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'Breaking Bad': The gambler

May 16, 2010 | 11:00 pm

Episode-9-Gus-760  Compared to previous episodes, there was nothing fancy or overly ambitious about Sunday's "Breaking Bad," but a smart script brought to life by some outstanding acting performances made it another superb hour of television -- so basically, nothing new here. 

This week, though, let's turn our attention to a man behind the scenes who can't get enough credit. Michael Slovis, normally the show's director of photography and as such, the man most responsible for "Breaking Bad's" beautiful and distinctive cinematography, slipped into the director's chair for this episode and the results were marvelous. For an episode as understated as this -- it basically consisted of a series of conversations -- the acting had to be spot on in order to keep us riveted, and that's just what we got. 

Two scenes especially popped -- first the meeting between Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), and then later Skyler's (Anna Gunn) super-slick tell-all in which she explained to Marie (Betsy Brandt) how she and Walt can afford to cover Hank's medical bills. Let's start with the former. 

"I asked to see you in order to clear the air," Walt said to Gus. "There are some issues that could cause a misunderstanding between us and I think it's in our best interest to lay the cards on the table." "Well, that's the best way to do business," Gus grinned, and then we were off, in the midst of another great exchange between these two great minds. Exchanges between them always with so much more than what's being said, each man always measuring the other man's words carefully; perhaps that's what happens when business occurs between two men who respect each other but can't ever fully trust each other. This will probably always be the case with Walt and Gus, and that's a very good thing for us. 

In inquiring about the man who called Hank (Dean Norris) just before the shootout, Walt said, "I think that this person was playing a much deeper game -- he made that phone call because he wanted a shootout, not a silent assassination. In one stroke, he bloodied both sides, set the American and Mexican governments against the cartel and cut off the supply of methamphetamine to the Southwest. If this man had his own source of product on this side of the border, he would have the market to himself. The rewards would be enormous. We're both adults. I can't pretend I don't know that person is you. I want there to be no confusion. I know I owe you my life. And more than that, I respect the strategy. In your position, I would have done the same."

Gus, silent. 

Then they talked about the future, and what might happen after their three-month contract expires. That prompted a new offer from Gus -- $15 million annually, if Walt chose to continue on. "Would that be agreeable?" Gus asked. "Hm," Walt mumbled, and that little mumble was the comedic period to such a serious conversation, something that had me laughing into the next scene. Which was, of course, another of "Breaking Bad's" great non-verbal moments. 

This show always makes sure to show us the quiet times when everything is happening within. Only the best of TV shows are both good enough and confident enough to do this, to fill several minutes of time with no dialogue whatsoever. And so we have, among other things, watched Walt make multiple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, clean a leaf out of a hotel pool for no great reason, fix a wobbly table with a magazine's subscription card and punch a paper towel dispenser while alone in the bathroom. This particular moment was more in the vein of the towel dispenser moment. Here, he was on a road in the desert, driving away from his meeting with Gus. His foot pressed down on the gas, and then his eyes closed for several seconds. After a near head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, the Aztec swerved wildly off the road and onto the sand. 

Deep breath. Blinker on. Back to the road. 

It's difficult to say exactly what this was -- a brief death wish? an adrenaline high? a panic? -- but it somehow made sense, no matter the explanation. And the kind blinker and squeaky Aztec slowly pulling back onto the road was just another great comedic period that buttoned the intense scene with a laugh, one of 'Bad's" fortes. 

Back at the hospital, Walt sat with Skyler and Marie for the episode's brilliant close. With Marie weighed down by the stresses of a less-than-optimal health insurance plan, Skyler told her that she and Walt could pay for Hank's rehab and such. How so? Well, Walt's a gambler, that's the story. He'd become a card counter and made a killing at blackjack. Skyler went into huge detail, making it all up on the fly, and boy was she good at this; her explanation at one point had both Walt and Marie leaning in close, in awe of the tale, and that double lean-in, coupled with the priceless look on Walt's face, well, it was just so hilarious. 

"How much money?" Marie asked, and the two women looked to Walt, who leaned back, locked his hands together and demurely said, "Uh, well, it's into seven figures. ... What can I say? I did very well." Cranston's delivery here, epic again. We saw in his eyes and face that in spite of the quiet, outward modesty he had to project, there was such an inner satisfaction for him in this revelatory moment. In spite of everything, there's a part of him that's hugely proud of what he's accomplished, what he's built. 

There is so much else to discuss here -- Ted Beneke's (Cristopher Cousins) making his move, Jesse (Aaron Paul) shaving some meth off the top for a little side business, and more of his group therapy sessions in which he seems to be the only one who's ever called upon, at least until he brought some friends -- but I'll leave all that to the rest of you in favor of bringing you some additional coverage this week, a feature on Slovis, the hugely talented director of this fine, fine episode. 

-- Josh Gajewski 

Photo: Gus Frings (Giancarlo Esposito) watches as a shipment of methamphetamine departs. Credit: AMC.