This one's for people who can't stand Jesse. After he and Walt spend some quality time in respirator masks scooping a fine slurry of acid-decomposed human remains off the floors, Cap'n Cook fires up a bowl, fights with Walt about smoking the product, and takes off for the hills. Well, actually for a skanky motel with a meth whore (see below), but in any case, he's safely out of the way.
That leaves Walt alone in Jesse's aunt's house, with a drug kingpin Kryptonited to a pole in the basement. And oh yeah, a wife at home who's reduced to quizzing her sister about whether marijuana can change someone's mood — you know, for a character in a short story she's writing. When he calls home with a poorly-thought-out excuse, a weary Skylar tells Walt just to stay wherever he is.
And so Walt winds up sitting in the basement talking with Krazy-8, in a leisurely scene that is the apex of the series so far. I've seen a lot of shows and movies where captor and captive change places — where the person in danger of his life somehow takes control — but this is one of the first times I've felt the existential weight shift so thoroughly. By the time Walt has confessed to having lung cancer, marking the first time he's told another human being, and they've bonded over a shared local history at a furniture store, it's abundantly clear that Walt is far more desperate and lost than the man he's been sent to kill.
Yet his binary decision — kill him or let him go — is short-circuited by the realization that it's still a matter of naked survival, the law of the jungle. The balance of power has not only shifted in rhetorical and emotional terms, but in terms of weaponry. Knowing that Krazy-8 has a shard of broken plate, Walt slowly reaches for the key to unlock his captive, giving his enemy every chance to prove his worth. But it ends with no honor among thieves; Walt strangles the drug dealer in as violent an end as any of us could have imagined to this standoff, while Krazy-8 slashes at his leg with the improvised knife, connecting painfully before giving up the ghost.
At the end, DEA agent Ray has discovered the desert cook site; Walt has made off with the body; and Jesse doesn't know whether he's been betrayed or saved. Thanks to the continued obsessive focus on the gears turning in Walt's head, we have stepped along with him one more meter down the road to utter personal ruin, away from the daughter that represents his future. And we feel the crumbling of his moral fiber along with his lung tissue.
- Only the cheesy, stylized flashback device keeps this episode from approaching Mad Men transcendence: A virile young Walt, bedecked with flowing auburn locks, flirts with a grad student or something in a neon-lit classroom, discussing all the chemicals that make up the human body and how, somehow, they don't add up to 100%. That's some stinky Limburger right there.
- All the heavy stuff I loved so much and described above — yet this was also an episode full of hilarious lines. After Skylar's clumsy fishing expedition for pot information, Marie confides to Ray that Walter Jr. is on the weed: "She strongly inferred it." Then when Ray takes Walter Jr. to a skanky motel to scare him straight, the kid responds all deadpan: "I thought we were going to Coldstone Creamery."
- Strangely, in this show about choices, the flimsiest assertion of obligation — like Jesse insisting that "coin flip is sacred!" — seems to work just as well as actual physical or chemical necessity. But nothing beats Walt's pro/con list on killing Krazy-8. Con: "Judeo-Christian principles." Pro: "He'll kill you and your entire family if you let him go."