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Breaking Bad: Gray Matter

"All I have left is how I choose to approach this."

This one was about the road not taken, and not just in the present.

Walt and Jesse again tried to walk it back, to change direction. Jesse wasn't able to make himself take a job in "advertising" (I'll grant you that when you've found an easy way to make a great deal of money, it's hard to turn it around and wear a flying dollar bill costume for minimum wage) and he had already learned too much from Walt to be satisfied with an inferior product. Plus, Badger is a complete idiot, and no fit partner for Jesse. Everything was pushing Jesse toward Walt.

Walt went to an old friend's birthday party and ended up on a long journey down memory lane. I still don't understand why Walt left Gray Matter Technologies and his partner Elliot Schwartz to teach high school. The big time job and most importantly, that top of the line health insurance could have made all the difference to Walt. He just wasn't capable of accepting charity.

Awkward intervention time. I really did love the ridiculous but oddly moving intervention. (And especially that Skyler provided a fruit and cheese plate to go with it, like it was a social occasion.) Skyler wanted Walt to take the treatment, even though they couldn't afford it. Walt wanted to stop fighting the cancer, stop experimenting with his secret life of crime, and go out like a man. Guess who won? I appreciate that Skyler is trying to keep her husband alive, and more power to her. I can't claim with absolute certainty that I wouldn't do the same thing in her situation. But can't she leave Walt some pride?

Although Skyler got her way in the end, it wasn't her emotional pressuring, Hank's good buddy sports and gambling metaphors, or Marie's surprising support of Walt's choice to die that changed Walt's mind. I think it was Junior and his crutches calling Walt a pussy. The intervention wasn't a joke after all, because it worked. The only choice they left Walt was how to pay for it. Everything was pushing Walt toward Jesse.

It seems like there's a little bit of Walt in Jesse. And a little of Jesse in Walt. Maybe they're not so out of step as partners, after all.

Bits:

-- Walt and Skyler wore blue to the birthday party. Absolutely everyone else was wearing beige. Even the gift wrapping and party balloons were mostly in earth tones. And of course, we had Walter White and Elliot Schwartz (black) who created "Gray Matter" together.

-- The gift of Ramen noodles touched Elliot, but only because it was a memory. Walt and his family are still living on Ramen noodles.

-- Skyler had baby books and cancer books stacked together on her nightstand. Or more accurately, the cancer book was on top of all the baby books, echoing her current priorities.

-- Elliot said that Walt always thought outside the box. He still does. It just occurred to me that Walt was the only one who gave Elliot a present that wasn't in a box. :)

And pieces:

-- Did Elliot really want Walt back? It was hard to tell how much of that job offer was charity. Elliot did appear to owe Walt quite a bit.

-- Gretchen was once Walt's girlfriend. We saw her in flashback in "And the Bag's in the River." She still cares about him. Does Skyler know they were once an item?

-- The way the radiation scene was shot made it look like it was an alien torture device.

-- Junior tried to buy beer and got caught, and called Hank instead of Walt. Maybe because of their Crossroads gateway drug outing.

-- Gold acting stars for Bryan Cranston. He did his usual excellent job with Walt's complex emotions at the birthday party: envy, humiliation, alienation, hope, despair. And his speech at the end of the intervention really got to me.

-- Skyler said her dress was like a prom gown from the eighties. She was right.

-- Jesse cleans up well. I don't know why that surprised me.

Quotes:

Badger: (wearing a flying dollar bill costume) "Nice duds."
Jesse: "You, too."

Badger: "Hey, dude. Are these bullet holes?"
Jesse: "Ah, no, man. Those are for, like, ventilation."
And now there's an arrow stuck in the back, too.

Skyler: "Not yet, please. I have the talking pillow."

Three out of four earth tone balloons,

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

10 comments:

  1. It's funny. I didn't remember that the intervention episode was the same episode where Walt turns down Elliot and Gretchen. The intervention scene is one of my absolute favorites from Season 1. It is hilarious and raw and so painfully real. I remember quickly shifting from uncomfortable laughter at the awkwardness of it all, to crying at the very emotional stakes for everyone involved. I love that everyone's position had merits, and you could easily feel for all sides. I completely understand Walt's desire to not take the treatment and to go out on his own terms. Just as I understand Skyler and Walt Jr.'s need to not lose a husband and father.

    And yet, even though I found Walt very sympathetic in this episode, his choice to turn down Elliot's offer is what ultimately keeps me from being entirely sympathetic to his overall plight. It is moment I frequently come back to. This moment, to me, is one of Walt's greatest sins. This was his chance to get off the train. To put his family and everyone around him ahead of his pride. And he couldn't do it. No matter how much he tries to tell himself that he has no choices, and that cooking meth is what he must do to protect his family, it's all a big lie. Because he had a choice. And he made it. He chose to become a master criminal instead of swallowing his pride and truly thinking about what would be best for his family.

    Don't get me wrong. I understand why Walt made this choice. It was completely in character for him to refuse to "humble" himself to Elliot and Gretchen that way. But ... woulda, coulda, shoulda.

    I love that we have this episode. I love that the writers chose to make the lead a man who had choices, but chose poorly. And I love that this moment continues to haunt and challenge the audience as we go forward. Fantastic stuff.

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  2. Just a short comment about Walt's refusal to take Elliot's offer. I think there are at least three components that build the Walt's desicion. In first place there is Wlat's position against charity. In second place we know since the pilot episode that there is something conflictive in Walt's past job, so I would say there is an unresolved conflict which prevents him to take the offer. Walt's cancer and his need for health care would have been perhaps a way for Elliot to avoid going into these hidden issues in order to have Walt back into Grey Matter. There is some sort of anger and pride in Walt that he is not willing to let Elliot use his cancer to have him back.

    The last thing that makes Walt to decide not to take the offer is that this would have meant the solution to a problem, and he needs an unresolved problem to continue 'breaking bad'. So, the solution to the cancer must be accompanied with a solution to all the picture his life is. Taking Elliot&Gretchen's offer would have been too much thinking "inside the box", and Walt is too much an "outside the box" thinker.

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  3. Five episodes in, I'm surprised at how little meth has been cooked. This isn't quite the show I expected; I would feel the same way if Mad Men never had any "let's make an ad!" scenes. This must be how Pucklady felt about Buffy, the girl who rarely slays vampires.

    That's not a complaint, though. I have no particular desire to watch people make meth, since I think it's one of the most horrible drugs a person could choose to create and sell. I assume at some point we'll see actual addicts living miserable lives because of what Walter is choosing to do, right?

    I loved how out of place Walter and Skylar both were at the party. I remember going to a mother/daughter charity thing in high school and realizing I was the only person wearing black in a sea of pastels and earth tones. It was definitely one of those weird moments of realization about not belonging (and, in my case, not wanting to).

    I am curious to know more about Walter's backstory. Laslo's comment implied that there was something hinted at in the first episode, but I don't recall it. I am, however, watching the edited Netflix version. Maybe it was cut out? Or maybe I just missed it.

    Here is a complaint: the sign-waving job--does that job exist in other cities, besides LA? This is the only place where I've seen it done. Although a friend of mine did have a job as a dancing chicken for a while in a city not unlike ABQ.

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  4. Okay, I officially don't like Skyler. I tried, I swear. She now knows her husband has very serious cancer and is still upset about his foray into pot? Really? And then the intervention, which she planned so the entire family could gang up on Walt and pressure him into doing something he didn't want to do and the way she flipped out when Marie didn't fall in line.

    I understand there needed to be a conversation, but I think it really should've just been between her and Walt and maybe Junior. Bringing in her side of the family as back up felt like cheating. Plus, the way she told Elliot about Walt's cancer irked me.

    What happened to Walt's career? He went to CalTech and ended up teaching high school in New Mexico? WHAT HAPPENED!?

    I really like that Hank told Junior he should've called his dad and not him. It was surprisingly sensitive.

    If I showed up at a party and everyone was wearing beige, I'd leave.

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  5. Just getting into this series, and this was a powerful episode. It feels very real. I've been wanting to watch this show for a long time, and funny - now it's done, and I'm getting into it. Well, at least I have a lot more episodes ahead of me. And yes, Josie, they have those sign waving jobs everywhere now. Even here, in a mid-size upper-mid western city.

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  6. Thanks, JimG. It's good to know that my back-up career plan could take me all over the country! :-)

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  7. I completely understood Walter turning down Elliot's offer of help. Although I don't know why, Elliot got both the company and the girl. Walt did not, although both he and Gretchen still seem to care about each other quite a lot. Accepting money, even from this old friend, would feel like the final humiliation to Walt. He is still trying to go out on his terms.

    The intervention was heartbreaking. Skyler didn't really want people to be honest; she wanted them to back her up. I understand that she is scared and that she is worried. She seems to me, however, to only be thinking about herself and not about what Walt wants. And, it couldn't be more clear.

    Walt's turn with the talking pillow was a thing of beauty. I just wish Skyler could have heard what he was saying.

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  8. Whoops - I think my comment on the last episode would have been more appropriate for this episode! I'm a few episodes ahead and guess my memory is already hazy on what goes where!

    In my mind, Walt seems rather keen to cook meth instead of taking the offer from his old friend. I feel like if I were offered that I would take it, especially if I had already had to commit two murders to keep myself and my family safe. Why on earth does cooking meth seem like the better option here??

    Going back to the intervention (and echoing comments I made on the last episode), I personally think Walt is being FAR more selfish than Skylar. Walt acts like he doesn't want the pain of fighting the cancer even if it robs him of a chance to see his unborn child, it also leaves Skylar raising two children by herself.

    Wanting her husband to at least attempt to fight off this illness doesn't seem selfish to me at all.

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  9. Best one for me, easily. Yo how the hell was Badger able to speEeEn that sign like that even though he was doing it vertically without gravity pulling it down? It's insane, it almost looks like from the way his hand is balled behind the sign that there's some sort of grip that lets the sign rotate but we see the back of it and it's nothing! Just pure cardboard... how?

    Oh I really wanted to see that stupid birthday party with Elliott again. Skyler's "Why is he doing this? What is he, 8 years old?" lmao. And the thing about the teacher who gets grumpy about Bunsen. "He didn't invent it, he just improved it!"

    @sunbunny: "I really like that Hank told Junior he should've called his dad and not him. It was surprisingly sensitive."
    Yeah I was gonna remark on that too, I like that he's respecting Walt's "territory" and questions whether it's cool that he keeps being called in to do some of the dad stuff. I did not remember this, even though he does this at least twice.

    @Baz: Yeah, thank you. I was getting inexplicably irritated reading the comments but yours made it clear why. How the hell is Skyler catching more flak than Walter AFTER HE TURNED DOWN ELLIOTT'S HELP? It's the most damning thing against the whole 'no other option' defense. Leave her alone, she just wants her boring-ass husband to stick around. It's sweet! And she's right, why are the others playing debate club with his life?? I can totally understand her desperation to not want to consider whether his decision to turn down treatment is really about (the good kind of) pride, or whether it's about him wanting to get the hell out of his unfulfilling life. Even if it's the truth, it's just too sad to deal with. Man, everyone just loves Walt's ass.. HELICOPTER BITCH *twirls youse around*

    I really loved Walt embracing her slowly from behind though at the end and changing his mind. It really got to me, as was his slow wake-up.

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