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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Breaking Bad: "No Mas"

Illustration for article titled iBreaking Bad/i: No Mas
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We left Walter last season cancer-free but surrounded by death.  And what the finale showed us was that the first drama of this season would be inside his head.  How was he going to deal with what happened?  Would he deal with it at all?

For all the foreboding inserts of Mexican drug lords coming for Heisenberg (a welcome twist on the flash-forwards from the last two seasons), the scariest thing about "No Mas" was Walter's dialogue.  And the funniest, too.  I had forgotten, between last May and now, how Walter uses language to try to control conversations and draw other people into his version of reality — a version where he's not a methamphetamine dealer, just a methamphetamine manufacturer.  A version where that distinction is crucial to one's moral standing.  "There are a lot of angles to this," Walter protests against Skylar's reductive judgement of his meth involvement.  "There are many factors at play there," he tells Jesse about the relationship between Jane's death and the plane crash.  If Walter can make the experimental apparatus complicated enough, then anything in the world could reasonably be construed as affecting the results.


So let's start with ABQ, where the body count from Donald Margolis's air traffic control paralysis stands at 167, according to the newscasters anchoring round-the-clock coverage of the tragedy. Walter is lighting matches and throwing them into the pool, and when he's down to his last match, he decides to burn his duffel-bagfull of money.  But once it's alight, he changes his mind, dumping the blazing grill into the pool and himself after it.  Nope, he's not done with the ill-gotten gains yet, although he is determined to be done with the ill that got them.  To that end, he responds to Gus Fring's POLLO text by visiting the restaurant and telling Fring that he's done with the meth business.  It's no reflection on Fring, he hastens to say: "I find you extraordinarily professional."  But "I'm at something of a crossroads."

Walter may think so, but his behavior as Mr. White, chemistry teacher and participant in his school's gymnasium grief session for the plane crash, reveals otherwise.  Conspicuously missing the blue ribbon and practically everyone else (even Gus Fring!) in the town is wearing, Walter offers a different view of the mass casualties and fiery rain of body parts: It wasn't that bad.  The planes weren't full, thankfully, and weren't as large as they could have been.  "What you're left with, casualty-wise, is just the 50th worst air disaster in history. Actually tied for 50th.  There have been 52 worse crashes …"  Imagine the time on the internet Walter has already devoted to minimizing his guilt by applying a premature salve of perspective.

And he doesn't seem to have reached the crrossroads in his marriage yet, either.  Despite Skylar's visit to an attorney (who asks "Do you feel like you have a good grasp of your husband's financial situation?"), despite Walter's move to a motel ("In terms of a mailing address," he reports to the White's answering machine, "I'm here at the Beachcomber …"), and despite Skylar's delivery of divorce papers to him, Walter regards this as a temporary setback.  "We're happily married!" he shouts at Skylar before correcting himself: "I'm happily married."  He gives Hank a seething stare when Hank suggests "you beat a tactical retreat, you regroup, then bing!  Absence makes the .."  But he appears to be intent on just such a strategy.  "Little friction in the marriage right now," he tells Jesse while introducing him to the hotel room bachelor pad.  It's one of the most cliched bits of self-deception in the entertainment playbook.  Combine it with Walter's many other problems with honesty, though, and it's painfully three-dimensional.

Jesse is in a different place.  He learned something at rehab, despite himself, from a counselor whose credentials as someone who ever inflicted pain on a loved one he initially doubts.  Punishing yourself for the horrible wrong you did is a waste of time and effort.  You have to accept yourself to move forward.  And so Jesse names himself: "I'm the bad guy."  Contrast Walter, trying to extricate himself from Fring's circle of lawlessness: "This isn't me.  I am not a criminal."  Contrast Walter, trying to convince Jesse he's not to blame for the crash: Air traffic controllers are working on 1960's computer equipment — "I blame the government."


And those sharkskin-suited cold-blooded Mexican killer cousins who sacrificed to a grim skeleton patron saint in order to win its blessing on their hunt for Heisenberg?  Eventually we're going to find out who they think Walter is.  Wonder how his redefinition efforts will play to them?

Stray observations:

  • And we haven't seen the last of that creepy floating eyeball from last season's repeated flashforwards, either.  Walter fishes it out of the pool trap after retrieving all his half-burned money, then finds it in his pocket later on.  The pink teddy bear continues to accuse.
  • BB manages to do all the little stuff right in this episode.  Just check out that high school assembly, from the student who hopefully reports: "I just find it really hard to concentrate.  In college, they have this thing where if your roommate dies, you get an A … I just think that kind of compassion is—", to the one who repeats an urban legend that an airline seat with legs still strapped in it "landed perfectly upright beside [a neighbor's] SeaDoos — because he has, like, SeaDoos?", to the counselor facilitator who makes a request to a distraught girl asking why God would allow such a thing: "Can we just keep it secular, honey?"
  • There is a moment of extremely awkward feigned outrage when Skylar accuses Walter of being a drug dealer.  Then when she elaborates on her suspicion that it's marijuana — or cocaine — he gives up the truth far more easily than we could have imagined.
  • Fring's offer of $3 million for three months' work certainly gives Walter pause.  Are you sure that it's about your identity as a good guy and not about the money, Walter?  You've still got chlorinated water sloshing around your inner ears from that jump into the water.
  • The only thing sadder than that rehab guy's story about running over his daughter in the driveway in his hurry to get to the liquor store before it closed was the shot of Walter making the world's most depressing peanut-butter-and-strawberry-jelly sandwich.

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