Jesse, dressed in a yellow shirt and jacket, lays on his back on the sandy earth. Blue waste water pools around him like he has been shot. He is covered in filth from the toilet he just fell into.

Bad Nauseam: “Bit By A Dead Bee” & “Down”

Bit By A Dead Bee

Walter and Jesse must establish alibis for their multi-day disappearances. Walt pretends to have been in a fugue state; Jesse claims he was partying with sex worker Wendy.

Contrary to what I wrote in my previous review, Season 2 was rather unusual for Breaking Bad – it was the only time the writers planned all the character arcs and story-lines in advance. To quote Vince Gilligan, it was the product of “many, many hours of beating our heads against the wall — very laborious work, which is probably why we haven’t repeated that formula since.”1 The first three episodes of this season feel like one big movie broken up into forty-seven minute blocks, with this one serving as the dénouement of the Tuco arc. As such, I don’t find the episode that interesting – it functions more as connective tissue than a compelling story.

We do see Bryan Cranston’s backside – that’s something different…

My biggest complaint though is the way Hank acts in this episode. I have no illusions about Hank Schrader being a wonderful, compassionate person but he is complicated. He holds bigoted views of hispanic men but respects his Mexican-American partner Gomez; he regularly performs toxic masculinity but tries to be emotionally vulnerable so he can comfort other members of his family. In short, Hank works best when he is morally ambiguous, and having him constantly spout disgusting slurs, patriarchal insults and deny a woman access to the toilet ruins that characterisation. I checked to see who wrote this episode and it turned out to be Peter Gould, the creative mind behind the sub-par Season 1 finale – my opinion of his work has not improved!

Odds and Ends

  • It goes without saying that Bryan Cranston is a great actor, but I want to single out the facial expression he makes when Hank jokes about his disappearance – the half-hearted smile can’t cover up the fact that Walt is hurt by the comment and it is a phenomenal bit of acting from Cranston.

  • I used to think that Tuco’s grill being removed from his body, encased in lucite and presented as a gift was far-fetched but sadly it is not. When the Rampart Corruption Task Force investigated a Los Angeles anti-gang unit at the turn of the century, they discovered that officers in the unit were given plaques every time they shot someone – the plaques came with a red playing card if the suspect was wounded, a black card if the suspect was killed.
  • While I haven’t hidden my dislike of Peter Gould’s work, I appreciate how Skyler behaves in this episode – a supportive wife right up until the moment her husband is safely back at home, then she asks him whether or not he has a second cell phone. She’s no fool.
  • The painting Walter notices in the hospital – a man rowing out to sea and away from his wife and family – turns up again in Gliding Over All (Series 5, Episode 8).


In the aftermath of his disappearance, Walter tries to reconnect with his family but underestimates how hard that might be. Meanwhile, Jesse’s parents kick him out of his house for manufacturing drugs.

I was pleasantly surprised when I rewatched this episode. The editing and performances are excellent; it has a strong central theme; the A and B story closely mirror one another before coming together for a solid resolution. In fact, I think this might be one of the best episodes of Breaking Bad.

The writers have frequently shown us that Walt’s criminal activities have isolated him from his family2 – we now get to see our main protagonist’s reaction to that. Walter decides to overcompensate and model his behaviour after what he sees as the “ideal patriarch”. He gets up early to make an elaborate breakfast, looks up cultural events he can attend with his wife and gives his son a driving lesson. The problem with this neat little plan is that these are not the things that Walt’s family actually want from him.

It starts well enough – the family enjoy a nice meal and a conversation – but Walt’s motives are entirely self-serving; he isn’t prepared to sacrifice his own needs or sense of control to make others happy. This is demonstrated beautifully with the twenty-second close-up on Skyler, where we see on her face the growing disappointment that her husband is still lying to her about the second cell phone.3 This comes to a head in a final confrontation where Skyler tells Walt outright to stop gaslighting her if he wants to save their marriage – he chooses not to. Walter may want adoration from his family, but only on his terms.

Can’t a man break the law and lie to his wife without her resenting him?!

The Jesse subplot reinforces this message. Walt wants to think of himself as a generous and attentive man but he refuses to listen to the desperate pleas of his business partner, even after Jesse has lost basically everything. Leave aside the fact that Jesse only lost his savings because Walt insisted they work with Tuco – he knew Jesse when he was a schoolboy, a period when he would have occasionally acted in loco parentis. Walter’s refusal to help or accept any responsibility shows his attempts at familial reconciliation for what they really are – exercises in massaging his own ego.

It is revealing that Walt only relents and gives Jesse the money he needs after two things have happened. First, Jesse brings the incriminating RV to his house and beats him in a fight, showing Walt that Jesse has the ability to destroy the suburban lifestyle he is trying so hard to preserve. Second, he is entirely alone; Skyler does not want to spend time with him and his son no longer shares his first name. If Walter wants any appreciation at all, he will have to turn to Jesse for the time being.

Odds and Ends

  • Walter suggests attending “a fiction writer’s seminar at UNM” because Skyler is a published author – this was mentioned just once in the Pilot. The greatest flaw of Breaking Bad is how underwritten its female characters are, and the characterisation we do get tends to revolve around the men in their lives. Do you know what Marie Schrader’s job is or which of the sisters is the eldest?
  • Jesse tries to stay with his friend Paul – they used to play in the band TwaüghtHammër together. Paul is married and when his wife gets home she tells her husband off-screen to remove Jesse from their house. Maybe I’m projecting but this struck me as another portrayal of the casual cruelty of “respectable” middle-class people – Jesse is consistently treated as contaminated or a threat because of his drug-habit and demeanour, even though he seems to be a functional adult.
  • After her confrontation with Walt, Skyler leaves the house and buys a carton of cigarettes, despite being seven months pregnant. Certain “fans” of the show constantly bring this up as evidence of how horrible Skyler is – someone even made an elaborate fan theory blaming her son’s cerebral palsy and her husband’s cancer on a smoking addiction. What can I say except that if you think about Skyler White that way, you’re a piece of shit.
Her husband is constantly gaslighting her and has been physically abusive – how dare she smoke a single cigarette!?
  • Jesse eventually gets his house back in Caballo sin Nombre (Series 3, Episode 2), turning the tables on his parents by getting Saul to threaten them with a lawsuit for concealing the existence of a meth lab in the basement.

Please use spoiler tags in the comments, as some Avocadians are watching Breaking Bad for the first time