“Mr. White? He’s the devil. He is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact reverse opposite of that is going to happen.”
This week, Breaking Bad was a much-needed exhale; a strangely quiet bloom of catharsis. And between the lines of “Rabid Dog,” groundwork is being laid for a finale the likes of which we can’t even CONCEIVE. If you look real hard and listen real close to this episode, you can see dark figures whispering and building scene pieces in the background.
The slow boiling tone of “Rabid Dog” is interesting. I found the lack of white-knuckle action very frustrating for reasons I couldn’t pin down. I wanted to keep getting hurt and gasping for breath. That’s what this show is for! Then I thought a little more, and everything seemed more deliberate.
“Rabid Dog” is a story about being broken. Bad. It was a contained analysis of psychological abuse.
It may not have been exciting, but we needed an episode like this to really show us what’s at stake and how we got here. Because the Walt/Jesse relationship is the show’s core, an emotionally resonant finale must rely chiefly on a story that forces their issues front and center. Much of this week’s dialogue was expository, nearly heavy-handed, intended to evoke our nostalgia and stoke our hearts. Shamelessly manipulative! Vince Gilligan, your Walter White is showing, ya bastard. There are many allusions in the script to classic moments, particularly of the Walt and Jesse variety. Walt asks Skyler if she remembers “when Jesse came for dinner,” Hank reminds Jesse of Walt’s heroic drug dealer hit-and-run, and the list goes on. Meeeemory, I can smile at the old days, it was beauuuutiful then.
W.W. is in such deep shit. He’s having a really bad Adele moment, surrounded by Turning Tables. Jesse’s just doused his home in gasoline and mysteriously disappeared off the map. Hank is this close to exposing Heisenberg. There are too many fires, and Walt’s getting wheezy trying to put them out. The old lungs aren’t what they used to be since the cancer came back.
Walt’s first real signs of fatal weakness are revealed during his performance of an elaborate lie he invented, to explain away his house’s near-death encounter with a lighter. While he embarks on another patented Mr. White Histrionic Monologue, Skyler and Junior trade knowing glances behind his back. As usual, Junior assumes something normal and stupid, like his dad is trying to hide cancer symptoms – but Skyler has become much more shrewd. She systematically dismantles Walt’s fiction and gives it to him blunt. She knows Jesse is the threat, and there’s only one foolproof solution in the lawless hell her husband’s created. “You have to deal with this,” she spits, and for the first time Walt is floored by Skyler’s homicidal (and pragmatically so) instincts. Behind every great man is a great woman; behind Heisenberg is someone with balls enough to kill a threat. And right now, that’s Heisenberg’s wife.
In many ways, Walt is so pathetic now that, for us viewers, some of that vestigial sympathy is coming back. Things have gotten out of his control, including the one person we always knew he really loved. He cannot bring himself to “deal with” Jesse. And now, not even his surrogate son will save him.
But thank god for Breaking Bad, thou of having cake and eating it too. Walt’s not our only protagonist anymore. Jesse’s taken his seat in the cockpit of the show for the remainder of its doomed flight. We now get to see things through his eyes. And the truth is, Jesse’s just that – a rabid dog. Walt’s dog. Stomped, kicked, chained on a short leash, imprisoned in a mental torture box. Walt has chipped away at his self-esteem for years and manipulated him so deeply that Jesse’s not only ruined, he’s helpless without his abuser.
This has never been more clear than in the very last scene of “Rabid Dog.” Background: Hank and Gomez convince Jesse to meet Mr. White, wearing a wire, and pretend to hear him out for the sake of taping a real confession. To Hank’s mind, this is the crucial piece of evidence; he doesn’t give a shit how it’s obtained. Jesse’s cooperation is helpful, but there’s no real kinship born by “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” illusions. Jesse’s another expendable pawn in this situation; Hank hypnotizes him with a soft-spoken, “Sounds like he saved your life. He really cares about you.” He’s using Jesse the same way Walt uses him. Big mistake.
Jesse lashes out, desperately trying to express the trauma he barely has the vocabulary for. “He’s the devil.” Mr. White is supernatural. He’s not a Walter, a brother-in-law, a drug kingpin. He’s a reaper. A ghost. He’s more than mortal and he’ll be darkening Jesse’s horizons as long as they’re both alive. Jesse can’t even cry about it anymore, so resigned is he to living with the pain and fear.
Say it with me, fangirls: “Poor Jesse!” But Aaron Paul shines here as usual, inspiring savage triumph when Jesse takes control of the sting in his own signature way. When he spots Mr. White waiting for him in the public plaza, bursting at the seams with soothing words, it really triggers something in Jesse psychologically. We actually see him hallucinate multiple Mr. Whites, in a way, as he suddenly has a wild suspicion that a nearby bald bystander is poised to assassinate him. In his frayed delirium, Jesse is suddenly moved to reclaim his power in any way possible. No one’s giving him fucking permission for another great idea; no one’s stealing his truth.
So Jesse calls Walt from a payphone and watches his face. “I’m coming for you, asshole,” he says calmly, avoiding the “Mr.” like his life finally depends on it.
He tells Walt that the time for conversation is over, and the master’s about to become the bitch. “I’m going to kill you where you really live,” are the cryptic last words his torturer hears.
Hank’s plan is blasted to smithereens. Walt’s plan hangs in the balance. Because it’s Jesse’s goddamn motherfucking plan now. It’s amazing what an exciting game can be played with only two pieces left on the board.
BB is almost always about exposing pathos through the unexpected but logical progressions of the story. Now, because the plot is slowly painting itself into a corner, final-showdown style, here’s a chance to see the rotten fruit of everyone’s labor. Our characters are all messed-up empty husks and we’re an audience of moral degenerates. Celebrate good times. Come on.
– Let’s not forget about Marie’s seemingly irrelevant confession session about Googling poison. Krazy Klepto Marie tends to act rashly in overwhelming situations. Curious to see what kind of part she’ll play in this big denoument.
– Always nice to see Junior get a moment with his father, even if it was a bit of filler. I have always been interested in the comparison of Junior vs. Jesse as son figures and victims, and maybe these small scenes will contribute to some interesting Walt/Jesse nuance.
– Speaking of Walt/Jesse? “Mr. White’s gay for me! Everyone knows that!” And just like that, a thousand fanfictions were born.
So much for subtext, you two.