Walter White is a joke.
A scary joke, sure, but still a joke. I mean, what kind of balls does it take for Walt, after everything he’s put his family through and the mountain of lies he’s built, to scale that mountain one last time and proudly plant a flag atop it that reads “pump malfunction”? (Actually, thanks to yet another tighty-whitey scene as part of his hilariously weak cover-up, we pretty much know what kind of balls it takes to attempt this, but still.)
He’s not even fooling Junior any more, much less Skyler, and much much less Jesse. Walter White is a very smart man, as Jesse would point out later on, but his intelligence has long been eclipsed by his ego, and that will prove his undoing. So Walt will still feign indignance when Saul broaches the topic of giving Jesse the “Old Yeller” treatment, and he’ll still try to schedule a sit-down meeting with his former protege despite Jesse nearly burning his house down. And yes, when the cleaners can’t get the smell of gasoline entirely out of his carpet, he’ll construct a story about a gas pump malfunction so ludicrous that the very fact that he attempted it provides insight into his current level of self-delusion.
“Rabid Dog” was the least tense ‘Breaking Bad’ to air this year, which is to say, it was still pretty damn intense. But unlike the show’s three previous outings, this hour left the audience some room to exhale, and time to reflect on the structure of this episode as well as this season.
The first half hour of “Rabid Dog” is essentially a mystery centered around Walt, who arrives at his house to find gasoline everywhere, but Jesse nowhere. Nothing’s burned down, so Walt, unwilling in his obstinance to even entertain the idea that his only friend has turned against him, believes that Jesse had a change of heart. He uses the pump malfunction story to get his family to a hotel, and promptly meets with Saul and Kuby to get an update on still-missing Jesse. Skyler follows him to that meeting, and after delightfully swatting away Walt’s attempt at indignance, she manages to get him to tell her his version of the truth.
Though her engagement level with Walt’s drug empire fluctuated, Skyler’s been consistent in her desire to protect herself and her children at all costs. Without a second thought, she dons her Lady MacBeth wig and joins Saul in suggesting that Walt kill Jesse.
Much has already been written about the character of Skyler and the ‘Breaking Bad’ audience’s perception of her, but now that Skyler has become a full-fledged villain – she has, undoubtedly and irreversibly, broken bad – I sense a fair chunk of the Skyler-hating audience finally getting on her side. Ah, irony.
Walt doesn’t take her advice, instead spending the night sitting by the pool and dealing with his son’s concerns over his health by making statements like, “You think I came all this way to let something as silly as lung cancer take ME down?” If it’s possible to be simultaneously 100% lying and 100% truthful, that’s what Walt is doing to Junior in this moment. Walt ends up not listening to Saul and Skyler, and instead calls Jesse.
So after setting up the mystery in the first half hour, “Rabid Dog” then hits the rewind button, and spends the second half of its runtime telling us the same story from Jesse’s perspective.
Far from having second thoughts, Jesse was fully ready to torch Walt’s house when Hank barges in, offering to work together to take Walt down. He drives a catatonic Jesse back to his place, where Marie – fresh from a therapy session that included plenty of talk about ways to poison someone and get away with it, so you know her head’s in the right place – is perfectly fine with housing Jesse, as long as it hurts Walt. Maybe she and Hank will be a better audience for Jesse’s dinner-based stand-up act.
The next morning, Jesse wakes up to offers of coffee from Marie, and a makeshift interview room being set up by Hank and a now-in-the-loop Gomez. Jesse reluctantly tells all, but as he pointed out before he started talking, there’s still no hard evidence on Walt. That’s when Hank reveals his trump card: Walt’s poolside phone message he left for Jesse the previous night, which turned out to be an invitation to meet. Hank, despite Jesse and Gomez’s concern, orders Jesse to attend the meet wearing a wire, admitting to Gomez that if Jesse is killed, they’ll at least have it all on tape.
It’s been clear for a couple weeks now that this season is shaping up as Walt and Skyler vs. Hank and Marie, with Jesse as the wild card. The point that “Rabid Dog” drives home so effectively is that both sides of this battle are the bad guys, and the only good guy is stuck in the middle.
We don’t need to recap Walt’s record as a monster, and Skyler has clearly made her choice to side with him. But here we see Hank, hero cop who was shot in the line of duty, gladly donning both moral and logical blinders and sending Jesse wired up into what he knows could be an ambush. Hank correctly recognizes Walt’s fondness for Jesse, but the decision to put his life at risk in pursuit of this case is viciously inhumane. And Marie is just as complicit in Hank’s plans as Skyler is in Walt’s, driven not by a sense of justice but by the crippling humiliation she’s feeling after being played for so long by those closest to her.
Jesse has no choice but to meet Walt, leading to an exceptionally tense scene where Jesse approaches Walt on a mall bench, only to back away upon seeing a threatening figure nearby. Turns out that was nothing, but Jesse calls Walt from a payphone and threatens his family. Upon pickup from a furious Hank, Jesse explains that he’s got a better plan to bring Walt down.
Meanwhile, the threat pushes Walt to follow Skyler and Saul’s advice, and he calls up Todd to request what we can only assume to be a hit on Jesse. Just what we need – more awful people in the mix!
While not as action-packed as the last few episodes, “Rabid Dog” was still an excellent hour of television that sets the chess board for what will surely be an epic final confrontation between good and…well, actually, between evil and evil.