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Breaking Bad: "Peekaboo"

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Tonight's episode is all about family.  While Walter finds it increasingly hard to act on his determination to put family first, Jesse gets distracted from his mission to safeguard his business by a family that's failing.  The family man falls back on benevolent lies to keep up appearances, and the disowned loser calls 911 so that a little boy will get some care.  And an underexplored dynamic of BB comes to the fore: role reversal.  Remember Jesse's almost reflexive, unnecessary lies to his mom and dad?  Compare Walter making up a tale for Skylar to explain why their rich benefactors have abandoned them.  And to Jesse playing peekaboo with the filthy child, juxtapose Walter making a rare connection with Walt Jr. — sorry, "Flynn" — by imagining revenge on prankish teens via fire ants and scorpions.

Skinny Pete is sure that the thug-crackwhore team that jacked him — led by "Spooge" — needs to get got.  But he can't do it himself, seeing as he's on probation.  So even before the credits roll, Jesse the relunctant kingpin checks his piece and goes to the address Pete jotted down for him, misspelled "streat" and all.  The only person home is a kid, all of three or four years old, and the only channel that the TV gets is a home-shopping network showing a neverending Ginsu knife commercial.  Waiting to kill somebody makes for a long day.

When the thieving duo get home, Jesse cracks Spooge over the head and demands his dope and his money.  The dope the couple literally pulls out of their asses, but they claim to have lost the rest of the meth.  The money?  That's in an ATM that the two boosted from a bodega.  "FIDC insured, man.  Victimless crime," claims Spooge.  Turns out this is the sixth ATM they've stolen, without ever getting any of them open.  Beating on "lucky number seven" makes for a long day, too.

Between taking turns with the sledgehammer, Jesse berates his hostages for neglecting their boy.  The red-headed, mute child doesn't even wipe his own snot, but he likes Jesse's desultory attempts to amuse him with a game of peekaboo.  But his weakness for the kid proves his undoing; while occupied with their game, Jesse gets bludgeoned with a bottle, and the roles of captor and captive are reversed.  When Jesse wakes up, he sees the skank objecting to that appellation by tipping the ATM onto Spooge (whose name turns out to be an onomatopoeia for the sound his melon makes when crushed by a piece of machinery).  He collects his funds and splits, but not before calling 911 to give the kid a chance to get away from his junkie guardians.


Meanwhile, Walter is back at work.  Even though he's been transformed, his lesson is about continuity: carbon, the basis for all life.  And H. Tracy Hall, the man who invented the process for making synthetic diamonds back in the fifties as a work-for-hire for General Electric.  "You wanna know how GE rewarded Dr. Hall?  A $10 U.S. savings bond," he tells them, simultaneously betraying a dangerous bitterness about his own past and clumsily closing the chemical circle of carbon.  His principal is worried about him.  The kids who altered his missing-person flier to read "I'm missing my pants" are annoying him.

And his reconstructed life begins to fall apart when his erstwhile benefactor Gretchen calls to wish him the best, giving Skylar a chance to raise the issue of the money she thinks Gretchen and Elliot been contributing for Walters treatment.  Gretchen keeps Walt's secret — even from Elliot, she claims — but she's disillusioned about Walt's honesty to his family.  When she and Walt meet at a restaurant to talk it out, he claims that the reason he lied to Skylar "isn't really at issue right now," and promises repeatedly to "clear this up" in his own time.  "I don't owe you an explanation.  I owe you an apology.  And I have apologized," he insists, "three times."  With no defense against Gretchen's charge that he involved her in his lies, he throws old scars in her face.  "My work, my research, and you and Elliot made millions off of it," he accuses.  "You left me," Gretchen retorts, citing a Fourth of July weekend when she came upstairs and found Walt packing his bags.


The door to the past has been opened.  It can't be long before all the wounds are torn open.  None of this started with the cancer, it seems.  Has the transformed Walter been stewing deep inside the shell of the same-old Walter for years, growing into a cancer that would finally break into physical reality?  How long has Walt been lying?  "Where were you tonight?" Skylar asks for the umpteenth time.  And Walter spins a yarn about Gretchen and Elliot being broke, explaining why they can no longer pay for his treatment.  As Skylar processes the news, the camera stays on Walter, and you can see him rehearsing this new piece of his castle of lies, cementing it into place and reviewing how it relates to all the load-bearing prevarications.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- The director of "Peekaboo," Peter Medak, made a splash in critical circles back in the nineties with the films Let Him Have It and The Krays.


- "Peekaboo" loses a bit of master-plot tension from the lack of movement in the Hank subplot, even with the Spooge-Jesse standoff providing a framework for suspense.  I'm looking forward to all the cars getting back out on the track next week.

- Too bad Spooge's head is two-dimensional.  He provides some great laughs in this episode.  "I think I've got a concussion, man, maybe I should see a hospital," he whines to Jesse after getting ambushed.  "Don't fall asleep, baby," his skank sidekick chimes in right on cue.


- "I can't be all about spellin' and shit."

- "Shut your skank-ass pie-hole and assist me!"


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