Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Shotgun”

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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.)

I hate to use a tired cliché but just when you expect Breaking Bad  to zig, it zags instead. We’d been set up to expect the potential demise of Jesse Pinkman, but he’s instead given new purpose from an unlikely source. Just when Walt and Skyler have seemingly set into a business relationship, they’re back together in bed – literally. And just when it looked like Walt was free and clear from Hank’s Heisenberg investigation, he can’t help but put suspicion right back onto himself. On second thought… knowing what we know about Walt’s ego, perhaps that should have been exactly what we expected him to do. Let’s load up and take a closer look at “Shotgun.”

“I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about you and the kids and… I love you.”
I don’t know if this is true of past seasons of Breaking Bad, but one of the more entertaining elements of the fourth season is trying to determine where the episode’s title will fit into the episode itself. For example, did anyone really see “Box Cutter” coming? To that end, titling the season’s fifth episode “Shotgun” opens any wealth of possibilities and, right from the jump, action is clearly on the agenda. The very kinetic opening captures the mood perfectly as Walt is frantically weaving the Aztek in and out of traffic, presumably on his way to confront Gus in the wake of Jesse’s disappearance. He seems almost resigned to his fate, making arrangements with Saul and calling Skyler to tell her that he loves her and the kids while simultaneously placing his .38 on the passenger seat. And the title card hits..

Act One
“Gus Fring. Gustavo Fring. Your boss. Now. Please.”
Indeed it is Gus that Walt is on his way to confront as he pulls into the parking lot at Los Pollos Hermanos. He immediately confronts a cashier and demands to see Gus and the manner in which the actress playing the cashier responds makes you wonder whether she’s somehow a part of the drug operation or is just someone who’s annoyed that this seemingly unstable man has just demanded to see her boss. Either way, it was a nice character beat. After being informed that Gus is not present and not believing it, Walt sits down at a booth and immediately begins casing the place, noticing a security camera that’s almost identical to what’s been installed in the lab. Is Walt beginning to regret this play already? He begins to see every person in and entering the restaurant as a threat, most particularly three young Latino men as they enter and approach the counter but it soon becomes clear that they’re just customers. Nice little paranoia that’s transferred over to the audience. As he sits at the booth, he gets a call from Mike asking him what he’s doing there [1]. Walt responds by asking about Jesse’s well-being and is assured by Mike that he’s fine, even getting to speak with him himself. Mike’s exasperation with every little thing that Walt does while at the same time getting off on fucking with him is entertaining to watch, showing just how indispensable veteran actor Jonathan Banks has become to the series’ ensemble. It’s clear that Walt is not in control of this situation and it’s killing him. After hanging up, he barges his way with gun in pocket into the back of the restaurant to Gus’s office only to find it empty, raising his frustration level even higher. Back on the road, Mike and Jesse take a tension-filled drive off onto a side road and it again appears like we may be witnessing Jesse Pinkman’s final moments despite Mike’s assurances to the contrary during his conversation with Walt. Jesse finally begins to show signs of snapping out of his funk as this is occurring, questioning Mike on what’s happening while Mike plays very coy with his answers. Readying himself by gripping his keys in his hand in a weapon-like fashion, Jesse watches as Mike stops the car and fetches a shovel from the trunk with the ominous creaking of a dilapidated windmill as the only sound in the beautiful desert vista [2]. Right now I’m thinking, “Holy shit. They’re actually gonna kill Jesse. They’re actually gonna do it.”  Jesse exits the car and readies himself for death, only to have Mike pass right by him and begin digging for something in the dirt. He ultimately produces a bag and it becomes clear that this was a money drop by lower level dealers from Gus’s organization. This is an interesting twist because are they ultimately just using Jesse for the day only to kill him at the end of it? Are they lulling Jesse (and thereby the audience) into a false sense of security by allowing him to survive this only to fall prey to something else? As Jesse stands by, likely contemplating some of these same questions, Mike grumbles, “You coming? We gotta do this six more times today with a lot of miles in between. I’d like to finish before dark,” before they drive off to another drop.

[1] And I’ve gotta say that this is some kind of efficient operation that Gus is running if Mike’s aware of what’s going on within minutes of Walt entering the restaurant. That’s pretty damned impressive.
[2] Seriously, kudos yet again to series’ DP Michael Slovis. This scene is almost poetic in its visual beauty.

Act Two
“You are not the guy. You’re not capable of being the guy. I had a guy but now I don’t. You are not the guy.”
“This freakin’ guy. I tell you what. It’s like Scarface had sex with Mr. Rogers or something,” is Hank’s dismissive response to his detective pal, Tim, in handing over his findings on Gale’s murder case and determining that Gale himself was Heisenberg. When pressed for details on who could have been responsible for the murder, Hank responds that he feels that Badger or Jesse could be potential suspects though when pressed on whether either of them, particularly Jesse, could have actually pulled the trigger he says, “That… would surprise me.” He tells Tim that he feels like he has closure now and that he’s done with the case, though this can hardly be the end for this storyline, can it? It can’t possibly be, right? Meanwhile, Mike enters a filthy warehouse to pick up another drop, only to sigh exasperatedly when he sees Jesse standing outside the car in, as Jesse puts it, “a guard like capacity.” I’m pretty sure that if there was ever a spinoff to be made that portrayed Jesse and Mike in an Odd Couple-esque setting, I’d watch the hell out of that show. As they continue on their drop pickups, episode director Michelle MacLaren brings back her time-lapse style of shooting from “Thirty-Eight Snub” in a very nice stylistic touch to convey the boredom and tedium of Jesse’s and Mike’s task for the day, also making it clear that Mike is barely concealing his desire to want to kill Jesse while Jesse seems to be onto Gus’s motives: “It’s finally hitting me what the plan is here. It’s to bore me to death. Well, it’s working. Good job.” He also has the balls to compare his drug operation to Gus’s [3] while demanding a bigger role within Gus’s organization, leading Mike to bark the quote at the top of this section [4]. Back at the lab, Walt is struggling to complete the day’s cook on his own and this leads to more great work by MacLaren, who has a great eye for conveying emotion through her visuals. Walt is exhausted from doing a two-man job and is barely there as he heads to the signing for the deed to the car wash, which is actually par for the course when it comes to his enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the wash. After the papers are officially signed, Walt and Skyler debrief on their feelings now that the deal is complete and as they prepare for celebratory drinks Skyler plays the message that Walt left on the answering machine at the start of the episode. Perhaps in a weak moment, she misinterprets the context of what Walt said and they end up back in the bedroom doing what adults do in a bedroom.

[3] Which is the type of hubris that, in part, got Victor killed back in “Box Cutter.” Seems to be more evidence pointing toward Jesse being murdered at the end of this episode.
[4] Largely due to its masterful delivery by Banks, it might be one of the best lines in the series’ history.

Act Three
“This is a two-man job. I can’t do it alone. I’m done. That’s it. Finished. Nothing else happens until I get my partner back.”
Back with Skyler and Walter in bed making small talk about minutia like the sheets and her hair in the most awkward fashion possible, it becomes clear that this is something that maybe neither of them should have dived into so quickly. In short order, Walt Jr. comes home and Walt and Skyler just about crap themselves trying to figure out how to handle the situation and what they should tell him and, predictably, they blow it as Walt yells back from the bedroom that they’ll be out in a minute. Walt Jr.’s look of disgust at this revelation is rather humorous. Skyler immediately jumps the gun and invites Walt to move back in – “Just so it’s easier to explain to everyone. Don’t you think?” – yet Walt doesn’t seem too enthused by the idea. Is it just that he doesn’t want to put the family in danger or is it that his ego won’t allow him to come back after being humiliated [5]? Back at the lab, Walt is out of sorts again having to complete Jesse’s duties as well as his own [6] causing him to scream at the camera (and by extension Gus) that he needs Jesse back immediately. This is his power play, and he’s making it now. He also looks frighteningly like a petulant child. More time-lapse shots, this time outside the lab, to show how long it takes for Gus’s response to come to light and indeed Tyrus is sent instead of Jesse. Walt vents his frustration as Tyrus calmly and silently goes to the forklift and operates it perfectly. While Walt is obsessed with getting Jesse’s help, Jesse and Mike are on what looks to be their final drop pickup for the day as they pull into an ominous looking back alley. Jesse waits in the car as Mike enters the adjacent building and HOLY SHIT THEY’RE ACTUALLY GONNA DO THIS. As Jesse sits idly, the camera focuses on the back windshield of Mike’s car and we see another vehicle pull up perpendicularly to the alleyway. A figure holding a shotgun [7] emerges and, as soon as Jesse realizes this, he puts the car in reverse and slams into the other vehicle at the end of the alleyway and flies out into traffic [8] to escape. Just then, Mike exits the building looking less than surprised and is soon making a phone call for a pickup only to be greeted by Jesse returning in his car and offering an explanation for what happened. And is that a glimmer of pride on Mike’s face? It can’t be, can it?

[5] Remember “I.F.T.”? Walt does.
[6] Seems that contributing to a Nobel Prize in chemistry doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to operate a forklift.
[7] Boom. Episode title.
[8] Worth noting that no shots were ever fired? We’ll see.

Act Four
“Maybe he’s still out there.”
As the next day begins, Walt wakes up in his old home and ambles to the coffeemaker. Walt Jr. enters and tells his father that he’s glad to have him home and Walt responds in kind. But, surely, seeing his son drink from a Beneke Fabricators cup and being informed that Skyler has already set a moving in date for him is giving him second, third, and eighth thoughts about whether returning home is the wisest move. Escaping to the lab, he finds Jesse working as if the events of the previous day (from Walt’s perspective, anyway) had never happened. He soon clues Walt in on what he and Mike were doing all day but Walt is dumbfounded by the confidence that Gus displayed in Jesse (“What is this? Some kind of joke?”). This only serves to begin driving a bigger wedge between the two as Jesse responds angrily and tosses out that he needs to finish his lab tasks quickly since he’s meeting with Mike later that day. Back at Los Pollos Hermanos, Gus takes out the trash as a cover to meet with Mike in the alleyway. He offers confirmation that the idea for the “ambush” during the last drop was his as Mike remarks, “Just like you wanted. The kid’s a hero.” It appears that Mike is not necessarily enamored of the plan but he knows better than to question Gus’s motives. It’s an interesting angle for the writing staff to take but it again shows just how cunning Gus really is. He’s given Jesse agency in a small part of the operation and, in doing so, has begun causing a fracture between Jesse and Walt, not to mention that Gus has likely gained at the very least a small measure of loyalty from Jesse. His endgame isn’t quite clear yet [9], but Gus has again proven to be Walter’s intellectual equal at almost every step. In the episode’s closing sequence, the Whites are again at Hank and Marie’s home for a dinner get-together, only this time Walt seems to be indulging in a bit too much wine [10]. He quickly moves to the kitchen after tapping the bottle of wine on the table, not only to get a replacement but to escape his situation for a brief minute. Is family life becoming too boring for him now? He’s become used to the adrenaline of the drug game and maybe he feels he’s above the boring humdrum of everyday life. Knowing his ego, that’s entirely probable. And speaking of that ego, after returning to the table the discussion veers toward the Gale Boetticher murder case as Hank offers almost effusive praise of the departed Gale’s meth cooking skills. Surely enough, Walt’s massive vanity gets the better of him and he mentions in his drunken stupor that he feels that Gale was too ordinary to be an innovator and that the real Heisenberg is probably still out there, much to Skyler’s visible disgust. He’s essentially in the clear, but he can’t stomach allowing Gale to get the credit for his work. He’s sealing his own fate in a nice callback to the season opening “Box Cutter,” where Gale stumped for Walt’s hiring at the lab. In the final scene, a much more pleasant and upbeat Hank [11] looks through the Boetticher murder file one more time before wondering out loud what a vegan like Gale was doing with a number written on a napkin for Los Pollos Hermanos.

[9] And, in being true to the Gus character, there’s no way in hell that we should know what that is yet.
[10] But really, at this point, can you blame the guy? It’s amazing that he hasn’t gone Jesse’s route, to be completely honest.
[11] Who’s finally being respectful and downright human to Marie by apologizing for his mess and politely accepting of her offer of coffee.

Overall Thoughts: Just a cracking episode that sent three different character arcs rocketing off into interesting directions. Jesse has now been entrusted with a larger role in the Fring operation just when it seemed that they no longer had any use for him. Hank is getting back to being Hank and shaking off the depression and anger from his shooting. And Walt… oh the egomania of Walt may just prove to be his ultimate undoing. “Shotgun” also shines a glimmer of light into what, to this point, had been a very bleak [12] season. I’m really liking where we’re heading here as, over a third of the way into the season, we’re heading down some very intriguing paths that will likely pay off very, very well as the season starts wrapping to its conclusion.

[12] Not that that’s a bad thing. At all.

Rating: 93/100 


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