Brow Beat

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 11: Crawl Space

Photograph of Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) by Ursula Coyote/AMC

[Caution: There are spoilers ahead! So if you haven’t yet watched “Crawl Space,” come back when you have and share your thoughts and theories.]

Walt’s disintegration is so complete at this point that even his brother-in-law Hank can tell: “You’re in over your head.” But before we get to the erstwhile chemistry teacher, let’s go from the beginning of the episode.

A medical team is in the middle of the Mexican desert, ready to revive Gus when Jesse roars up with Mike in tow. This entire plot point illustrates the extreme, almost obsessive attention to detail that Gus possesses: There are blood transfusions in the correct type for himself, Mike and even Jesse waiting in a makeshift ER. To be the CEO of methworld, you need to be even more competent and prepared than leaders in the straight world. Ailing Gus is soon well enough to walk the six miles to the U.S. border, and he tells Jesse that he wants him to run the lab on his own. Jesse—whose heart seems to get more and more pure as this season goes on—begs Gus not to kill Walter. As much as Walt has betrayed him, Jesse still holds a candle for his deadbeat father figure.

Even after his near-death experience, Gus still has it in him to don a blood-red shirt and crisp gray suit to go torture Hector in the nursing home. Gus points out Jesse and tells Hector, this is the guy who killed your grandson, Joaquin. Jesse looks deeply horrified at this, but Gus’s motives are twofold: He wants to cause Hector as much pain as possible and he wants to toughen Jesse up. Will Jesse ever become the Mini-Mike that Gus desires?

Meanwhile, Skyler is desperately attempting to get Ted Beneke to pay back the IRS with her laundered money. She even goes over to his house to try to persuade him—Ted tries to act cool while refusing, but he trips over a sisal rug while walking (that’s Chekov’s rug in this instance—more on that in a minute). Skyler’s in over her head now, too. Now that things are really heating up for her, she’s as bumbling and uncertain as her husband is. Were you surprised that Skyler lost it so quickly?

Here’s where the episode starts getting really bonkers. Walt is driving Hank around to surveil Gus, and Hank has a hot tip about the Laundromat–he’s connected the dots from a German conglomerate right to Walt’s door. Walt’s boxed in and he makes the only choice that seems reasonable to him in that moment. He drives directly into another car. This does end up solving his problem in the immediate. He doesn’t have to take Hank on any more stakeouts and they don’t stick around at the Laundromat-cum-meth lab. But it’s just a temporary stay; Walt’s issues are about to get much, much, worse.

For her own caper, Skyler decides to get Saul involved, and the crooked lawyer sends his “A Team” in to get Ted to sign the check. Ted does it, and then tries to run away, in the process he trips on the rug and knocks his head straight into the wall. From the hand twitching beneath Ted’s still body, it appears that he’s dead.

After he recuperates from the car accident, Walt discovers that Jesse has been cooking without him, and goes by Jesse’s place to confront him about it. Jesse, who is still so hurt by Walter, kicks him to the curb. As soon as Jesse goes back inside, Gus’s new henchmen (one of whom looks like he moonlights as a male model. Those cheekbones!) tase Walter. The next thing you know, he’s out in the desert with a bag over his head. There’s a wide shot of Walter on his knees in the middle of two cars and underneath the big blue sky that’s one of the most striking of the episode.

Gus drives up and tells Walt that he should never show his face at the laundry again, and that he should not go near Jesse–ever. Walt, arrogant as ever, even as he’s on his knees in front of Gus, calls Gus’s bluff. “You can’t kill me because Jesse wouldn’t cook for you if you did,” he tells Gus, in a terrified boast. This is a tactical error. You would think that after all this time, Walt would know how dangerous Gus is. Gus says that instead of killing Walt, he will kill his wife, his son, his infant daughter, and his brother-in-law.

This sends Walt into an extreme panic. He tells Saul he wants to disappear, and Saul tells him he will need about $500,000 to vanish. Walt convinces Saul to call the FBI and alert them to the fact that Hank is in danger, and rushes back home to get the money together. He rips up the floor and goes down into the crawl space where their money is stored, only to find that it’s mostly gone. Skyler finds him down there and tells him the truth: She gave the money to Ted. Walt dissolves into an anguished wail, which turns into a deeply demented laugh. His face is framed by the square opening to the crawl space as it contorts in horrible hysterics. He’s both literally and figuratively boxed in. The imagery is a little on the nose, but it worked for me.

Somehow this series has managed to ramp up the action with each of these last few episodes. The Whites obviously can’t vanish as previously planned. So what do you think they’re going to do? My guess is that Walt will try to step up to Gus yet again—though maybe this time he’ll accidentally stumble into a position of power.