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'Breaking Bad': Cold cereal

April 12, 2010 |  6:55 am

Walter White needs his hat. He needs Heisenberg, now more than ever. 

If he'd have slipped into that alter-ego of his, you get the feeling Sunday's episode of "Breaking Bad" would have gone much differently. Heisenberg would have put a little more muscle behind that potted plant. And he'd have found a way to seduce Principal Carmen. As Heisenberg, Walt (Bryan Cranston) is a bad, bad man. He has a swagger. 

Without Heisenberg, Walter White is a man staring at his Cheerios. 

And that certainly seemed to be the setup that was Sunday's "Bad." The Fall of Walt before the Return of Heisenberg. And let's hope the return comes soon, for Walter White is at this point one pathetic mess of a man. Last week's "I.F.T." bombshell was the blow that brought him to his knees, and he spent the whole of this episode failing to get back up.

While he languished, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, pictured) thrived. Sort of.

Pinkman has cooked up his own blue meth using Walt's specific methodology and now wants back into the business. It's the only thing he's any good at, he tells Walter, to which Walt answers, "You're good at a lot of things, son," the key word there being "son." Walt has always kept Jesse at a certain distance, but that distance seems to be closing. Or at least it continued to do so for that special moment before Jesse actually revealed the blue stuff that he'd cooked up. Walt was livid. He doesn't want anyone else making his product. Perhaps it's the one thing in his life that he still feels is his. 

As for Jesse, he continues to become infinitely more interesting by the episode, and we must credit the writers here as well as the guy playing him, Aaron Paul. In the earliest days of this show, Jesse was there for comedic effect more than anything and was slated to be killed off at the end of the first season. Enter Paul, who impressed show-runner Vince Gilligan enough to make him think twice, as well as the writers strike, which ripped the pen from Gilligan's hand anyway. 

In the end, Gilligan decided not only to spare Jesse's life but also to breathe new energy into it; in Season 2, Jesse's role expanded far beyond the comedic and ultimately into the tragic. His sweet relationship with a girl named Jane quickly darkened when Jesse's drug usage pulled Jane out of her own sobriety. And then it was Jane who died, the drugs taking her away. 

But just when we expected the tragedy of Jane's death either to destroy Jesse or steer him into a fully clean and righteous life, the writers surprised us by effectively finding a line somewhere between those two paths. Jesse is clean now, after having gone into rehab. But he's also still willing to feed the addictions of others, and that ironic middle road is what made Sunday's teaser the most interesting scene of the entire episode. 

Jesse didn't have enough cash on him to fill up the RV, so he made an incredibly bold proposition to the sweet girl behind the counter. It came in the form of a little plastic bag filled with the blue stuff. 

"Have you tried it?" he asked. 

"That stuff is really addictive, right?"

"Not really. That's just a media thing." 

"What's it like?"

"It's awesome," he said, before elaborating on the euphoria that is meth to the innocent, wide-eyed girl. 

Paul was brilliant in the scene, expressing so much with his eyes and face but not overdoing it, which would have been easy to do. In that moment, you saw Jane behind those blue eyes, but you also saw the evil sort of persuasiveness in that little smile. He was potentially destroying this girl's life just as he destroyed Jane's. He knew this. And he smiled and did it anyway. Again, Jesse has accepted who he is, and he is the bad guy. And within the context of this story that is "Breaking Bad," the potential for a character with that kind of mindset is now boundless, and that's such a remarkable thing to be saying now about Jesse Pinkman. 

Two other wrenching moments from Sunday's episode: the hazy visual of the adulterous couple, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins), set against the photographs of Beneke's children; and tough-guy Hank (Dean Norris), quivering lips and all, essentially admitting to his boss and to us all that he's just not strong enough to return to the horrors of El Paso. 

Basically, everyone is at this moment an inward mess. And that continues to make for some great television on these Sunday nights. 

-- Josh Gajewski

Photo: Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) continues to embrace his role as the bad guy on Sunday's episode of "Breaking Bad." Credit: AMC