Last week, for the first time all season, Breaking Bad was rather dull. “Shotgun”, the fifth episode of Season Six, dragged its proverbial feet, spending a little time with Jesse (Aaron Paul) and his sudden allegiance with Mike (Jonathan Banks), on the orders of drug kingpin Gus (Giancarlo Esposito); as for Walt (Bryan Cranston), though, his biggest moment came when he smacked backs with Skyler (Anna Gunn). Other than that, Walt’s only other notable contribution was spoiling Hank’s (Dean Norris) pat-himself-on-the-back party for, at least in his mind, nabbing the ever-elusive Heisenberg; intoxicated off of several glasses of red wine, Walt pointed out to Hank that his latest investigation subject, the deceased Gale (David Costabile), was most likely working under someone even smarter and more dangerous; i.e. Walt, of course.
But it took the Breaking Bad braintrust nearly an hour to have Walt do something—wake Hank up to the case’s deeper truth—that he could have, and, yes, should have, done in the previous episode, “Open House”, which would have kicked the sixth season’s momentum into a much swifter pace. Much like last night’s follow-up episode, “Cornered”, did; after such an off, lackadaisical installment, “Cornered” felt like the writers put the season back on its track, setting the stage for a possible drug war, firmly establishing Gus’ plan to create a rift between Walt and Jesse, and washing away all of Skyler’s passive-aggressiveness and allowing her to finally see Walt’s darker side (a.k.a. Heisenberg) and, as a result, swipe his protective shield.
It’s fitting that “Cornered”, one of the season’s best episode so far, began just as Season Six’s top hour to date, “Bullet Points”, did: with breath in cold air and a Los Pollos Hermanos truck on the verge of gunfire.
The Particularly Cold Open: Fire Walls
Another problem with “Shotgun” was its rushed, uneventful pre-opening-credits sequence, an atypically forgettable cold open that set the episode’s subpar tone. “Cornered”, however, began in an opposite manner. Just like Mike at the beginning of “Bullet Points”, two of Gus’ anonymous goons are stationed inside one of the Los Pollos Hermanos vehicles, guarding buckets full of crystal meth product. They’re freezing their asses off, when the two armed men hear a ruckus going down outside, though they can’t see what’s happening. There’s a gunshot, and then a cloud of exhaust fumes begins floating throughout the truck’s back. Despite their efforts to breathe in clean air (shooting holes into the truck’s back door and desperately sucking in as much air as possible), Gus’ helpers die. The three guys who snacked on the truck driver's chips and fruit as Gus’ men croaked then take a bucket marked “Fry Batter,” which contains three pounds of product.
So what does this tell us? Besides the fact that Mike, who took out two of the rival gang’s shooters all by himself in a similar predicament, is the only true badass on Gus’ team, there’s a drug battle set to erupt. As we’ll find out later, Gus is prepared to sit down with the head of his competing Cartel; Mike, meanwhile, has a new confidante who’s able to handle himself in an especially sticky situation. But more on that later.
Back at the White residence, Walt wakes up with a mega hangover, and Skyler’s 21 Questions routine doesn’t exactly provide a cure. Walt’s drunken reasoning with Hank about his DEA agent of a brother-in-law’s continued pursuit of Heisenberg kept Skyler up all night; come morning, she’s completely figured Walt out. In her mind, Walt motivated Hank in hopes of leading to his own capture, as a way to get out of his currently problematic, and potentially fatal, lifestyle. The frantic voicemail he left at the start of “Shotgun”, telling Skyler that he loves her and the kids, cues her to believe that Walt fears for his life, and that he’s in danger of ending up like Gale bullet-in-the-head Boetticher.
Skyler tries to sympathize with Walt, pleading with him to let her know if he’s secretly living in fear that, at any given moment, he’s going to answer a knock at the door and catch a slug to the dome. This triggers Walt’s inner defense mechanism; he instantly switches from hungover and artificially indifferent to roaring and Heisenberg-esque. In a ferocious pitch, he informs Skyler that “I am the one who knocks.” And that, if someone were to kill him, “a business big enough to be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up” and “ceases to exist without me.”
Shortly thereafter, she is the one who bolts, with baby Holly in her car’s backseat. There will be no makeup sex for Mr. and Mrs. White this time, folks. She’s gotten her first real glimpse of Walt’s Heisenberg side, and she’s got some thinking to do. Nothing that a drive to the Four Corners Monument, which links Utah, Colorado, New Mexico (her present home-state), and Arizona, won’t fix; after flipping a coin twice, it lands on Colorado both times. She kicks the coin back onto New Mexico.
We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for Colorado tourist brochures in future episodes.
The Mid-High Point: The Methods Of A Meth-Head
Jesse, for his part, is most definitely keeping put. After his on-the-fly heroism in “Shotgun”, when he prevented a couple of armed thugs from robbing Mike and him during one of their money pick-up runs, Jesse is feeling quite good about himself. He’s not trying to hear Walt’s questioning of why Gus and Mike are suddenly so invested in Jesse’s potential; Walt suggests to Jesse that those thugs he disrupted were actually hired by Gus to make Jesse feel like he’s useful, which, in turn, would open the cracks between Jesse and Walt. Walt’s one-hundred percent correct, but Jesse’s too stubborn, and, most importantly, too emotionally fragile, to accept that he’s not actually a hero. So he storms off.
And right when he’s about to help Walt clean up the meth super-lab after a long day’s cook, Jesse is called onto another mission with Mike. Not one to take such an inconvenience lightly, Walt pays three Spanish-speaking laundry cleaners to tidy up the lab, even though they clearly show signs of not wanting to enter the lab; obviously, Gus and/or his minions have informed the women that the lab is off limits. Walt doesn’t care, though, kicking his feet, drinking coffee, and leering into the lab’s surveillance camera—at Gus, naturally—as the chicas scrub the place down. Immediately after they’re done, Gus’ latest grunt, Tyrus (Tray Campbell) shows up to put the women on a bus back to Honduras—they’ve seen too much. Walt tells Tyrus that Gus should blame him and not punish the muchachas; Tyrus lets Walt know that Gus already blames him.
Whereas Walt once again intentionally pisses Gus off, Jesse inches his way closer to their boss’ good side. The reason why he’s called away from the lab is to join Mike for a stakeout; Mike has learned of the whereabouts of that “Fry Batter” stash that was stolen from the Los Pollos Hermanos truck. To his knowledge, it’s inside a grungy house, along with the three dudes who jacked it; turns out, though, that opposing drug lord, or drug lords, sold the meth to a couple of completely tweaked junkies. Jesse, an on again/off again (well, he’s never really “off,” is he?) meth-head himself, knows just how to get into their house and retrieve Gus’ product. He’s not trying to sit around and practice Mike’s waiting game, “P.I.” bullshit.
Jesse’s first attempt finds him trying to buy some of “the blue stuff” from the junkies, but the very baked one, named Tucker, who answers the door shakily tells Jesse that they don’t sell to strangers. It’s Jesse’s second plan, though, that works out the best. He grabs a shovel from the trunk of Mike’s car, starts digging a hole in the junkies’ front lawn, lets a fascinated Tucker take over the hole-digging gig, and goes inside the house to “use the john.” The second meth-head, sporting Army fatigue pants and pointing a shotgun at Jesse’s face, tells Jesse that there’s not enough of the blue stuff left for him to partake; with the gun-toting guy distracted, Mike enters through a back door, makes some noise, draws the junkie’s attention, and Jesse whacks dude upside his head.
An impressed Mike looks at the Los Pollos Hermanos bucket’s lid and reads a message from the Cartel, written in Spanish: “Ready to talk?” If Breaking Bad’s trajectory stays on par with the strengths of “Cornered”, we’ll take that as, “Ready for war?”
The Even Colder Close: Junior Gets Screwed
Jesse and Mike grab a bite to eat at their favorite diner, in the wake of their druggie bust, when Gus steps in to sit down with Mike; Jesse steps outside to nervously puff on a cigarette. Mike pitches an idea to Gus: rather than talking to their enemies, they should hire about 10-15 more “operators” and fire back with bullets, not words. But Gus wants the war to “stay cold for now,” and orders Mike to arrange a formal meeting.
Outside, Gus compliments Jesse on the young buck’s tactics back at the meth house; Jesse, still visibly confused as to why he’s suddenly become Mike’s new road partner (and most trusted associate, after going against Gus’ wishes with his drug use and killing of Gale), asks Gus “Why me?” To which Gus replies, in his trademark calm-as-bath-water tone: “I like to think I see things in people.”
Skyler now sees a few things in Walt, too, though her reflections are no nowhere near as positive. Pulling back into her driveway after the Four Corners excursion, she notices the new tricked-out red muscle car that Walt bought for their son, Walt. Jr. (RJ Mitte), earlier in the episode. It’s the one thing that Junior has really wanted, so Walt, hoping to both provide for his son and distract the youngster from worrying about his parents’ bickering over daddy’s “gambling problem,” hooked Junior up with a sick new whip.
This isn’t the first time that Walt has foolishly spent a wad of cash with the noblest of intentions; in “Open House”, he copped a $300 bottle of champagne, much to Skyler’s frustration. As she sees it, buying expensive luxuries such as fancy bubbly and a showy car directly go against their plan to cover up Walt’s fattening, meth-cooking-generated finances. What will the neighbors think when they see a fancy new whip parked in the driveway? How about Hank and Marie (Betsy Brandt)? She commands Walt to return the car, even though doing so will crush poor Junior and once again make her look like the evil mother next to Walt’s saintly father in Junior’s eyes.
Skyler is OK with donning the villainous role in their household, because, as she puts it: “Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.” By taking Junior and Holly and relocating to Colorado (sans the new car), perhaps?
By the end of “Cornered,” Breaking Bad’s sixth season officially settled into its forward motion. Now that Gus has given Jesse words of encouragement in a face-to-face exchange, Jesse’s even less likely to hear Walt’s warnings against trusting their cold-blooded and methodical employer; the more Walt and Gus clash, the more Gus seems to be manipulating Jesse into rolling with Gus more so than his former meth-cooking partner. It’s only a matter of time before Hank starts investigating Gus’ operation, so, when that moment arrives, will Jesse’s more hands-on involvement with Gus’ out-of-lab dealings lead to Hank’s apprehension of Mr. Pinkman? Or will Jesse get swept up in an inevitable drug war as Walt helplessly watches from the sidelines?
And what about Mike? Should the similarities between Mike’s blue lunch cooler and the murdered Los Pollos Hermanos truck driver’s red cooler lead us to think that Mike is on a direct path to end up with a bullet-filled skull a la the trucker? A bit of abstract foreshadowing, if you will—something Breaking Bad does better than any other show on television.
Lastly, now that Walt and Skyler officially have the keys to the car wash, when the hell will the whole car wash subplot become the least bit interesting? Yes, it was a nice add-on to Skyler’s resilience towards Walt to hear former wash owner Bogdan (Marius Stan) emasculate Walt with, “I’m sure you can be tough [as the new boss]. If not, you can always call your wife.” But that whole sideline story needs Saul Goodman’s (Bob Odenkirk) presence, stat; frankly, there hasn’t been enough Saul Goodman in Season Six. What gives?