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'Breaking Bad': Hush, little baby, don't say a word ...

May 24, 2009 | 11:01 pm

212 “Breaking Bad” is becoming one of the most twisted love stories television has ever seen. It began with the premise of a dying man wanting to leave a nest egg for his family, which led him to use his chemistry knowledge for the unsavory purpose of cooking high-grade crystal methamphetamine for lots and lots of cash. But this was for family, and so we somehow understood, and maybe even loved him a little for it. The hook was intriguing enough for us to come along for the ride.

This ride, though, has now descended into the deepest of valleys, a place much darker than I think any of us ever anticipated. We’re talking about a show that opened its pilot episode with a man wearing only his underpants. And a gas mask. The “dark comedy” tag, it seemed way back then, would always remain more on the side of “comedy.”

And so much for that.

What’s happened this season has been at once surprising and sublime, and in television you do need one to achieve the other. There are too many channels, too many options, and so shows have to shock to stay relevant, to keep us from picking up the remote. And the cumulative shock of this second season of “Bad” has been the complete unpredictability of Walter White, played by the infallible Bryan Cranston. Walt has now morphed from that goofy middle-aged man in his underpants into someone we at times don’t even recognize anymore, a guy we’re no longer sure whether to love or to be frightened of. How else to describe a man who in one episode pours endless shots of tequila for his 16-year-old son, making him sick, and then in this episode cradles his new baby girl in his arms and gives her a peek at the stacks of cash he just netted from a major drug deal? "Daddy did that," he whispers. "Daddy did that for you."

Yes, he’s still willing to sacrifice anything for his family. But only for his family. So blinded is he by this intense love that he’s become far less aware — or moved — by the consequences of his actions outside of his own home. As long as his own house of cards is still standing, it doesn’t much matter to him if others in the neighborhood are falling down.

Case in point: Sunday night, and probably the most shocking scene of the series. …

First, a little back story: Walt has just shared a beer with a stranger in a bar. The stranger has a 26-year-old daughter, and Walt, being the proud papa of a baby girl, asks the man if he has any advice. “Just love them,” the stranger says, and then Walt’s mind turns to his business partner, Jesse (Aaron Paul). Jesse has been nothing but a detriment lately, strung out on both meth and heroin. His junkie state almost killed the drug deal that netted them a combined $1.2 million. Walt isn’t sure what to do about Jesse, whether he should even care about him.

“I’ve got this nephew,” he tells the man at the bar, then goes into the story of how this “nephew” keeps screwing up and how he wishes he’d just listen to him, because in this case, he really does know what’s best for the kid. “Family…” the stranger says, and in this moment, you see the contemplation on Walt’s face: Is Jesse now family? This is, of course, a huge line in the sand for Walt — if Jesse is family, Walt will do just about anything for him. If he isn’t, well, have a nice life. “Yeah,” Walt says, nodding his head, “family…” And so the side has been chosen. 

“Can’t give up on them, never,” the stranger then says. “What else is there?”

These simple words lead Walt back to Jesse’s apartment. He goes there wanting to do the right thing.

And then…

The scene: Walt finds Jesse and Jane lying in bed, so strung out that they’re practically comatose. Drug paraphernalia litters the bedside table. Jesse doesn’t respond.

And then it happens. Jane suddenly begins vomiting in her sleep. Only … at this point she’s lying flat on her back, and so she begins to choke on her own bile. Walt jumps up from Jesse’s side of the bed and goes to her, and this is where “Breaking Bad” again moves into jaw-dropping territory.

Because Walter White doesn’t do a thing. No, he just stands there, at first reaching out but then quickly pulling his hands back and allowing the girl to die.

And the question is why. Why didn’t he turn her over?

My best answer is that Walt believes that Jesse — and, by extension, himself — is better off without Jane. With her in the picture, he will only be brought down. And so he allows nature to run its course, does nothing to intervene. And so a man who came to this home with the intention of doing the right thing was actually so blinded again by this love of family, and this selfishness that then comes as a consequence, that he did absolutely nothing. Never mind that this girl may have had great things still left to accomplish in her own life, or that Jesse may have really loved her, or that she herself may have a father out there somewhere, just like him, who might be destroyed by the loss of her.

So long as Walt’s own house of cards still stood.

Walt realized the atrocity of his decision. He covered his mouth with his hand, horrified not only by the death of the girl but also by the monster that he’d become, and tried not to cry. A tear escaped anyway, a single tear.

And then you saw him contemplating. You saw him inwardly reasoning with himself, convincing himself that what just happened was somehow for the best. You saw him stiffen back up into the only thing he could allow himself to be: strong, and looking forward, only forward.

Fading to black in more ways than one, this horrifying sequence lasted about a minute and a half. It should be noted that Cranston’s White uttered not a single word and yet conveyed a complete range of emotions to us yet again with just his eyes and the look on his face. This was, more than any other moment this season, the stuff of Emmy gold.

Speaking of fine acting … : Kudos to both Krysten Ritter, the actress who embodied Jane, along with John de Lancie, who played the stranger at the bar who was also, of course, Jane’s dad. You only truly feel the tragedy of what happened in Sunday’s episode if you've come to feel for the characters who meet such dark fates, and in a short amount of time, Ritter and De Lancie both infused some true spirit into what was already great writing.

Ritter, who’s been in a few romantic comedies of late and was going to be part of a “Gossip Girl” spinoff that now appears to be on the back burner, came into this storyline and we fell in love with her character almost immediately, just as Jesse did. First there was the sweet holding-hands moment in front of the blank flat-screen, and then there was the even sweeter “Apology Girl” sketch that she slipped beneath Jesse’s door to say she was sorry. Jesse doesn’t get to smile much, and nor do we, and so these  moments were welcome reprieves.

Then the clouds rolled in, Jane turning back from a doorknob and instead walking back into Jesse’s room, choosing to end her 18-month sobriety in order to accompany her new boyfriend down a very dark road. Because we so cared for Jesse and Jane as a couple by this point, seeing this was tough to watch. But now we can clearly see that that was the very point of Jane’s character: to show us just how quickly and easily drugs can wither away a good soul.

The very end was horribly graphic, but if you’re going to have a series about drugs, you can’t just show the fun stuff — the cash, the close calls with the police, the meth-cooking set to a cool soundtrack. No, you have to see the other end of it too, the furthest extreme being that closing scene, a pretty young girl dying a very ugly death beside the boy she’d fallen for in so many ways.

As for De Lancie, what on earth might happen to his character next week? We only know that he’d agreed to pick Jane up first thing in the morning to whisk her away to rehab. My heart is already beginning to crack at the thought of what this father is now set to discover.

And how will we finally arrive at that teddy bear sequence that’s been teasing us all season? The clues peppered into numerous episodes seem to signify some type of explosion at Walt’s house that leaves us with the charred teddy bear in the pool along with two body bags in the driveway.

I want so badly to get to this next episode, the Season 2 finale, and yet I also don’t want this to end.

— Josh Gajewski

Photo courtesy of AMC

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