Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Crawl Space”

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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.)

Dear. Sweet. Jesus. The wait until next week’s episode is going to be more painful than ever as the Breaking Bad writers seem to be playing “Can You Top This?” with their endings the past few weeks. And this one? Might be the winner. With that, let’s squeeze through and see what we can find in “Crawl Space.”

“This man pays my salary.”
A stark white operating room is being prepared carefully when, all of a sudden, the doctors and attendants rush outside to meet an oncoming car and it’s revealed that the operating room has been set up in a remote warehouse and the car that’s meeting them is carrying a gravely ill Gus and a severely wounded Mike. Both of them look close to death. The medical staff puts all of their energy and attention into Gus, leaving Jesse outside and angry about their lack of concern for Mike. After dragging a barely conscious Mike into the OR and yelling, “What about him?” in frustration to the staff, one of the doctors motions to Gus and says, “This man pays my salary.” And the title card hits…

Act One
“It ain’t all supermodels and speedboats, you know.”
Back in the world and away from the kinetics of Mexico, Walter weighs the day’s cook while trying to get something – anything – out of Tyrus about what’s been going on south of the border. He also takes the opportunity to reiterate, “If Pinkman is gone, I’m done. Do you understand? I quit.” Blatantly ignoring him, Tyrus steps in and re-weighs the haul himself, making a point to note that he arrived at a different weight than Walter did. As he leaves, Walter again tries to engage him in a plan to stall Hank from discovering any more about the operation, saying that he wants to be the one to go with Hank because he believes that he can control him the best. Tyrus again gives no response, his disgust with even having to be around Walter being plainly evident. Ray Campbell as Tyrus is great at conveying so much with a single facial response. Walter gets his wish, for now anyway, as the next time we see him he’s on a stakeout of the distribution center again as Hank’s driver. He pushes to go, trying to convince Hank that there’s nothing for them to see there, but Hank urges patience with the less glamorous aspects of police work. “It ain’t all supermodels and speedboats, you know,” he offers. He also drops some hints to Walter about “some big play down south” with “lots of bodies, apparently,” leaving Walter desperate for some more information and clarification about just whose “bodies” were left there. Hank either misreads this or intentionally steers the conversation elsewhere, offering his help and a sympathetic ear to Walter’s “gambling problem.” Walter, however, is having none of it. “I don’t want to talk about it, to you or anyone else. I’m done explaining myself.” Back at the operating room, Jesse is waiting impatiently to learn about Mike’s prognosis. The doctor in the room motions to a refrigerator and, after moving to it, Jesse notices that it is filled with Gus’s, Mike’s, and his own blood. The doctor then rattles of a detailed listing of information about Jesse’s medical history in a display of just how far-reaching Gus’s operation actually is [1]. Just then, Gus emerges from outside the OR tent and tells Jesse, “It’s time to go.” When Jesse asks about Mike, the doctor replies that it’s not safe for Mike to travel just yet and Gus assures him that he’ll send for Mike as soon as he’s able to be moved. Despite his weakened state, Gus tells Jesse that the travel back into the States is much more complicated than their exit was and that they’ll need to walk six miles to Texas before meeting one of Gus’s men, who will then take them back the rest of the way. He also compliments Jesse on his performance in Mexico and tells him that he proved a point – he’s now more than capable of running the lab by himself. Despite the brutal fight that ended “Bug,” Jesse yet again tries to ensure a safe exit for Walter by stopping in his tracks at Gus’s suggestion, saying, “Let Mr. White go. Pay him off or fire him. Don’t kill him.” Gus bristles at this. “You know that won’t work,” he says. Jesse’s reply? “Then you’ve got a problem.”

[1] It also raises an interesting logistical question, at least to me. Does Gus keep this doctor on retainer? Like, does he only do medical work when Gus needs him to? Does he not have a practice of his own? This might only be interesting to me and it’s a small matter to raise, but it struck me for some reason.

Act Two
Skyler returns home to find a message from Ted Beneke on her answering machine telling her that he isn’t going to be able to use the money that she gave him to pay off the IRS. He invites her over to discuss the matter further if she would like. Knowing what we know about Skyler, obviously she’s not going to let this go and indeed the next scene sees her heading over to Ted’s house to speak with him. As his doorbell rings, we see Ted innocuously trip over a throw rug. Foreshadowing? Or just an inconsequential detail? After exchanging pleasantries, Ted tells her that he’s decided that he’d like to pay her back because he doesn’t feel right about taking her money and paying his debt using “illicit gambling winnings.” He tells her he just feels uncomfortable and hopes that she understands. She doesn’t, of course, noting that the mess was created when he asked her to cook the company’s books and he tries to dress things up by hiding behind a desire to save his company and his employees. That Ted… such a martyr. He continues to act incredibly oblivious to the gravity of his situation by believing that the fine “doesn’t make his life any less ruined.” Skyler begins to pick up on a subtext to his reasoning, believing that he’s trying to shake her down for more money, and it’s not entirely clear if this is what he’s doing. He protests and hands her a check for the full amount (less the amount of his Mercedes lease, of course) but Skyler rips the check up and demands he write a new one made payable to the IRS. He again refuses and she leaves, frustrated. After returning to her car, her first move is to call Saul. Oh… this is going to end well. Gus and Jesse have arrived back in the US and one of Gus’s first stops is to the nursing home to meet with Tio Salamanca for a little (OK.. a lot) of gloating over his elimination of Don Eladio. Upon seeing Salamanca, he pulls Eladio’s necklace from his pocket and arrogantly dangles it in front of Salamanca’s face as an indication of what he’s done. As Salamanca grows more agitated, Gus tells them that he eliminated everyone, including Salamanca’s own grandson Joaquin. He then motions over to the doorway where Jesse’s standing saying, “That young man shot Joaquin to death while I made my escape. I believe you’ve met him before.” He continues twisting the knife by noting that Joaquin was the last of the Salamancas, so that once Tio finally expires, the family name will die with him. Upon this revelation, Salamanca gives Jesse the stare of death. Will this lead to Jesse questioning whether placing his loyalties in Gus’s hands was a smart move? Meanwhile, Hank and Walter are back out in the field where Walter is again trying to glean more information about the Mexico incident, wanting to know whether all of the victims were cartel members. Hank is unsure and brushes it off, instead noting to Walter that he’d like to check out a nearby industrial laundry [2] on a hunch. Walter is all but frantic at the suggestion, trying to convince Hank that it’s a stretch to assume that the laundry could serve as the front to a meth lab. He instead tries to steer them back towards the distribution center/chicken farm. “I just don’t want to miss anything, you know?” is his desperate plea as he begins to realize that he may have underestimated his brother-in-law. Hank declines and wants to keep heading to the laundry. Walter, left with no choice, drives right past the lab and, following Hank’s suggestion to head back, does a u-turn into oncoming traffic.

[2] Uh oh.

Act Three
“Wow… I feel sorry for your taste buds.”
We’re back with the aftermath of the accident that sees Walter with a busted nose and Hank in a neck collar, which he describes as only Hank can:  “You know, kind of feels like one of those cones they put on dogs so they don’t lick their own balls.” Walter tries to say that the other car came out of nowhere but Hank calls him on it, leading Marie to demand an end to the amateur crime-solving. Hank agrees and tells everyone that he broke down and bought a “gimp-mobile” because he doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone anymore. Skyler’s phone rings and she excuses herself to take the call. It’s Saul and, after doing some recon on Ted’s house, they agree to go ahead on some kind of plan with Saul assuring her, “It’s gonna be alright. I’ve got my A-team on it.” Smash cut to Ted’s house and we see Huell and the fake EPA inspector from earlier in the season in “Open House” make their way in to “discuss” matters with Ted. It soon becomes clear that the plan is to strongarm Ted into signing the check to the IRS. EPA Guy tells Ted that his number one goal should be keeping Huell happy. Ted tries to protest that he doesn’t have the necessary funds, but Saul has done his homework as his henchmen make Ted well aware that they know that he does have the money. Ted soon realizes that this has been put into motion by Skyler and he attempts to use his friendship with her to save himself while displaying disbelief that she would actually resort to these kinds of measures. Ultimately, their plan is to babysit him until the check to the IRS is cashed and Skyler’s (seemingly) in the clear, but Ted gets spooked and tries to make a break for it, tripping over the rug [3] and doing a header into the base of a table, seemingly breaking his neck. The last shot of the poor Mr. Beneke is of his hand twitching as he lies lifeless on the floor, Huell and EPA Guy just looking at each other and shrugging. So ultimately Ted did buy it, but not exactly how I had expected. Because of Hank’s hunch about the laundry, Walter is forced to sneak in so as to not call attention to his presence at the lab and Tyrus seems to take pleasure in transporting him in via a dirty laundry basket. “Does the laundry have to be dirty?” “Nope,” Tyrus replies. After entering the lab, Walter realizes that someone has cooked without him. Tyrus again shuts him down saying, “You’ve been out of commission four days. You think we’re gonna shut down the operation… for you?” Over at Jesse’s house, he’s apparently moved forward emotionally and is allowing himself to spend time with Andrea and Brock [4]. Suddenly, Walter knocks at the door and, upon realizing who is paying him a visit, Jesse’s face hardens. Walter tries to force his way in but Jesse kicks him outside. Walter, increasingly desperate, realizes that Jesse performed the cook on his own and tries to convince Jesse that Gus is using him to replace Walter. “If you agree to replace me, he WILL kill me,” he pleas. Jesse, well aware of the situation they’re in, reminds Walter that, “You brought your brother-in-law to our lab. What’s wrong with you?” As Walter begs for his help, Jesse reminds him that Walter was unwilling to help him in “Bug” and, in fact, wished death upon him in Mexico. He leaves Walter, alone, outside when suddenly, Tyrus and an associate appear to quickly subdue Walter with a cattle prod. Strap in… here we go.

[3] ‘Twas foreshadowing, indeed.
[4] Who he’s proving to be very good with. A substitute for his missing relationship with his younger brother, perhaps?

Act Four
After subduing him with a cattle prod, Tyrus and his associate have taken Walter to the desert where we see him – kneeling with a bag over his head, execution-style – in the middle of the desert. A car pulls up and Gus exits. As the hood is pulled off of Walter’s head, the screen goes white and slowly adjusts to mimic what Walter is seeing [5]. Gus then presents Walter with an ultimatum, showing just how much respect he’s gained for Jesse [6] by even entertaining the idea of leaving Walter alive. Their exchange is so good, and so visceral, that I must provide it in its entirety:

Gus: “You are done. Fired. Do not show your face at the laundry again. Stay away from Pinkman. Do not go near him. Ever. Are you listening to me?”
Walter: “Or else you’ll do what?”
Gus: “What did you say?”
Walter: “Stay away from Pinkman or else you’ll do what? Kill me? If you could kill me, I’d already be dead. But you can’t… you can’t kill me. Because Jesse wouldn’t cook for you if you did. That’s it, isn’t it? No matter how hard you try to turn him against me, to screw with his head so he would hate my guts and he still won’t let you do it.”
Gus: “For now. But he’ll come around. In the meantime, there’s the matter of your brother-in-law. He is a problem you promised to resolve. You have failed. Now it’s left to me to deal with him.”
Walter: “You can’t.”
Gus: “If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter. I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.”

And with that, he walks away and I am FLOORED. Giancarlo Esposito’s performance as Gustavo Fring this season has been nothing short of revelatory. The menace that he can find in what appears to be such an even-keeled character is masterful. It’s almost like you begin to forget how scary the man truly is and then he hits you with the hammer like this, or with the box cutter in the season opener. And Bryan Cranston… nothing else needs to be said. Walter just sits trembling and broken at the thought of Gus executing his family. The scene was incredibly played by both men. I can’t say enough about it [7]. Later, Saul is holding a meeting with his “A-team” to discuss their bungling of the Ted Beneke situation and Walter, as frantic as we’ve ever seen him, bursts in and Saul immediately thinks that he’s heard what happened to Ted. Walter soon makes it clear that he wants the number of the fixer that Saul had spoken of in “Bullet Points” [8] because of his fear that Gus is going to murder his entire family. Saul stresses that there’s no going back from this decision and that it won’t be cheap, but Walter doesn’t care. Before leaving, Walter gets Saul to agree to call in an anonymous tip to the DEA about Gus’s intentions toward Hank, saying, “My brother-in-law doesn’t deserve to die because of this.” He then rushes home to get the money, going into the crawl space of the house only to discover that the vast majority of the money is gone. Skyler returns home to see him scrambling as he screams, “Where is it? Where’s the rest? The money, Skyler… where is the rest? SKYLER… WHERE IS THE MONEY?!” She confesses that she gave it to Ted and Walter is in complete disbelief, so much so that he lets out a primal scream, and then devolves into sobs that soon turn into hysterical laughter. Skyler, rightly, looks on terrified at her husband’s mental breakdown. At the same time, their phone is ringing and after the answering machine picks up, we hear that it’s Marie leaving a message saying that the DEA has let them know that someone is after Hank (again). As Walter is still audibly laughing in the background, Skyler picks up the phone to tell Marie that everything is going to be alright and the camera pans back to Walter – still laughing – in the crawl space, the camera framing him in the dirt below the house, metaphorically placing him in a coffin. FUCKING. WOW.

[5] It’s the little touches like these that help to make Breaking Bad what it is.
[6] Or just that he’s a pragmatic businessman. Maybe a little of both, actually.
[7] Side note: Was Jesse actually there? When Walter is talking about Jesse wanting him to still be alive, there’s a figure in the background who’s seen out of focus that appears like it could be Jesse. Am I wrong?
[8] And that I’d speculated back then could be the season’s endgame.

Overall Thoughts: You want my thoughts? It should be a federal crime that the next episode isn’t available the minute that “Crawl Space” ended. As I mentioned in the open, it seems that the writers are trying to top one another with the way each of the recent spate of episodes have ended. The flashback to Gus’s past in “Hermanos.” The knockdown, drag-out fight between Jesse and Walter in “Bug.” Last week’s Mexican massacre in “Salud.” And now, quite possibly, the most tense sequence that Breaking Bad has ever put to film in “Crawl Space,” ending with the jarring image of Walter in a metaphorical coffin. What this writing staff has managed to pull off this season… it’s hard to quantify with words. Season three, to me, was one of the best overall seasons a television drama has ever had. Anything that followed it would likely have been a letdown. But, season four has been anything but a letdown and, in fact has managed to duplicate some of season three’s highs. Only two episodes left. I’m simultaneously anxious for, and dreading, the finale. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rating: 99/100 


Written by jeremylikestv

October 11, 2011 at 5:54 pm

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