TV Review: BREAKING BAD, 4.4 - "Bullet Points"

When Breaking Bad is finally over, it's possible that Walter White will position himself in front of a mirror and take a long, hard look at himself.

rating: 4.5

When Breaking Bad is finally over, it's possible that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) will position himself in front of a mirror and take a long, hard look at himself. Reflecting on who he once was and what he has become since his terminal cancer diagnosis, he might burst into tears, realising the extent to which he has traumatised his family, his friends, and the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The journey so far, after all, has conjured nothing but destruction, both literally and personally. But it's well-known that bad guys rarely get a chance to turn things around when they've pushed things as far as this former high school teacher, and, with each passing episode, Walter White is becoming a villain of epic proportions. It's easier to picture him floating face-down in a fountain than back in the classroom teaching chemistry to students who couldn't care less. So far, Breaking Bad's fourth season has been executed slowly and - it must be said - has proved to be a little disappointing. There's no hostility in saying so about a show as consistently good as this. The standard Breaking Bad set in just 33 episodes was phenomenal (and intimidating). Naturally, it's hard to beat perfection. But disappointing episodes still make for great television when Breaking Bad is concerned, and nothing sub-par has ever made it to the screen when it comes to this show. The first three episodes ("Box Cutter,""Thirty-Eight Snub,""Open House") untangled previous plot points, gave us insights in character's mindsets, and set agendas: all welcomed, but largely lacking drive and intensity in a way that seemed uncharacteristic of Breaking Bad. The story seemed static, and it didn't help, perhaps, that the writers work using an improvised story technique. This process is usually invaluable to the show, giving it its special edge, but cracks were shown when some of their prior plot moments had to be tied up or worked back in: it seemed a little forced (the car wash, for instance, seemed of little concern after the season three finale, and reasons are devised as to why it is still an essential part of the plan with some unbelievability). There's good news: "Bullet Points" is a return to form, and the best episode of the fourth season so far. It's a showcase in what makes Breaking Bad so special. Compared to some previously uneven episodes, every scene here is crafted with brilliant detail, tone and length. Best of all, it moves with a swift confidence, assuring not a minute of screen time is wasted or drags. The opening sequence is true Breaking Bad class, and emphasises the show's clever tactic when it comes to action scenes. The actions scenes are never just action scenes, intelligently used to thrill, make contrasts, and reveal information about the characters all at once. This particular scene does all three: its focus is on Mike (Jonathan Banks), dressed in winter apparel, patiently waiting in the back of a truck. He's been sent to take out a few opposing drug dealers in the desert. They open fire on the vehicle, convinced there's somebody waiting inside, and Mike gets down and waits for the onslaught of bullets to cease. Then he gets up and calmly dispatches them both. Part of his ear has been blown off, but hey - that's business. Mike is a professional. Meanwhile, at the White household, Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn) take to rehearsing the gambling cover story they're going to feed Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt). Skyler has written a script explaining, in good detail, the reasons for practically everything odd that has occurred in the past few months, including their new found cash flow. The scene is a lengthy one, but serves more than one purpose: first, there's the exposition - this is the writing team's way of making the situation sound plausible to audiences. It works ingeniously. We also learn that both Walt and Skyler want to control the situation, and their snipes and digs prove amusing as they battle for authority. Their relationship has entered a strange new phase. Goodbye lovers, hello€ business partners? Last week's episode ended as Hank began to peruse Gale's case file - and his intricate notebook. When Walt and family arrive at his house for a dinner party, he takes Walt and his son upstairs and switches on the television. To Walt's horror, Gale's face appears - a karaoke DVD found at the scene of the homicide, with Gale awkwardly bumbling through a song. Hank finds it hilarious. Walt might vomit. What follows brings the two brothers-in-law on the edge of realisation. One wrong word could bring everything out. Walt's always been lucky, and here's no exception: Hank believes Gale was his Heisenberg, but asks Walt to have a look through the notebook anyway - it's chemical related, after all. The tension is played to perfection by both actors. The scene is marvellous. Jesse (Aaron Paul), now sporting a shaved head, continues his life as a hedonist, desperate to forget the events that left him shattered and broken. His house has become a haven for junkies, and he's king - he returns from a day at the meth lab, throwing bags of crystal into his living room for them to feed upon. But Jesse has also become a liability, and everybody involved knows it. Any evidence left at the crime scene could ruin the entire operation, and Gus isn't the kind of man to leave any loose ends (think Vincent in "Box Cutter"). And though Walt shows some signs that he might actually care about his partner in this episode, he's still mainly concerned with himself. He comes to Jesse's apartment, ignorant of Jesse's mental state, and reminds him of the night Gale was killed without an ounce of consideration. "Bullet Points" also finds Walter meeting with his lawyer and guide to the criminal underworld, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Walt poses a question - "How did everything get so screwed up?" - with a spoken delivery that implies he is unwilling to take any of the blame. One very obtuse statement from a man of such intelligence. There's only one answer to his question, of course, and it's an obvious one: Walt is the reason everything is so screwed up. True, things have always been volatile in Breaking Bad. It's also true that Walt has never fully come to grips with his exact place within the illegal drug business. But what can you expect? He's never been in control, yet his pride won't allow him to admit any wrongdoing or misjudgement, or that he's out of his depth, or terrified that he's going to be murdered. Saul even offers him a way out. He knows a guy that organises witness protection-type deals - the show's way of letting us know that Walter won't even stop what he's given the perfect opportunity to start a new life and clear the slate. That kind of chance may not exist in the real world, but this moment exists to make things clear: Walt isn't in this situation because he has no choice, it's because he still wants to be. He wants to win, and he's willing to risk his life if it means coming out on top using his own methodology. There's enough evidence to suggest that Walt is not merely filled with pride, but that he's bordering the delusional. Yes, he has gotten himself through some terrifying (and nearly fatal) situations - the man is still a genius, remember - and his often overlooked abilities in fast thinking can be admired. But egotism can only spell doom for Walter White. There's nothing more dangerous than a fish out of water who refuses to believe he's a fish out of water. There is hope in Jesse, who can still turn his life around. But with a partner like Walter White, that possibility seems to dimmer with each passing episode.
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