Breaking Bad S5E12: Rabid Dog

kyra: In the world of Breaking Bad no one is “good,” there are only varying degrees of how bad you have broken. The spectrum runs from Walt down to Hank (really to Walt Jr., but who gives a fuck about Walt Jr.), but this episode proves that even Hank can be heartless. In the 5B premier, Hank declares he doesn’t care about family. Tonight he wishes death upon his star witness, Jesse Pinkman, if only because it would enable him to catch Walt. Hank shows Walt isn’t the only one who can be done in by pride, as he is visibly consumed with the idea of being the one who catches Walt. His damaged pride has blinded his judgment with anger. ‘How could Walt fool me, Hank Schraeder? How dare he show me up.’ We’ve seen the signs already: he doesn’t coax Skyler the way he needs to and drives her right into Walt’s arms. He doesn’t see how deep she’s caught up in Walt’s schemes, something it takes Marie only a moment to realize. He (in my opinion foolishly) doesn’t go to the DEA with his belief that Walt is Heisenberg, instead holing up in his house and drawing the rest of the department’s suspicion. Finally in Rabid Dog he fills in Gomey as to what’s going on, and fortunately for Hank, Gomey believes him. However, his poor treatment of Jesse made me question why Jesse would ever sit down for a video confession in the first place. If Hank wants to lead this investigation rather than play catch-up to Jesse’s apparent new plan, he needs to start thinking with his head, rather than looking at this investigation as his ostensible revenge. Buckeye, there’s a lot to talk about, what with Marie thinking about poisons, Walt Jr. pleading for his dad to finally be honest, Todd being roped back into the fold, and of course, Skyler suggesting they put down the titular rabid dog. What’d you think of of the episode?

Buckeye: Less excitement this week than in the first three, though I guess we were entitled to something of a reprieve. Not coincidentally, in my viewing “Rabid Dog” raised more questions than it provided answers. The episode contained little that was shocking or jaw-dropping—I certainly wasn’t surprised that the other bald man in the plaza had nothing whatsoever to do with Walt—but if some elements of the episode were predictable, “Rabid Dog” positioned the characters so that the series’ conclusion is less and less predictable.

Particularly Hank. kyra, I think you highlighted an extremely interesting facet of Hank’s personality: his pride. Pride’s a theme that’s critical to Breaking Bad, of course, but it’s one that’s almost always confined to discussions about Walt. You’re so right, though, that since Hank has discovered Walt’s role as Heisenberg, Hank’s had little time to consider anybody but himself. Hank’s good at his job, and he knows it, and because of his precarious closeness to Walt, Hank must proceed with his investigation without any missteps whatsoever, lest he suffer the humiliation of not catching his brother-in-law sooner or risk the violent retaliation Walt foreshadowed in his “confession.”

The truth about Walt is a blow to Hank’s pride, which, like Walt’s is quite fragile. Stretching a bit back to Hank’s time El Paso, a period that ended with him surviving a severed-head-on-tortoise bomb attack, we’ve seen Hank retreat into his own solitude after injuries or traumatic events. If Hank can’t do his job, he might as well study rocks MINERALS, and if Hank is on the job, he wants to make sure that he’s the top dog and not bothered by Marie’s bitching. He’s got a great rapport with Gomez, but Hank definitely thinks of himself as the senior partner (at least that’s how I see it). He feels vindicated that his theory Heisenberg was still out there has been proven right, but it probably kills him to still have to keep things under wraps. It probably kills him to walk with a limp, too, but Hank, being Hank, has to do everything himself. It’s why he personally tails Jesse from Saul’s office—structurally I loved how the reveal that it was Hank, not Walt, who stopped Jesse from torching the White residence. (This decision allowed the Walt-heavy first half to play out from Walt’s point-of-view and his deluded inkling that maybe Jesse’s own guilt prevented the fire from burning.)

Hank’s packing Marie’s bags and booking her a spa weekend is just the latest example of Hank retreating into his sleuthing mode. This time, he’s onto a real delicate gem of a case, which has dangerous implications that you pointed out. Hank in work mode has little time for his family, and sadly, can think of Jesse only in terms of how he benefits—just another way Hank mirrored Walt. That’s a bit of a depressing thought, because the series has set up Hank as the hero, but it’s looking like Hank will only be a hero if he can be an embittered, embattled, and conflicted one.

I have a plot-related question for you: Is Hank’s and Gomez’s operation officially sanctioned by the DEA? I think it might be, but we never saw any of Jesse at the DEA office (nor any of Hank’s questioning), which were two curious details for the episode to leave out, though I enjoyed Jesse drinking from the DEA mug. (Kudos also to Jesse for taking his coffee black, which is the only way to drink coffee.)

And to turn from the man behind the camera to the man in front of it, do you think Jesse realizes that Hank is trying to manipulate him, too? Jesse sure was wary of Hank’s eagerness to get him to meet up with Walt.

kyra: Firstly addressing your question, I don’t think this is sanctioned by the DEA yet, because Hank rightly asserts that Walt would know within 5 minutes where Jesse is if he gets put into the system. Gomez all along has been Hank’s most trusted colleague, so it makes sense for the first person outside the family to find out to be Gomey.

Your question makes me realize just how much Vince Gilligan makes Hank mirror Walt in this episode. Like Walt telling Jesse he should start a new life, when Hank explains that based on their history Walt clearly cares about Jesse and doesn’t want to kill him, Hank has his own plans in mind. Namely, he needs to get Jesse to go to this meeting wearing a wire. Additionally, what backs this up is that just like Walt Hank is RIGHT. Walt does care about Jesse (we know this not just from the scary skinhead looking guy being a red herring, but also Walt spurning Saul’s Old Yeller suggestion, besides all their previous history). While both Walt and Hank are correct in their assertions, they look like bad guys because they are only making them to further their own ends. Based on this parallel, I think Jesse recognizes Hank’s manipulation just like he called out Walt, which is why he pulls an audible come showtime. We obviously don’t know what Jesse’s plan is, but I’d have to think he knows Walt would put a hit on him after a threat like this.

Turning to the supporting cast, Skyler resigns herself to being lumped in with Walt’s fate, and questions what one more death is in the scheme of all their horrible deeds. What’d you think of this assertion by Mrs. White, and did you have any lingering thoughts about Walt. Jr. or Marie? I personally thought Walt Jr.’s demand that Walt be honest was simply another in a long string of dramatically ironic comments from Walt Jr., who is as ignorant as he is annoying. As for Marie, I thought there was something very cathartic about her admitting to her therapist that although she would never actually poison someone, it feels good to think about doing it.

Buckeye: Old Yeller may not have made for as good or as funny a Saulism as a trip to Belize, but I loved how Walt scoffed at Saul’s suggestion that Jesse be put down only to make use of the “rabid dog” metaphor in conversation with Skyler just a few minutes later, after she encourages the same course of action. Walt, however twisted his affection for Jesse is, does actually care for him, it’s just that Walt operates under the impression that Jesse owes his life in return for that affection. Hank’s finest moment of the episode, professionally speaking, is his realization that Jesse is Walt’s kryptonite, the one person who Walt has exempted from the carnage he has wrought, the one person for whom Walt may risk the success of some of his schemes. (Hank was also an exception until these most recent episodes, but note that Walt threatened Hank before he contemplated siccing Todd’s Uncle on Jesse.)

Not that Walt is anything but a horrible father figure to Jesse, but he’s still a father figure, and his relationship with Jesse has none of the phoniness that characterizes virtually every interaction with his own son. I agree with you that Walter Jr. serves essentially one purpose on Breaking Bad, that of ignorant collateral damage. That Walter Jr. is the only major character yet to discover his father’s crimes sort of consolidates the role that dramatic irony plays on the show, leaving him in the dark while everything else comes to light. Every talk Walt has with his biological son is usually frustrating and cringeworthy; frustrating because we don’t expect Junior to do anything but whimperingly evince concern for his dad’s health, cringeworthy because of the way Walt Sr. talks to him, always calling him “Son” or “Junior” (which seem really old fashioned, and does he even want to be called Walter Jr.?) and never paying attention to his son’s complaints or concerns. Sure, Walt lies to both Jr. and Jesse, but we respond more to his relationship with Jesse because we understand both that Walt has some weird paternalistic feeling towards him and that Walt is the most prominent among the line of older men who have fucked Jesse over. It helps, too, that Jesse is more assertive than Jr., even if both have spent much of their adolescence under Walt’s grasp. It’s rare that we see Walt and Jesse getting along, but their fights have much more meaning than the (I think purposefully) annoying conversations between Walt and Jr. If Jr. doesn’t have much to offer thematically or plot-wise, those conversations can at least be a point of comparison to Walt’s conversations with Jesse.

To get to your question about Marie, I agree that she’s definitely looking for catharsis, but I don’t know if any catharsis is coming until there’s resolution to this current investigation. Maybe that will come, maybe it won’t, but for now Marie is another character who’s looking out for herself. She’s behaved selfishly before, her kleptomania the most obvious example, and I think you’re onto something when you note that she feels good when she has her fantasies about poisoning Walt. It’s those fantasies that are giving her something of a rush and are part of the reason she was intent on remaining at home as Hank and Gomez interviewed Jesse. Even if Marie’s not really offering anything besides moral support (and I’m not sure how much moral support her husband really needs or wants from her), she likes being there, likes seeing her husband carry out a form of her wishes for revenge.

You’ve mentioned to me that you’re noticing something of a pattern with these first four episodes, that they’ve alternated between plot-heavy and character-heavy hours of TV. “Rabid Dog” definitely fit within that latter category, with heavy focus on the Schraders (as can be said of much of this season). As religious watchers of the show, we’re always cognizant of what Hank is thinking, but less so with Marie, and I’ve appreciated the amount of face time she’s received so far; if nothing else, it’s interesting to watch everybody’s varied reactions to Walt’s evils, Marie’s included.

As for Skyler’s disregard for the number of people Walt’s killed, I think it’s easy for her to basically instruct that Walt kill Jesse—Skyler knows she won’t be the one pulling the trigger. But with each week this season, as Skyler continues to double down with Walt, I just wonder when her comeuppance will come and what form that will take. Breaking Bad is a show with a high body count, but it’s also a show that takes time to show the consequences from almost all of those deaths: they’re not something Walt can easily swat away or un-remember, and as Redditors have pointed out, Walt actually adopts certain quirks of the people he’s killed. (On top of this, we know how shooting Gale has affected Jesse, and know how everybody else lives in fear of Walt after the ten-man prison hit he concocted.) All this being said, I don’t exactly envision Skyler taking matters into her own hands, do you? I’d imagine she finds it easier to live with herself when she can tell Walt to handle the dirty work.

kyra: Skyler’s got to fall. The flash forward (which to pat myself on the back, proved the White household wouldn’t actually burn down) has Walt working alone, and I’m presuming he has no family to go back to. Perhaps it is when she tries to take things into her own hands that problems arise. Perhaps her and Lydia will have another confrontation with more dire consequences. I don’t know, but I do know my heart continues to pound every episode. First when Walt sneaks back into his own house, second when Jesse decides not to meet Walt in the square. Even without much actual ‘action,’ this show keeps me on the edge of my seat.

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One Response to Breaking Bad S5E12: Rabid Dog

  1. Caryn c says:

    Excellent analysis. We still feel sorry for Jesse. He is the most sympathetic character. We cant wait for Walt anc Sky to get theirs

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