By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece contains spoilers for Breaking Bad, season four, Episode 5. Read at your own risk.
Tonight’s Breaking Bad, titled “Shotgun,” ended with a scene that did what TV drama does best: define characters so completely that you feel as if you know them as well as you know yourself.
The scene was a family dinner at Hank and Marie’s house, with Walt, Skyler and their kids as guests. Earlier in the episode, Hank had convinced himself that the murdered Gale’s lab notebook proved Gale was Heisenberg, Walt’s alter ego — which in turn meant that the DEA could stop looking for Heisenberg, and Walt could breathe easy, at least for a little while. Then Walt, who already seemed tipsy, excused himself to get more wine from the kitchen; the camera lingered on Walt in the foreground as he poured and drank a glass and then poured another one, his family’s voices echoing in the background. Would Walt control himself and let his DEA brother-in-law continue to think that Gale was Heisenberg, thus ending or seriously delaying the investigation? Or would Walt give into macho pride, or intellectual conceit — the two are intertwined for him — and hint that the real Heisenberg was still out there?
Walt just had to be Walt.
The chemist’s Achilles’ heels are intellectual vanity and a kind of beta male machismo. After living most of his life as a schnook, to quote Henry Hill at the end of GoodFellas, he got a taste of what it’s like to be rich, innovative and important (within his criminal circle, which is admittedly limited, and invisible to everyone who isn’t already part of it). Dangerous, too; he’s a killer now, remember? Now Walt wants to be treated like he’s The Man. Whenever he’s forced to bow, you can see how miserable and angry it makes him.
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PressPlay founder and publisher Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com. His video essays about Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Budd Boetticher, Wes Anderson, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann and other directors can be viewed at the at the online magazine Moving Image Source.