'Breaking Bad' Mid-Season Premiere Recap: Walt, Jesse and Hank Reach their Breaking Points
'Breaking Bad' Mid-Season Premiere Recap: Walt, Jesse and Hank Reach their Breaking Points
Ted Kindig
Ted Kindig
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Let's just get this out of the way: if you don't want to know what happens on this week's Breaking Bad mid-season premiere, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly. Before the mid-season hiatus, Breaking Bad left Walter White in a blissful state of personal fulfillment and domestic stability, but gave his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, just enough information to piece together Walt's murderous history in the meth trade. This week's episode, directed by Bryan Cranston himself, deals with the implications of that discovery head-on and then ups the ante even further.

But of course, it wasn't just Hank's discovery that was left hanging from a cliff last season: this week's cold open marks the return of hairy, heavily-armed hipster Heisenberg, the flash-forward Walt last seen in the season premiere. He returns to a devastated White residence, with the windows boarded up, skaters shredding his empty pool and the word "Heisenberg" graffitied across his living room wall. Walt removes the famous vial of Ricen from behind his electrical outlet, and is recognized by his stunned neighbor Carol on the way out -- Heisenberg, it seems, has gained quite a reputation.

Though not a surprising outcome when you think about it, it's still a visceral shock to see the White residence in ruins. The scene is particularly poignant for its recollection of another cold open: the flashback in which young Walt and pregnant Skyler first toured the house. Back then, pre-cancer Walt was lamenting the fact that this home wasn't bigger; now he's alone and entirely silent. While the details still elude us, we have his Ozymandian arc in a nutshell right there.

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Making Some Changes

With respect to Hank's discovery, Cranston and company can't help but drag the suspense out just a little bit longer, as the camera glacially tracks up to the bathroom where we last saw him. Hank emerges reeling, stashes Gale's incriminating book, makes his excuses and leaves. The drive home is about as dark and trippy as any of Breaking Bad's drug montages, culminating in a panicked landing on the Shrader front lawn.

The irony, of course, is that Walt is almost entirely clean now. When Lydia arrives at the car wash and tries to rope him back into the international meth business, Walt has no trouble standing his ground as a legitimate businessman. Skyler goes one step further: when she guesses the nature of Lydia's visit by virtue of the fact that she is washing a rental car, Skyler tells her to leave and never come back. Walt is still ambitious -- even now he talks about opening new car washes -- but he's comfortable in domesticity and not keeping any secrets from Skyler anymore. Sounds like the perfect time for everything to go wrong.

Jesse, on the other hand, is having an incredibly difficult time returning to his former life, largely because he lacks Walt's blissful veil of sociopathy. While Badger regales Stinky Pete with his ridiculous Star Trek spec script over bong hits, Jesse is an afterthought in his own home; he sits in silence, he drifts out of the scene, he doesn't have any connection to the world around him. In a misplaced, guilt-ridden gesture, he tries to have his cut of the meth money donated to the families of Mike Ehrmantraut and the young boy that Todd shot.

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Do the Right Thing

When Walt finds out what Jesse is trying to do, he returns the money personally. Jesse is largely despondent, but he does express his suspicion that Walt killed Mike. Walt is vociferous in his denial, but he at least drips out one honest sentiment: he looks Jesse in the eye and says, "I need you to believe me." Jesse humors him by saying the words, but it seems like he's too broken to honestly believe anything.

It's tough to say exactly why Walt needs Jesse to take the money, but it seems like he and Jesse are both trying to do some deeply twisted, self-serving version of the right thing, albeit for opposite reasons. Jesse's impulse to give it away is easier to explain: he's consumed with guilt, nothing money can buy will make him feel better and the money's continued presence in his life is a reminder of how dark their business became.

Walt, on the other hand, is a trickier situation. My reading is that he's far more capable of mentally erasing the darkness from his memory, and he's now rewriting himself to be the hero of his story. If all the survivors can just be happy in their newfound wealth, then he can believe that he did the right thing all along. He needs Jesse to take the money and he needs Jesse to believe him, because otherwise the cognitive dissonance of his moral failures will leak through and collapse his new life like so much acid through a bathtub.

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The Breaking Point

Ultimately, Jesse's unfocused need to get rid of the money comes to full fruition by the end of the episode. Driving around the neighborhood in the dead of night, he flings his stacks of hundreds up and down the block like some kind of eccentric millionaire paperboy. The scene could skew either dark or comical in its absurdity -- and it does both, in my opinion -- but it all hangs together in Aaron Paul's credibly desolate performance. Walt has broken bad, and Jesse has broken down.

Walt has more to contend with than guilt, however, as he soon discovers that Gale's book of poetry has gone missing. Piecing together Hank's involvement, he finds a GPS tracker on his car outside. Walt goes to confront Hank, and after a few minutes dancing around what they both know, Hank closes the garage door and socks Walt in the face. The accusations fly, and Walt largely owns up; his only extenuation is that the cancer is back, and he'd just like to live out his days as a car wash owner. When Hank is unwilling to give Walt any leeway, Walt responds with the line that everyone will be quoting tomorrow: "If that's true, if you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly." The cautious Walter White and the brazen Heisenberg, united and facing Hank at last.

The pace of this show is thrilling. This week's mid-season premiere encapsulates that impossible balance of leisure and propulsion that Breaking Bad has handled so well since the pilot episode: individual scenes are allowed to linger -- I know I treasured every second of the Badger and Stinky Pete Star Trek discussion -- but the season's plot arc is beginning a dead sprint to the finish. With the stakes this high after one episode, the ruination of the Whites finally seems like a tangible inevitability.

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(Image courtesy of AMC)