Series 4, Episode 11 and Episode 12
“Crawl Space” and “End Times”
This rambling article is a look at, and celebration of, the antepenultimate and penultimate episodes of Breaking Bad Season 4 with a eye on what they tell us could happen in the season finale and beyond.
“Crawl Space” was like any other episode of Breaking Bad, which is to say it was brilliant. However, it earned its kudos in a different way. For the first two-thirds, it was Breaking Bad as we know it. There was the conclusion to the Cartel massacre with all our guys surviving thanks to Fring’s fastidious preparation. Not only did he set up a field hospital but staffed it with a medical team fluent in our guys’ medical histories, from lifestyles to blood types, and included the blood. There was also some Coen Brothers-esque escapades as Ted went from greedy business man to dead idiot by tripping on his rug while running from two goons who weren’t even chasing him. Still, that rug, it really tied the room together, did it not?
These scenes were hugely different in tone but that’s to be expected in Breaking Bad. What made the last part of the show so exciting, so terrifying and so different was the sudden acceleration in pace.
In the course of fourteen minutes screen time the following happened: Walter White cooked a batch of crystal meth in his superlab. Walt realised Jesse, his former partner was also using the lab to cook meth, and rightly concluded he was no longer of use to the organisation. Walt begged Jesse for help and was denied it when Jesse repeated back to Walt the vicious and heartless words he had recently said to him. Walt was then kidnapped. Walt was taken to the desert and he was sacked by his boss, Gus. Gus told Walt that if he caused any trouble, Walt and his family (infant daughter included) would be killed. Gus also told him that Hank, his DEA agent brother-in-law, was going to be “dealt with.” Walt then drove back to Albuquerque, visited Saul, his crooked lawyer and obtained the phone number for a man who would help them start new lives. Walt also instructed Saul to call in an anonymous tip to the DEA, warning of the hit that Gus was going to put out on Hank, and thus knowingly invited Gus to carry out the murderous threat on his family. Walt then returned home to find that the majority of his earnings were gone, which meant he and his family’s only chance of escaping was gone, and to top it off, the money had been taken by his wife and given to Ted, the man she cheated on him with.
He was doing his day job and then he, and everyone he loves, stood a very good chance of imminent death. Fourteen minutes.
These plotlines were building all season, all series really, and now they were spent. The questions had answers. Would the emergency escape plan that was mentioned ever be used? Would Jesse side with Gus against Walt? And the biggest question of all, how would it end between Gus and Walt?
When Walter had Gale murdered, it seemed inevitable that Gus would try to kill Walt. But likewise, it seemed unlikely that Walt could live without Gus being dead. Someone had to go and as Walt’s the star of ‘Breaking Bad’, it wasn’t going to be him that would die, was it? Then somewhere around the middle of Season 4, Gus started becoming a much more sympathetic character. First off, he gave Jesse the respect that we hoped Walt would give him. Sure, Gus was being hugely manipulative, but we couldn’t deny he saved Jesse from the destructive, nihilistic guilt that Gale’s murder had instilled in him. Second, we had a Gustavo Fring: Super Villain origin story in which we saw Gus witness the senseless execution of his friend, Max by Don Eladio’s cartel. Gus paid for and supported Max to get his doctorate and now he was dead and it was all for nothing. Who can forget the terror on Gus’ face? This man knowingly walked into sniper fire and now here he looked like he was going to cry in his lovely little brown suit. Finally, we witnessed Gus enact his twenty-years-in-the-making revenge on Don Eladio and his gang. Who amongst us wasn’t in awe of Gus at that point? What a champ!
And so, for almost eleven episodes, rather than build up the animosity between Gus and Walt for an end of series reckoning, the show relegated the beef to a background hum, everyone got on with other stuff, and the audience got to see a nicer side of Gus. Gilligan and co. made him likable. They spent screen time fleshing out the character. Why do this for a dead man walking? Could all this mean a resolution to the conflict that didn’t mean death? ‘Fraid not.
The moment Gus said “infahnt dorta!” in his death threat to Walt, I’m sure images of Victor’s throat flooded our collective memory. That’s who we’re dealing with. The other stuff, ‘Crawl Space’ puts that into a proper context. Whether or not Gus survives, we are in no longer in any doubt about who he is.
‘End Times’ builds on this. What we learn here is that Gus has been using Jesse all this time, not only as a way to get a loyal first class meth cook but as a way to finish Walt off. Here Gus activated his ‘Manchurian candidate’ in one of the most convoluted ways imaginable: Walt created the ricin poison for Jesse to use on Gus, who knew about it through covert surveillance, then secretly had it stolen from Jesse and given to Brock, predicting Jesse would notice it was missing and think Walt, who, to Jesse’s knowledge, was the only other person to know about it, had used it on the child to get back at him. Gus is, and this might be the first accurate use of this phrase, an evil genius.
The last scene of ‘End Times’ sees Walt trying to kill Gus with a car bomb, however Gus’s whiskers twitch before he gets to the car and leaves on foot. As Walt says earlier in the episode “[Gus is] always ten steps ahead.” Walt having Gus as a nemesis is no accident. Gus can now be defined by his ruthlessness and intellect. What other character could this describe? Yep, Heisenberg! On one level Season 4 is about Walt trying to survive Gus but more importantly, it’s about Walt figuring out who he is and what he wants. Is he Walt, the guy who loves his son, who gets satisfaction from nurturing Jesse, who can get caught up in the beauty of chemistry in an almost spiritual way? Or is he Heisenberg, unwielding, remorseless, a man with an iron will who can turn his ferocious mind to criminality just as easily as he can science?
Predictions and Expectations of Breaking Bad Season 4 Finale.
‘End Times’ left the story wide open. Plot-wise it could go almost anywhere. If I were to make guesses, I’d soon run out of steam as I got overwhelmed with unknowns…
Walt blows the car any way. He knows the ABQ DEA are on a state of high alert because of the hit out on Hank. He knows Hank suspects Fring but can’t find proof. Walt detonates the bomb on Gus’ car so Hank’s suspicions are taken seriously, and therefore Gus will be jammed up with police attention. This may also be perceived by the DEA as being connected to the hit on Hank and so the police protection might continue a little longer and thus keep his family secure. After that, who knows? Mike returns from the Mexican Shed Hospital and…?
It’s easier to think about the future of Breaking Bad in terms of its themes and characters.
This battle with Gus will be total chess game. This battle will not be ended by the likes of Ted’s deus ex machina rug. Walt’s intellectual ability/pride will be put to the test. Even if he vanquishes Gus, it may not be a happy ending for Walt.
Skyler is currently pacing around Hank and Marie’s, bumming cigarettes off armed security, and finally coming to realise that not only is Walt’s criminality a lot more dangerous than he made out, but that he has put every member of the family in mortal danger. Will Skyler stay complicit, does she have a choice?
For Walt, his smackdown from Jesse and Jesse’s skill in the lab, may humble him. As we saw when he was stoned on painkillers and booze, Walt genuinely cares for Jesse. Were Jesse a stranger, Walt may get threatened and nasty. But his affection for Jesse may see Walt transfer some of his ample pride on to his protégé.
Walt’s pride means he’s not one to talk with others about his hopes and fears. That is, unless he’s been beaten senseless by his surrogate son and is stoned on painkillers and booze in front of his actual son. At that point, we hear he is terrified of seeming helpless and pathetic. This was how he remembers his own father who died of a debilitating illness. Perhaps Walter Jr.’s acceptance of his tears will give Walt the confidence the open up a little more.
Gus. He lives. Or dies. Breaking Bad has never been a show to drag things out. Similarly, I can’t see Gus going off somewhere to live to fight another day. I think the character would cast a shadow over everything that would keep the audience’s mindset in that battle. Gus waited 20 years and established a drug empire to get Don Eladio. Now he’s minted he could surely hire someone to kill Walter and everyone else. So one way or another I think there will be a final resolution to this sooner rather than later.
Beyond Season 4
During its run, Breaking Bad has taken great pleasure in snatching away justifications for Walt’s actions. The cancer came and went. Money used to be an issue, it was needed to keep his family going in the event of his death. They became millionaires a while ago and now they own a successful car wash business. Walt was teacher and cooked meth on the side, now he’s a straight up criminal. Walter is a man inclined towards self-delusion but he’s continually running out of places to hide. All this considered, I think Walter’s outing as a drug producer could happen long before the show wraps. Who would Walt be if he’s family knew he made drugs. sold drugs, made bombs, killed people? Would the pride that he takes in those achievements still have value?