If you are bored like me and reading up on Season 1 of Breaking Bad almost ten years after it aired, you will likely find that Crazy Handful of Nothin’ is often cited by fans as the episode where Breaking Bad grabbed their full attention and its clear why. We’ve been treated to really four straight character episodes with very few action scenes. While that’s fine for me, even I know that eventually, you gotta get back to the action. This is probably the most intense and action-packed episode of Season 1 and has Walt utterly dominating the final scene. It’s a great episode to see the escalation of Walt’s world. However, it also feels rushed and haphazardly strewn together at times.
At the end of Gray Matter, Walt had gone back to the meth trade and he immediately tries to set some ground rules to avoid the mistakes he made earlier. He tells Jessie that there will be a clear division of labor, that he will be the silent partner, and that there will be no more bloodshed. Well, by episode end, he’s reneged on everything and Jessie is in the hospital. This episode shows Walt at his weakest, as he’s rendered useless by the chemo, forcing him to allow Jessie to cook. He’s constantly getting sick at school, he’s walking around gingerly and can barely keep it together when Hank comes a’knockin with questions about missing lab equipment. Perhaps worst of all, he isn’t making quite the amount of money he needs to pay for his treatment.
Walt may be feeble, but no way in hell is that going to stop him from berating Jessie , usually about something that Walt is ignorant about. After they cook up a pound of meth, Jessie exhaustively hawks his goods to a bunch of shady meth-heads in a creepy montage. Its a gritty sequence and does a good job of showing the ugly side of meth. Walt of course is not privy to any montages and is irate with Jessie for the pittance his breaking the law is getting him. He tells Jessie to “grow some fucking balls” and meet with the new distributor, Tuco. Jessie is understandably hesitant to just show up to some high-level “OG” meth distributor’s den, but as we already know, Jessie deep down is looking for some approval from Walt.
“Why do you suck?”
And so we get probably the most tense scene to date when Jessie has a meeting with Tuco (Raymond Cruz). Now I’m not saying this is the best scene as it pales in comparison to Walt’s dealing with Crazy 8 a few episodes ago. However, Jessie as a character is much more expendable than Walt and there is a heavy sense of dread for the entire sequence. Tuco is completely and utterly unreasonable and Jessie realizes it almost immediately. You can tell something horrible is going to happen the entire time and its almost a relief that Jessie exited the scene with a couple of busted ribs when it felt like it could have been much worse. Very good scene and Aaron Paul is great at showing Jessie’s nerves and panic throughout the scene. It helps that Tuco is terrifying.
Just like in the Pilot, Walt only comes truly alive when he steps outside of the lines that have been drawn for him. Here, after Jessie gets the crap beaten out of him, Walt pulls himself up from his exhaustion. He shaves his head, his gait changes, his voice is more confident, and he assumes the persona of Heisenberg when he goes and encounters Tuco. He then freakin blows up his den using his tweak of chemistry and makes demands to Tuco’s face. Tuco, respecting Walt’s insane moxie, accepts Walt’s terms. After accomplishing what he came for, Walt lets out a primal roar that sends shivers down my spine every time I watch it (though full disclosure, I was confused the first time I watched it because I misinterpreted his roar as him being angry that Tuco low-balled him). Yeah this is totally a guy who wants to be a silent partner. Walt may have expected his meth enterprise to operate very quietly with no complications, but push come to shove, this is a guy who gets off on some of the danger.
Now, I completely enjoyed this scene with Heisenberg and Tuco butting heads. However, its a strange scene for me because its both the high point of the episode and the low point. Its tense and dramatic and Walt is awesome in this scene. However, it is riddled with issues. The logistics of this entire scene are off. It feels like it was designed with the image of Walt walking away from a blown up building in mind and then cobbled together without it actually making sense. How does Walt set up this meeting? Why does Tuco not snort the “meth” like he did in the scene with Jessie, thereby ruining Walt’s plan? How does an explosion that knocks air-conditioning units off the building not harm anybody in the room? Why is Walt so calm under pressure when the weapon he brought with him (the fulminated mercury) was taken from him and given to Tuco before he had a chance to use it?? That was awful cool of those street toughs outside to just let Walt waltz on off. This scene is great to watch but it was shakily constructed.
“Even I don’t think this would work”.
A word on Tuco. He is utterly terrifying. He is one of those odd characters where he is completely predictable in that we know he is going to be completely unpredictable. He is a character who is so different from the rest of the characters introduced in the show so far. He’s a ticking time bomb and that scene with Jessie was absolutely dripping with tension. Which is another issue I have with his scene with Walt. I just don’t buy it that Walt walks away from this situation alive.
This is the type of guy who would let you live after blowing up his office.
Flaws aside, this was a great episode that really took the tension to another level. Skylar, Marie, and Jr. are sent to the background of this episode which is fine because after a few episodes away from good ol methamphetamine, the focus needed to be squarely on Walt and Jessie. This is only the second time Walt and Jessie have cooked together and for the second time, events have escalated dramatically. This is all while barely mentioning Hank being on the trail of the stolen lab equipment and pseudo-interrogating Walt about it. It is a great dynamic to this show to have a family member be investigating the protaganist and Hank has improved leaps and bounds from his first appearance (though his dialogue in the poker scene is cringe-worthy). The show has a lot of forward momentum at this point with Walt now in business with a madman, Jessie laid out in a hospital, and Hank hot on the trail.
Lazily Thought Out Tangents:
- Walt casually lying to Skyler about how he’s paying for the treatment seems like it should be very easy to blow up in his face.
- Am I the only one tired of the on-the-nose metaphors in the chemistry classes?
- Sooo just last episode, Walt was back in the good graces of his family. Here, five minutes in, Skyler and Walt Jr. are at a support group complaining how Walt has shut them out. I get that the show skipped ahead a bit but I don’t think this was effective. Feels like an episode was missing…
- Same thing with Walt just letting Jessie finish the cook. The episode opened with Walt clearly saying he does the cooking. Again, this would have been more effective with one episode in between.
- Jessie’s development has been slow and steady to the point where I desperately didn’t want him to die in this episode. If he had died in the pilot, I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
- Wow the dialogue in the poker scene is terrible. Hank sounds like an after-school special talking about Hugo. There is blatant audience manipulation as Hank says that he figured that Hugo was the one raiding Walt’s equipment. Its there to get a reaction shot out of Walt. However, it makes no sense that Hank would then follow up a few sentences later saying Hugo wasn’t the one. The dialogue didn’t flow naturally.
- Walt going all in in a family poker game that is being played for, at most, five bucks. Oh I see what they did, its a metaphor for Walt’s status in his side gig. Meh.
“What’s that Walt? You say that you are bluffing me, not just in this game, but in life itself? How very deep.”
Rating: 79 Tweaks of Chemistry Out of 100