Written by Matt Barone (@mbarone)

Prior to last night’s episode, “Open House,” the fourth season of AMC’s Breaking Bad has paid closer attention to the post-Gale-murk coping mechanisms of Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul), and for good reason. Now that Jesse’s conscience has replays of his killing an innocent man in cold blood on loop, he’s internalizing a flurry of emotions, none good, and treating his bachelor pad as home to a nonstop drug party. Walt, now fearing for his life after watching Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) slice open an underling’s throat without provocation, bought a gun at the beginning of last week’s episode, “Thirty-Eight Snub,” and pitched the idea of killing Gus to Gus’ humorless right-hand man Mike (Jonathan Banks), who promptly slugs Walt in the face.

Interestingly enough, the gender focus switches a bit for “Open House,” the third episode of Breaking Bad Season Four. Skyler (Anna Gunn), Walt’s ever-loving though recently love-less wife, has been hell-bent on buying the local car wash in hopes of masking Walt’s meth-cooking income with the façade of a lawful new husband-and-wife business venture. And Marie ( Betsy Brandt), Skyler’s sister and wife of bed-ridden DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris), continually acts affectionate towards her sidelined hubby despite his snarky rejections and heartless demeanor. In “Open House,” both ladies make power-moves in the direction of self-empowerment, though one turns out to be much more productive than the other.

But first, in director David Slade’s (Hard Candy, 30 Days Of Night) alternately menacing and comical episode (plenty of Bob Odenkirk’s scene-stealing Saul Goodman this time around), all eyes are on Walt.

The Particularly Cold Open: Keeping Tabs

Just in case anyone questioned the force of Mike’s swift right-hook, seen at the end of “Thirty-Eight Snub,” the mean black-and-blue eye-jammy on the left side of Walt’s face confirms that Big Mike isn’t one to be fucked with. The bruise crowding his mug, Walt strolls into Gus’ tricked-out meth lab, Walt’s and Jesse’s place of cooking operations, as “Open House” begins. Ready to go about his business, Walt notices a newly installed surveillance camera, one that follows his every move. Once he discovers a second cam, Walt, aware that Gus is now watching his every move and none too pleased about it, flips his middle finger at the camera.

Why the fresh, high-tech wall-spy? Obviously, Gus is taking no precautions. It seems more than possible that Mike revealed Walt’s half-assed plan to murder Gus directly to the powerful target himself, a dime-drop that’s strengthened later in “Open House” in a brief yet wonderfully tense moment, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Those walls that are already closing in on Jesse? They’re about to kiss each other.

Breaking Bad’s pre-title-card sequences are usually longer than last night’s opening scene; within its brevity, though, Walt’s lab detection conveyed a great deal. Gus might not have physically shown up at any point during the hour, following an equally unseen presence in “Thirty-Eight Snub,” but Esposito’s quietly maniacal drug-lord is an imposing force with or without any screen time. He’s the black cloud hanging over each of Season Four’s episodes; hopefully, we’ll see more of Esposito (who’s bound for an Emmy nomination if Gus’ killer instincts continue to manifest) in hours to come.

Walt certainly doesn’t feel the same, nor does Jesse, whose in-house junkie rave is getting so out of hand that his guests don’t even acknowledge his returning home after a hard night’s work (in the meth lab) and a self-distracting round of go-kart racing (anything to push his Gale-motivated depression further from his mind’s eye). Jesse’s role was lessened a bit last night, following heavy participation throughout “Thirty-Eight Snub,” but his few character moments worked quite well. As he asks Walt to join him for some go-kart laps, Jesse genuinely needs the company, and there’s a look of “Don’t let me be alone” in his eyes. Walt, unsurprisingly, declines the offer, robbing audiences of shots with a bruised-up Cranston cramped into a kid-sized, electronic automobile. Neither Jesse nor Walt opens up to the other about his respective problems, though Walt undoubtedly knows that Jesse’s slowly crumbling.

Noticing the purple war-wound that’s engulfing Walt’s left eye, Jesse offers a quick piece of wisdom: “Getting the shit kicked out of you…. You do get used to it.” It’s his version of compassion, as well as a pitiful white-flag-wave from a damaged man nearing the end of his rope. A guy who’s now a stranger in his own home, which has devolved into a domestic mosh pit, suburban orgy headquarters, and druggie-filled tomb. Just wait until Jesse finds out who’s reading Gale’s trusty “Lab Notes” book, too, found at the murder scene from which Jesse fled. Those walls that are already closing in? They’re about to kiss each other.

The Mid-High Point: Eyebrow Wrestling

Now, back to the estrogen. Marie, usually relegated to inconsequential status, figured prominently into “Open House”—the episode’s title is a direct reference to her storyline. Back in Breaking Bad’s Season One finale, she shoplifted a tiara flanked with diamonds for Skyler’s baby girl, which led to therapy for the kleptomaniac. Since Hank has spent Season Four berating Marie out of his own self-loathing, she’s coping in the only way her sticky-fingered self knows how: She’s reverting back to the klepto side.

Shoplifting is so boring, though; Marie has a bigger imagination than that. So big, in fact, that she gives herself three new identities in “Open House,” each a potential customer inside a real estate open house: the recently divorced Tori Costner (thinking of leaving Hank, Marie?), who jacks a porcelain doll of a boy on a pig; Charlotte Blackner, wife of an ex-astronaut who quit NASA at her request (fantasies of exerting power over Hank, Marie?), who steals a wall-mounted spoon; and Mimi, wife of an artist and mother of a bacterially infected daughter, not to mention taker of an elderly couple’s framed photo.

Marie gets caught red-handed, and sent to the local precinct; Hank uses his clout to get off scot-free, though it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen the last of Marie’s desperation to feel authorized.

Skyler, to her credit, no longer needs to feel that same sense of lacking purpose—she’s officially a tactical mastermind. In “Thirty-Eight Snub,” her plan to buy out Walt’s former, and now anti-Walt employer Bogdan’s car wash met with resistance; she offered Bogdan $879,000 for his establishment, to which he bumped the total up to $20 million, simply to spite Walt. Skyler spends the entirety of “Open House” devising a plan to wipe Bogdan out, though not in the Gus-and-his-box-cutter way. Skyler seeks the advice of good ol’ Saul, who stills has his plus-sized, and apparently bladder-challenged, bodyguard (name, as we learned last night, is Huell). At first, Saul recommends that she change up her goals and purchase a nail salon instead, since Bogdan wrestled her “into submission with his eyebrows” (easily the episode’s best line of dialogue).

Skyler doesn’t budge, and, near the episode’s end, she finds a way to exert some “attitude adjustment” upon Bogdan through Saul’s help—it should be noted, though, that the maneuver appears to be Skyler’s brainchild, not Saul’s. A health inspector (comedian Bill Burr) shows up on the car wash’s grounds to inform Bogdan that water seeping off of his property has been merging with contaminants, and that it’ll cost a whopping $200,000 to get a new filtration system. Until he rectifies the problem, the car wash has to shut down. Boggie, infuriated, demands that the inspector cite the exact laws which he’s breaking, and that’s where Skyler checks in. Seated in her car, out of sight and with her baby in the backseat, Skyler reads off the laws—verbatim from an official text—into her phone and directly into the Bluetooth fastened to the inspector’s ear.

Advantage: Skyler; shit’s creek: The Brow.

The Even Colder Close: The Devil Is In The Details

Having been pawned by Walt’s suddenly badass better-half, Bogdan calls Skyler to negotiate a fee; not content with her already effective plots, Skyler successfully talks the car wash’s Romanian owner down to $800,000. Walt, highly impressed, pops open a $320 bottle of champagne, which he and Skyler use to toast to her accomplishment. Only after she outwardly worries about the perception of an unemployed man buying an expensive bottle of bubbly for his equally broke wife. She ridiculously compares the purchase to Watergate, though Walt calms her down and they begin to “destroy the evidence,” i.e. drink up.

Unbeknownst to Walt, however, Gus’ newest goon, Tyrus, is parked outside of their house, watching the premises with the ill mean mug. Once again, Gus’ presence is felt without the viewer actually seeing Esposito. Walt’s entire life is now being tapped.

And it shouldn’t be long before Jesse’s world is similarly under the proverbial microscope. That’s because Hank, in all of his invalid glory, ends the episode with the first step towards an inevitable Jesse Pinkman investigation. After helping to clear Marie’s theft wrap, a police sergeant buddy of Hank’s pays a visit, leaving Gale’s “Lab Notes” evidence in Hank’s care, in hopes that Hank will take a look and provide some local-drug-world expertise.

As “Open House” ends, Hank’s in bed, flipping open the late Gale’s notebook, and it might as well be Pandora’s Box. Presumably, “Lab Notes” leads right back to both Walt and Jesse, two marked men who need another formidable enemy like Hank needs a bag of Fritos. How many times does he have to say “Cheetos,” dammit?

Final Thoughts

What’s a bigger waste of money: tossing dollar bills into the mouth of a fat-ass, passed out junkie’s mouth, or making it rain greenbacks atop a small army of barely functioning drug abusers, as they rifle for loose bills like zombies grab at intestines in a George A. Romero flick? Don’t expect Jesse to provide an answer, even though that cash would be better saved for future marathon psychiatry sessions.

Right along with Marie, another future padded room candidate. Imagine if she catches Hank watching any more of that lesbian porn.

Written by Matt Barone (@mbarone)

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