Spoilers. Kevin McFarland reviews the fourth of Breaking Bad's final eight episodes, in which W.W. reassesses the values of the pieces on his game board.

Breaking Bad s05e12 review

"Rabid Dog"

I'm of two minds about the narrative progression within "Rabid Dog." After the show dramatically placed Hank and Walt in the Schrader garage together and put cards on the table in the midseason premiere, it accelerated a process I feared would tease out over all eight episodes. But since then, it's been a restrained war of attrition between Walt and Hank, with Marie, Skyler, Saul, and Jesse as bit players on either side. Instead of blowing the case wide open, Hank's epiphany caused a flashpoint, then a brick-by-brick buildup of tension. A screaming match over a baby here, a terse dinner meeting with awkward guacamole there, accruing big moves and powerful scenes that nevertheless slowed the progress of plot.

Don't get me wrong: this is all splitting hairs, as tonight is again a tense and engrossing hour of television just like the other three episodes so far along this back stretch. But the show gets caught between hurtling ahead and stomping on the brakes, tasked with catching up to the flash-forwards already teased and at the same time taking the right steps to justify drastic action. Those flash-forwards deliberately point to somewhere we will be going in the future, to underline the action of this final season with an endpoint, less mysterious but still similar to the cryptic second season cold opens. With every passing episode, Vince Gilligan and his staff gets closer to that future event, but without jumping too far ahead.

In the span of this one episode, "Rabid Dog" sets out to do two things rather quickly: prove that despite all of the terrible trauma Walt has caused to his partner, all of the emotional manipulation inflicted upon Jesse, that Walt truly does care for Jesse most of all. And second, that despite those emotions, grounded in shared experience, Walt can be pushed to the point of ordering Jesse's murder.

Breaking Bad strives to be an experimental show in visual style and narrative structure. Sam Caitlin, a longtime staff writer/producer, took his first turn in the director's chair for tonight's episode, and continued the show's obsession with odd camera perspectives. The low-angle shot in the cold open of Walt slowly opening his bedroom door was incredible. Not quite RoombaCam, "Crawl Space," or the shovel-cam shot, but indicative of the limits that episode directors push the expressive visual style. More ambitious is the choice, similar to episodes like "4 Days Out" and "Fly," to adopt a split structure, showing what occurs after Walt returns to his house, abandoned by Jesse after throwing the gasoline, then coming back around to the moment from Jesse's perspective to catch Hank's shocking intervention.

From Walt's perspective, this is another incident requiring an elaborate cover-up, this time an unbelievable story of a malfunctioning gas pump to explain the odorous fumes and prompt a move to a hotel. Once there, Skyler demands the truth—Walt seems incapable of lying to his wife anymore, indulging pomp and circumstance, obvious signs that he's covering something up. Skyler has steadily been imbibing more alcohol as her marriage descends further into a sham, but her drinks in the hotel start a line of questioning about Jesse's fate.

At first Skyler is indignant about a threat on her home—that Walt wasn't right about being the "one who knocks" all the time. But then, just like Saul, she pushes for Walt to retaliate with ultimate force, without ever saying what she means. (Credit Breaking Bad for jumping through the difficult hoops of keeping Walt, Skyler, and Saul from ever saying a definite word about killing Jesse.) It's the strongest moment of Lady Macbeth comparison so far for Anna Gunn's character, and she does it while confined to a bed holding a glass of liquor, reduced to a scared, bitter woman advocating for murder.

On Jesse's side of events, his plan to set the house ablaze comes from a drug-fueled confidence boost, but a gun-toting Hank interrupts, and convinces the "junkie" to come with him, after Jesse yells out some clearly inadmissible admissions about Walt's actions. After a cool down day and a detour to Marie's therapist—where she recites Wikipedia descriptions of untraceable poisons—Jesse reluctantly complies with Hank's wishes, anger and desire for vengeance overtaking his fear of Walt's retribution. Once again, Breaking Bad gets caught up in the excitement of the moment and the drama, with no moment spared for Jesse to seek legal protection. And lest anyone believe that Hank would get to be a true hero without shades of gray, he admits to Gomez—hell, he practically brags about the possibility—that he might be sending Jesse into a trap to meet with Walt wearing a wire, a requirement for Jesse to grasp leniency.

Like Jesse's actions with the gas can, this feels rash and rushed. Jesse sees no escape from Hank's house, the officer who assaulted him, without providing a statement. As the plot threads collide later in the episode, despite the advice of slimy legal counsel and an emotionally scarred wife, Walt views the Old Yeller option as anathema. And though Jesse's mind is full of vengeful thoughts, he's still skeptical about the DEA case against Walt, and rightly fears for what could be after him if word gets out he talked.

Walt has shown over the course of the series that he will resort to violence when he perceives a scenario in his mind—whether warranted or entirely fabricated—under which the only option is to eliminate. Krazy 8 had to die when he pilfered a sharp bit of a ceramic plate. Gale had to die because Walt was petty about his working conditions. And Walt's plan to take out Gus Fring came from cockroach-like self-preservations instincts. Mike is perhaps the perfect example of Walt's hubris and invented must-kill situations prove false—as Walt gasps after the fatal shot, he could've obtained the list of Mike's guys from Lydia.

What's most crushing about Walt's final line tonight—"I think I might have another job for your uncle."—is that a young man he took and molded into a bitter, hardened, hopeless burnout, but still cares deeply about as a partner and mentee, has fully transformed into a piece on the board that has outlived its use to Walter White. Walt just wants to meet and talk, believing that he can still control Jesse, command him by massaging the situation, and interact as partners and friends. It's foolish, arrogant, and completely oblivious to the possibility that Jesse's revelation would lead to a conversation with a wire.

But Jesse is too far gone into not trusting Walt while at the same time unable to control his well-founded fear, and makes the decision to walk away from the meet and use a payphone to throw his guilt and vengeance-fueled treachery in his former partner and mentor's face. That choice derives from yet another conveniently cultivated circumstance—a threatening looking man standing near Walt's bench, igniting Jesse's fears of a trap—and that's what tips the scales. If Jesse won't even meet with Walt, then he has all the ammunition he needs to craft a justification in his mind that Jesse has to go. Once a dog becomes uncontrollable—even a much-loved and trusted tangential member of the family—the list of options wears thin. Walt has self-interest to protect, and that means turning against the second son he's fought with and for over the course of almost 60 episodes. The cruel breakdown of that partnership might be the saddest pain Vince Gilligan and his staff have inflicted upon fans.

Read episode recaps for all episodes in this season in Boing Boing's Breaking Bad archives.

Extra Crystals:

Gomey being present to hear Jesse's recorded statement requires a bit more explanation, since now he's drawn into the web without so much as a warning from Hank about what's going on.

Hank is the only one to recognize just how much Walt's machinations with regard to Jesse point to a deep caring instead of hatred.

Next week's episode, "To'hajiilee" takes its name from the Navajo reservation to the west of Albuquerque.

RJ Mitte doesn't get much to do as Walt Jr., but his scene with Bryan Cranston by the hotel pool made me so sad. Walt knows Jesse better than his own son.