TV Club

Breaking Bad recap: How realistic is the roving cook?

Walter White, underminer.

Breaking Bad Episode 3
Walt and Jesse

Photograph by Ursula Coyote/AMC

You’re right, Matt: The FBI got props last week and now they are AWOL, while Mike runs from prison to prison posing as a paralegal. The show needs him to be on the loose, because the new triumvirate partnership is giving the drama its juice. But we should have a sense of law-enforcement presence, or an explanation for why it’s lacking.

I also wondered if the roving cook operation was as implausible as it was lovingly drawn. I’m influenced by (fellow TV Clubber) Patrick Radden Keefe’s post about the accuracy of Breaking Bad on the New Yorker website—Patrick just wrote a terrific magazine piece about the big business of a Mexican cartel, and he says the show gets right the violence, the multinational conglomerate, the car-wash money-laundering, and also the shenanigans of Saul Goodman. (Speaking of, I’m not worried, as you are, about Saul turning snitch. The cops don’t have the goods on him and as unsavory as his legal advice is, he’d argue in court that it’s protected by attorney-client privilege.) Patrick is skeptical, however, of the state-of-the-art meth lab Gus built for Walt. “In real life, it would be impractical to undertake the sort of industrial-scale production that Walter does (two hundred pounds a week) inside this country, because of the difficulty of acquiring the necessary chemicals,” he writes. “It is much easier to shift production to Mexico or Guatemala, as the major drug cartels have done, where mega-labs (that dwarf Walter’s) churn out meth for export to the U.S.”

The tented house labs aren’t as luxe as Gus’, of course, but they looked pretty high-end and sophisticated. And the chemical supplies are still rolling in from Lydia without anyone breaking a sweat. So I guess that’s my realism hang-up this week. Also, I wondered about the big power suck the cook entails—won’t the home owners notice the surge in their electric bills when they get home? I’m not sure how much I care about any of this, though, because I loved the reignited partnership between Walt and Jesse. It is satisfying to watch them excel, which of course is a trick the show plays on our moral sensibilities—we root for them as they turn their talents to the production of a drug that rots people’s bodies and brains. People like Jesse’s friends the roadie-gear buyers, who I was glad made a comic appearance.

You mentioned Walt’s effort to manipulate the people around him this week, and for me, this was the theme of the episode. He had that odd unspoken interaction with Brock, with a subtext that must relate to the poisoning, though how exactly I’m not sure. For a second I thought Brock recognized him. Then Walt asks Jesse all those seemingly caring questions about Andrea only so he can play underminer and wreck their relationship. (“It has to be your decision”—how many friends have planted the seeds for Splitsville that way?) He also moved back into the house without discussing it first with Skyler, then presented Scarface, with baby dandling on his knee, as fond family entertainment. And last, of course, there was his handling of Marie, which was some kind of sick genius. She is perfectly primed to think ill of her sister, and Walt played her self-regard just right: He asks her not to tell Hank, who might smell the rat she can’t see, because “I don’t want Hank to think less of her or me.”

But then, as you say, Walt blows it with Mike and Jesse when the money is being doled out. You could chalk this up to his greed, but I think it’s about his masculine pride and the limits of his empathy. He can’t keep himself in check with Mike because he cares too much about being the alpha dog. He can’t remember that when he asks how Jesse is feeling, Jesse will pick up their earlier thread about Andrea—and when he curtly cuts off Jesse’s confidences about that to pivot back to the money, he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s losing the trust he’s been working to gain. June, what did you make of that last long look Jesse gave Walt after he brought up Victor flying too close to the sun? Does Jesse think Walt is casting him as Icarus in his own warped tragedy?

You will be made whole,