AMC Sunday 2fer: Breaking Bad 5.12 "Rabid Dog"

A tv review article by: Nick Hanover

I may have jumped the gun on the prediction that the House of White was about to meet its physical doom last episode, but emotionally, the cracks are getting deeper. After a surprisingly tense opening, as Walt futilely searched the house for Jesse, trying to determine where he could be hiding, we find out that Hank intervened at the last second. Hank’s hasty departure from the office last episode was apparently because he knew Jesse was in Walt’s house and he arrived just in time to stop Jesse from burning the place down. It was an effective delivery on the tension of the opening, as it came fraught with its own peril, with Hank pointing his gun at Jesse, ready to kill if it came down to it but obviously hoping he had finally landed his first real asset in his war against Walter White. But the real payoff was in the emotional arena, as Jesse snapped and let Hank know just how betrayed he felt by Walt, signaling that there would be no final hurrah for the Walt/Jesse team.

Jesse may not be a White, but he has always been a sort of surrogate son to Walt, someone he can educate and lecture and control, someone who disappoints him but who he can’t help but protect. That father-son angle is why Jesse’s relationship with Walt has been so tragic for so long, because neither of them understand each other and so they act against each other’s interests even as they believe what they’re doing is helping the other one. “Rabid Dog” wisely took things slow, scaling back from the opening tension in order to explore the damage that Walt has done to Jesse, and how that is now paying off in dividends to Walt, as it not only threatens to destroy him but to also destroy whatever good was left in those around him.

The first casualty, of course, is Hank, who is becoming more and more like Walt as the investigation proceeds. Hank has always been a bit goofy, but the show has never shied away from detailing his commitment to doing whatever it takes to get his man, whether that means putting himself and his family in danger, as he does here when he brings Jesse into his house, or as we’ve now discovered, sacrificing the life of someone in order to build a case.

Walt has done some fucked up things ever since Breaking Bad began, but it’s telling that one of the most chilling, terrifying moments in the show’s history came from Hank’s statement to Gomie that he wouldn’t just be willing to put Jesse in danger in order to acquire evidence but that he’d be happy if Walt shot Jesse since at least he’d “have it on tape.” That statement confirmed that Hank isn’t just expecting further bloodshed, but that he’s hoping for it because it would things easier for him, and beyond that, he is now viewing the people around him the same way Walt does— as pawns, to be moved around and sacrificed as necessary.

The “hero” becoming more like the “villain” is nothing new in fiction, but Breaking Bad is unique in how willing it is to explore that in a quieter, deeper way and to show all the little ripples spreading out from that interaction. There was the evidence of that in Marie’s fittingly melodramatic but nonetheless discomforting mumbling about shellfish neurotoxins and other untraceable poisons, as well as her statement that she’s fine with Jesse being in the house as long as it will “hurt Walt.” But the key ripple was of course Skyler, who has had to adapt in order to survive, and is taking on her husband’s ruthlessness because she views it as the only way to protect her family now that they’re in so deep. For Skyler, talking to Jesse isn’t the answer, “talking” to him is and she isn’t interested in Walt taking the soft approach after menacingly telling her he is “the one who knocks,” that he is the danger.

Skyler’s willingness to accept Walt’s lies— whether it’s something like the gas nozzle malfunction or his weak assertion that Jesse has never hurt anyone other than himself— has become exhausted, and the way she sees it, they’ve come too far to let some half-baked idiot ruin it all. Skyler pushing for Jesse’s death isn’t going to convert any of her legions of haters, but it’s further evidence of the extent to which Walt has victimized her. Skyler is cornered and feels the only way she and her family can survive is by pushing back, by being proactive and dealing permanently with a problem before it grows and breeds more problems.

That change is further proof that Hank didn’t do his homework when examining the situation, and by failing to anticipate how cornered Skyler felt, he undoubtedly put himself in more danger, as we witnessed as the episode ended and Walt called Todd to talk to him about “another job” for his uncle. Theoretically, Walt isn’t planning on sending Todd after Hank, only Jesse, but given Todd’s history of reacting swiftly without much thought, the possibility of Hank becoming collateral damage in the process is pretty high, particularly with the increasingly more unpredictable Jesse in tow.

Jesse’s history with Todd complicates things further, as Todd served both as a potential rival for Walt’s fatherly guidance and the kind of needlessly violent figure Jesse has never been good with. By bringing in Todd’s family, Walt not only sends Jesse a message about his willingness to go to extremes to deal with the situation now that Jesse has rejected his olive branch, but also communicates his own awareness that he is long his most treasured commodity— control. Stability is eroding all around Walt, from his son’s inability to believe him anymore, to Skyler’s unwillingness to trust that he has things under control, to Jesse’s “rabid dog” status to the cancer that has returned. It’s only a matter of time before that bleak future we glimpsed catches up with him and he loses control once and for all.

*This review originally appeared on Nick's blog, Panel Panopticon.

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.

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