Vince Gilligan can’t give into Hollywood temptations soon enough. Prior to masterminding AMC’s Breaking Bad, Gilligan worked heavily on The X-Files; aside from those two TV credits, though, his resume is light. Well, no resume that includes both The X-Files and Breaking Bad could ever be deemed “light,” but Gilligan’s is still devoid of any big screen dabbling. And film’s darkest corners—the genres known as “thriller,” “horror,” and “noir”—are worse for it. The tension on Breaking Bad is so consistently thick, and the mounting dread so continuously pulsating, that the show rivals, if not trumps, the tautest of movies.
The fourth episode of Season Four, “Bullet Points,” is a crowning example. As we left Albuquerque’s shadiest teacher-turned-meth-cooker, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) at the end of last week’s episode, “Open House,” his Heisenberg cover was on the verge of being blown, with his wheelchair-ridden, DEA agent of a brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), cracking open the “Lab Notes” of one Gale Boetticher (David Costabile). Gale, of course, was Walt’s one-time competition, shot in the face by Walt’s volatile young partner, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), at the close of last season.
Now that Hank is a few Bigfoot-sized steps closer to catching Jesse and unraveling Heisenberg’s true identity (that of Walt), Walt’s already massive stress level is primed to enter Code: Red. By episode’s end, “red” would a dream.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
The Particularly Cold Open: “It’s A Doozy.”
So far this season, Mike (Jonathan Banks), the number two to maniacal overseer Gus’ (Giancarlo Esposito) top dog, has done little more than slug Walt in the face for daring to propose a murder plot against Gus. Lest any of us forget just how ruthless Mike can be, though, the opening sequence of “Bullet Points” served one major purpose: to remind us all that Mike is, and always will be, an enforcer, a confidante who’ll kill Gus’ enemies and detractors whenever necessary.
A cold guy by nature, Mike starts off the episode looking chillier in demeanor than ever before. He’s stationed in the refrigerated back section of a Los Pollos Hermanos truck, which, naturally, doubles as a shipment-mover for Gus’ illegal operations. A couple of machine-gun-toting goons, dispatched by one of Gus’ foes, light the truck up with bullets, the visage of holes giving the machine the impression of a four-wheeled mesh shirt. Thinking they’ve silenced whoever’s inside, the two anonymous errand men open the truck’s back doors, step foot into the mondo fridge, and are promptly thrown back onto the desert ground by slugs. Ever the reliable slayer, Mike walks out and reveals that half of his right ear has been blown off.
Without any dialogue, the episode’s opener tells us about where Mike’s head is at—if you somehow fuck with Gus, he’s going to kill your ass. The guy riding shotgun in Mike’s car at the end of “Bullet Points” is the one who most needs to understand that.
The Mid-High Point: “You Got Me.”
The consensus amongst Breaking Bad’s most cynical critics is that Skyler (Anna Gunn), Walt’s better half and recently self-appointed business partner, is a drag. She’s arguably received just as much screen time throughout Season Four as Jesse, and Skyler haters are up in arms. They certainly weren’t too pleased last night, then, either.
The time has come to fill Hank and Marie (Betsy Brandt) in on Walt and Skyler’s acquisition of the car wash, their lavish cover-up for all of the finances that Walt accrued through meth-cooking, and that Skyler has dished out to Marie for Hank’s medical bills. Skyler’s elaborate ruse to explain where they got the money to buy said car wash is officially in effect; she drags Walt to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting for research purposes, and the look of sheer boredom on Walt’s face is quite priceless.
That leads into an extended sequence in which Skyler, overbearingly, runs through the exact way she and Walt will tell Hank and Marie about his (fake) gambling addiction. It’s Skyler at her most domineering; she’s drafted the exact quotes that they’ll say, including the double use of “terribly,” meant to “show contrition.” Walt’s resentment of the plan starts to materialize, particularly how the whole gambling angle paints him in a negative, somewhat pathetic light; he doesn’t want Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) to think any less of him. But then Skyler connects with a devastating verbal jab: “For a failed teacher who cooks meth, I’d say you’re coming out pretty much ahead.”
And that’s Skyler’s importance to Breaking Bad: No matter how out of control Walt’s world gets, she’s the one who will set him straight. She’s his moral compass, which can’t be an easy role since Walt just recently revealed his drug-dealing hustles to her. For Skyler, Season Four is all about her desperate attempt to work with the law-breaking tools that Walt has given to her. Without his meth cash, they’re broke, and the only they’re going to avoid police investigations and highly possible jail time is for her to actively sell their bullshit cover. Just imagine how imperious you’d be if that was your unrequested burden.
He might not have requested it, but Hank’s new burden is, unlike Skyler’s, completely desired—he’s once again tasked with figuring out Heisenberg’s identity. Little does he know, though, that he’s about to discuss Heisenberg with the man himself.
Before Walt and Skyler tell Hank and Marie about the gambling nonsense over a hot meal, Hank shows off his random mineral collection to Junior; trying to sound pseudo-intellectual about what gives the minerals their coloring, smarty-pants Walt totally sons Hank’s knowledge by explaining the mineral’s exterior characteristic with the diction of an encyclopedia. As if the being bed-ridden and forced to move around via wheelchair weren’t emasculating enough for Hank, his urge to become Albuquerque’s foremost mineral expert gets dashed by Walt’s nonchalant intellect.
So how does Hank gain the leverage back? By providing Breaking Bad with some choice laughs, like only Hank can do. He whips a disc out of the “Lab Notes” materials, which already catches Walt’s curiosity, but once Walt sees what’s on the disc, it’s time to panic. As Hank (and we, the audience) laughs and Walt practically shits his pants, a mall-made video of Gale singing the geekiest piece of karaoke imaginable, while wearing an ascot, plays on Hank’s bedroom’s TV screen. Walt’s smart enough to realize that Hank now possesses the most damaging bit of evidence from Gale’s murder scene, the place that Jesse bolted from without the slightest amount of post-homicide clean-up. The spot where, as Hank casually tells Walt, the police uncovered a few fingerprints. And the residence of the dead man Hank (wrongly) believes to have been Heisenberg.
Bonus points for literature and film nerds. The scene between Walt and Hank cleverly worked in references to Walt Whitman and The French Connection, the former saving Walt's ass from further investigation and the latter glibly summarizing Hank's inability to directly nail Jesse and/or Heisenberg.
With the knowledge that prints have been discovered, Walt’s even more of a wreck. He confides in sleazy lawyer extraordinaire Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who drops the episode’s funniest line, in response to how those fingerprints put Hank within tinier striking distance from apprehending Jesse: “Goes after him how? On his Rascal Scooter?” In a rare display of compassion, though, Saul then offers an “endgame” solution for Walt’s suddenly out-of-control shit-storm of a life, the suggestion that Walt should take his family, skip town, assume new identities, and start anew. Is that how Breaking Bad will ultimately end, when Gilligan and company (supposedly) wrap things up at the end of Season Five? Foreshadowing, perhaps?
The Even Colder Close: “You’re On Thin Ice.”
But how will this all end for Jesse? If “Bullet Points” is a fair indication, not well at all. Interestingly enough, though, Jesse (with a fresh buzzcut), possibly the season’s most fragile character, seems to have the firmest grip on the current situation. When Walt enters Jesse’s “skid row” home, steps on a crack pipe, and comes face-to-face with his partner’s new hobo roommates, treats the fingerprint news like it’s end of the world; Jesse, however, reasons that he’d have been locked up already if they (read: Hank) had any sufficient evidence. Maybe the left-behind shell casing will take care of that?
And after one of his in-house junkie’s tries to steal a gym bag stuffed with $78,000, Jesse’s money gets returned by Mike and Gus’ new, silent henchman, Tyrus, who’ve tied the junkie up and put a bag over his head. Mike thinks the sight of a hogtied degenerate will instill fear into Jesse and lead to the young meth-chef’s straightening up, yet Jesse sees right through the tactic, citing how the bag-over-the-head touch is a clear giveaway that murder isn’t on Mike’s mind.
Mike’s not impressed by Jesse’s intuition, though. He briefly meets with Gus (seen for first time since the season’s gory premiere, “Box Cutter," to discuss the Pinkman dilemma, suggesting that something be done about the “liability” despite the fact that Walt won’t be the least bit happy. We then see Walt doing his thing in the superlab, minus Jesse. He races over to Jesse’s decrepit house and sees that Jesse’s nowhere to be found, and that his cell phone is inconveniently in his bedroom.
Cut to a desert highway, and a lone car cruising to an indistinct destination. Mike’s behind the wheel, and Jesse is seated in the passenger’s side, a rather discontent look on his mug. He inquires, “Can I ask where we’re going? To which Mike replies, bluntly, “No.”
The last time we saw Mike in the desert, he survived a barrage of bullets and blasted two gunmen away. Should we expect a killer repeat performance?
Midway into “Bullet Points,” there’s a short, seemingly throwaway moment where Walt and Jesse are at work inside the lab. Those surveillance cameras that Gus installed, and to which Walt flipped the bird at the beginning of “Open House,” follow Jesse around the room, but, as Walt smartly picks up on, the cameras aren’t paying any attention him. Why’s that? Because Gus’ all-seeing cameras can’t see all—Gus’ wall-mounted eyes in the sky only have the functionality to watch one person at a time in the lab. Who’s willing to bet that Walt uses this to his advantage in the near future?
And for Walt to utilize the cameras’ one-sided attention, he’s theoretically going to need Jesse’s presence in the lab. So maybe Mike isn’t about murk Jesse after all? The preview for next Sunday’s episode shows Mike lugging around a shovel, and hear Jesse ask if Mike’s going to toss him in a ditch. The days of Mike taking Jesse directly to rehab are long gone—as it seems, the only way Jesse will ever step foot inside the lab again is if he, not Mike, puts another man in a ditch. Place your bets.