Breaking Bad began and ended Sunday night with scenes dripping with tension, even by this show's standards — first with Walt at his house, gun in hand, trying to locate Jesse,* and later with Jesse attempting to meet Walt in public. But aside from inducing heart palpitations in viewers, the scenes had something else in common: by design, neither paid off the buildup. Jesse was nowhere to be found in the White house, and Jesse's plan to talk to — and criminally implicate — Walt was eventually foiled by Menacing Bald Man (who, it turned out, was just out with his daughter for the day).
And so I'm of two minds on "Rabid Dog." It was an extremely well-crafted piece of television (the reveal of why Jesse left Walt's house before torching the place was clever, and as far as I can recall, the first time Breaking Bad has structured an episode in that fashion), but it was a setup episode. And with four hours left in the entire series, the time for setup is minimal. A charitable take (one expounded by Alan Sepinwall here) is that this was simply the series giving viewers some breathing room — something I admittedly longed for myself during the season's first couple episodes — and given Breaking Bad's near-flawless run, it's earned the benefit of the doubt. Still, a whole lot is going to have to happen really fast, starting now. Hopefully it doesn't feel rushed. And with that, our usual question:
What was the worst thing Walter White did this week?
There were a couple times throughout the episode I thought we might have had our lowest Walt moment — his elaborate lie to Skyler and Walt Jr. about why their carpet was soaked with gasoline (neither of whom bought it, though in Walt Jr.'s case, not for the right reason), his lie to Skyler about Jesse never hurting anyone but himself, to name two. But the winner has to be that last scene where he calls Todd and lets him know he might need his uncle to kill someone else for him (presumably Jesse), right?
Put aside for a second the idea that he might be ready to whack Jesse, someone he not only sees as a surrogate son but someone he chastised Saul for floating the possibility of killing earlier in this very episode. Instead, drink in that using a gang of white supremacists to carry out hits is just a thing Walter White does now, from time to time. Some of us might shoot hoops or go to the movies. Walt hires neo-Nazis to kill people who pose any threat to him. That's the life he's chosen, and it's what allows him to sink just a bit lower every time we might think his morality has finally hit bottom. I have my doubts he'll actually go through with a plot to kill Jesse, but the idea that he'd entertain it at all is — I'd say it's staggering, but Walt's proven again and again there's almost nothing he's not capable of.
Thoughts on the episode in general:
Walt's not the only one either hitting new lows or on the verge of it, though. Skyler, once she realized Jesse was behind the near-conflagration at her house, not-so-subtly suggests that Walt might fix the situation by offing the would-be arsonist. She's been complicit in Walt's crimes for some time now, but suggesting killing someone is a line it would have been unimaginable to see her cross not very long ago. It was believable that she did, though, because as she said, she's in so deep now that hey, what's one more life destroyed or ended at her family's hands?
And then there's Hank, potentially placing Jesse in the line of fire by planting him with a wire and sending him off to talk to Walt. While Hank made a pretty convincing case that Walt wasn't about to do Jesse any harm, especially not in a public place (and I'm inclined to think he was right about that; no way Walt wanted a confrontation there), he also made clear in no uncertain terms that if Jesse did happen to meet a violent end at Heisenberg's hand, that was a price he was more than willing to pay to catch Walt red-handed in a criminal act. Hank's been built up as the good guy in contrast to Walt's evil for a while now, but Breaking Bad has always been good at showing us that, under certain circumstances, everyone's capable of being morally compromised. And when would Hank be willing to throw away his principles if not when staring his best opportunity to nab Heisenberg in the face?
Hey, speaking of Hank and Jesse...they're working together now! Again, this was a setup episode, so we'll have to wait to see exactly how fruitful their partnership will be, but the fact that Hank has Jesse on his side at all is obviously a big development - and the two represent formidable opposition for Walt.
Bonus: The Most Heartbreaking Jesse Pinkman Moment of the Week
Given the shared history of the two (and unearned respect) it evokes, anytime Jesse refers to Walt as "Mr. White" is a contender for most heartbreaking moment. And even though there is nothing but pure loathing in Jesse's heart for this monster anymore (he called him "the devil," for crying out loud), he still bestows that honorific upon his name. At one point Jesse referred to him as "Walter White" tonight, and I thought maybe he'd finally kicked the "Mr." habit ... only for him to say "Mr. White" again later. The devil's still in Jesse's head.
*The scene brought to mind the season 4 finale "Face Off," in which Walt snuck into his house while trying to avoid Gus Fring's hit men. This time, though, if anyone was going to play the hit man role, it was going to be Walt himself.