In last week's episode of Breaking Bad, Jesse asked Walter to "drop the whole concerned dad thing." Well, tonight's "Rabid Dog" found Walt still desperately clinging to the role. "Jesse! You show yourself right now!" screamed Walt as he stomped through the house like a parent with an unruly toddler. But Jesse didn't spill a glass of milk or fail to clean his room; he poured gasoline all over Walter's living room. (It's not immediately clear why he didn't drop a match into it.)
Breaking Bad's fifth season has been unusually heavy on callbacks to key moments from the show's history, and the title "Rabid Dog" deliberately hearkens back to "Problem Dog," in which Jesse disguised his emotional breakdown over killing Gale Boetticher by describing him as a "problem dog" — not sick, not vicious, just in Jesse's way — that he decided to put down.
"Rabid Dog" is the logical evolution of "Problem Dog": An animal, beloved as it may be, who poses enough of a threat to be killed. Walt spent "Rabid Dog" fighting Saul's Old Yeller metaphor before deciding — however reluctantly — to enlist Todd's help in dispatching his former ally.
But Walt needs to find Jesse first. The audacious structure of "Rabid Dog" spends the first half of the episode on Walt's increasingly desperate attempt to track Jesse down, before doubling back to reveal where he's been all along: In the Schrader house, taking "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" to its logical extreme as Hank browbeats him into a circumstantial video designed to tell the world who Walter White really is. But it isn't long before Jesse, whose intelligence is perennially underestimated, realizes that he has a lot more to offer Hank than Hank can offer him.
Over the past few weeks, it's been fascinating to watch Hank go through his own kind of mini-Heisenberg arc. It started with the premiere, when he hid the secret work he was doing from his wife, and it extends to "Rabid Dog," where his obsession with his end goal — in this case, taking Walt down — leads him to shrug off Jesse's life as an acceptable casualty in the larger battle he's fighting. Hank long ago supplanted Skyler as the moral center of Breaking Bad, so it's jarring when he dismisses Jesse as "the junkie murderer that's dribbling all over my bathroom floor." There's an element of that hoary old Nietzsche quote in play here: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster."
But maybe that's what it's going to take to bring Walter White down. Walt's battle with Gus Fring, which played out over the course of season four, was likened by many critics to a chess game. But the metaphor never quite fit; chess is a game where the King, whose fate decides the outcome of the game, is also the weakest on the board — and it was always clear that Gus was far more powerful than anyone else in his corner. But the chess metaphor is apt for the battle we're seeing between the Whites and the Schraders; while Walt and Hank make the limited moves their drastically weakened positions allow them to make, their wives — encumbered with the knowledge of Walt's crimes, but unable to do anything — are proving to be some of the most versatile pieces on the board.
Some Breaking Bad fans have routinely and vocally complained about Skyler and Marie (so much so that Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler, recently wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about it). But anyone who considers the time spent on Skyler and Marie to be wasted is missing out on two of the most compelling arcs that Breaking Bad has to offer. In "Rabid Dog," we finally meet Marie's long-discussed therapist Dave, who reminds her that she'd been upset about a change in the parking rules at work during their last session. How does a normal person — whose biggest problem, just a week earlier, was where they left their car — respond to something like Hank's discovery about Walt? In Marie's case, the answer is by getting ruthless. After suggesting that Walt kill himself in last week's episode, Marie describes the hours she's spent looking up untraceable poisons on the internet. "Don't worry. I won't hurt anybody," she says. "It just feels good to think about it."
And Skyler — well, she has moved far past the point of no return. Where Skyler once told Walt she wouldn't let her children live in a house where hurting people and killing people is shrugged off as "shit happens," she's now playing Lady Macbeth, urging the violence that he's not convinced he should commit. "We've come this far. For us," says Skyler, grimly echoing Walter's party line in between gulps of vodka. "What's one more?"
Last year's "Crystal Blue Persuasion" montage skipped from the 10 prison assassinations Walt ordered to his retirement, but it's become increasingly clear that we left him at the height of his power. Aside from the brief reemergence of Heisenberg at the end of the premiere and in his "confession" video, Walt has been way off his game this season, fumbling to cover his tracks even as he inadvertently leaves new ways he could be caught. Not even Walter Jr. believes his ridiculous lie about the gas pump, and his lie about meeting Saul couldn't be more transparent. "Saul? Goodman?" he asks innocently, as if Skyler would possibly be referring to some other Saul he might meet in a hotel parking lot in the middle of the night.
I've been thinking of Breaking Bad as Walt's story, but it's becoming clearer and clearer every week that there's much more at stake here than the life of Walter White. Murder, jail, cancer — whatever it is, he's finished. But as he said last year, there's gold in the streets, and someone is always going to be there to scoop it up.
And there is that one-time pawn who's making some major headway in accelerating Walt's decline: Jesse Pinkman, whose loyalty may well be the deciding factor in whether Walt or Hank comes out ahead in the small-scale battle they're waging in the midst of this larger war. "There's another way. A better way," says Jesse as he aborts the questionable mission that Hank sent him out on in the first place. "Mr. White is the devil," he warns Hank and Steve Gomez earlier in the episode. "He is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is going to happen, the exact reverse opposite is going to happen."
If only Jesse knew: Breaking Bad takes place in a rigidly moral universe — and based on the end of "Rabid Dog," it looks like Walt's luck may finally have run out.
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