Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Bug”

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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 fracture between Walter and Jesse that the Breaking Bad writers have been building to finally erupts, culminating in one of the most viscerally brutal scenes the show has ever featured. With that said, let’s see what we can pick up from “Bug.”

Teaser
This week’s teaser is completely wordless, containing only ominous shots of a broken pair of glasses, blood droplets on a hardwood floor, blood droplets on a pair of moccasins, and an unidentified individual reaching down to pick up the damaged glasses. Oh, shit. And the title card hits…

Act One
“God, man… don’t you have enough cancer already?”
Act one begins with the reveal that it was, in fact, Walter who we saw picking up the broken glasses in the teaser as he steps out of the Aztek and the camera focuses on the same moccasins that will be blood-stained, presumably by episode’s end. He’s at Hank and Marie’s to take Hank to a mineral show. Hank greets him with a, “Hey, buddy. You ready to get your rocks off?” to which Marie responds, “See, I knew it. ‘Mineral show’ is just guy code for strip club.” However, this is just cover for Walter and Hank to return to the Pollos Hermanos [1] to retrieve the GPS that they’d planted in “Hermanos,” while Tyrus keeps tabs on them. After returning home to check the results, Hank is shocked that they show that Gus has only gone to two different places in the past week: home and work. We know, however, that this is by design due to Walter’s admission to Gus of his role in the surveillance. “A guy this clean has to be dirty,” is Hank’s justification for continuing to watch Gus. As Walter leaves Hank’s house, he notices that Tyrus has been tailing them and in a bold, stupid move he drives right up to Tyrus’s car so that his own is parallel to Tyrus’s driver’s side and calls the police to “report a suspicious man” while Tyrus watches. Bryan Cranston naturally sells the hell out of the perverse joy that Walter gets in doing this, although the repercussions of this kind of brazen act are likely to be heavy. The next time we see Walter, he’s showing up for work at the lab and encounters Jesse outside after walking up and asking for a cigarette [2]. He makes some out-of-character small talk [3] but it soon becomes clear that he’s merely pumping Jesse for information after intercepting the text at the end of “Hermanos.” While he doesn’t immediately pick up on the subtext, Jesse is wise to the fact that Walter has an ulterior motive and reiterates that he will eventually go through with the plan to poison Gus as soon as he feels he has the opportunity. Walter is feeling apathetic about this, saying, “What does it matter? We’re both dead men anyway.” The “Walter Interacts With Various Cast Members” section of the episode concludes with a conversation between Walter and Skyler, where Walter can’t really be bothered to feign any interest in Skyler’s birthday plans for Walter Jr. He does become disgusted, however, when she reiterates her desire for him to come up with an “exit strategy.” “I’m working on it,” he responds as he eyes a GPS tracker just like the one he planted for Hank.

[1] Hank doing his own screwed up, inaccurate version of Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” = WIN.
[2] Jesse’s hilarious reaction: “God, man… don’t you have enough cancer already?”
[3] Apparently Jesse is an Ice Road Truckers fan. Who knew?

Act Two
“Who really cares what I think?”
Apparently Hank can’t get enough of the buddy cop action with Walter because he calls him needing a ride to a Los Pollos Hermanos distribution center that he believes is a holding location for Gus’s meth supply. Walter tries to beg off. “I won’t lie. You caught me somewhat… indisposed,” is his excuse to which Hank, as only Hank can, says, “What, like taking a dump ‘indisposed’?” Walter, thinking on his feet [4], claims explosive diarrhea from some “bad Tex-Mex” in an attempt to stall Hank from actually confirming his suspicions. Hank seems fine with this, expressing contrition for leaning on Walter as frequently as he has before telling Walter that he’ll try to find another ride. Realizing that this won’t do – getting someone else involved – Walter dissuades Hank from finding a replacement and gets him to agree to wait a day or so for him, pitching it as enjoying spending the time with Hank. He uses the opportunity to immediately call Mike to warn him of Hank’s intentions, only to have Mike abruptly hang up on him. Mike has taken the warning to heart, however, because the next thing we see is the distribution center being “cleaned” by Gus’s troops, this time including Jesse. Shifting back to the car wash of boring plot devices, Skyler has found an inventive new way to explain away the wash’s cash influx – she’s simply creating customers out of thin air, Cook County-style when suddenly her old boss with benefits, Ted Beneke arrives to inform her that he’s the subject of an upcoming IRS audit. He’s actually being investigated by the criminal division and is facing felony charges and it’s here that my radar starts going off. Beneke wants Skyler to help him by “un-cooking” his books to ward off the IRS, but any inquiries by the IRS into Skyler and, thus, the White family are big no-no’s. I’m flashing back to the information we saw from the teaser. By now, we know that Walter was involved in some type of violent altercation. Could it be that he takes care of the Ted problem, uh… permanently? Not only does it keep any kind of IRS inquiry at bay, but it also affords Walter the opportunity to exact some personal revenge [5] and seems to fit seamlessly with the majority of the season’s trajectory. Skyler voices her concern over her potential involvement in any investigation, causing Ted to dismissively say, “It’s the captain they’re after. Not some cashier at a car wash.” Oh… this guy is a goner for certain. Moving back to the warehouse, Jesse wants to know whether Gus intends to kill Hank realizing that he’s the reason for the cleanup session. Despite the fact that we know there’s no love lost between Jesse and Hank [6] it’s surprising to see him pitch the case to Mike for sparing Mr. Schrader but perhaps it proves once again that Jesse is more human than Walter at this point in the story. As Jesse and Mike move outside, out of nowhere the brain of one of Gus’s men is relocated to the side of a trailer by a sniper right in front of Jesse. Jesse appears in the sniper’s crosshairs as he stands, frozen in terror, until Mike snatches him away to safety. Score even more loyalty points for the Gus/Mike tandem there. The shots continue and Gus emerges from the trailer, walking straight into the line of fire with arms outstretched, each shot just barely missing him. The camera pans to a nearby hillside and we see the cartel negotiator give Gus a knowing look before packing away his rifle. The cartel can’t kill Gus, but they can certainly make it difficult for him to do his job.

[4] Or with his ass. One of the two, anyway.
[5] IFT.
[6] Hell… he called him a “douchebag” just last week.

Act Three
“And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my men again, you just go ahead and get two barrels.”
A phone rings and Gus answers it, telling the unseen person on the other end, “Tell them the answer is ‘yes.’” The assumption would be that this is the cartel he’s speaking with but, ‘yes’ to what exactly? ‘Yes’ to killing Walter? ‘Yes’ to giving up his operation? Either way, this is an answer that was difficult for Gus to relent to so it must be something big. Meanwhile, Mike (accompanied by Jesse) arrives at the lab with the body of the poor guy who got his head splattered against the side of a truck with instructions for Walter to dispose of it via the acid/barrel approach. Walter expresses his displeasure with the lab becoming a dumping ground for dead bodies and Mike takes the opportunity to display his disgust with Walter’s overall actions, particularly his decision to call the police on Tyrus. “And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my men again, you just go ahead and get two barrels.” Walt, in turn, gives Jesse a disgusted look. Outside, Jesse asks Mike what Gus was doing by “going all Terminator” in response to the sniper’s attack. Mike is as forthcoming as he can be, but instructs Jesse to pose any questions he has for Gus to Gus himself. Again, this is more evidence of the growing trust that Mike and Gus place in Jesse, one of the masterstrokes of the season thus far. We next move over to Ted Beneke’s IRS audit and the less that’s said about this scene, the better. It’s yet another in a growing list of ill-advised Skyler plotlines as she shows up at the audit and plays the role of bimbo accountant to persuade the auditor that Ted’s problems were due to ignorant help. Never mind that the auditors would likely look into her, rendering her act useless. The main takeaway here is that even though Skyler has gotten the auditors to reduce Ted’s penalties to a simple fine, he no longer has the means to pay it so it doesn’t appear that this storyline’s going away anytime soon. However, if this leads to Ted’s death at Walter’s hands as I’ve suspected… well, that’s another story. The third act’s final scene sees Jesse waiting outside a house that turns out to belong to one Gustavo Fring [7]. Jesse is there to discuss the concerns that he has as Mike suggested earlier at the lab. As Gus prepares dinner for the two of them, Jesse sees an opportunity to finally go through with Walter’s plan, but freezes and again can’t pull the trigger. Gus ultimately asks Jesse if he’s able to cook Walter’s formula, signaling that the endgame for Walter could be near. Jesse does not take kindly to this question, indignantly saying, “You wanna talk like men? Let’s talk like men. You kill Mr. White, you’re gonna have to kill me, too.” It’s the strongest signal yet where Jesse’s actual loyalty lies. Gus responds that that’s not what he asked and that circumstances with the cartel are “untenable” and that he needs Jesse’s help in “preventing an all-out war.” As I speculated, is that remedy Walter’s death? Or is Gus being forthcoming?

[7] A quick theory here: Is Gus gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I may be off, but we’ve never seen him with a family, he seems to live in his house alone, and there was definitely a possible subtext of an intimate relationship with the dead friend from the end of “Hermanos.” It’s just a thought to file away that may come up later, or I could be way off base.

Act Four
“Can you walk? Then get the fuck out of here and never come back.”
At the lab accompanied by Mike and Tyrus, a curious Jesse asks Walter whether he’s leaving for the day, presumably because he wants to debrief him on his dinner with Gus. Not wanting to have much to do with him, Walter does leave but not before retrieving the GPS tracker from Jesse’s car on the way out. As it turns out, this was the reason for the Ice Road Truckers small talk earlier – Walter needed the opportunity to discreetly place the tracker onto the car and it wasn’t merely to mine Jesse for information as I had speculated. He hurries home and, after checking the results, fumes when he realizes that Jesse has been to Gus’s house. At the same time, he receives a message from Jesse telling him that they need to meet immediately. As soon as he enters Jesse’s house it strikes me – THIS is where the open was drawn from [8]. Oh, God… is the going to be the end of Jesse? As the meeting begins, Jesse pitches the story that he received from Gus, terming it that “Word has come down that…” and Walter takes issue with the word choice, pressing Jesse with what he knows. Jesse fills him in on what happened at the distribution center, telling him that the ultimate decision is that the cartel wants half of Gus’s operation as well as Walter’s formula. Gus has decided that Jesse is to go to Mexico to teach the cartel chemists how to cook the formula, since Gus no longer trusts Walter. Jesse is terrified and is seeking guidance [9] but Walter wants to do nothing but address the elephant in the room – “So, you saw Gus?” Jesse denies but Walter continues to harp on the issue, at one point physically grabbing Jesse to reveal that he’s still in possession of the ricin-laden cigarette. Walter finally calls Jesse on being at Gus’s house and Jesse admits as much but says that he kept it from him because he didn’t know how Walter would react. Walter calls him a “lying little shit” and starts belittling him, telling him that he didn’t have the guts to go through with it. After slipping up and telling Jesse the exact amount of time that he was at Gus’s house, Jesse realizes that Walter was tracking him (which Walter confirms by showing him the GPS tracker). Jesse is incredulous at this. “Everything I’ve done for you and you put a bug [10] in MY car?!” Walter digs in a little further, telling Jesse that he’s essentially killed him before firing this brutal salvo: “You’ve signed my death warrant, and now you want advice? Alright, I’ll give you advice. Go to Mexico and screw up like I know you will and wind up in a barrel somewhere.” Jesse throws the GPS tracker at Walt’s head in response, triggering a brutal fight between the two men, neither holding back and each attempting to inflict as much damage on the other as possible. This has been what this entire season has been building to – the ultimate rupture of the Walter/Jesse relationship. It began last season with Walter’s insistence that Jesse murder Gale and has building to an eruption like this. It’s a visceral, primal fight between the two, Jesse at one point trips Walter so that he falls face down on a glass coffee table, allowing Jesse to launch punch after punch to Walter’s face on the ground. After delivering one final blow, Jesse backs off and allows Walter to regain his footing. He then asks him if he can walk and after Walter confirms that he can, Jesse fires off the episode’s final line: “Then get the fuck [11] out of here and never come back.” Wow.

[8] Kudos to the wife for pointing out that the hardwood floors matched the open. That detail slipped by me.
[9] In his Jesse way, saying, “What if all the equipment is in Mexican instead of English?”
[10] And boom… episode title.
[11] As Alan Sepinwall points out, AMC will occasionally allow Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad writers a special dispensation to use the f-bomb (with the audio dropped out, of course) but the show picking and choosing the spots in which it employs that tool makes it all the more powerful here. And boy… is it powerful.

Overall Thoughts: I almost don’t know what to say (which is ironic because we’re over 2,700 words in right now), other than wow. We’ve gotten the catharsis that the entire season has been building to and it resulted in one of the most brutal set-pieces the show has ever executed. The fight was simultaneously difficult to watch yet impossible to turn away from. It’s very difficult to see how the relationship between Walter and Jesse can be repaired – or if it even SHOULD be repaired – following “Bug’s” final scene, but that scene alone shows just how strongly Breaking Bad is firing right now and is a prime example of the power that expertly executed long-term storyline planning can have.

Rating: 94/100

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Written by jeremylikestv

September 27, 2011 at 11:09 am

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