don’t want to see him go if that’s indeed where the show is heading, but Vince Gilligan and his writing staff have been on such a roll in the last season and a half that I trust them implicitly. If Jesse’s exit is a necessary aspect of serving the story, then so be it. The abnormal structure of the episode, essentially sequestering Walt and Jesse from each other save the scene where Walt confronts him about the shooting was an interesting choice and only adds to the sense of Jesse’s impending doom. The wait for the next episode is going to be a long one after the way that this one ended.

Rating: 95/100 

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Written by jeremylikestv

August 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

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