As if there weren’t enough on their minds already, Breaking Bad’s meth-cooking front-men Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) walked away from last week’s gruesome Season Four premiere with both the visual stain of drug-lord, and their cold-blooded boss, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) tearing his flunky Victor’s (Jeremiah Bitsui) throat open with a box cutter and an uneasy “We could be next” paranoia. So, naturally, last night’s episode, “Thirty-Eight Snub,” focused on the different ways that Walt and Jesse have decided to cope with their latest bouts against post-traumatic stress.

Perhaps looking to soften the tone a bit after the visceral intensity of “Box Cutter,” “Thirty-Eight Snub” writer George Mastras worked a few oddly humorous jokes into the AMC show’s latest episode, which, since we’re talking about Breaking Bad and all, was still darker than anything else on the tube last night (save for the news, of course). The humor came through Jesse’s storyline, but first, let’s check in with Walt and see how he’s holding up….

The Particularly Cold Open: Defensive End

So how’s Walt feeling after Victor’s unexpected slaughter? Not all that well, actually. As “Thirty-Eight Snub” opens, Walt is in the midst of purchasing a .38-caliber snub-nosed handgun from a shady weapons seller (Jim Beaver) inside a grungy-looking hotel room; note the smudges on the wall-sized mirror. The dealer’s name is Lawson, and, as it turns out, he’s an acquaintance of good old sleaze/lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk, who’s sadly absent from the episode, except for an entertaining TV commercial). To ensure that his product isn’t exactly street legal, Lawson rubs out the gun’s serial number.

Walt’s primary concern is to buy a pistol small enough that he’ll be able to conceal it inside his belt; as the sale commences, he’s visibly tense and slightly jumpy, which Lawson easily detects. Even though he’s about to make a quick buck, Lawson advises Walt against using any firearms if he’s not doing so for “defense.” Walt says that he is, and, if you think about it, he’s not lying. Yes, he’s only acquiring the gun so he can kill Gus and save his own ass, but, in his mind, the bulls-eye on his own back is just as big as the one he’s plastered on Gus. Lawson does his even-keeled best to dissuade Walt’s action, but Walt isn’t having that; he’s determined to walk out of the seedy room as a proud (and shook) pistol owner. And, as the first scene ends, that’s precisely what he’s done.

Before he exits, though, Walt learns the fine art of drawing a gun from a holster while sitting down; since the only way he’ll ever get in a room with Gus is through a closed-door business meeting, it’s crucial that he can whip out his piece (don’t even think about it, one-track-minded perverts) from a chair’s vantage point. The key is to have quick hands; Lawson warns Walt that if he’s “all fingers” a trigger-happy sit-down could result in the other guy’s successful “peace-keeping” experience, not Walt’s.

Come to find out, Walt has no plans to waste any time—he’s ready to confront Gus before “Thirty-Eight Snub” concludes. But first, it’s time to see how Jesse is coping.

The Mid-High Point: Left For Dead > Resident Evil

The answer: much better; that is, if you’re a junkie looking for an all-day-and-night house party complete with cocaine, a Roomba vacuum cleaner, tattooed girls in G-strings, and Flavor Flav’s solo rap jams. And if wallowing in regret and emotional terror is what you'd consider to be productive.

A mound of burnt-out cigarette butts on the living room floor of Jesse’s house says it all: He’s stressed the fuck out. Yet, he’s now masking his inner torment and mounting fears with expensive news electronic toys. For his extremely lame tastes in hip-hop music, Jesse has picked up a rather bitchin’ new surround sound system, made up of several 18-inch speakers capable of reaching 120 decibels and makeshift strobe-lights. The crib’s new interior design easily wins over Jesse’s recovering junkie friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones), who, despite their rehabilitation meetings, are peer pressured into snorting hard white powder with Jesse and debate the merits of zombie video games such as Resident Evil and Left For Dead).

When asked for his opinion on the matter, Jesse agrees with Badger for the sake of killing the argument; he’s got bigger, more alarming things on his mind, like the guilt that comes with discharging a bullet into an innocent man’s eye socket (to eliminate Gale, Walt and Jesse’s only cooking competition in Gus’ eyes). Nothing that more and more coke can’t fix, though, right?

Not to mention, a drugged-out bash that leads to upwards of twenty hung-over narcotics abusers sprawled out all over the floors and couches in Jesse’s house. Badger and Skinny Pete, both half-awake and partially sober, offer to clean the place up; Jesse, however, will have no such thing. He tells his pals to stock up on the alcohol and keep the party alive while he goes “to work.” Or, as Jesse puts it, “kickin’ harder than a sensei” when he returns.

 
The episode’s funniest line: 'You stickin’, or do I have to flip you over and check you for a sliz?' Gotta love those wigger snaps.
 

The more time spent partying with his degenerate friends, the less time Jesse has to think about Gale’s dead body, or Victor’s carved-up Adam’s apple, or his most recent love interest, fellow recovering druggie Andrea (Emily Rios) and her six-year-old son, Brock. Andrea steps into Season Four, and minimally disrupts the house jammy-jam, to ask Jesse about an envelope stuffed with money that appeared in her mailbox right after the two drug dealers who killed her brother were themselves found dead. Rather than tell Andrea that Walt offed the dealers (who were on Gus’ employee list, mind you), Jesse withholds any detailed information and informs Andrea that no one will bother her for the cash.

He wants her to move Brock to a better neighborhood, though he also acknowledges that she could spend it on meth. “But I gotta believe you won’t do that,” says Jesse. Will she, though? That’s yet another weight on Jesse’s mind. Quick, back into the debauchery-filled party! Must not dwell on all of this death and drug-influenced nightmares! Though, all parties must come to an end, at some point.

The Even Colder Close: Iron Mike’s Right Hook

Midway into “Thirty-Eight Snub,” we see Walt in his empty apartment, seated on a chair with an empty one inches in front of him, and practicing his quick-draw skills. Shortly after, he’s in the laboratory, where Victor’s replacement, Tyrus (Ray Campbell), coldly introduces himself; we first see him from Walt’s point-of-view, walking in through the lab’s second-floor and strolling across the fence-like above floor without saying anything, just like Gus entered the premises during “Box Cutter” minutes before massacring Victor, who’s arterial blood spray poured all over Walt and Jesse.

Walt, thinking Tyrus is actually Gus, tightens up, which Gus’ silent righthand man Mike (Jonathan Banks) notices; after Walt requests to see Gus, Mike drops the bomb: “You’re never gonna see him again.”

Then, Walt gets proactive. Parked outside of Gus’ swanky home, he puts on his trusty black hat (yet again becoming his more dangerous alter-ego, Heisenberg), cocks the pistol, and slowly creeps toward his boss’/target’s pad. But then his phone rings: “Go home, Walter.” Whether it’s Mike or Gus on the other line, the message is clear. Walt’s enemies are fully aware that he’s out to assassinate Gus.

Determined to meet face-to-face with Gus, Walt interrupts Mike’s quiet time inside a darkly-lit bar. He pulls up a seat next to Mike, buys him a drink, and proceeds to make amends. Walt’s main point is that Mike is now just as vulnerable as both he and Jesse; being that Mike was present for Victor’s death, as well, Gus’ message of “Work for me and live in fear” seemed as pertinent for Mikey Boy as it did for Sirs White and Pinkman. Mike, on the other hand, lets Walt know that he’s seen Walt’s new gun, and that it won’t do him any good.

Nevertheless, Walt asks for his silent drinking partner to arrange a private pow-wow with Gus; Mike, apparently not one for small talk nor entertaining his boss’ potential murder, snuffs Walt in the face and kicks the guy in his gut a couple times. And then he thanks Walt for the booze. What? He’s not a total savage.

Even though Mike knocked Walt flat on his ass, this great scene hints at Mike’s possible change of heart. As Walt reads him the Gus-will-kill-you-too riot act, the look on Mike’s face is one of annoyance, sure, but also one that implies he’s quietly considering Walt’s words. Earlier in the episode, we see Mike sipping on coffee, not alcohol, in the same bar; in between sips of Joe, he notices blood caked into his fingernail—Victor’s blood. The change from coffee to liquor signals that Mike, too, is freaking out internally over Gus’ actions. Could Walt’s eagerness to silence Gus for good appeal to Mike, even a little bit?

Hopefully for Jesse’s sake, Walt dumps lead into Gus’ head soon, because Mr. Pinkman is falling apart. Along with the rest of the party, Badger and Skinny Pete are finally ready to leave, resisting Jesse’s invitation to stick around, knock back more drugs, and inadvertently help him to not think about his life’s brewing shit-storm (though only we, the audience, are up on that last caveat). Jesse doesn’t take well to their exit strategies, slamming Pete with the episode’s funniest line: “You stickin’, or do I have to flip you over and check you for a sliz?” Gotta love those wigger snaps.

The episode’s chilling final shot is that of Jesse slumped on his living room floor, alone, the nondescript hip-hop beats still blasting through his pricey new speakers. With no one left for him to use as a distraction, he’s a wreck, trembling as if he’s just seen a ghost. If only he were so lucky.

Final Thoughts

So far, Breaking Bad’s fourth season has also demonstrated a contrast in womanly adjustment. The show’s two principal female characters, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Marie (Betsy Brandt), are pushing through domestic turmoil in starkly different ways. Skyler, Walt’s beleaguered and estranged wife, has accepted her son’s father’s newfound penchant for breaking the law, as well as conniving to get what he needs/wants. Last week, Skyler used their infant daughter as a guilt-chip to convince a locksmith to open the front door of Walt’s apartment; the scene was brief, and overshadowed by the brutality displayed elsewhere throughout the episode, but it was effective in how it showed that Skyler’s no longer a passive-aggressive victim of Walt’s lies. Two can play that game.

In “Thirty-Eight Snub,” she takes a hands-on approach to facilitate hers and Walt’s goal of buying the local car wash in which Walt worked early into Season One. Hilariously, he grabbed his crotch while quitting in a show display of “Fuck the man” defiance—Bogdan, the venue’s owner, hasn’t forgotten about that. Even as Skyler hits him with a meticulously researched series of figures about the joint, which she drops upon Bogdan in hopes of talking his $10 million sales offer down to her desired amount ($879,000), the proprietor with the horrendous eyebrows ups the total to $20 mil solely because of Walt’s past actions, and because he’s not man enough to meet with Bogdan himself. The car wash plans are now in jeopardy—don’t be surprised if Skyler jumps Bogdan in the parking lot in weeks to come. She’s certainly heading down that path.

Skyler’s sister, Marie, meanwhile, would most likely pay to watch Skyler lump up her husband, Hank (Dean Norris). Now a bedridden invalid, after last season’s bullet-packed encounter with the twin assassins, Hank shows more affection to his online-bought mineral collection than he does toward Marie, who’s as loving and sympathetic as ever. Pain continues to cover her face; just watch Marie’s heart shatter and brain melt as Hank follows up a profound breakthrough with his physical instructor, which Marie applauds and offers to reward with freshly cooked dinner, with a simple, frosty-hearted “Leave me alone.”

Like every other major Breaking Bad character this season, Marie is heading straight for a boiling point. The best part about it: We still have eleven episodes left. Plenty of time for spontaneous, and calamitous, eruptions.