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Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Before we get started, a little background is necessary: These Breaking Bad recaps are written immediately after watching the episodes on AMC, Sunday night first run. To understand what that’s like exactly, imagine having to recount a playground fight to a school principal seconds after the rotund, brass-knucks-rocking bully just pounded your head in for nearly 60 minutes straight. When Breaking Bad is at its best, it’s a cerebral exercise that plays a vicious game of pinball inside the viewer’s head, prompting excitement, intrigue, wide-eyed stares, and disbelief at just how brave and visceral the show truly is; last night’s episode, “Bug,” was a prime example. And now I feel like the beaten-down youngster picking up his bloodied glasses off of the playground’s cement ground.
So, naturally, thoughts are bit jumbled, and reactions are off the charts, so much so that it’s difficult to wrangle the sentiments up into a cohesive bundle, but it’s definitely worth a shot. First, though, let’s address an elephant in the room without actually awarding it too many peanuts: A rather big development took place in the Skyler (Anna Gunn) storyline, involving her old colleague Ted’s IRS debacle, and how her past decision to sign off on his now-audited tax returns has brought her into the guy’s whole financial mess. And, near the end of the episode, she looks at all of Walt’s (Bryan Cranston) money buried underneath her home and wonders if she could help get Ted out of his mess with said bread (or at least that’s the implication derived here). Which, of course, would be a terrible move on her part, and would only lead to further headaches for the woman and, even worse, Walt, a guy who certainly doesn’t need any more stress.
Now that we’ve touched upon Skyler (no Walt White), it’s time to move onto the good stuff. Much like Skyler’s involvement in Season Four on the large, this new IRS subplot is the least interesting part of “Bug,” an incredibly intense episode that begins with an ominous shot of an unseen man (who turns out to be Walt) picking up broken, red-smeared glasses as blood drips onto his suede Wallabees. It’s a cold open that lasts no more than a minute, yet it sets the tone beautifully: It’s about to be some shit in “Bug,” and, by that, Breaking Bad is ready for shit of the darkest, most unhappy kind. Let’s recount the episode in distinct strokes—“Bug” had three outstanding moments, so we’ll focus on those.
That bully is no longer in the vicinity, anyway.
"The Eye Of The Tiger," Karaoke Style
The first thing we see after the Breaking Bad title card are those suede Clarks, only now they’re spic-and-span, as well as back in the not-so-distant past. The kicks are Walt’s, and he’s picking brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) up for another one of their bug-tapping stops at Los Pollos Hermanos. Hank’s still focused on nabbing Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) as his almighty crystal meth dealer, a hunch that keeps growing in seriousness, and, thus, keeps scaring the hell out of Gus’ number one cook: Walt. Midway into “Bug,” Hank calls Walt to tell him about the warehouse that supplies all of Gus’ chicken, which is also where Walt’s lab resides.
Shortly after, as Jesse (Aaron Paul) scrubs away all of the fingerprints inside the warehouse, he states a case against Gus and Mike (Jonathan Banks) killing Hank, citing how it’d piss Walt off enough to make him stop cooking—a good show of loyalty toward Walt.
Hank’s barking up a rather dangerous tree, and it’s easy to side with Jesse in this instance—we don’t want to see Hank go, either. But, for us, the man needs to stay on Breaking Bad through its end-of-Season-Five series finale because Hank’s funny as hell, and, early in, he provides the only moment of genuine levity in “Bug.” In Walt’s car, on their way to Los Pollos Hermanos, Walt’s visibly tense; to lighten the mood, Hank assures Walt that what they’re doing isn’t a “spy movie,” but, rather, Rocky. And then he proceeds to goofily chant the beat of “Eye Of The Tiger,” leading into an even more goofily recitation of the song’s opening lyrics, providing a sorely needed laugh before the episode’s predominantly humorless and pulse-strangling tautness.
"That Terminator shit."
Last week’s episode, “Hermanos,” finally gave Breaking Bad heads a glimpse into Gus’ past, showing a softer and less confident man taking a meeting with Mexico’s Cartel bosses, alongside his chicken-cooking friend/partner. Oddly, “Hermanos” padded Gus’ character with unexpected sympathy; “Bug,” however, reminds us just how insanely badass he is, and why his possible Season Four road-to-fatality could ultimately rob television of its most fascinating villain.
At Gus’ farm, where product is moved and secret sit-downs happen, Jesse and an anonymous lackey are carrying the goods when a Cartel-issued snipers licks off shots and sends the anonymous lackey’s brains splattering all over a truck’s bed. Jesse, seeing the bloody graffiti and presumably defecating in his baggy jeans, freezes, and we see his deer-in-headlights expression through the sniper’s gun’s scope. Right as the sniper pulls the trigger, Mike tackles Jesse and saves the day. But then Gus, looking both possessed and hardcore as fuck, aggressively walks toward the sniper, with bullets bouncing off the dirt mere inches in front of him. He stops, throws his arms up in a “Come and get me” demeanor, and reasserts himself as Sunday night TV’s unbeatable badass (Eric Northman waved goodbye to that title somewhere near his fifteenth bad-romance-novel sex scene with Sookie this year).
The Cartel needs Gus alive, and for a big reason; if they kill him, they’ll never get what they want from him, and that’s more than money or his distribution network. They want Walt’s game-changing formula for the blue meth. And Gus, ready to appease his enemies, has a big idea on how to give them that.
"Can you walk?"
Throughout the bulk of Jesse’s newfound partnership with Mike, he’s been holding that poison-packed cigarette in his pocket, the instrument of death Walt’s been hoping Jesse would use on Gus, now that Jesse’s suddenly become a “trusted” associate of Gus’. Towards the end of “Bug,” Jesse gets the mother of all sit-downs, joining Gus for a home-cooked meal inside his plush home. Before Gus allows Jesse to ask any questions, he has one of his own: “Can you cook Walter’s product?” To which Jesse wigs out, standing up for both himself and Walt, thinking Gus is asking him if he’d be able to function if Gus kills Walt—precisely what the viewer is thinking at the moment.
But that’s not Gus’ intention at all. He’s asking Jesse the question because he needs the young chef to help “prevent another war.” He wants to send Jesse to Mexico to teach the Cartel’s cook how to whip up Walt’s recipe. An elaborate and surprising plan that Jesse explains to Walt inside the former’s house, frantically saying how word has “been passed down” about the scheme. All Walt hears, though, is that Jesse still hasn’t killed Gus, per their long-in-delay plan. And he knows that Jesse was at Gus’ house for exactly two hours and eight minutes because he bugged Jesse’s car. Jesse, stunned and steaming off the dome, counters with, “After all I’ve done for you?”
Including signing his older co-cook’s death warrant, says Walt, seconds before he initiates a physical altercation that’s harder than most UFC matches. Tables smash, skin tears, wounds leak blood—but none of that is worse than the damage that’s done to the once-fruitful allegiance between Walt and Jesse. The latter, hobbling around just as slowly as his equally battered houseguest, closes the episode with a chilling command: “Get the fuck out of here and never come back.”
So how convincingly brutal were the final moments of “Bug”? For a second there, it really seemed like Jesse was going to die at Walt’s hands, which would have been the biggest oh-shit TV moment imaginable; Breaking Bad has plenty of story left to tell before it’s over, yet, thanks to that brilliant last scene inside Jesse’s house, one of its main characters seemed seconds away from becoming a corpse. But the always toxic bond that’s been the core of Breaking Bad since its first episodes? That, however, is dead. And the final two episodes left in Season Four should detail the ramifications of the Walt/Jesse break-up-in-blood with hellish abandon.
Something tells me that bully is currently purchasing a brass boxing glove.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)