'Breaking Bad' Watch: In "Rabid Dog," Walt's Going Down, and Everyone's Coming With Him

Television
by Sam Adams
September 2, 2013 12:41 AM
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"Last week you were upset about the new parking rules?"

Not surprisingly, the immediate reviews of Breaking Bad's "Rabid Dog" have focused on Jesse's alliance with Hank, a union between Walter White's most formidable enemy and his (former) closest confidant. But amidst the chaos ofWalt creeping into his own house with a drawn revolver or Jesse navigating a stream of potential threats in Albuquerque's Civic Plaza, I was struck by the virtually plotless scene where Marie checks in with her psychotherapist. Among Breaking Bad's main characters, Marie is the closest to a noncombatant. Only last session, her therapist reminds her, she was angry about the parking situation at work, a gripe that now seems both pathetically puny and almost enviable: If only that was her biggest problem now. (Walter Jr.'s an innocent as well, but he's been largely absent from these last several episodes, although the moment by the pool when Walt spins a cheery lie and his son unnerves him with a display of genuine affection was perfect.)

As Breaking Bad's endgame plays out, it becomes more and more clear than no one will get away clean. Whether or not they get sent to Belize, everyone in Walt's life has been dragged into the moral muck with him: Jesse, who killed a man in cold blood and saw a child killed right in front of him; Hank, who's willing to risk Jesse's life if it gets him closer to putting Walt in jail; Skyler, who's so given up on redemption that adding "one more" corpse to the pile seems an acceptable price to pay for her family's safety; even Marie, who's been researching "untraceable poisons" on the web. (It seems a little too sneaky for the show, but I chuckle nastily at the suggestion Marie's search history will come into play.) "Mr. White is the devil," Jesse warns Hank and his former partner, and he's right, although not in the sense he means. Jesse may not have kept up with his catechism, but Vince Gilligan was raised Catholic, so he knows that in the Christian tradition, Satan is not the embodiment of evil but the one who tempts people toward it. Walt is going down, and he's taking everyone with him.

In Jesse's mind, Walt has taken on an almost mythic status: "He is smarter than you, he is luckier than you," Jesse warns Hank. "Whatever you think is going to happen, the exact reverse opposite is going to happen." (The long lenses in the Civic Plaza scene make it seem as if Jesse's right next to Walt when they're a dozen feet away, a reminder of how closely the two are bound.) But the Walt we see in "Rabid Dog" is eminently fallible, hemming and hawing as he tries to come up with a plausible reason why his living room is soaked in gasoline. He only takes on Heisenberg's decisive growl when Jesse's well-being is threatened, first by Saul and then by Skyler, whom Walt looks at with enough cold-blood malice to make you believe he'd kill her before he let any harm come to Jesse. 

The title of "Rabid Dog" is Saul's allusion to Jesse: Like Old Yeller, Saul nervously suggests, Jesse is a once faithful mutt who might need to be put down -- you know, for his own good. But it's not just Jesse, whom Hank accuses of "dribbling all over my guest bathroom floor," who's rabid: it's everyone. The contagion is spread, and with rabies, once the signs stars showing, there's no way to stop it.

More reviews:

Donna Bowman, A.V. Club:

Mr. White is the devil, Jesse? This episode left me with the inescapable conclusion that Mr. Gilligan is the devil. Look what he’s done. While we’ve all been distracted with plot and staging and character, he's quietly maneuvered all the pieces and motivations into position to produce another heartbreaking situation -- the most painful one I can imagine for this stage of the series. 

Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:

Saul describes Jesse as a rabid dog who has to be put down for his own good, but Jesse surely feels the same way about Walt -- and the rabies metaphor actually fits Walt better than it does Jesse.  If anybody is little Timmy in this scenario, it's Jesse. If anyone's figuratively rabid, it's Walt.

Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post:

How does Walt do this? What about him brings out everyone else's inner Walt -- the unstoppable, amoral, narcissistic devil that lives inside every human being? Well, everyone except the Dalai Lama, but don't you think if His Holiness spent a few months around Walt, he might turn to the dark side? 

James Poniewozik, Time:

In this psycho-horror landscape, Jesse is a tiny, tiny boy, and Mr. White is God, Mr. White is the Devil, Mr. White is the universe itself. Other people may tell you they can save you from Mr. White, but they don't know, they don’t know Mr. White, they don’t realize that he is everywhere and he knows everything. Jesse is a grown adult now, but in a way, Breaking Bad has been TV's most sustained and horrifying depiction of long-term abuse.

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:

Marie's therapist Dave offers some advice: "There is no problem, no matter how difficult, or painful, or seemingly unsolvable, that violence won't make worse." It's an old saw, but an interesting one to insert into a series like this, about a man who has solved so many of his problems through violence -- but usually in a way that begets more and more problems that require violence to solve.

Alison Willmore, Indiewire:

Jesse has served as a crutch for Walt as much as he's been a partner, and their increasingly dysfunctional relationship over the months they've worked together has slowly become something like an abusive one as Walt has manipulated the younger man in more and more outrageous ways, finally poisoning his girlfriend's son, as Jesse perfectly puts it, "just as a move."

Allison Keene, Collider:

Walt is so tied up in his conviction that what he did was right (something Hank picks up on, too), that he felt he could still talk his way out of this.  But Walt’s talk is cheaper than most these days, when even Junior doesn’t believe his “pump malfunction” story.  Everyone has wised up.  There is no more obfuscation.

Andy Greenwald, Grantland:

I said last week that no character on this show needed anything more than Skyler needed Walt to really and truly be done. (This week I might add Saul needing rhinoplasty to the list.) I think it's possible to imagine that Skyler is thinking of her children in a way that Walt -- deluded, still dreaming of winning -- never actually has. She knows that keeping them rich and keeping them alive are only any good if they can also keep them ignorant. 
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