You want science? We'll give you science.
The season finale tried a little too hard to tug on all the strings that have been set up in the past six episodes. Walt's outlaw status turning him into a sexual dynamo -- check. The basement where Jesse and Walt's fates were forever linked by murder -- check. Marie's kleptomania -- check. Chemotherapy and money -- check.
But there were still enough electric moments to remind us why this is one of the best hours on television. In particular, the finale showcases the parts of the show that have grown from their humble beginnings: Skylar and Jesse.
When Walt visits recuperating Jesse in the RV, he tells his partner for the first time about the deal he made with Tuco to deliver two pounds a week. That's when Cap'n Cook gets a chance to deliver yet another lecture about the hidden complications of the meth racket -- in this case, the difficulty of finding enough "smurfs" to buy pseudophenedrine in the form of cold medicine, two boxes at a time in widely scattered drugstores to evade the anti-meth laws that restrict Sudafed sales. Yet when they meet Tuco for their first delivery (in a junkyard -- Walt's idea, and not a great one), Walt responds to the drug lord's wrath with his own aggressive negotiating style. He gets an advance on next week's product and promises to double the output.
As with his under-the-table fondling of his wife during the school meeting about the DEA investigation, I couldn't help but wonder how much of this boldness is the result of Walt getting off on illicit thrills, and how much is his desperation to keep the scam going. More than ever in this episode, Walt seems to be pushing for more money, faster and faster, perhaps because he doesn't believe he can hold it together much longer.
Skylar's soccer-mom side got a comic polishing this week, and I really enjoyed the way she responded to some awkward social situations. At the oncologist's office, Walt suggested disarmingly that he was looking forward to the baby shower because "it'll be good to have a day that's just about Skylar," and having been on both ends of the baby shower thing myself (as showerer and showeree), I appreciated the detail in the way she responded to her gifts, cooing over the little pajama feet, the wrapping paper, and even managing something positive about Marie's over-the-top tiara: "It's so .. sparkly!" She continues to play the role of concerned wife managing husband's cancer treatment to the hilt, this time asking the doctor about "alternative ... Eastern ... holistic" treatments, and not getting a very encouraging response. But her question does provide cover for Walt's weekend of meth cooking: He told her he was going to a Navajo sweat lodge. (And when he gets home smelling like a meth lab -- have we already forgotten that we were going to take our clothes off, people? -- he passes it off as "sacred Navajo herbs." Smooth.)
The fake labor in the jewelry store was a bit much, wasn't it? But it was interesting to see Skylar being humiliated as Walt has been repeatedly since the series began. Her description of her confinement in a "dank storeroom" draws the affronted response from the manager, "This is my office!" Aside from that bit of comedy, though, the scene didn't ring true since the manager didn't appear the type to worry about Skylar's threats of negative publicity. The Marie crisis pays off nicely, however, with her sullen, slightly defiant shrugs in response to Skylar's demand for an explanation. She has plenty of time to make up some story, having been alerted by Skylar's phone messages, but she doesn't even bother. Marie seems sad and desperate, too, but she doesn't have anything much to show for her fairly pathetic form of "breaking bad."
Walt, Tuco, and Jesse appear to have forged a solid partnership, but lest we forget that a revolution is not a tea party, Tuco whales on one of his own henchmen before departing in his Escalade with the 4.5 pounds of blue meth that Walt cooked up using the new process. Oh, yes, that's where we started, wasn't it? Science. Or as Jesse puts it in a moment of boyish enthusiasm, "Yay science!" Instead of using cold medicine, Walt devises a method of making meth from a different source using all kinds of fancy equipment that he has Jesse buy, and a barrel of chemicals that the two of them steal from a supply house. To break in, Walt uses thermite culled from Jesse's garage and tells a cool story about the way thermite took out a giant German artillery gun in World War II. But even holding bags of science that he exchanges for bags of money, wearing a porkpie hat and shades, Walt still doesn't look like he's sure of himself from moment to moment. "People sometimes do things for their families," he says to Skylar elliptically. As far as this season is concerned, the thrill of victory doesn't last very long before it's replaced by the anxiety of relationships.
- I wasn't overly fond of the real estate wrinkle, especially since it appears that Jesse takes the house off the market at the end of the episode; it felt like a contrived complication. At least we got the funny repetition of the official-sounding phrase "it's appointment only" from Jesse lying all bandaged up in the RV.
- In fact, there were lots of nice dialogue callbacks in this episode. Jesse's little rant to Walt about doing drug deals in a public place like the mall gets referenced when Tuco shows up and asks, "Is the mall closed or something?"
- "Who knows what will be legal next year?" Walt philosophizes while puffing on a Cuban. Is he covering his tracks, justifying his behavior, or asking for forgiveness?
- This week apparently it's okay to say "pussy" on basic cable, but "motherfucker" is still verboten. Apparently the language and nudity in the show is due to the fact that when it was produced, its eventual network home was still unknown, and premium channels were a possibility. Presumably next season will have fewer bleeps and blurs.
- The show in a nutshell: Walt's list of meth-cooking ingredients, written out on a cheery grocery-list notepad with a flower motif.