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Breaking Bad Review: "Bug" (Episode 4.09)

September 12, 2011  |  10:41am
<em>Breaking Bad</em> Review: "Bug" (Episode 4.09)

In interviews leading up to the premiere of season four, Vince Gilligan stated that his goal was to transform Walter White from Mr. Chips to Scarface. This made sense, as the general view among fans has been that Walt would more than likely see his world crumble around him at some point before the end. This has always been a safe assumption as well, because Vince shapes his Breaking Bad world with a sort of cosmic karma. For every action, there is a reaction or a consequence. And up to this point, Walt has been one to often make decisions without considering how they might truly affect those around him. So it made sense that eventually everything Walt was doing would catch up to him.

Much to my surprise, instead of waiting until the final season to focus on Walt’s fall from grace, much attention has been given this year to that very thing. I don’t consider Walt to be at that Scarface level of criminality quite yet though. In fact, the most villainous that he has been was in season one when he blew up Tuco’s place, or when he took out two of Gus’ workers and had Gale killed in season three. And really, it was in season three where Walt fully accepted who he was and who he wanted to be. So the question now is, if Walt has not evolved or gotten to that level of criminal mastermind that Vince had detailed, then when? True, Scarface can represent an inevitable downfall. But Scarface also became a kingpin first. This is a large part as to why this arc of Walt’s has been so frustrating for me. We are only four episodes away from the finale, and I was really expecting that the season would shift gears in this episode and move Walt out from the suffocating position he had been in all season and actually see him take steps towards becoming this criminal mastermind.

But in “Bug,” we see the opposite. When Skyler asks Walt what kind of car they should get Walter Jr. for his birthday, he doesn’t even so much as put up a fight. He shrugs it off and says she can do whatever she wants. When Walt talks to Jesse casually outside of the lab and Jesse reassures Walt he will try to kill Gus, Walt shrugs it off and says, “What does it matter, we are both dead men anyway.” These are both important things to mention, because it reflects the Walter White of season four. He’s a defeatist. Unlike past seasons, Walt doesn’t give very much thought to get around his current predicament. It also contradicts Walt’s “don’t ever give up control” speech from last week, although maybe that was meant to show that Walt is somewhat in denial and has in fact given up control. This is not to say that the way Walt is acting is unrealistic to his character, but in a season that been full of one obstacle after another for our protagonist, the ending of “Bug” made it seem like the nail was closing in on Walt’s coffin.

Much of the frustration this season has been a result of Jesse and Walter not communicating—and both can share a part of the blame. Walt, on the one hand, is such a delusional ego-driven man. He never stops to consider what is happening to Jesse or how important Jesse is in this whole equation. Jesse on the other hand, has been led around by Mike and Gus, and instead of just telling Walt what’s going on, he’s withheld information from his partner, even in the final hours. But two things need to be mentioned regarding this: No doubt, Gus has played the perfect strategic game. The wedge he has put between the two has really taken a toll. But the other aspect to this is how Walt treats Jesse. If you think back to past seasons, Walt would often lose his temper and go off on Jesse, calling him stupid, useless. It was, in a way, mental abuse. We’ve seen this flash of anger from Walt off and on. Earlier in the show, we could excuse this, because Jesse wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed, and he was a junkie that would waste his potential. But at this point, he’s really grown as a character and is a very capable partner. Hell, he can pretty much cook Walt’s formula on his own. Walt’s treatment of Jesse might be a result of his panic and suspicions of him, but it’s not like this is out of character for Walt to treat him this way either.

The question we had all been wondering is what the cartel’s ultimatum to Gus was. Tonight it was finally revealed, and it is that they want Gus’ cook to teach them the formula. After an excellent scene where the cartel’s sniper takes out one of Gus’ workers (and almost kills Jesse), Gus caves in to the cartel’s demands, and agrees to have his cook teach their drug makers in Mexico Walt’s formula. The catch is, Jesse is that cook. Suspicious of Jesse after last week’s text from Mike, Walt planted a bug on Jesse’s car earlier in the week to see where he has been going. Of course, when Gus invites Jesse over to dinner to ask him to go to Mexico, Walt sees this. In a panic, Jesse pleads Walt for help and explains the entire situation to him. Before answering, Walt confronts Jesse about whether he has been at Gus’ place. Jesse tries to save the lie and deny it, but eventually it unravels as Walt angrily questions him about all the lies he’s been building up lately. In an incredibly heartbreaking moment, Walt calls Jesse useless, and Jesse in disbelief at Walt’s anger says, “After all I have done for you…” “All that you have done for me!? All you have done for me is signed my own death warrant,” Walt responds. A huge fight then breaks out between the two, and they trade blows, beating the living shit out of each other. This scene was a culmination of all the tension and baggage that this relationship has built up over the years. After they get it out of their system, Jesse asks Walt, “Can you still walk?” “Good,” he says. “Then get the fuck out of here and never come back.”

Cutting to the chase, the ending of “Bug” was a huge event that will no doubt have a major impact on how the ending of the season plays out—maybe even the end of the show. More so than past seasons, I really feel that four is taking its time to build up to a singular great event that will shake the story up, and set the stage for the next (and final) act. But since we don’t know where they are going with this, the story admittedly has been a frustrating to watch at times. With Walt constantly being boxed into the corner, one has to ask what Walt is finally going to do about all this. The explosive fight at the conclusion of the episode signified the end of Walt and Jesse’s partnership. Seeing as Jesse is Walt’s last ally, it’s hard to watch and see a man who used to call himself Heisenberg just stand by idly and watch his world crumble around him. As the season starts to come to a close, it will be interesting to see if this relationship is ever repaired.

Still, for all of Walt’s poor decision-making this season, it should be mentioned that he has no idea what is going on with the cartel war. He has been kept completely in the dark. As far as he knows, Gus could still be trying to kill him. I mean, hell, he did try to kill him only a month earlier. So with Jesse lying and withholding information from him combined with the fact he has no idea about the cartel war even going on this entire time, it makes sense why he didn’t care entirely about Jesse’s situation. In the past, Walt has been willing to take extreme actions to protect Jesse no questions asked. So with Walt having no idea what is going on, it’s understandable why he feels Jesse has not even attempted to help him out.

With the show getting a drastic change in scenery in the next couple of episodes with Jesse, Gus and Mike going to Mexico, hopefully Walt finds a way to finally come up with a plan to get himself out of this hole. Walt’s story may be frustrating to watch at times, but it still doesn’t change the fact that every episode this season so far has been riveting. And with Walt taking a back seat, it’s allowed other characters such as Jesse, Mike and Gus to shine. It’s also helped add to the complexity of the world of Breaking Bad, where we now have more than one person we could conceivably root for.

Stray observations:

• As if Walt’s problems weren’t complicated enough, introducing Ted’s criminal investigation was an excellent way to bring back a past event and make it have a possibly huge impact on the story.
• Does anyone else think that Walt’s cancer might be back, and terminal? After last week’s episode, it seemed odd that they didn’t show us the test results. And his reply to Walt Jr. seemed like a lie. It might also explain why Walt feels so defeated. Regardless of the outcome, maybe he knows he’s already going to die soon.
• I kind of find it hard to believe that the cartel will allow them to teach their drug makers the formula and let them bounce. While it’s true Gus is a major distribution for them on the other side of the border, they also take things personally. And they have to know Gus was responsible for setting them up and making big moves to cut them off. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mexico trip was a set-up as well.

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