TV Recap: Breaking Bad -- "Rabid Dog"
Note: This article was previously published at Patheos.
One of the underlying subtexts of Breaking Bad has always been about how Walt is a cancer, a disease eating away at the people around him. In “Rabid Dog,” the fourth episode of this latest batch, we see that nobody is immune from his infection. The two most shocking revelations occur when both Skyler and Hank reveal that they have no regard for Jesse’s life; he’s just a tool for them to either use or to throw away. In their obsession with either protecting or catching Walt, they have become just like Heisenberg, valuing human life only insofar as it suits their purposes.
“We’ve come this far,” Skyler says. “For us, what’s one more?” One of the unexpected side effects of Walt’s continual slide into darkness is that he’s dragged his family along with him. In fighting for his own survival, he’s made it about theirs. Skyler is now just as morally lost as he is, and she perfectly sums up the slippery slope they’ve slid down. In the grand scheme of everything they’ve done to keep from being caught, Jesse’s life doesn’t mean much. Not even Hank, the supposed moral center of the show, cares about Jesse as a person. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to be an option. A desire to repent, to atone for past sins, is only a device to be used to take down Walt, not something he thinks Jesse deserves. As he puts it: “Pinkman gets killed, we get it all on tape.”
“Rabid Dog” doesn’t feel quite as action-packed as the past few episodes. In fact, writer Sam Catlin seems intent on denying the audience violent confrontations and dramatic reveals altogether. We aren’t shown the scene where Hank finally relents and tells Gomie everything that’s going on. We don’t see the full tape of Jesse’s confession (for structural reasons as well as thematic, I imagine—it would take hours). The only glimpse we’re given ends with the line, “He was my teacher.” That’s the real tragedy of Jesse Pinkman’s life—in many ways, he was just a child led astray by an adult he trusted. His relationship with Walt is one of love, but it’s a twisted love held in place by force and psychological abuse.
The only question now seems to be whether Jesse was a good student. This is an episode all about him realizing his independence and finally cutting himself free from anyone who might try to manipulate him. In a brilliant twist of editing, we see Walt arrive home to a gasoline-soaked living room with Jesse nowhere to be found, only to flash back in time and reveal that Hank prevented him from lighting the house on fire at gunpoint. The knowledge that Walt poisoned Brock is the last straw, the final bit of injustice that zaps Jesse out of his guilt-ridden stupor and into action. He wants to do something, and “Rabid Dog” follows his journey to figure out what that should be.
First, he finally confesses. Hank now knows the entire story, and they cook up a plan to have Jesse wire up and meet Walt in the plaza, where they can hopefully get Walt to admit his misdeeds on tape. But once Jesse confesses, he’s released from the psychological chains of “the Devil” (there’s that name again), but he’s still not fully free. He’s just replaced one master for another. Hank doesn’t have his best interests at heart, so when he wires up and then makes the sudden decision to disobey orders and take another course of action, he isn’t helping Walt, he’s helping himself. This isn’t an episode about confrontations; it’s an episode about salvation. Jesse begins the episode like the rabid dog of the title, but he ends it a new man with the potential to use everything he’s learned from “Mister White” over the past few years to his advantage. No matter what happens now, at least he’s taking responsibility for himself, and he won’t be put back on anyone’s leash.
The tragic irony is that Walt was the only person who genuinely cared about Jesse’s well-being. Their relationship has been through so many ups and downs that he views Jesse as a spiritual son, someone who traveled with him down the wide path of destruction and, in at least one instance, saved his life. His hug with Walter Jr. by the pool acts as a repeat of the embrace he shared with Jesse in the previous episode. He would never kill family, so how could he kill Jesse, who knows him better than his son ever will?
Jesse is no longer the rabid dog. Walt is the one who’s always been a danger to those around him, who’s capable of going on a rampage of deceit and destruction when threatened. When he calls Todd at the end of the episode—supposedly to “make Jesse see reason” in the Skyler sense of the phrase—he’s throwing a lit match on gasoline that was spilled long ago. I have a feeling Todd’s involvement is going to ruin all of his plans.
The question is, if Walt is Old Yeller, who’s going to be the one to put him down?
As a final side note: What’s going on with Marie in this episode? We finally get to meet her therapist, Dave, and she admits to fantasizing about poisoning Walt and Skyler. “There is no problem, no matter how difficult…that violence won’t make worse,” he tells her. “Don’t worry,” she responds, “I would never hurt anybody. It just feels good to think about it.” This gets at the heart of the complex relationship between fantasy violence and real violence. Violence in media often acts as a cathartic way to release our own violent thoughts and tendencies, but it also reinforces cultural attitudes and myths about violence that might be unhealthy. It will be interesting to see if Marie ever acts on her impulses. If so, I wonder what that means Vince Gilligan thinks about the people who enjoy Breaking Bad.