Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Breaking Bad: "Cat's In The Bag"

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

At the end of the powerhouse premiere last week, I thought: Well, it's all downhill from here. The synopsis for the next episode has Walter trying to deal with the bodies of the drug dealers he killed, and his wife suspecting that something is up. Sounds like standard plot point theater; I found it hard to imagine that such an episode could maintain the premiere's edge-of-psychosis tone.

Color me mistaken and impressed. If anything, this is a more assured episode with a tightening web of consequences, remorse, and bad-ass chemistry. We pick up right where we left off, with the newly reinvigorated (yet still terminal) Walter finishing up the jolly rogering of his surprised wife — but then when he goes to the bathroom to splash water on his face, he ends up falling asleep naked and curled up on the floor tile. Ah, methamphetamine — or, as we shall call it from now on, in a salute to Homer Simpson, The Cause Of And Solution To All Life's Problems (TCOASTALP).

… Although it appears that the description applies more accurately to marijuana in Episode 2. Turns out one of the drug dealers is still kicking, and after describing chiral isomers to his bored secondary schoolers ("mirror images — good and bad"), Walter flips a coin with Jesse to see who gets to chemically disincorporate dead Emilio with hydrofluoric acid, and who gets to put Crazy Eight out of his misery. Walt loses not only the coin flip, but also his nerve when Mr. Eight wakes up, and instead of sending him to his final rest, makes him a sandwich. Only a fattie rolled from Jessie's stash eases the pain.

Meanwhile, Mrs. White star-69's a call that Jesse foolishly makes to their house, then uses reverse phone lookup to find his website ("Education: DeVry University. THE STREETS YO!") When she confronts Walter with her findings, he claims Jesse is his pot dealer. Quick thinking, except it motivates the little woman to march over to Jesse's house, right when he is dragging Emilio to his acid bath, to demand that he stop selling weed to her husband.

The secret to this episode's success lies in creator/writer/director Vince Gilligan's determination to make everything else — themes, issues, ideas — secondary to the character of Walter. As my husband commented forty minutes in, "There's only one question for this show: What is happening to Walter and how is he dealing with it?" The answers to that question are more often funny than last week, in an explosive, shocked-laughter kind of way, but they're also more tense. Walter might have wanted to make some quick money and defy the law, but he didn't want to become a killer. Yet he did, and apparently he still has more killing to do. How's he going to deal with that? His wife's going to have a little girl whose sweet sixteen party he'll never live to see. How's he going to deal with that? He still cares about some things — his family, his job, cleaning up the messes he made so they won't have to — and that means that he can't live as if nothing mattered, like he did there for a moment a couple of days ago. He's going to have to deal with it.

And so the joy of Breaking Bad continues to lie in Cranston's hair-pulling reactions and attempts to apply buffer logic to tweaker situations. Asking obliquely whether Crazy Eight can be negotiated with, Walter asserts desperately: "He's a businessman … he's a man of business." Sorry, Walter — we're in mirror-image-land here. This is the left-handed isomer, and just because money changes hands doesn't mean it's the same thing as the car wash.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- It's all about the details on this show. The story that Walter and Jesse tell the Indian with the backhoe is a masterpiece of detail, right down to the cup of coffee on the lap that explains the pantslessness.

- Chemistry Power! Not only is it good for making really excellent drugs, we learn that it is also useful for disposing of dead bodies and figuring out what kind of containers to use for said disposal. This is educational television.

- As Walter was trying to figure out how to finish off Crazy Eight, rummaging through drawers for knives, hammers, and guns, I was screaming at the television: "Plastic bag over the head! Plastic bag over the head!" Our hero eventually came around to my way of thinking, but my husband was wondering how long I'd been working on an optimal no-mess murder method.

- Perhaps the best moment of the episode: implements of a prolonged captivity sliding toward Crazy Eight, one by one. Water jugs, baloney sandwich, five-gallon bucket, roll of toilet paper, hand sanitizer.

- I liked Jesse's website, but what — they can't say MySpace without paying somebody?