Possibly the biggest question mark surrounding the second half of Breaking Bad‘s fifth season pertained to Walt and Jesse’s relationship — it’s been a tense one over the years (or months, if we’re using the show’s timeline). They’ve been friends and enemies, back and forth — from gruff master and reluctant pupil to a genuine partnership, albeit one in which Mr. White was clearly the puppeteer, pulling strings Jesse didn’t even know about.
We’ve become so used to these two sticking it out through thick and thin together that one could imagine Breaking Bad ending with these two up against an outside opponent — a rival in the drug trade, a former ally turned foe, perhaps the DEA. A more formulaic show might have gone this route, but Breaking Bad is more interested in the many follies of Walter White, which means isolating him from the things he holds dear. Already he’s lost his extended family, the Schraders, and the flash-forward to his 52nd birthday seems to indicate he’ll lose his more immediate family, too. Will he lose Jesse as well?
The climax of last week’s excellent “Confessions” hinted that this may be the point of no return for this duo — though they’ve come back from other precarious points in the past. There was no guarantee that Jesse couldn’t be roped back in under Mr. White’s spell after last week’s revelation, except that it would have been bad storytelling after Jesse already called Walt on his bullshit once in that episode. This week’s “Rabid Dog” makes it pretty clear that there won’t be a lot of happy tears and hugging in Walt and Jesse’s immediate future. It’s possible that coming events will necessitate that they join forces again, but it certainly won’t be like it was. Jesse Pinkman and Mr. White are officially over.
In Season Four, an emotional Jesse poured his heart out at rehab regarding a “problem dog” he had to put out to pasture. Of course, he was really discussing his guilt about killing Gale. The episode was called “Problem Dog,” and now, in this week’s “Rabid Dog,” Jesse himself is the troublesome canine that nearly everybody wants snuffed out. Jesse has often been seen as a loose cannon; he would’ve been euthanized a few times over if not for Walt’s intervention. Say what you will about Walter White, but he does have genuine feelings for his pupil — and has been willing to stick his neck out on more than one occasion to ensure Jesse’s survival.
But Jesse isn’t so sure that Walt is looking out for him these days. Mr. White could kill him at any moment, because that’s what he’s done with others who got in his way — most notably Gale and Mike, both of whom Walt owed some degree of loyalty to. Jesse doesn’t see any difference between him and them, but there is one. In “Rabid Dog,” killing Jesse is not an option for Walt, even when everyone else seems to think it’s the best way to go. Saul compares Jesse to Old Yeller in another of his “colorful metaphors,” Skyler assumes “talking to” Jesse is a euphemism for offing him, and Hank thinks Jesse is expendable as long as it helps him bring Heisenberg down. Jesse truly has nobody watching out for him anymore, which is a sad, strange irony — it’s true that Walt led Jesse down a terrible path (though not necessarily more hopeless than the one he was on already), and certainly he has abused his trust a time or two. But Walt truly does care about Jesse — his betrayals were only meant to keep Jesse close. Now everyone but Walt wants Jesse dead, while Jesse thinks Walt is the one who’s out to get him — and as such, acts out in such a way that only means Walt will have to take Jesse out. How’s that whole lily of the valley scheme working out for you now, Walter?
“Rabid Dog” picks up with Walt breaking into his own home again, searching for a very angry Jesse. His protege has doused the house in gasoline but, for some reason, hesitated before lighting up. The “master criminal” sets about on one of his lamest cover-ups yet, assuming a heavy carpet cleaning will get rid of the smell of gas (it won’t), even bumbling his hiding of the evidence because he can’t figure out which trash can to throw it away in. The White family ends up in a posh hotel, finally enjoying some of that hard-earned blood money — Skyler treats herself to the minibar while Flynn partakes in premium cable in his own suite. Walt sneaks off to meet with Saul about the “Old Yeller” situation, spinning more bullshit upon his return — which Skyler handily sees through. Walt is completely unaware of his wife’s transformation over the past few seasons — he still treats her like the clueless harpy she was back in Season One.
Then we’re privy to the reason Jesse elected not to obliterate the White house, and it’s not a change of heart as Walt surmised. It’s an interruption from Hank — who tries again to get Jesse to make a confession, and this time has asked for it at the perfect moment. Given their rocky past, Hank and Jesse make for an unlikely team, but also an inevitable one — and Marie’s reaction to their new houseguest is priceless. But Hank is just using Jesse in an even colder way than Walt ever did — he still won’t see him as anything besides a meth-addicted burnout. He tapes Jesse’s confession — which made me wonder if this would be a counter-threat to Walt’s tape from last week — then sends Jesse into the fray to meet Walt. Both Hank and Jesse know full well by now that the nefarious Heisenberg could have something up his sleeve to dispatch of rabid Jesse. Jesse sure thinks so, and we can’t be sure that he’s wrong — yet with everyone egging him on, Walt could come out and say that he wanted Jesse gone if he did. Instead, there’s a rather paternal concern in his voice every time he calls Jesse.
(Minor nitpick: the episode glosses over Hank telling Steve Gomez about Walt, which seems like a big deal. Gomez has been on the show since the very beginning, so some consideration of his reaction is warranted. Has he seen Walt’s tape? Did he buy Hank’s story from the get-go, or did it take some convincing? I’m also curious about what Jesse copped to in his confession — did he truly spill the beans on everything? Even his point-blank execution of Gale? It seems unlikely that the DEA could get him off scot-free for something like that, and it’s not really in Jesse’s nature to be so forthcoming. I wish “Rabid Dog” had spent another few minutes on all this, maybe in lieu of some of Walt’s gas can shenanigans.)
Walt is still operating under the assumption that their bond is strong enough to withstand even this, and why wouldn’t he believe so? It’s worked every time leading up to this. Walt genuinely thinks they can talk even this out — but he’s has never been very good at gauging the emotions of those he’s closest to. (He’s better at anticipating the actions of an enemy.) Walt’s still feeding Skyler bullshit she’s way past buying, still trying to appeal to Jesse’s emotions. Wrong approach, Walt. Jesse doesn’t take the bait, instead threatening Walt with an ominous plan for vengeance that is apparently even worse than wearing a wire and ratting him out to the DEA. Walt, in turn, places a call to Todd, enlisting the services of his uncle once again. (Does taking out Jesse Pinkman really require the big guns?) And that’s our show.
Yes, this is Breaking Bad, but still it’s surprising how much of a bloodlust there is in “Rabid Dog,” which strips the core characters down to their very ugliest selves. Jesse’s dreaming up ways to hurt his former mentor, even while that mentor is fighting for a too-late way to save his life. Hank callously uses Pinkman as a pawn in his scheme to take down his criminal brother-in-law, and if Jesse gets killed in the process? That’s just two birds with one stone in Hank’s eyes. Marie fantasizes to her therapist about poisoning Walt — and the fact that she chooses an untraceable poison at all is something Walt would approve of. And Skyler (or should we call her Lady White?) sinks to a new low after her home is sloshed with gasoline, asking, “What’s one more?” regarding that “rabid dog.” (It’s a brilliant piece of acting from Anna Gunn, who consistently finds new and surprising shades of Skyler. My favorite moment of this episode.) Basically, the only person who isn’t out to cut a bitch in “Rabid Dog” is Flynn, and even he asks Walt to stop lying. Did Flynn finally wise up? Alas, no — it’s a fake-out. Flynn just thinks his dad is covering up a fainting spell from the cancer. He’s the one figure on this show that has yet to see through Walt’s crap, now that everyone else has long since grown sick of it.
Last week’s “Confession” contained one of the most miserable meals ever filmed — if you can call it a meal at all, since no one went for that guacamole. It was the first scene to reunite all four adults in the White and Schrader families following Hank’s revelation on the porcelain throne, and this week’s “Rabid Dog” finds them clearly divided again. All four retreat to separate corners to lick their wounds — Walt scrambling to cover up Jesse’s aborted arson, Skyler coping with her guilt via copious amounts of booze, Marie giving her shrink the vaguest possible outline of what’s troubling her (besides the new parking arrangement at work), and Hank burying himself in work once more — teaming up with an enemy to bring an end to an even greater nemesis. These four are in a lot of pain, all handling it in their own way, and “Rabid Dog” takes them to some very dark places. Marie, Hank, and Skyler all want someone dead — how far we’ve come since Season One, huh?
“Rabid Dog” isn’t likely to make us feel warm and fuzzy about any of these people. Ironically, it’s Walt himself who is most sympathetic, insisting that Jesse merely changed his mind about that whole fiery revenge thing. Walt is trying really hard not to send Jesse off to Belize — ironically, he’s the only one who does not want someone dead in this episode. For once, Walt is the one pushing for a peaceful solution while everyone else just wants what’s easy and convenient — at any cost. Here, Walt is the only key figure not acting according to his basest self-interest, and that’s a novelty. No, Walter White has not turned over a benevolent new leaf, but he has limits. He is motivated more by his love for Jesse than out of self-preservation in this episode, hoping for the best and unaware that it’s too late for that. Walter White is used to getting what he wants, particularly from Jesse, and so it’s both love and arrogance that allow him to believe in a non-Belize solution to the Old Yeller problem. It’s not until Jesse declares war on Heisenberg that Walt realizes one of them has to be put down and goes back to his main M.O. — covering his own ass.
“Rabid Dog” is a somewhat strange episode of Breaking Bad — darkly comedic, as two wives (Skyler and Marie) reluctantly go along with their dueling husbands no matter the price. Skyler has come unhinged after sacrificing both her morals and her sister, slinging drunken barbs at Walt without a trace of the fear she once had of him. Meanwhile, Marie is so chipper at the idea of taking Walt down that she’s willing to play hostess to the nefarious drug dealer she previously had zero sympathy for. Taking the White family out of their unimpressive suburban domicile and into a luxurious hotel reminds us how far they’ve come — made clearer by the fact that Skyler has now devolved into the amoral, vodka-guzzling Lady Heisenberg, a crass rich bitch stereotype that should be beneath her. (But it’s fun to watch for an episode or two, at least.) It’s truly starting to feel like the third act of this story as new (and faulty) alliances are formed, old alliances are broken, the status quo is upended, and everyone is having a really shitty time of it.
Todd, Lydia, and the rest have been all but out of the picture in the latter half of this season, because unlike the days of Tuco, the cousins, and Gus Fring, there’s not much need for an external evil as the series winds down to the bitter end. It’s become clear that these characters are their own (and each other’s) worst enemies, and instead of raising the stakes with an impossible villain, it’s putting the core cast together in the ring to fight each other. Nobody’s on the team they would have expected, and there’s no way to predict how things will shake out from here.
Only one thing is certain after this episode: neither Mr. White nor Jesse is gay for each other anymore.