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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Breaking Bad: "One Minute"

Illustration for article titled iBreaking Bad/i: One Minute
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Perhaps the tension in "One Minute" was heightened for me by the fact that I watched it while the tornado sirens were blaring in my town and funnel clouds were being reported all around us.  But I doubt you needed the threat of imminent natural disaster for this episode to put you on edge.  As was presaged in "Sunset" last week, Hank takes center stage as the Cousins' target, and Walt and Jesse rejoin forces.  That summary, though, does not justice to the explosive way these plot developments are handled.  What continues to amaze about Breaking Bad is that it's both the journey and the destination.  (Did any of you predict that one of the cousins would be taken out of action* by the end of the hour this week?  Do any of you think that's the most important thing we learned?)

Seasons One and Two of this show were such potent explorations of existential dread that it seemed unlikely the mood could be sustained into different circumstances.  Yet here I am whispering "oh no!" as events unfold on the screen, terrified as much of the psychological places the show is taking me as of the violence that's lurking around every corner.  Hank's rage over his personal life and emotions being invaded by Jesse erupts in a vicious beating administered at Jesse's house.  "You have my cell phone number?  You know my wife's name?" Hank yells.  Next thing you know, Saul is visiting Jesse in the hospital, taking cell phone pictures of his blackened, bruised face and exulting, "You're home free!"  If there's a theme to "One Minute," it's this notion of how quickly things can change when we think we've got the situation handled.  Hours ago Hank had Jesse trapped; now Jesse has Hank's whole future clutched in his fist and he's squeezing hard.  "Every cent he earns, every cent his wife earns is mine," Jesse snarls to Walt in an speech of ice-cold vengeance (undercut somewhat by the inimitable Jesse-speak of "I will haunt his crusty ass forever").


Hank finds out quickly enough that he has Jesse after him, when Internal Affairs investigates the beating on the heels of Jesse's threatened lawsuit.  What he doesn't know (and what the cold-open reminds us, after an evocative flashback to the Cousins' childhood) is that he has the Cousins after him too.  The drawing of Heisenberg in the Santa Muerte shrine has been replaced with a 5x7 glossy of Agent Schrader.  But none of that matters to Hank for the bulk of the hour, as he realizes that the Jesse mess is a bit of a blessing in disguise, albeit a very painful one.  After breaking down in Marie's embrace in the elevator, out of sight of the world, Hank finally has the courage to tell his wife about the panic attacks.  Marie begins by trying to salvage the situation — she suggests to him that "muscle memory took over" when Jesse threatened him — but he cuts her off.  "I don't think I can be a cop anymore," he says.  "I'm not the man I once was."  His fellow officers leave the door open to an easy way out, too, but he refuses to take it, submitting a statement detailing exactly what happened. Now he's not a cop anymore, but he's facing Jesse's lawsuit — or is he?  It's been suddenly dropped, and Hank's life is looking up.  He doesn't have to pretend to be a cop, he lost his badge defending the honor of his family and sending a dirtbag to the hospital, and his wages aren't about to be garnished by a court.  Time to buy his wife a gift and flowers and call her on the phone, celebrating their hard-won moment of intimacy which appears, suddenly, to have come without the ultimate cost.  "I think everything's going to be all right," he says.

Of course that's exactly what you say right before it's not going to be all right.  But for the moment, his good fortune is partly due to Walter, who makes a bold move thanks to a combination of guilt over Jesse's sudden hard turn and suspicion of Gale, his way-too-perfect lab assistant.  "This should not have happened," he tells Jesse in a masterpiece of the passive voice, before finding out that Jesse considers himself invincible because he has Walter to give up if law enforcement makes the slightest move on him.  Then Gale makes the mistake of anticipating Walter's every need.  So Walter accuses Gale of setting some big meth brewing tank at the wrong temperature — "This is chemistry! Degrees matter!" — and flushes a perfectly good batch down the sewer before calling Fring with a back-up plan since "the Gale situation is not working out."  "The first and best option is Jesse Pinkman," he says, and then after convincing Fring that they're like two bodies with one mind, Walter heads over to the hospital to make his pitch: "You can be my lab assistant."  But Jesse is nursing a much deeper bruise on his self-esteem.  "You said I was no good … you said my cook was shit," he screams at Walter, who quietly responds, "Your meth is good — as good as mine."  It works.  They're partners.  Fifty-fifty.  And the lawsuit disappears.

That brings us back to Hank in his SUV, flowers on the seat beside him, 3:07 on the radio display, and his cell phone ringing.  It's a distorted voice telling him that two men are approaching the car to kill him and will be there in one minute.  Cue the panic attack, cue the grab for the gun no longer on his hip, cue the wild scanning of everyone in the parking lot, cue the ominous click of the clock over to 3:08.  When Marco opens fire from the rear of the vehicle, Hank guns the car in reverse and crushes him — repeatedly — against another car.  And when Leonel flanks him, Hank grabs the gun that Marco dropped through the shattered rear window and abandons the car.  Some poor bystander who makes the mistake of letting out an involuntary exclamation gets fragged, but a screaming woman is saved when Leonel's pistol clicks on empty.  As he changes clips, an unspent round falls to the ground.  And that's the round that Hank puts through his head, splattering gore on the camera lens, after his assailant's desire for revenge — double revenge, for Tuco and for his brother ("La familia es todo," as Don Salamanca said in the opening flashback) — takes him back to the car for the chrome ax and a more fitting, painful end for Hank.  In that one minute between Hank opening fire on Leonel and Leonel coming back to get his head blown off (just like the action figure that Marco taunts him with the flashback), everything changed.

That's only one of several "one minute" changes in this episode, not all of them taking a literal minute.  The boss asks the boy how long his brother can stay alive with his head in icy water — "one minute? maybe less?" — and afterward the brothers are no longer petty enemies, but life-and-death allies.  When Walter leaves Jesse's hospital room after making the partnership offer, he has no agreement; then Jesse calls, and it's on.  Hank leaves the hearing stripped of his identity, then gets it back in altered form when he learns the lawsuit is off.  But in every case, there is a world of pain in those changes.  The cousins' bond manifests itself in a trail of murder, hot- and cold-blooded.  Jesse doesn't go back into business with Walter to rebuild himself, but as a further descent into emptiness; he hangs up the phone and turns to stare at the saddest face on the universal pain chart before closing his eyes.  And Hank may be alive and out of danger from Jesse or the cousins, but he's also just about to find out what he doesn't want to know about his brother-in-law, not to mention having to forge some kind of new identity out of the shards of the one he's decided to finally shed.  Right now only Walter seems to be pretty sure of who he is and what he wants.  Or is that just a delusion that's not as close to the surface as the ones changing all around him?


Stray observations:

  • If you are interested in Breaking Bad's gorgeously-presented New Mexico locations, check out this Flickr album by Nancy, a local who's made it her business to track down and give us the story behind scores of them.
  • We have some clues about the secret origin of Gus Fring in Don Salamanca's phone conversation during the flashback: He's South American, maybe some kind of former military junta figure (Tio calls him "Generalissimo," derisively).
  • Saul warns Walter that theres no honor among thieves ("except for us, of course") and warns him that "there may come a time to discuss options."  Then Walter calls Jesse his "first and best option" on the phone to Fring.  Seems like Walter is determined to forge the choices himself rather than accepting the hand dealt to him, just like he responded with a devastatingly successful plan when Jesse begged him to get them out of the trap last week.
  • Humiliating moment for Hank: Having his abraded knuckles photographed for the investigation into the assault on Jesse.  "On the table is fine … flat on the table," says his colleague apologetically.
  • The guy who sells the cousins the Kevlar jackets (which they insist on trying out) assumes that women who like to be peed on would come from the warmer climates.
  • The $64,000 question: Who called Hank?  We know Saul has the phone number, but the call seemed far too professional to be a Saul Goodman production.  Who has an interest in keeping Hank alive?

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