Are the characters on “Breaking Bad” losing their direction?
Important update: Matt Zoller Seitz has corrected the page to explain his long-shot theory of what's going on with Hank and Walt. He originally wrote "Gus" instead of "Walt", but clearly he meant Walt, and it's been corrected.
Second, I want to highlight the idea that Hank isn’t blissfully ignorant of the possibility that Walt is Heisenberg, but is in fact banking on it, and is trying to rope Walt via the law enforcement version of a long con.
I love the idea of Hank playing Inspector Porfiry Petrovich to Walt’s intellectually arrogant Raskolnikov. I wouldn’t put it past this show to set Hank up as a guy who habitually fails to see what’s right in front of him, only to reveal later that he was just playing dumb all along. “Breaking Bad” is filled with characters who do slightly mystifying things for reasons that are explained in detail later, after they’ve gotten what they wanted.
I think my point stands. I don't think Hank is onto Walt, because if he was, the logic of the show would break down completely. The point of Walter White is that he's the last guy on earth you'd expect to be running a meth lab. There's been very little indication from Hank that he thinks of drug dealers as anything but the scum of the earth, which makes the cognitive dissonance of assuming this about a beloved family member—who I may remind you, pays for Hank's physical therapy—too great a burden to bear.
I love reading Matt Zoller Seitz on "Breaking Bad", but sometimes I just have to strongly disagree with his unspoken assumptions on characterization. His recap of "Breaking Bad" this week describes many of the characters' choices as out-of-character, and he thinks that means there's another shoe that's about to drop. I disagree. One of my favorite things about "Breaking Bad" is that the writers actually understand the characters better than pretty much anyone in the audience, and thus the characters frequently make choices that violate your expectations, but when you think about it, they make perfect sense given what you know about the characters. In other words, they act like people in a way that TV characters often don't. (Even my beloved "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" had characters that were more hyper-real and perfect than real people are.) As surreal as the plots get on the show, the characters' very humanness keeps it grounded.
There are two choices Matt sees as out-of-character: Jesse's choice to blame Walt for Brock's poisoning, and Gus's (possible) choice to poison Brock to get the upper hand over Jesse. In fact, he's so skeptical that Gus would poison a child with ricin that he argues that it basically didn't happen, and that there's another explanation that will become clear in the last episode. I disagree. I think both choices make sense, given what we know about the characters. Let's take it one at a time.
1) With Jesse, I think the key to understanding how quickly he blamed Walt depends on a couple of factors. For one thing, the Walt we're seeing onscreen now has become more sympathetic than the Walt a few episodes ago. He had an emotional breakthrough regarding his son and his conscience is starting to creep back. He's remembered that he's a family man, and that should be more important than his own massive ego. But Jesse hasn't been witness to any of this, since they haven't been speaking. When Jesse last spoke to Walt, Walt was at a moral and emotional low point in his life. He had become quite naked with his willingness to manipulate Jesse, and for all Jesse has known, it's gotten worse. Jesse is acutely aware of how much of a control freak Walt is, and so, with a little added paranoia and emotional peaking, it's easy to see how he could leap to the conclusion that Walt would really go this far. Plus, as far as Jesse knows, Walt is the only person who knew about the ricin. I think Matt's hope that Brock isn't sick from ricin poisoning is a stretch; they went out of their way to make sure that Brock had the symptoms and treatment of someone suffering from that. The CDC has a breakdown of how ricin works, and you'll see that the show's portrayal of it is accurate. Remember, too, that Jesse thinks Walt called the DEA in on the plant, putting him in direct danger of being arrested and put away for roughly forever, which looks pretty vindictive from Jesse's point of view.
One more thing: Jesse is talked out of his belief that Walt did it fairly easily, which shows that he only half-believed it anyway. The show wasn't really arguing so much that "Jesse sincerely believed Walt did it" as they were arguing "Jesse got it in his head that Walt did it, because no one else knew about the ricin, but he couldn't really imagine Walt doing it, so he was talked out of it." Jesse demands that Walt admit it when he comes over to kill him. He wouldn't have done that if he was sure of Walt's guilt—if he got Gus in a corner, it's unlikely he would be raising the burden of proof to "allow" himself to shoot Gus.
2) Gus would kill a kid. I don't think that's disputable at this point. The cartel-killing episode was there to served a number of functions. One was to take the cartel out of the picture in the most entertaining way possible, but it was also to show that Gus is one crazy motherfucker. In case this wasn't obvious, the scene where Jesse has to fetch a bag of blood and sees one labeled for himself proves it, to Jesse, if to no one else. They've gone to great lengths to show that Gus is a childless bachelor who seems to have no real friends. He is purely invested in winning and will go to great lengths to beat anyone he sees in opposition to himself. He was willing to risk his own life to wipe out the Mexican drug cartel's leadership. You get the impression he gets off on manipulating these situations and people's assumptions. The other thing the cartel scene showed is Gus is has a firm hand with the poison himself. Remember: out of Walt and Gus, only one of them has successfully poisoned an enemy to death.
There was one detail with the cartel-poisoning sequence that struck me as interesting and not accidental, as well. It was the presence of the strippers and party girls at the party where everyone is poisoned. Now, if I recall correctly, all of them escaped with their lives. But the director went out of his way to show them fleeing the scene in terror, driving home the fact that they are basically innocents who happened to be there on a bad day. I think you're supposed to realize Gus put them in danger of poisoning, as well, and just got lucky he didn't have innocent blood on his hands.
Not that he would care, of course. Gus threatened to kill Walt's son and daughter, who are just as innocent as Brock. Does anyone here think he was just bluffing? I didn't think so.
I strongly agree with Matt here:
I want to highlight the idea that Hank isn’t blissfully ignorant of the possibility that
GusWalt is Heisenberg, but is in fact banking on it, and is trying to rope GusWalt in via the law enforcement version of a long con…..
I love the idea of Hank playing Inspector Porfiry Petrovich to
Gus'sWalt's intellectually arrogant Raskolnikov. I wouldn’t put it past this show to set Hank up as a guy who habitually fails to see what’s right in front of him, only to reveal later that he was just playing dumb all along. “Breaking Bad” is filled with characters who do slightly mystifying things for reasons that are explained in detail later, after they’ve gotten what they wanted.
It's a funny idea, but I think it's beyond dispute that Hank thinks Gus is Heisenberg. The German corporation thing doesn't change that. I think it's clear Hank's theory is that Gus is Heisenberg and that this German corporation is an investor in Gus's operation, which is close enough to the truth. The only thing that Hank doesn't see is the role Walt plays in all this. Matt has routinely complained about that aspect of it, because Walt is such a bad liar, but this is where I think the show's writers grasp its characters better than even the smartest members the audience. There's just no way that Hank would see Walt as a meth cook unless there was overwhelming evidence presented to him. The show has gone out of its way to show Hank as a really sharp guy with a good sense of intuition, but with one major blind spot: Hank sees people who deal drugs as The Other. He routinely calls them "scumbags" and other colorful nicknames, and doesn't regard them as fully human. As soon as he figured out that Gus was behind all this, he stopped seeing Gus as a person and started seeing him as a conniving scumbag. But Walt is his brother-in-law, and Hank's desire to be close to him is so overwhelmening that it blinds Hank to many other aspects of Walt's personality. For instance, Hank doesn't seem to grasp that Walt doesn't like him very much, because Walt sees him as a dipshit. Both Walt and Hank routinely under-estimate each other. Walt, I think, has come around to actually liking Hank more now that he sees how sharp Hank really is. Hank wanted to drag Walt on his spying missions because he misses the masculine camaraderie of working at the DEA, and is trying to replicate it with Walt. Everything about their relationship pushes Hank away from seeing the realities. But I don't think he'll be carrying the idiot ball forever. One of the best parts of this show is wondering what piece of evidence Hank will turn up that will make him see Walt for who he really is.
*Every time I give in and write a spoiler alert about something that's already aired, I seriously consider stopping this. It's just so condescending in its assumption that readers are literally too stupid to realize that if they are DVR-ing a show, it's on them not to read recaps that spoil it. It's treating your readers like children. Of course, YOU SPOILED IT people act like children with the temper tantrums, so perhaps it's an age-appropriate response to their ability to take personal responsibility to avoid spoilers instead of expect the entire world to avoid discussing a show because they haven't seen it yet.
I'm always a season behind on "True Blood". My response to this is to avoid spoilers by assuming anyone writing about an episode that has already aired is going to reveal plot points. I don't read their writing about a show I haven't seen and then scream "SPOILERS" in comments, like an idiot who grabbed the cookie and then yelled at you when it was discovered to have sugar in it.