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Breaking Bad: "Grilled"

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An '89 Monte Carlo lowrider abandoned in the desert, hydraulics bouncing wildly, a shower of shotgun shell casings thrown off the trunk lid with every lift and raining to the ground.  It's another altogether chilling and original image presented in flash-forward as this week's episode starts.

But it's a cheat.  When we finally see the real thing at the hour's conclusion, the bouncing is more measured, and the casings are far fewer.  There's no crazy metallic trampoline effect, no cylinders waterfalling their way to the packed dirt.

And for all the wonderful locked-room tension of this episode – Tuco's mute uncle and his insistent bell was a veritable Hitchcockian touch – I felt just the slightest bit cheated throughout.  It was sixty minutes at high throttle, and the strain sometimes showed.  The fabric of the backdrop was stretched threadbare in places, revealing the machinery of the theater grinding away behind.

So it turns out Tuco threw Jesse and “Heisenberg” in the trunk and spirited them away to his uncle's remote desert shack because his place was raided by the DA, and he suspects them of snitching.  As they sit on the sofa opposite Tuco's wheelchair-bound, oxygen-tanked uncle, Tuco talks himself into the belief that Gonzo is the snitch, since he's disappeared.  His plan is to head for Mexico with his cousins, taking Walter with him to cook the magic blue crystals.  Jesse is expendable, but Walter intervenes with an ultimatum – he goes, or I don't go – to save his life. And while the increasingly unhinged drug kingpin makes burritos in the kitchen, pausing every so often to mutter dire imprecations against Gonzo and stab a wicked knife into the counter, Walter and Jesse argue about who's responsible for their missed opportunity to get Tuco to snort the ricin-laced meth he finds in their pockets.


Meanwhile, Skylar has already notified the police that Walter is missing.  (Is it just the next day?  According to all the TV I've ever seen, the police don't get involved that quickly in missing persons cases, although maybe Albuquerque is different or Hank pulled some strings.)  She resists the implication that Walter has gone off somewhere to commit suicide, and occupies herself with surprising calmness passing out flyers.  At least the crisis has led to a partial reconciliation with Marie, although Skylar cuts off her attempt at self-defense over the tiara incident.

“Grilled” is packed with inimitable Walterisms and hair-trigger suspense, so much so that it might have ranked among the show's best for me had it not been for the more nuanced and diversified season premiere.  Hank gets to showcase his best TV-cop swagger for the DEA morning assembly (“it's all about appearances” — what a honey-baked, spiral-sliced ham).  Walter's inability to talk a more casual lingo to Tuco (“So Gonzo is currently operating as a police informant, as far as you know. That's very disappointing”) is a source of endless delight.  And the extended scene in which Walt poisons Tuco's burrito, Tio won't stop ringing the bell, Tuco switches the burrito, and dad sweeps it to the floor reaches heights of unbearable tension.


But contrast that with the much more conventional and manipulative scene of Jesse trying to get Tuco to take the castor-bean bump.  As much as I enjoyed Aaron Paul's performance there, we knew he wasn't going to take it.  Again, something of a cheat – or just ordinary.  And while I'm haunted by Jesse and Walter scrambling through the barbed wire and heading into the open desert, I'm equally let down by the difference between that opening flash-forward and what actually happens.  So there's not really going to be a burned pink toy and an eyeball floating into the pool trap?  Don't abandon the realism just because you see an opportunity for an indelible image, BB.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- Marie spills the beans about the second cell phone to Skylar, protesting “We can't just ignore a potential clue, Hank!”  I was kind of hoping that might stay Hank-only for awhile longer, but that's what he gets for telling Marie.


- Another great visual image: The missing-person flyer edging its way out of Walt Jr.'s printer, while at his feet, a wad of money peeks out of that diaper box.

-Because Walter has “the big C,” he ought to “jump on the grenade” to save Jesse.  According to Jesse, that is.


- I guess Jesse's Monte Carlo does have a LoJack.

- "We tried to poison you because you are an insane, degenerate piece of filth and you deserve to die.”


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