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Breaking Bad: Cancer Man

"I have cancer. Lung cancer. It's bad."

Rage issues, anyone? Walt just dealt with an annoying human being by blowing up the guy's car. Jerks in the vicinity of Albuquerque, beware.

Walt and Jesse again tried to walk it back, which seems to be a major first season theme. Walt even told Skyler that maybe they should just accept that he was going to die instead of taking on a monstrous debt on the off chance that he would beat the odds. And Jesse tried going home and found that when he got there, he remembered why he left -- right before they threw him out again.

Poor Jesse. I felt bad for him. His family treats him like garbage, and his friends only seem to want him around for the dope. Yes, he should have made other choices in life, and parenting someone like Jesse couldn't have been easy. But how did it begin? When Jesse started getting into drugs, did his parents try to hold on to him and help him, or did they push him away? Jesse does have redeeming qualities. He had some serious artistic talent. And he just took the blame for the hidden joint in order to protect his "perfect" little brother, who must have some serious psychoses of his own.

Poor Walt. I never realized how much Skyler annoyed me until I started writing these reviews. Walt didn't want the rest of the family to know about his cancer, but Skyler did -- and now they do. Okay, she's pregnant and her husband is dying, and it would have been difficult for her not to get upset when Walt was telling everyone the story of how they first met. I should cut her a break. But Jesse referred to her as "the ball buster", and he's not wrong.

Although to give her credit, getting Walt to a better doctor is a good thing, and I liked that she refused to consider the financial downside. (A $5,000 deposit to see a specialist? $90,000 for treatment that your insurance won't cover? Ah, America. Land of opportunity and inadequate health care.)

And now I like Hank and Marie a bit more. Hank addressed the possibility of death head-on and promised Walt he'd look after his family if necessary. And Marie immediately started working on finding a brilliant, cutting-edge oncologist. They both came through for Walt, and that was endearing. Hank was also sweet to Junior again, in a tough guy sort of way.

Unfortunately, Walt was more humiliated than reassured. He desperately didn't want help from anyone, financial or otherwise. Did you notice how many scenes in this episode involved wads of cash flying through the air? Walt pretty much has three choices: (1) he can shut up and die. (2) He can take the chance that he'll leave a huge financial burden on his family. Or (3) he can team up with Jesse again and cook meth to pay for his very expensive treatment. Doesn't seem like a fair assortment of choices. Even so, Walt's experience with "gateway murder" was making him lean toward dying. It was probably Junior's uncharacteristic anger and despair that changed his mind.

A big supplemental theme in this episode was that things weren't what they seemed to be. Jesse and Walt both suffered from paranoia, making Jesse see a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses as bikers with machetes, while Walt was certain the cops were after him when he was about to use his dirty money to pay the doctor. Jesse's parents saw little Jake as perfect, while Jake saw big brother Jesse as the only one his parents really cared about.

Most importantly, Hank certainly would never suspect that his innocuous, nerdy, terminally ill brother-in-law is the new drug kingpin in town, and the new focus of the local DEA.


-- Walt burned the barbecue right before Skyler gave away his secret.

-- Jesse re-entered his family home by first getting tangled up in their new lawn furniture.

-- Jesse's hallway ceiling has become a unique and disturbing conversation piece. "I think the house is settling."

-- Walt was keeping his money stash in the baby's really ugly green and pink bedroom, sort of like a hope chest.

-- The crib in the baby's bedroom was indeed from Krazy 8's family business, "Tampico."

And pieces:

-- "Ken Wins." Not this time.

-- Walt doesn't want to tell his mother that he has cancer. That's okay, Walt. I'm sure Skyler will find a way past you to let her know.

-- Apparently, Walt cooks extremely pure meth. 99.1%.

-- Walt wears a lot of green. The same color as the show credits.

-- There were a couple of mentions of Los Alamos. Walt and Skyler met while he was working there, and she worked in a nearby restaurant. Skyler thought Walt's cancer was because of inadequate precautions at Los Alamos. With such a prestigious job, how did Walt end up teaching high school?


Hank: "Operation Icebreaker. How we liking that? We never used that before, did we?"
Gomez: "Isn't that the name of a breath mint?"

Hank: "Personally, I'm thinking Albuquerque just might have a new kingpin."
Cut to Walt in his undies brushing his teeth. There was a scene much like this in the Buffy episode "School Hard" involving creme rinse that was neither creamy nor rinsey.

Walt: "Hank? Need another beer?"
Hank: "Does the Pope shit in his hat?"
Marie: "You know, I don't think that he does, Hank. And I think everybody would like it if you'd stop saying that."

Junior: "I'd like a beer."
Hank: "Yeah, and I'd like Shania Twain to give me a tuggy. Ain't happening either."

Hank: "Confidence and persistence, okay? That's what I'm talking about. I chased your aunt Marie all over creation. Kept bugging her for a date, she kept saying no. I asked her about fifty times."
Marie: "That was before they tightened the stalking laws."

Three out of four flying wads of cash,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Let's thank the writers for Walt's pride. Without it the plot of the show would never take off and probably come to and end with the next episode.

  2. You know, I have tremendous sympathy for Skyler. She definitely goes over the line sometimes --- I found her particularly annoying when she went to Jesse about the weed --- but she is a woman with a special needs child who has probably had to be a tough and aggressive cookie his whole life to make sure he got the chance to meet his fullest potential. She's gotta be pushing or in her 40s and is pregnant with another child, and she just found out her husband --- whom she happens to love very much --- is dying from cancer. She is doing what she feels she needs to, to protect and preserve her family. Not so different from Walt, she just has different methods.

    As I said, I fully understand that she goes too far sometimes, but I get where she's coming from and I think her heart is in the right place. She loves her husband and her family, and she doesn't want to lose them. Anyway, everyone is always bagging on Skyler, and I just want to voice some support for her. No, she's not cuddly, but I find her realistic and sympathetic.

    I haven't had a chance to rewatch anything else since the pilot, but I agree that this episode definitely made Hank and Marie much more sympathetic. Much like Skyler, their personas can be gruff or irritating, but their hearts are in the right place and they care very deeply about their family. They are especially close/fond of Junior, likely because they don't have their own kids.

    This is one of the reasons I love this show: very layered characters. Few characters are all good or all bad, and you constantly feel your sympathies shifting as new choices and reactions lead to new perspective.

  3. I am new to the show and enjoying it very much. Your reviews are great, Billie. I have sympathy for Skylar, too. I can't even imagine how alone and scared she must feel given what she is facing. She seems to deal with these feelings by taking charge and being forceful, which can be an annoying trait for sure. It is very real, though.

    The scene with Jessie's brother really made me wonder about the parents. The boy seemed awfully young to be doing drugs. He must be under incredible pressure from them as I am sure Jessie was.

  4. Skyler shows to be not just tough, but very smart and intuitive. By the end of season 2 and begining of season 3, with just bits of information at hand she follows some leads and deduces all the picture. On the other hand she is governed by some moral ties that Walt is already breaking. It will take some time for her to do the same to ensure survival... for now she relies on what she knows, which is family, while Walt hangs on to his particular habilities --to precisely not to be a burden for his family-- and his need to breakthrough to be someone he has never been. My guess is that this is related with his previous history and job experience, working for some corporation. This complementarity is that makes Walt to love Skyler and makes him want to be with her.

  5. I found the whole situation with Skyler letting the cancer secret out very relatable. No one is behaving perfectly in the situation, but people are dealing the best they can. This episode was the first time I liked Marie.

    But, Jesse, oh, Jesse. I was totally shocked that the nice suburban family ended up being his. I thought he was going to try to rob them or something. Again, I feel sympathy for all quarters. Jesse could not have been an easy child to raise. The parents clearly feel that they made some mistake with him that they're determined not to repeat with his brother (hence all the pressure on baby bro). Jesse is left feeling excluded and despised. I like that this show doesn't make its characters (so far, at least) out and out villains. Jesse's parents could have been shown to be uncaring and selfish, but instead it's clearly demonstrated that they love their oldest son.

  6. I liked the family beats this episode and the differences between them. Walt's family is supportive, one might say almost too much so. Jesse's, on the other hand, is not. Loved the idea that baby brother is already using gateway drugs.

    My favorite scene, however, was Jesse finding his old chemistry test. Apply yourself, indeed.

  7. I'd be interested to know how Walt moved from a job at Los Alamos to a high school teacher also - I hope some of that past is explored in the future...

    I see where Skylar is coming from - it's not like Walt will be able to hide his illness long, and (from a personal perspective) while fighting this would be hard, he has a wife, son and unborn child he should at least TRY to fight for. Saying "it's hard, maybe I don't want to be remembered as the shell of a man" is not something he should say without at least trying the treatment.

    I have never been through that kind of choice, so who knows what I'd think in his situation though.

  8. >>"Hank addressed the possibility of death head-on and promised Walt he'd look after his family if necessary."
    That borderline acrimonious look from Walter lol, I'm sure at the time I thought it was just from him considering everyone's life after his death.

    Jesse talking about those pop-tarts "imported" from Canada lol.

    The episode was OK, I mainly enjoyed it for ticking off certain boxes of images from the show that have stuck around in my mind over the years for some reason.
    -Jesse imagining biker executioners when they're just Jesus boys (I didn't actually even know this was the show I remembered that drug-fueled paranoia fantasy from)
    -Jesse seeing his F grade with Mr White's "Ridiculous! Apply yourself!"
    -Oh, Hank talking about a new drug kingpin in town while we get a shot of Walter brushing his teeth. Might be my favourite cold open, although my falsified memory was funnier because I 'remembered' him accidentally gagging on his toothbrush trying to scrub far back on his tongue and spraying the mirror with paste-foam.
    >>"There was a scene much like this in the Buffy episode "School Hard" involving creme rinse that was neither creamy nor rinsey."
    Oh yeah haha. "Life is hard, dear"

    The KEN WINS stuff is a retread of the 'vaguely embarrassing' territory back from the pilot. They could've let him be an asshole but showing all those other people reacting distastefully to him plus him yelling off an old lady trying to walk in front of him at the gas station was - pretty funny, admittedly, but also blatant.

    @Baz: "Saying "it's hard, maybe I don't want to be remembered as the shell of a man" is not something he should say without at least trying the treatment."
    But even just trying the treatment is putting his family in debt, although I agree I think trying just one out and stopping there would be better than deciding up front not to go for it. To an impressionable son it looks too much like giving up and that's gonna do way more damage than however much the first treatment costs. At least he'd be able to play off his giving up as barely managing the debilitating side-effects and that should make Junior sympathize.


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