'Breaking Bad': Run
"Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan has often discussed his idea of transforming a Mr. Chips into a Scarface, and on Sunday night we may have officially arrived at the end of that journey. On this latest and epic episode of "Bad," Walter White (Bryan Cranston) continued to play the part of Mr. Chips for most of the show, trying his best to remain nice and civilized about things. And then -- forget it.
One minute he was having dinner with his family, and the next he was barreling into a couple of men with his car, one of them falling beneath and the other flying up over the top of it. And the man who emerged from inside of that Pontiac Aztec -- Walter -- was certainly Mr. Chips no more. No, this was a guy without hesitation, without conscience. This was a guy who rushed right over to the lone survivor, grabbed his gun and then shot him right through the skull.
We'd seen Walt kill before, but this was different. Before, the look on his face was that of regret or horror, or a certain sadness. On this night, though, there was only a cold stare and a single word. "Run," he said to his stunned partner, Jesse. And that was that. Cut. Black. Credits.
We now have one week to catch our breath and then the season finale. It's hard to imagine things getting any more brutal than this, but consider the circumstances: Walt has just killed two trusted employees of the bad, bad Mr. Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), whose main instruction during this episode was to keep the peace.
And then, consider these words: "I will tell you this," Aaron Paul, who played Jesse, told me during an interview a few weeks ago. "Episode 12 [Sunday's episode] definitely could have been the finale and it would have been insane, but then there's another episode where they just ... " -- here he laughed -- " ... they take it to such a different level, you're just like, 'Wow.' " And here he laughed again, a mischievous laugh that seemed to say, "You just wait."
Is it possible for this story to get any better? We'll see.
Sunday's ending did seem like a significant step in Walter's transformation. Even Cranston has said in numerous interviews that he envisions Walt ultimately becoming a ruthless, bloodthirsty man. But Sunday's episode seemed to make a pointed effort to show us one last stand from Mr. Nice Guy before darkness fell. Titled "Half Measures," it showed Walt taking the middle ground in so many situations, the same middle ground he'd lived on for the better part of this series. Here, he negotiated with his (sort-of) wife for more family time, he had no issue with his son driving with a foot on each pedal, so long as he got safely from Point A to Point B, and he implored Jesse to ignore his notion of revenge. "You are not a murderer. I am not, and you are not," he said. "It's as simple as that." And during all of this, he even found time to watch some "Jeopardy!" Well then ...
Who is Walter White?
Answer: the man we saw in the end.
That final camera shot -- the quick zoom-in on Walt, looking up at him as he uttered that one word, "Run," to Jesse -- seemed significant in and of itself. I was pretty sure I'd seen that kind of zoom-in in a previous gangster tale or two, and the steadiness of the shot just felt so different from what we usually got on "Bad," which was often a camera that was just a tad unsteady and a bit farther away, like the shot of "The Cleaner," Mike, when he got up from the couch at the end of that amazing monologue that gave the episode its name. "No more half measures," he said, and it should be noted that in a season full of captivating monologues, that one by actor Jonathan Banks was unquestionably among the very best. Whenever Banks is on screen, there are always fireworks.
-- It wouldn't be "Breaking Bad" without a little levity somewhere in the midst of the darkness, and for that we turn to Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt). Since Hank was feeling sorry for himself and refusing to leave the hospital, Marie decided to prod the big lug. "If I can get the groundhog to see his shadow," she said, her hand down south, "we check out of here." The bet was on, Hank a non-believer. And did you catch how long he gave her? "You got one minute," he said, and if you recall, one minute was the time he had to prepare for the assassins who put him in this very hospital bed. The ensuing combination of a brilliant smash-cut and some priceless facial expressions by those involved provided one of the funniest sequences of the season, Hank suddenly being wheeled out with get-well flowers on his lap. I just interviewed Norris for a Q&A that will appear on this blog in the coming days, and my first question was, well, exactly how many takes? Norris laughed that hearty Hank laugh and joked, "Well, you know, with my encouragement, we practiced that scene a lot. Yeah, we had a lot of fun doing it. We actually had a lot of discussion about it, and my take on it was, even though [Hank] pretended he didn't want it to happen, I think any guy would want to know. ... If you're paralyzed, one of the first things you're going to think about is, 'Will I ever have sex again?' " So it was a mixed blessing for Hank; he lost the bet, "but he got his [manhood] back."
-- Another great episode from Aaron Paul, who continues to shine in this third season. Here, our stomach turned a bit when he was forced to shake the hands of the men who had Combo killed, and then again when he took a bump of meth before going out to face them again. As for the drug use: "They could have had Jesse go to rehab and then come out and just relapse right away," Paul said of the writers. "But now Jesse is almost like a different character within himself. And who knows? Is he really a bad guy, or is that just him trying to convince himself that he is because of his guilt? Will he ever let that go? It's a lot of fun to play. ... I really hope people stick with this crazy ride."
-- Another week, another great teaser. This time, we got a montage of Wendy the hooker (played by the brave Julia Minesci, an Albuquerque, N.M., local who undergoes a serious makeup job to look that bad) on the job, set to the alternately light and fun '60s tune "Windy," recorded by the Association. Only cable. Only "Breaking Bad."
Predictions for the finale? Have at it...
-- Josh Gajewski
Photo: Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Wendy (Julia Minesci) are on the lookout during Sunday's episode of "Breaking Bad." Credit: AMC
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.