4 Days Out (S2E9)
Afraid that his cancer treatment isn’t working, Walter convinces Jesse to head into the desert for a marathon cooking session. However, when the RV breaks down, they must work together in order to get back home.
I was looking forward to reviewing this and I wasn’t disappointed – this remains one of the best episodes of Breaking Bad. Instead of drug lords or police officers, Walter and Jesse are pitted against the unforgiving New Mexico desert, an antagonist they cannot cheat or negotiate with. They must rely on their wits and each other, and it is so satisfying when they finally come up with a solution and escape certain death from dehydration.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating how to describe Walt and Jesse’s relationship in this episode – there is animosity, but also a certain amount of trust and intimacy. Jesse knows things about Walt that nobody else does, and they have found a division of labour that works well for them. Walt may rage when Jesse makes a mistake, but he also gets genuine satisfaction from teaching his partner how to make a battery. This might not be something they would have chosen, but they have developed a bond with one another.
My favourite part of the story though is the ambiguous ending. Walter assumed that he only had weeks left to live, maybe not even enough time to sell all the meth they had just cooked. However, when he finds out that the cancer treatment was successful and he is in remission, he breaks down in the bathroom. Shaking a little at first, Walt catches his reflection in a dispenser before violently smashing his fist into the metal over and over again.
People have disagreed on how to interpret this scene. Is Walt angry that he rushed into the desert, inflicting so much suffering upon himself, because he mistakenly thought his death was imminent? Is he upset that he has to keep living with the consequences of his actions, unable to escape to the peace of an early grave? Personally, I see it as Walt’s inability to express his emotions except through violence and domination – his distorted reflection is representative of the damage he has done to his own psyche.
Odds and Ends
- I said in the last review that I didn’t find Saul that funny, but I will admit that Odenkirk’s delivery of “Congratulations – you just left your family a second hand Subaru!” made me laugh.
- This is one of the few times that Walter’s mother is mentioned – he lies to Skyler about needing to visit her to make sure that the family have not been disinherited. This implies that their relationship broke down at some point in the past, and it would fit the pattern of Walt alienating the women in his life.
- Jesse calls Skinny Pete an ableist slur over the phone – really unnecessary and something that hasn’t happened since Season 1. I hope it doesn’t happen again.
- El Camino has a flashback scene that takes place during this episode – Jesse and Walt are at a diner, trying to regain the “electrolytes” they lost out in the desert.
- This video has spoilers for all the remaining seasons, but it argues that this episode marks the peak of Walt and Jesse’s relationship. It also has an interesting take on Walt’s emotional outburst in the bathroom:
- I personally consider this to be a better “bottle episode” than Fly (Series 3, Episode 10). They are alone in the desert for twenty-six minutes – that’s more than enough time to qualify!
After Walter sabotages a family celebration, he tries to compensate by doing some home renovations. Meanwhile, Jesse and Jane get into a fight about their relationship.
A great deal of debate has taken place among Breaking Bad fans over when exactly “Walter White became Heisenberg”. It is not a discussion I find particularly interesting, because I don’t see this show as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. However, there is a scene in this episode where I think Walt refuses to keep his aggression in check, a moment that never would have occurred if he had not become a meth dealer.
Skyler decides to organise a party to celebrate Walter going into remission. However, by the time the weekend rolls around, Walt’s heart isn’t really in it – instead of asking to reschedule or doing any emotional labour at all, he decides to lash out. Hank and Walter Jr. are deep in conversation and out of jealousy or boredom, Walt decides to pours his son some tequila. He gives him one shot, followed by a second and then a third. Hank eventually resorts to removing the bottle, so Walt attempts to physically intimidate his brother-in-law. The situation is only resolved when Hank rushes to attend to his vomiting nephew.
I don’t want to mince words here. Walter pressured his 16-year-old son to drink multiple shots of tequila in rapid succession, without warning him of the side-effects – this is domestic abuse.1
I don’t think there is a single reason why Walt decided to hurt his own son. My own interpretation is that Walt has not actually conquered his fears – instead, he has buried them under aggression and a desperate need for external validation. Walter feels most alive when he is dominating another person but because he is a fundamentally weak man, he has to pick his targets. Consider how Walt did not demand that Skyler cancel the party and how he failed to intimidate Hank – the only person he could best was his teenage son, so that is who he settled for.
Finally, I think it is significant that Walter decides to make amends for his behaviour by fixing up the house. He makes a few perfunctory apologies but the bulk of Walt’s energy goes into renovations – he is using his money to make his home more comfortable, an activity that conveniently allows him to spend a lot of time by himself. Is it any wonder that Skyler is seeking solace from Ted Beneke2, a man willing to offer her some basic attention and reassurance?
Odds and Ends
- I like the little sequence of Walter laying on his bed, trying to follow Skyler’s request that he rest or have a nap – he manages maybe two minutes before he decides to meet up with Jesse.
- Note that Walt wears a red shirt to the party. A colour associated with danger and rage, this was clearly a deliberate choice by the production team.
- I enjoyed the subplot of Jesse feeling insecure about his relationship with Jane – he has forged a connection with another human being by allowing himself to be vulnerable, and Paul and Ritter portray that connection so well.
- Jesse telling Jane “like you never wanted a superpower” is funny in hindsight, considering that a few years later Krysten Ritter would portray Jessica Jones, superhero turned private investigator.
- Jesse says to Jane that “you weren’t supposed to wake up”, foreshadowing her premature death in Phoenix (Series 2, Episode 12).
- The crawl space under his house that Walter renovates will eventually become a hiding place for his illegal earnings in Season 4.