Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Face Off”

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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.)

Yeah… I realize that this episode aired a month and a half ago but, better late than never right? And wow. With a very literal bang, the fourth season of Breaking Bad comes to an end. Let’s ring the bell and take a closer look at “Face Off.”

Teaser
“Did you just bring a bomb into a hospital?!”
We open with the now standard kinetic score that’s been used to such great effect this season as Walter rushes from his perch across the street from the hospital and into the parking garage to remove the incriminating bomb from beneath Gus’s car. Smash cut to Walter walking through the hospital carrying the bomb in what appears to be… a women’s handbag?! [1] He finds Jesse and, sitting down next to him, tells him that Gus is on to them and demands to know whether Jesse slipped and let Gus know anything he wasn’t supposed to while Jesse is much more interested in what Walter is carrying. “Did you just bring a bomb into a hospital?!” he asks incredulously. Walter wants to know where Gus is going next, relying on Jesse’s knowledge of the Chicken Man. “If you can’t tell me, we’re dead,” he warns. As Jesse struggles to think of anything, a couple of Albuquerque’s finest arrive to take Jesse in for questioning due to his unique knowledge relating to Brock’s poisoning. Walter sits, helplessly, watching them take Jesse – and perhaps his own life – away. And the title card hits…

[1] Inspired choice, Mr. Gilligan.

Act One
“Hey… he’s a wordsmith.”
After being transported to the police station, Jesse asks the detectives whether he’s been placed under arrest, but they tell him that they just want to have a discussion about Brock. They’re especially curious about Jesse’s mention of the possibility of ricin poisoning, a fact that Jesse tries to paint as overblown by saying that he was just trying to look at all possible angles. When the detectives [2] (understandably) wonder why he went straight to something as exotic as ricin, Jesse tries to toss it away. “I must have seen it on House… or The Discovery Channel,” he says. He then throws out the threat of calling a lawyer, which the detectives try to steer him away from to no avail. “Saul Goodman. That’s my guy. So… do I gotta call him or do you?” he asks. Over at Saul’s office, the slimy Goodman isn’t there but his assistant HT [3] is shredding piles upon piles of (presumably) incriminating documents when all of a sudden someone begins loudly banging on the door, eventually breaking a window to gain entry. It turns out to be a desperate Walter, of course. He’s dead-set on getting in touch with Saul and is frustratingly dismissive of HT, which she adds to the lengthy list of gripes that she has against Walter. “You’re the reason I have to go on unemployment for God knows how long,” she throws at him, giving as good as she’s getting. When she complains about having to stick around the office until someone comes to fix the broken window, Walter tries to pay her off with $1,700 for repairs but HT has learned from her boss – for better or for worse – and instead shakes Walter down for much more. $18,300 more, to be exact. Walter becomes incredulous when he realizes what is happening (even more so when she ups it another $5K when he complains) but in his desperation agrees to go get the money. As he pulls up towards his house, he notices a strange vehicle occupying the driveway and grabs his binoculars for a closer look. Not wanting to go into the house himself, he calls a neighbor under the guise of Junior thinking he left the stove on and asks her to go in to check for him. We’re moving into a whole new ethical minefield with Walter here as he’s now showing that he’s not above putting an innocent in danger in order to protect himself [4]. As the elderly female neighbor enters the White home, I’m expecting a gunshot any second. Instead, two men are seen moving through the backyard and out a side gate, walking down the street and confirming Walter’s suspicions. His phone rings, and the neighbor is fine as she informs him that everything is OK in the house. Walter then goes through the back and down to the crawl space to retrieve HT’s blackmail money, but as he’s grabbing the stacks of cash the intruders return causing Walter to close the door and weasel his way out the back not a moment too soon as the intruders realize that someone else is present. Meanwhile, back at the police station, Jesse is trying to get some information about Brock out of the detectives and isn’t having much luck (“So how’s he doing? Yo, you could at least say instead of being a couple of dicks about it.”) when Saul finally arrives. After tactfully (or not so tactfully) getting the detectives to leave, Saul lets Jesse know that, “All I can say is that if I ever get anal polyps, I’ll know what to name them.” He also informs him that, despite the inconvenience, Jesse is actually safer in jail than he would be on the outside since Gus just tried to have Walter taken out in his own home [5]. In scouring for useful information, Jesse mentions Gus’s visits to Tio Salamanca at the retirement home and tells him to pass that nugget along to Walter. When Saul meets with Walter, Walter’s not sure how that helps him because he says he can’t just wait until Gus shows up at Casa Tranquillo again, but things change when Saul informs him that Gus and Tio have an adversarial relationship. Eventually showing up to pay Tio a visit, Walter tells him, “I know you despise me, and I know how badly you want to see me dead. But I’m willing to bet I know a man you hate even more. I’m offering you an opportunity for revenge.” Your move, Gus.

[2] Both of the detectives are realistically portrayed by guest stars Gonzalo Melendez and Jason Douglas. They could have taken their performances to a much more antagonistic place but instead they impressively kept their interactions conversational with Jesse. A much, much more effective choice.
[3] Not entirely sure what this character’s name is but since Saul has referred to her as HT (Honey Tits) let’s just go with it.
[4] Oh, hello foreshadowing.
[5] Saul’s oh-so-very-Saul warning? “Hey… you guys wanna go stick your wangs in a hornet’s nest, it’s a free country. But how come I always gotta get sloppy seconds?”

Act Two
“Well… at least this time he didn’t shit himself. That’s progress.”
Tio Salamanca sits alone in his room, ringing the bell that’s his lone form of audible communication. A nurse soon arrives, humiliatingly asking him, “Do you need to go poopy? Did you go poopy already?” Such an emasculating (yet poetically just) fate for an asshole like Salamanca. It soon becomes clear that the nursing staff has developed a communication system with Salamanca whereby he uses his bell to indicate letters on a chart, spelling out what he’s trying to say. When the nurse determines that he’s spelled out “NEED DEA,” she doesn’t get what he’s trying to tell her but Walter’s plan begins to come into focus. Walter himself is waiting in the retirement home’s parking lot when he gets a call from Junior asking when he’s finally going to arrive at Hank’s house. Walter stresses that no one is after him and there’s nothing to worry about, but Marie then gets on the phone and completely lays into Walter about his lack of concern for himself and, by extension, his family. We’re seeing that both Walter and Skyler are preoccupied with their own shit and that Marie is pissed at both of them. Meanwhile, Gomez shows up at the Schrader house and lets Hank know that Salamanca wants to speak, but he’ll only do so if Hank is present. Hank is intrigued by this, but is just as interested in why the laundry seems to need as much electrical service as they do [6]. Marie is against the idea of Hank speaking with Salamanca (as are Skyler and Junior) and puts her foot down on it. “It’s a ridiculous idea and there’s no way that you are going to do it.” Smash cut to Hank arriving at the DEA office [7]. The meeting with Salamanca is as tense as you would expect, as Mark Margolis as Salamanca is very impressive in conveying the silent agitation that Tio has for his enemies. Ultimately, he’s only there to take the piss out of Hank, spelling out “SUCK MY…” and “FUC…” before Hank dismissively tells him, “Yeah… we get it.” Salamanca leaves without spilling anything while Hank notes that he had been reluctant to talk in the past so no one should have expected anything different now. This begs the question though – what’s Walter’s play here? Turns out that Tyrus has been sitting outside monitoring the goings-on and he calls Gus to let him know that they may have a problem. Ah… genius. THIS is how Walter is going to draw Gus out of his metaphorical bunker.

[6] Hank’s also been trolling some electricians’ message boards online. “Freakin’ Internet… you can find anything on it these days,” he says.
[7] Brilliant transition by Gilligan.

Act Three
“What kind of man talks to the DEA? No man. No man at all.”
After stonewalling Hank and the rest of the DEA, Salamanca returns home to Casa Tranquillo with his nurse, who’s disgusted with his behavior. “You just sit there and think about how far that type of behavior’s going to take you. Not far, I tell you,” she warns. As she takes her leave, Walter emerges from the bathroom to assess the situation. Meanwhile, Tyrus pulls back into the parking lot and enters the building. It’s clear that he’s there to do some recon and, in a nice touch, he politely smiles at a female resident in the hallway on his way to Salamanca’s room so as to not invite suspicion. He enters Salamanca’s room, raising the question of whether he’s actually there to eliminate Tio permanently. Tyrus starts a sweep for bugs in the room, finding nothing. Suddenly, the resident in the next room starts saying hello to someone or something and we see that Walter is outside hiding from Tyrus alongside the building. Tyrus looks out but doesn’t spot Walter as the tension is cranked up to eleven. Back at the police station, Jesse is released from the holding cell after the tox screen on Brock comes back and there’s no trace of ricin in his system. “Surprised, aren’t you?” one of the detectives asks Jesse on his way out. After exiting the building, Jesse tries to get into contact with Andrea to check on Brock’s condition but he only gets her voicemail before being grabbed, tazed, and shoved into a van by an unknown party. The mystery doesn’t last long as Tyrus places a call to Gus to let him know that they have Jesse and that, in addition, the coast is clear at Casa Tranquillo. Although he says that he’s willing to kill Salamanca himself, Gus forcefully says, “No. I do this.” In his office, Gus begins changing his clothes in the now patented methodical Gus manner. He arrives at the retirement home, Gilligan shooting the action with a wide shot and accenting it with Latin-flavored music, like the kind you’d expect to hear in a Western standoff. Gus, completely steel-eyed, waits in the car for the go signal and shows once again just how downright scary he is. After getting the OK from Tyrus, Gus exits the car and makes his way toward the building’s entrance [8]. He makes his way to Salamanca’s room and Tyrus positions Salamanca so that he’s facing Gus. Gus slides a chair over – the feet of the chair scraping against the tile floor as it moves – and mutters, “What kind of man talks to the DEA? No man. No man at all,” showing his disgust at the thought that Salamanca has turned rat. He sits while Tyrus prepares some sort of syringe, all the while twisting the knife even further into Salamanca. “A crippled little rata. What a reputation to leave behind.” He takes the vial from Tyrus’s hands while asking Tio, “Is this how you want to be remembered? Last chance to look at me Hector.” And look at him he does, his face contorted into a hellish look of determination and hatred while he rings his bell. This time, however, the bell doesn’t ding but instead lets out a deadened sound and Gus realizes too late what’s happening as the room explodes. The blast flows out into the hallway and no one immediately emerges. After a few seconds, Gus walks out and adjusts his tie. The camera pans to his right side and it’s revealed that HALF OF HIS FUCKING FACE IS GONE and he collapses. FUCKING WOW! And although I’m saddened to see Esposito go, what an exit [9]. You couldn’t have asked for anything more as an actor and staying true to the Gus character – adjusting his tie even as most of his face was gone – was a beautiful last touch. We close with Walter waiting in his car in the parking lot of an airport hearing on a radio news bulletin about the explosion, the report stating that as many as three people were killed in the blast. Walter smiles and lets out a sigh of relief.

[8] Goddamn it… Giancarlo Esposito is straight KILLING it in this role.
[9] Pantheon moment in the series’ history for certain. And the makeup/CGI job on Esposito’s face looks not just a little reminiscent of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey “Two Face” Dent in The Dark Knight.

Act Four
“I won.”
Gus was behind the abduction of Jesse as a way to get him back to the lab, where Jesse is now cooking under duress while being watched by one of Gus’s goons [10]. The buzzer rings and, before going to check the door, the goon makes Jesse handcuff himself to one of the vats. Suddenly, Walter appears holding another one of Gus’s men at gunpoint, killing both guards. Jesse has a terrified look on his face, owing to his current status as a sitting duck and due to not knowing who’s behind the chaos. He soon realizes that it’s Walter that’s behind it all as Walter drops his gun on the floor and says, “Gus is dead. We’ve got work to do.” They proceed to systematically destroy the lab and, thus, any trace of their involvement in it [11]. They leave through the laundry and Jesse pulls a fire alarm while Walter warns the workers to leave as the lab goes up in flames. After departing the laundry (presumably for the last time), both men return to the hospital where Walter waits by his car on the building’s roof when Jesse arrives to let him know that Brock is going to pull through. A strange sense of relief comes over Walter, much more than you would expect in this situation and HOLYSHITWALTERPOISONEDBROCK. Jesse tells him that the doctors are still saying that it wasn’t the ricin but, instead, a flower known as the lily-of-the-valley whose berries are poisonous yet enticing to youngsters was the culprit. In light of this revelation, Jesse questions whether their just-executed plan was a necessary one. “So, Gus didn’t poison him after all. Still… he had to go, right?” he asks, looking for validation [12]. Walter’s response? “Damn right. Gus had to go.” Jesse excuses himself to retire back to Andrea and Brock but not before the two newly free men share a handshake. Left alone on the roof, Walter rubs his eyes beneath his glasses and takes out his phone to call Skyler. When she asks how he’s doing he says, “I’m doing quite well. I’m good.” She relays to him the news of Gus’s death, prompting this exchange:
“Do you know about this? Walt?”
“It’s over. We’re safe.”
“Was this you? What happened?”
“I won.”
Once those chilling words are spoken, Skyler looks simultaneously relieved and terrified. As “Black” from Danger Mouse’s excellent Rome album plays, Walter gets into his car and drives away, passing Gus’s car in the parking garage with a self-satisfied, smug look on his face. The camera moves back outside Walter’s house, taking its time and eventually focusing on a lily-of-the-valley plant sitting in Walter’s backyard [13]. Oh, it’s on now. It’s ON now.

[10] Sample threat: “You wanna try to cook with a broken arm?”
[11] The shot of the chemicals they dump washing over the dead bodies of Gus’s men on the floor is a nice touch.
[12] And showing yet again that Jesse isn’t nearly as cavalier when it comes to murder as Walter is.
[13] Alan Sepinwall points out that in “End Times” when Walter is sitting in his backyard spinning his revolver on the table, its muzzle eventually ends up pointing at the plant. That’s some damn subtle and awesome foreshadowing.

Overall Thoughts: Wow. What a season. Living up to the standard set by the revelatory third season was a near impossible task but damned if Vince Gilligan and everyone involved in Breaking Bad didn’t nail it. Let’s assess where the show sits right now. We have sixteen episodes left until the series ends. Whether AMC decides to split the remaining installments up into two mini-seasons or air them as a complete block has not yet been announced, but it’s clearer than ever that the showdown between Walter and Jesse in “Bug” was merely the appetizer for what’s to come. Gus is dead, but long live Gus. This is twice now that Walter has leveraged people that Jesse cares about (watching and doing nothing as Jane died in season two and now poisoning Brock with the lily-of-the-valley plant) as a means to get what he wanted. Between those incidents and putting his neighbor in harm’s way as a recon strategy in this episode, Walter has shown that he isn’t beneath using innocents with a willful disregard for their well-being to achieve his goals. In many ways, Walter has become Gus. He’s not as methodical and calm in his dealings but he’s just as evil, if not more so. And there’s still the Mike loose end to be tied up. We haven’t seen him since Gus and Jesse returned from Mexico but he’s still lurking out there and we know he hates Walter. Could he be Jesse’s ace-in-the-hole in the coming war with Walter and, believe me — there’s gonna be a war. I don’t see any way that the series doesn’t end with Jesse getting a definitive upper hand on Walter, but time will tell and the wait for season five next summer will certainly be a long one. However, if the past two seasons of Breaking Bad have taught us anything it’s that the wait will be well, well worth it.

Rating: 97/100 

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Written by jeremylikestv

November 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm

2 Responses

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  1. 1] Diaper bag. GREAT touch, VG.

    bonnyholder

    November 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm

  2. 4] Played by Vince Gillgan’s mother.

    bonnyholder

    November 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm


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