Tonight was Ladies Night on Breaking Bad. I, for one, was glad for it. Skyler and Marie have long since been shifted to the background, and as I mentioned last week, they’ve both been given the role of Fun-Ruiner. This episode allowed both characters to come into focus, showing the result of their common pathological natures – good for Skyler, bad for Marie.
Let’s start with Marie. We’ve always known about her compulsive theft, but either the nature of the crime has changed, or we’re finally granted a little perspective on what the whole process is for her. At a season 1 baby shower, Marie gives Skyler a diamond tiara which Sky determines is stolen when she tries to return it. Oops. Sky is momentarily held by the store owner and eventually scolds Marie, who never really cops to the deed. “Open House” shows Marie’s whole ritual, at the center of which is a fabricated identity. And it’s not one particular fantasy she favors either: sometimes she’s married to an astronaut, no kids; sometimes she’s a mother of four; sometimes she’s hand model; sometimes she’s a rich divorcé. It is curious, as she almost certainly didn’t make up these fake identities when shoplifting from upscale children’s stores. Like her sister, Marie understands that the devil is in the details. So the details had better be right.
Which brings us back to Skyler White. Her behavior here has all the trappings of Classic Skyler – the Skyler most viewers despise. She’s inconveniently principled and doesn’t let Walt take more criminally explicit short cuts. Even if Saul hears “brutal intimidation” when Sky says “attitude adjustment,” she means precisely what she says. I gotta say, the scene in which Saul and the Whites struggle to come up with an agreeable plan was one of the more charming of the season. For all its intensity, one of the things that initially drew me to the series was its keen sense of humor.
And it’s during this scene that we get the first little glimmer that everything we might find irritating about Skyler is actually useful. Or at least insightful. Skyler insists that this Car Wash must be their target – no nail salons, no other car washes (gross, amirite?), just this one. She might be being difficult, but if so, she is only presenting the united front that she knows Walt will agree with. Those Whites are a proud people. In inventing the details of this story, Skyler already understands Walt’s motivations – not just as they’re going to be presented to the public, but also as they really are. Look how much she seems to know about Walt even when he keeps her in the dark. She knows that black eye is indicative of real trouble and no yammering lie about a “disagreement with a co-worker” is going to convince her otherwise.
Skyler’s MVP play of hiring a fake city worker to test the chemicals outside the car wash is genius. It is great how committed she is to this project, feeding the guy lines from municipal codes and EPA laws. This is exactly the kind of thing that Skyler seems uniquely capable of doing, and it’s nice to see her finally getting some props from her husband.
By the way, how’s their relationship doing? I can’t really remember where we left it before the Gale incident. Walt’s still got his fully furnished bachelor pad, but Skyler is becoming an increasingly regular presence there and Walt’s just hanging out in their house waiting for the phone to ring. Perhaps it makes sense that Walt is concentrating his effort on improving the one business-relationship he has any hope at ameliorating. He can say that he’s “cleared the air” (terminology he used both last week and tonight) with Mike or Fring, but that security camera in the lab tells a different story. And then there’s Jesse.
The relationship between Walt and Jesse always serves as a slightly mysterious attractive force in the universe of Breaking Bad. The only scene they share this week is dripping with mega-obvious subtext, and both characters explicitly ask the other to tell them what’s wrong. Questions are deflected (I’ll go go-karting with you, Jesse) and they are both left to deal with their own issues. Or not deal, whichever the case may be.
Jesse’ house really took a dive quickly, didn’t it? The house is a 24 hour drug orgy and the friendly faces of Skinny Pete and Badger are nowhere to be found. The place is actually starting to look more and more like the shooting gallery that Jesse retreated to after Jane died. And while that’s alarming, it’s even more alarming to consider what that house once was. Jesse was originally given that house by his aunt Ginny who died of lung cancer. The house started as a symbol of Jesse’s compassionate nature and when it was first warped (by the acidic goopy remains of a dealer burning through the second floor bathtub) Jesse freaked. The affront on the house was an affront of Jesse himself. But now, he brings this destruction on the house purposefully. He’s got the sky-high stacks to turn the place into an instant party, or even just to jump start it when the burnouts have, well, burned out, but nothing brings him peace.
Which makes Jesse a lose end. Fring’s been saying that you cannot trust a drug addict since our very first meeting, and judging by the goon stationed outside Jesse’s house, this is still an idea in which he takes great stock.
The theme of paying attention to detail ran strong throughout and no one is a bigger stickler for the details than Hank. His details are not fabricated details, but honest, objective truths. He’s not collecting rocks, he’s cataloging minerals. He didn’t ask for Fritos, he asked for Cheetos (he had a bag with him in bed at the end of the episode, thank god). And now he’s got poor Gale’s lab notebook in his hands. The devil is in those details, and if Hank looks, he just might find him.