One think I noticed a while ago is that Breaking Bad keeps you moving back and forth on its major characters, especially Walter and Jesse. There’s a sequence where the character is really nasty and then, a bit later, the character does something that draws you to them. If someone wanted to do some serious work on this show, this rhythm would be something to look at. Chart it out character by character, within episodes and across episodes.
It’s my crude impression that Breaking Bad does this more than other shows (e.g. The Sopranos, The Wire, etc.). For what it’s worth, I didn’t even notice this going on in other shows, well, a bit with Mad Men. Maybe it’s common, but I’ve just now noticed it. And maybe it’s particularly prevalent in Breaking Bad. I can’t tell.
Consider episode 10 in season 3, “Fly.” First, this episode is something of a dramatic “stunt” in that it involves only two characters, Walter and Jesse, and one setting, the meth lab. Second, nothing much happens in the episode. No one is killed, there’s no violence, no major changes in anything. It’s a very minimalist episode.
So, what does happen? It’s at the end of the workday and Walt and Jesse are at the lab. Walt’s been running numbers. He notices that some of the product seems missing. We, of course, know what’s been going on. Jesse’s been skimming a bit to sell on the side. We’re not surprised that Jesse offers various (lame) reasons to explain the discrepancy. (Doesn’t he realize that Walt can calculate the expected yield given his knowledge of input quantities?)
Does Walt suspect that Jesse’s skimming? Will he figure it out? Jesse leaves and Walt gets distracted by a fly. Really distracted. He begins to take physical risks to get the fly, even taking a nasty fall. He’s become obsessed for no apparent reason.
Jesse returns, finds Walt chasing the fly, and wonder’s what’s up. Walt gives him a song and dance about contamination, but doesn’t have the courtesy to even attempt to explain how one fly could damage the product. Jesse wants finish the current batch before it goes sour, but Walt won’t let him. Gotta get that fly. This makes no sense to Jesse or to us.
Walt is being a pain in the ass. Really annoying. It just seems to be prima donna perfectionism out of control.
Various things happen. Jesse cuts the power for awhile. Goes out and gets some glue strips. And some sleeping pills.
He slips one in Walt’s coffee. Walt starts talking, talking about the night Jane died. So now we’ve got to wonder whether or not he’ll confess his role in that. He doesn’t. But Jesse’s very attentive to what he has to say. He talks about running into Jane’s father at the bar. He tells Jesse that he’s very very sorry for what happened (without, as I’ve said, actually revealing that he let Jane choke to death). And Jesse also says he’s sorry (presumably about being somehow complicit in Jane’s death).
They’re both sorry. Quiet moment. Bonding. Walt slumps into sleep.
And Jesse gets the fly. Walt sleeps. Jesse finishes the batch.
And they leave. As they’re getting into the cars Walt indicates to Jesse that he suspects him of skimming and won’t be able to protect him if Gus find’s out. “I didn’t ask for your protection” (or something to that effect).
End of episode.