Breaking Bad delivers its weakest episode of this final run, but it somehow continued to raise the stakes and humanize Walt some more this close to the end.
This felt like one of the most calculating episodes of Breaking Bad in some time and while it was entertaining I think we saw the creator's hand working a little too hard. Told from two distinct perspectives, "Rabid Dog" felt a bit too forced compared to the surprisingly natural flow of the show so far this season. Where everything fell perfectly into place last week, this week the characters seem to be making a bit too much of a leap as the plot feels just enough affected to throw everything off.
We pick up on Walt arriving to the White household, Saul's hijacked car still in the front yard, and the tension works wonderfully as he searches the house for Jesse. To no avail. What we get next is another classic Walt is lying through his teeth marathon, this time to Skyler and Jr., but again, Walt's lying is never as convincing as when it comes to Skyler. Cranston really gets to shine in these scenes as his lying can be so convincing to us and the characters (like last week's amazing confession) and just as easily so transparent like he was trying to convince his family.
He might have fooled his son with an admittedly solid, quick on his feet, improv, but there was no fooling Skyler; and here is where some of my issues with the episode creep in. First, the whole “why are you lying line” from Jr felt like it was supposed to shock that he was on to him, but it landed with a thud. While I enjoyed Walt's aforementioned rolling with the cancer story, the script's need to try and shock felt forced and this sadly happens a couple times in the episode.
More egregious is the leap Skyler makes when she calls Walt on his bullshit and almost non-nonchalantly tries to convince Walt to just kill Jesse. This is a giant misstep for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it so casually pushes Skyler over the point of no return into villainy. I was expecting the show to take her to this point, but it seemed to be such an easy decision it didn't carry any weight or merit of evil. Her saying, “for the family,” almost felt like parody here and what makes it feel even worse is that there was no need to have her even be a part of this decision process. It was such a wasted and lazy change to the character and, really, the first big strike against the show in this final season. I know they probably felt some pressure to make Skyler ever present in these final episodes, but if Jesse can be a non-factor for over a quarter of the final episodes, I think Skyler could sit out one or two as well. We didn't need Walt to bounce off what to do about Jesse with her, Saul could be used for that; and already was! Everything we needed to know about Walt's thought process on Jesse was perfectly clear in the back of that car. It seems almost a waste that he spent the rest of the episode contemplating what to do next instead of actually doing something about it.
The reveal of Hank coming in and stopping Jesse was one of the few genuine surprises that felt as natural as the season has so far, but even the extended sequences with the two felt a bit forced by the end. I like the pairing of the two against Walt, but spending a whole scene of Jesse telling Hank and Gomez how much smarter and luckier he is than the average person seemed redundant at this point. So much groundwork is laid out to try and build tension for that final confrontation, it actually ends up diffusing it. Even the reveal of Jesse thinking the tough bald looking guy was working for Walt you could see coming from a mile away and I would have been far more interested in getting deeper into this Walt/Jesse dynamic the episode should have gone for.
The fact that the show itself wusses out on the confrontation between Walt and Jesse at the end was sort of a blessing in disguise, as the show sort of stumbled to that moment. Plus, if Jesse would have died under these circumstances I would have been irate; maybe even more so at the poor execution than the beloved character's death.
The episode seemed barely interested in exploring how sincere Walt was toward saving Jesse's life, how manipulating and malevolent Hank was with Jesse's life or dealing with any characters' motivations at all. Sure, Jesse's plan to find “a better way” to catch Walt might pay off in spades next week, but this week's episode was about as poor as Breaking Bad can get. There is so much laziness in the finale, starting with the cliched misunderstanding twist that they depend on with the angry looking bald dude to force Jesse to bail. The greater consequences of this, again, are essential to the plot but avoid a potential moment of sincerity with Walt while simultaneously forcing Jesse to threaten Walt's life, which forces Walt to put a hit on Jesse and it all seems entirely too, well, forced.
The episode at its heart wants to be about Walt and Jesse's failing relationship, but it ultimately ends up being about the plot to force them apart and not the character's dealing with it. There are touches of greatness in there, I love that Walt and Jesse are both defending each other throughout the episode and there was a lot of really great humor this week, but for a show that works so well when moving plot through character you couldn't help but notice the glaring manipulation of character for plot.
When I finished watching the episode I felt like it was a minor bump in the road, but the more I thought on it the more frustrating "Rabid Dog" was as a piece. The only tension the episode had was from the implication of the title and the potential death of Jesse Pinkman. "Rabid Dog" didn't earn that tension this week, the placement of it being so close to the end of the show did and while I have lost no faith for these final four episodes I was left disappointed nonetheless. Maybe it will fit better once we have the whole, but as "Rabid Dog" stands on its own tonight it is easily the worst episode of Breaking Bad since, maybe, the third season.
-To the episode's title, Rabid Dog, you know what you do with them? You put them down.
-What a shot, down the hallway, to the closed door.
-Wet Vac Tube Cam!
-"I never should have let my dojo membership run out."
-"But you have to understand, deep down he loves me."
-At least Walt doesn't want to kill Jesse?
-Love Odenkirk's gravely, beat up demeanor.
-"How's Saul doing?" Busted.
-"I'm sorry, were you spying on me?"
-Getting a little too real for Skyler. Or not.
-"What's one more?"
-"Let's do it together."
-"So, you're angry." An understatement directed towards anyone on this show.
-"He screwed us and he won."
-"Last week you were upset about the new parking restrictions."
-I'm happy Skyler never went to see this psychiatrist, I don't like his office decor.
-”I'm staying, I'll make up some lasagna.”
-”I'm not going anywhere.” Walt on the run by the end of this episode?
-”You remember Agent Gomez?”
-I love that Walt and Jesse are left defending each other this week when they have never been bigger enemies.
-”He was my teacher.”
-”Mr. Roger’s who has lung cancer.”
-Don’t go to this meet, Jesse. Walt is lying. (He wasn't)
-”Mr. White’s gay for me. Everyone knows that.”
-”What if it’s about killing me?”
-”Mr. White is the devil.”
-”Smarter than you, luckier than you.”
-Again, taking the ricin out of this situation was essential.
-”A better way.”
-Walt was going to talk it out.