One of the things Breaking Bad has always been great at doing is making its audience feel uncomfortable. And more so than previous seasons, season four has really pushed the limits of what we can endure. It’s been frustrating, exhausting, and in many ways suffocating. Usually the premiere of the season gives us an indication of what to expect, and now that the season is coming to an end, it’s become more clear. You see, when Gustavo Fring made Walt and Jesse wait around all day to finally confront them in “Box Cutter,” it was to send a message of dominance and make them squirm in anticipation. From a writing perspective, the premiere was designed to keep the audience on the edge of their seats knowing the looming inevitably of the confrontation that was going to happen. Similarly, season four has operated on this premise of making us wait and squirm as the story gets more and more uncomfortable. This season, our protagonist Walter White was completely stripped of his heroic/villainous traits. He’s been constantly alienated, pushed to the side, rejected. And for a lot of viewers, Walter has even become intolerable. But with Walt’s loss of control, and seemingly inevitable downfall, there was a feeling that he would hit rock bottom eventually. Right? When Jesse and Walt came to blows in “Hermanos” and Walt was weeping the following day, it seemed he had finally hit that bottom. How wrong we were.
“Crawl Space” immediately continues the aftermath of the cartel showdown from last week’s episode. Wounded, Gus and Mike are rushed to a secret location where doctors are on hand to work on them. Immediately what struck me was the fact that Jesse could have easily killed Gus and Mike right then and there. After all, he was driving them to the location. It would have been easy enough to just ditch the car in the middle of nowhere, or even better, just shoot them. But this is also a testament to his character, that he’s not really a cold-blooded killer. It explains in a lot of ways why he had so much trouble trying to kill Gus throughout the season. It’s also a reflection of the fact that he’s become so alienated from Walt (especially after their blow-out), that he’s started to bond with Gus and Mike instead. After Gus recovers, he tells Jesse that he’s proven his capabilities, and that he could run the lab on his own. Jesse of course knows where he’s going with this, and despite his blow-out with Walt, he still has loyalty to him and tells Gus that he has to let Walt go. Killing him would mean he stops cooking.
Walt, being kept completely in the dark about the Mexico incident, realizes that Jesse must be back after seeing that someone had been cooking in the lab after his car crash. Not only is he curious about Jesse’s welfare (he felt terrible about the fight and what he said to him), he knows something is about to go down. After his shift, he heads to Jesse’s place, and tries to talk to him. Whereas last time it was Jesse that was the one begging for help, now it’s Walt pleading Jesse to just listen to him. When he asks Jesse for help, Jesse just pushes him and reminds him of what was said to him the last time he asked for help. Completely shattered, Walt is about to leave when Gus and his henchmen assault him with a cattle prod and throw him in the car. In a throwback to the “Full Measure” scene where Gus and Walt meet each other out in the field to discuss business, Walt meets up with Gus; this time Walt is on the floor shaking with a bag over his head. Gus “fires” Walt, and tells him he is to not speak to Jesse ever again. Walt defiantly asks, “Or what?” Gus is taken aback by Walt’s answer. Walt then states that he knows he can’t be killed, because Jesse won’t cook if he dies. He taunts Gus over the fact that despite everything he has done, Jesse still has loyalty to him, something Gus will never have. This scene struck me as interesting for a couple reasons. When Gus replied to Walt’s taunt with “Soon enough he will come around,” I couldn’t help but think this statement meant more than the current situation with Gus—that in a way, it was foreshadowing the fact that at some point down the road, Jesse might truly view Walt as a cancer and want to eradicate him. Gus then sharply hits back by saying that he will kill his entire family, including his infant baby, if Walt disobeys. Here Walt is given a chance to freely walk away, but he doesn’t take it.
In a complete panic, Walt rushes to Saul’s place to get that number for the guy that can make him disappear. As far as Walt is concerned, it’s end game for him. Without hesitation, he’s exiting the game. His family has now been threatened, and he has no more moves. Rushing home to collect the money and to tell his family to pack their luggage, Walt realizes that a good amount of the money is missing. Skyler then arrives, and Walt questions where the money went. Skyler breaks the news about giving Ted $600,000, and he just loses it and screams. The biggest problem with all of this is that Walt already knows that Saul called the DEA about Hank. He planned on getting out of dodge, so that the DEA could protect Hank without him being around to face the consequences from Gus. But now that he’s stuck there without the money needed to disappear, he knows Gus is going to kill his family. All in one swoop he’s completely lost everything. If Cranston doesn’t win the Emmy next year, I will be shocked. His portrayal of a man that has completely lost everything and is at the end of his rope was chilling to say the least.
Just like “Half Measure,” it’s hard not to dedicate most of your thoughts to the end of the episode. It was quite frankly, one of the most skin-crawling, uncomfortable, magnificent endings I have ever seen to a television episode. All the tension and frustration that we have felt over and entire season rushed forward. As Walter White broke down into tears which eventually turned into maniacal laughter, there is this sense of finality to the fact that he has lost complete control over everything. From the pulsating music to Walt’s laughter echoing out in the hallway as Skyler reaches for the phone to console Marie, the last few seconds of “Crawl Space” were disturbing. The final shot of Walt laying in his crawl space, completely lost in his madness as the camera pulls away, looked visually like his coffin. In the first season of Breaking Bad, Walter White gave a speech to his chemistry class: “But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s the solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It’s growth, then decay, then transformation.” I imagine that the final shot of “Crawl Space” was Walt’s decay, and that what remains is his next transformation (and possibly his final one).
Individually, this season has been trying. But as all the pieces are coming together collectively and the tension is building, it’s made this season of Breaking Bad the most intense and unpredictable season in the series. As we sit impatiently waiting for the final two episodes of the season, Vince Gilligan and his writers have succeeded in making us feel the way Walt and Jesse did in the premiere.