(Continuing my assessment of Breaking Bad‘s fourth season. Find the first installment here.)
11. “CRAWL SPACE”
So this is it. Three episodes to go, and with ominous titles like “Crawl Space” and “End Times” and “Face Off,” you know it won’t be a trio of light-hearted comedies about everyone making nice over a bucket of chicken at Los Pollos Hermanos. These titles make it pretty explicit — shit’s gonna go down.
So, hey, Walt — remember that time you drunkenly let slip to your brother-in-law that Gale wasn’t the chemistry mastermind behind Fring’s meth operation? Can we both agree now that that was a really big mistake?
Hank’s one-man sting (or two-man, if you count Walt) is growing increasingly inconvenient. To the point where Walt intentionally gets into a car accident just to avoid having to take Hank into the laundry. (Walt and cars don’t mix this season.) That’s a surprising moment, but far from the only jaw-dropper in “Crawl Space,” which would have made for a hell of a season finale on its own, if Vince Gilligan and company wanted to go the cliffhanger route. The stakes in Breaking Bad have been clear for a very long time — make Gus unhappy, and people die. Walt. Hank. Maybe more. Well, this is the episode that finally raises those stakes about as high as they’ll possibly go. (Though I’ll never underestimate Breaking Bad‘s ability to kick them up just a little further.) And I’ll raise my own “holy shit” after watching “Salud” to a bona fide “holy fuck” for “Crawl Space.”
It picks up where we left off in “Salud,” with Gus and Mike’s lives in Jesse’s shaky hands. While he obviously has the ability to eliminate Gus here, Jesse doesn’t even flirt with the possibility, likely more out of loyalty to Mike than any desire to see Gus survive. Add betraying Jesse’s trust to the list of bad choices Walt made this season; were he and Jesse on better terms, Jesse might actually have killed Gus here, when he has the opportunity, and prevented what happens next. But he doesn’t.
Now Gus makes it crystal clear — he wants Walt dead. Jesse doesn’t want that to happen, but after the scuffle in “Bug,” he’s not exactly going out of his way to stop it either. It’s hard to blame him. But Gustavo Fring has a bigger fish to fry at the moment — that would be Hank, of course, which is all thanks to Walt’s wine-soaked confession at the dinner table, his pride unwilling to let Hank think he’d cracked the case. Say it with me now, once more with exasperation: “Walter!!”
While Walt deals with the fallout from cooking meth, Skyler is still fighting with Ted about cooking books. If last week’s Skyler/Ted confrontation was a tad underwhelming, I can forgive it for bringing us to this. Skyler has tried playing nice. Now she tries playing hardball. Neither works. Ted is simply incapable of seeing this former employee he slept with as someone who means business, even when she sends two of Saul’s goons to settle the score. (He wants to call her to clear up the “mistake.”) Ted, whose decision-making skills are about on par with Walt’s, decides to make a run for it and trips on the carpet (for the second time this episode — a nice setup of an otherwise random event). That’s the real jaw-dropper in “Crawl Space.” Ted hits his head. Ted’s dead?
Jaw-dropper number three is Tyrus pulling a taser on Walt. I mean, you gotta love a taser, right? Gus tells Walt he’ll murder his entire family if he interferes with Hank’s long-time-coming execution. Once again, Walt is ultimately powerless in the face of a true badass. (Sidenote: after my earlier ambivalence on the matter, having seen Gus exact his revenge on the cartel, I now feel ready to root for Walt in taking him out.) It’s clearer than ever that Walt’s posturing to Skyler earlier this season was a load of a hot air. “The one who knocks”? Please. Walt is the one who gets knocked down, again and again.
So can Walt stand idly by and let his brother-in-law die? No. Walt may have grown cold, but he’s not that cold, which means he decides to take Saul up on that whole “disappearing” idea. (Honestly, I didn’t think they’d address that this season.) One little problem, though — Skyler gave their money to Ted, who is now lying unconscious on his own living room floor. There’s not enough cash left for the exit strategy. Cue apocalypse.
Words can’t really describe how agonizing and terrifying and brilliant the last few minutes of “Crawl Space” are. So I’ll just say… wow. Hank and Marie get tipped off that death is headed their way, while Walt has now sentenced his own wife and children to slaughter at the hands of Fring. So Walt breaks down in a fit of maniacal laughter like he’s The Joker, and with the situation he’s put them all in, really, he’s every bit as villainous. “Crawl Space” ends with an overhead view of Walt in the crawl space, fitting imagery for this man who’s every action this season has been another shovelful of dirt in the digging of his own grave. And Hank’s. And Marie’s. And Skyler’s. And his children’s. And now Skyler, too, realizes just how much deep shit they’re in.
After an entire season’s worth of fucking up, I’m betting that Walt’s going to finally wise up and figure out a way out of this. But considering that the episode ends with him completely cracking, well, who the hell knows?
What is clear is that now Skyler has really fucked Ted.
“End Times” is no misnomer. There’s an apocalyptic sense of dread hanging over this episode from frame one, in which a squad of DEA agents arrive to escort Walt and Skyler to Hank and Marie’s house, where they’ll be under the protection of the law — as much protection from Gus Fring as is possible, that is. (But the guy is both clever and connected. A deadly combination.)
After he’s behaved like a reckless child throughout most of Season Four, culminating in a meltdown at the end of the last episode, “End Times” finds Walt finally accepting responsibility and behaving like a grown-up. He lets his family escape to Hank and Marie’s while he lingers behind, prepared to face whatever cruel demise Gus has in store. Much as Jesse did earlier this season, Walt has accepted his imminent death. It’s hard to call what he does here “heroic,” because Walt is the one who got them in this mess in the first place, but there is something satisfying about finally being behind Walt’s actions again, in some small way. It’s been a long time coming. (Meanwhile, Skyler isn’t so on board with leaving Walt to take the heat — a touching display of how much love she still has for him, despite what he’s done.)
Walt previously tried to out-muscle Gus, but didn’t get so far as being “the one who knocks” because Gus called him on his cell phone before he even reached the front door. Now he’s back in chemistry teacher mode, attempting to outsmart him. But Gus, too, is using psychological warfare (if we are to assume he is behind Brock’s sudden illness, and why wouldn’t we?). He’s endangered the life of someone Jesse loves, hoping Jesse will point the finger at Walt and then use that finger pull the trigger. If this really is Gus’ plan, it strikes me as a bit implausible and convoluted — does Jesse really have enough reason to believe Walt would do this? That Saul would be in on it? Jesse’s newfound Season Four smarts seem to have left the building once Brock is poisoned. And once again, staring down the gun in Jesse’s hand, Walt accepts his fate, even urging Jesse to “do it.”
But Jesse, of course, does not do it.
Saul is high-tailing it out of town. The DEA is sniffing out Gus’ lab. Walt has said what may be his last goodbyes to his wife and child. Yes, these are “End Times” — White and Fring have officially kicked off a fight to the death, and pretty much everybody’s lives hang in the balance. At long last, Walt finally takes a smart, decisive action in trying to eliminate the enemy, kicked up his game to play to Gus’ operatic, ruthless level. The episode concludes with Walt perched atop a building across from the hospital parking garage, ready to blow Gus Fring sky high…
But maybe “End Times” is a misnomer after all, because Gus’ spidey sense tingles and he doesn’t get in the car. Maybe Gus and Walt think too much alike for that to work. So the stakes here aren’t necessarily raised higher than they were in the superb, nerve-wracking conclusion to “Crawl Space,” which may be why, in a way, “End Times” feels like it’s spinning its wheels a bit, treading water. (But don’t get me wrong — this is Breaking Bad, so those are still some awesome wheels, and damn good water.) Having Gus poison a kid feels like a cheap ploy, since Brock hasn’t really been a major focus this season, and even though he seems like a nice boy, we’re not that invested in whether he lives or dies.
But Jesse sure is, and if Gus did, in fact, orchestrate this, it may just be his undoing. He’s brought Walt and Jesse back together, and as proven previously, this unlikely duo is capable of much more mayhem than you’d think.
At this point, it’s pretty clear — Gus Fring is going down.