Walter and Jesse are forced to work with a distributor again after Combo is murdered in a turf dispute. Consumed by grief and guilt, Jesse turns to heroin in order to escape his emotions.
I was unsure at first whether this episode should have its own entry, considering that it ends on such an abrupt cliffhanger – it is clearly one script divided into multiple parts. However, I think that three very important developments take place during this instalment, and it takes a dedicated post to properly discuss them all.
First, Jesse’s friend Combo is murdered in the opening teaser. Rodney Rush didn’t ask to leave the show and I feel kind of bad for him as he did a decent job for a first-time actor. Nevertheless, people do get killed in the drugs trade and it makes sense for one of Jesse’s friends to die, otherwise it starts to feel like our characters have plot armour. I like that it is a child who murders Combo, subverting the audience’s expectations, but I also appreciate that Combo didn’t pull out his gun to defend himself. You could interpret this decision as the result of shock or panic, but I like to think that Combo didn’t have it in him to kill a child, even in self-defence.1
Second, a distraught Jesse, unable to cope with his feelings of guilt, turns to drugs for solace and in doing so triggers a relapse in his girlfriend Jane. She revealed in a previous episode that she was a recovering addict but it turns out that Jane’s drug of choice is not methamphetamine but heroin. One of heroin’s effects is that it creates a dream-like state of detachment, something a grief-stricken Jesse desperately wants. This is represented in the show by Jesse floating up off his bed, which Slovis achieved by placing Aaron Paul on a camera crane platform and slowly lifting him above the set. The acting and staging complement each other wonderfully, and the audience is left wondering how long Jesse can remain stable if he is relying on heroin to manage his emotions.2
Third, we meet Gus for the first time, played by Giancarlo Esposito.3 I don’t think I can stress enough how much Esposito changed Breaking Bad – he was initially booked for a single guest spot and ended up convincing the writers to completely re-work Season 3 around his character. Unlike Tuco or Krazy 8, Gus has taken great care to establish a double-life – the stage direction used in the script was “hiding in plain sight” and Esposito took that to heart, playing Gus as an exceptionally controlled and secretive man. He would use yoga to slow his breathing and incorporate “Pinter Pauses” into his dialogue, creating space where the audience could imagine Gus contemplating what to do next.
It goes without saying that the conversation in Gus’ restaurant is extremely engaging, but I think that the most interesting line of dialogue is when Walt explains why he works with Jesse:
“Because he does what I say. Because I can trust him.“
This is not how most people would understand “trust” – the word implies mutual confidence or submission to a higher power. To say that you trust someone because they follow your commands is a very authoritarian way of viewing the world. It also suggests an underlying contempt for Jesse, despite the fact that the pair have grown closer together over the past few months.
Odds and Ends
- Walter agrees to a lobectomy, which would remove the portion of his lung that contains a tumour. Walt’s initial diagnosis was that his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes so this operation won’t cure him, although it would help keep him in remission for longer.
- Skyler discovers that Ted has been committing tax fraud and while she does not approve, she does not report him to the authorities either. There is an obvious parallel to be drawn here with Walt’s situation, and it is interesting that Ted felt compelled to break the law rather than give up the appearance of successful businessman and patriarch.
- This episode was written by George Mastras – he also wrote Crazy Handful of Nothin’ (Series 1, Episode 6) and Grilled (Series 2, Episode 2) so I think it is safe to say he is one of the best writers on Breaking Bad.
- The kid on the bike who shot Combo is named Tomás and he is the younger brother of Andrea, Jesse’s future girlfriend.
- Tomás and the two “rival dealers”4 in the car all work for Gus, so in a way Gus is responsible for Combo’s death.
- In Half Measures (Series 3, Episode 12), Jesse learns the dealers’ identity and tries to murder them at the same street corner from the opening teaser. Walt however kills the dealers first in an attempt to protect Jesse from Gus’ wrath.