TV Review: BREAKING BAD, 4.3 - "Open House"

This week's episode, "Open House", the third of the show's fourth season, dwindles a little more awkwardly in its attempts to carry the tension than last week's episode.

rating: 3.5

Last week, I praised Breaking Bad's ability to keep us riveted despite a lack of action and conventional plotting technique. It's a show that remains special because it refuses to go by the book. Stories are left to brood. Character development comes first and foremost. It's something to be grateful for in an age of television seasons dragged out (often by contractual obligation) to 22 episodes, and it usually pays off in droves. This week's episode, "Open House", the third of the show's fourth season, dwindles a little more awkwardly in its attempts to carry the tension. Lacking the underlying urgency of the season opener and its follow-up, the pace slows up again. "Open House" also steps on the toes of some story points that were covered well enough last week, and seems to stretch out on other plot-lines that just aren't proving to be very interesting at this early stage. The first of these stories concerns Marie (Betsy Brandt), who, for the first time, plays a rather hefty role as opposed to dealing with the usual secondary character obligations. But instead of something new, we're back to old problems - Marie's kleptomanic tendencies. The first season dealt with her intimate habits in the most detail, and since then, it's been touched on simply now and again. "Open House" takes a different road but remains in a similar ballpark: Marie visits open houses and pretends she's somebody she's not, fictionalising herself and stealing from the owners. She conjures images of exotic and fantastic lifestyles and lies to the estate agent about husbands who work for NASA and houses she has in London, Paris and Italy. Is this her way of escaping the situation she's currently faced with? Stuck with a husband she loves but refuses to respect her? Perhaps. After she's arrested for stealing from a couple of these houses, Marie breaks down and bides her time before returning home. It's an interesting aspect of the show, no doubt about that, but it seems at odds with the current situation. But faith goes a long way, and future episodes will hopefully shed a light on this reoccurring problem in a way that brings it full circle. For now, though, it seems a little too much like filler. Jesse (Aaron Paul) is still in limbo. He's shaken up and out of touch with reality. After a day in the meth lab, he reaches out to Walter (Bryan Cranston) and invites him go-karting, only to be shot down. Later, we see that Jesse chooses to go go-karting alone - some quick cuts as his expression changes as he drives around the track, culminating eventually on a shot of him screaming out in tired desperation, reiterating the sentiments from "Thirty-Eight Snub." Jesse is unable to feel anything. He's frustrated by the notion that he can't remember how to have a good time. Touching, but familiar: didn't we go down this route last week with the stereo system? Meanwhile, there's an interesting dynamic developing between Walter and Skyler (Anna Gunn). Negatively opposed to one another throughout season 3, the Whites are becoming ever entangled in criminal affairs as a pair - and are even managing to muster some affection for their dead relationship. After meeting with Saul (Bob Odenkirk), who agrees to help them buy the car wash, Skyler puts her brilliant persuasion/business techniques to work and manages to secure a deal in an admirably devious fashion. She was wasted in an office, and Walt respects her for it. Walter grows more and more uneasy at every turn, and it's showing. This time he has good reason - cameras have been installed in the meth lab, a message from Gus that lays the situation out nice and clearly: I'm watching you, Walter. This is exactly the kind of gesture that brings Walter's blood to a boiling point. He's damaged goods, too, after Mike beat on him in the bar, an event which (you might hope) could prove to slow him down. Skyler proves a reliable influence on her former husband, and reprimands him when he goes out and buys a $320 bottle of champagne to celebrate the car wash deal. They have to be careful, she warns. Walt is stubborn, but there's no doubt that she's right. If only he could harness his temper, resign to the fact that he isn't in control, and maybe he'd be better equipped to grasp the situation at hand. The most exciting event to occur in "Open House" does so in the episode's final moment. A defiant Hank (Dean Norris), confined to his bed, categorising his minerals, is visited by an old friend from the police department. He has Gale's notebook, recovered from the scene of the crime. It's filled with technical mumbo jumbo - drugs related jargon - that he can't get his head around. That's why he wants Hank's help, it being his field of expertise and all. After doing anything but looking at the notebook for the length of the episode, he picks it up seconds before the credits roll. He might not understand it, but, wait... doesn't he have a chemistry genius for a brother in-law? Despite the aforementioned downsides, this is not a subpar episode (has there ever been a below average episode of this show?). Problems emerge with the fact that not much else has been established this season to hint towards where it's all going - by the end of "Open House", we only know what we presumed, and it all seems a little neat for Breaking Bad. Of course, where the story seems static, the character moments shine through - a guaranteed saving grace for an episode in this mould. But Breaking Bad aficionados know the score. Part of the enjoyment in following a show like this is in being prepared to wait for the season's more defining moments, to wait out the periods of unbearable tension. It is sometimes frustrating waiting for stories to reach climaxes and resolutions, but never boring. Knowing that, it's hard to complain. It's inevitable that things will hit the fan soon enough. At that stage, there's no going back - we'll have been properly prepared, and thankful for the moments of calm before the relentless storm. After all, savouring those moments will make the storm all that more satisfying when it does hit... if satisfying is the right word to use.
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