Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Breaking Bad - "Cat's in the Bag..." (season 1, episode 2)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Breaking Bad - "Cat's in the Bag..." (season 1, episode 2)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on January 27, 2008/written by Vince Gilligan; directed by Adam Bernstein): As with the pilot, a large part of this episode's "cinematic" quality is narrative. This is not an ensemble TV series with a sprawling cast of characters, each with their own storyline...at least not yet. "Cat's in the Bag..." has one fundamental purpose: demonstrating how Walter's entire life rotates around the consequences of the previous climax, in which he "killed" two drug dealers in self-defense, pretending to show them how to cook meth before poisoning them with phosphane. Krazy-8 (Maximino Arciniega) survived the gassing in the RV, and now Walter and Jesse have two tasks at hand. One of them has to dissolve the body of Emilio (John Koyama) in acid, a messy, ghoulish piece of work especially since it might involve chopping him up and placing different halves in different plastic containers. Shrinking from that possibility, Jesse decides to do the "easy" thing, dragging Emilio upstairs in his own house, and dousing him in the bathtub. Unfortunately, acid won't dissolve plastic - but it will certainly dissolve a porcelain bathub: near the end of the episode, the ceiling of Jesse's first floor collapses, with gruesome chunks of flesh and bone landing below. And yet, somehow, Jesse does have the easy job. After flipping a coin, Walter is assigned the far more stressful task: killing the very much alive, groaning Krazy-8, imprisoned in the basement with a bike lock around his neck. I suppose there's a bit of a subplot in the episode: after Jesse calls the house pretending to be a salesman, Skyler tracks him down and questions Walter about his identity; he cleverly finds the perfect alibi, claiming that Jesse sells him pot. Skyler is savvy enough to find Jesse but - fortunately for both him and Walter - not savvy enough to notice that he's dragging a dead body through his driveway when she shows up to accost him. Something I neglected to mention (along with many other details) in my previous write-up: Skyler is pregnant. She gets an ultrasound with Walter present, and the two parents-to-be find out that the child will be a girl. Skyler makes a joke about what it will be like when she's older, and Walter's face falls. Despite barely coming up in the episode - aside from his frequent coughing fits - Walter is, of course, dying. He will never get to see this daughter grow up, and that mortality hangs over the central hook of episode two: a man faced with his own death must find the nerve to kill someone else.

My Response:
As with most episodes of the first season, this is my second viewing. I remembered the bottom of the bathtub falling out but forgot Skyler's visit to Jesse (although as it unfolded, the memory returned). All in all, I think I remember the next episode a bit better. Regardless, re-watching "Cat's in the Bag..." made me most curious of where Breaking Bad will go in its unknown (to me) future. How long can Skyler remain in the dark? Her detective work is pretty solid here, and good as Walter's diversion is, I don't think she can remain ignorant forever. How would she react once she knows? Would she be willing to go for that particular ride? Also, what is going to be the story with her pregnancy? Will there be a daughter growing up in the White family over the next several seasons? That in itself is a point worth considering...what exactly is the timeline of the show going to be? Walter's prognosis was not good yet the series ran for five years. Is the chronology within these seasons actually much shorter, even to the point where the daughter isn't born yet or is just a newborn when the series ends? Or will something happen before the pregnancy comes to term? I have other questions, but I also have some likely answers - it's been hard to avoid any and all spoilers for the past few years - so I won't ask them all. Instead, to focus on the episode at hand, I have to say it's a marvelous example of how to extend and sustain a premise beyond a hooky debut. We don't learn much of anything this time around and in fact, very little happens (contrast with the massive plot load the first episode had to carry over the same runtime). Instead, we spend time soaking in the disorientation and anxiety of Walter's life. But we are also watching him emerge as much more than an awkward, bumbling chemist. His management of the Jesse situation shows a steely reserve, including the decision of how to deal with the two dealers and his obfuscation when talking to his wife (who, for the first time, he dresses down: "Do you think you could crawl up out of my ass for a little while?"). Nonetheless, he hasn't quite had his Michael Corleone-on-the-steps-of-the-hospital sequence yet. Just when he's worked up the courage to kill Krazy-8, the prisoner starts talking, asking for water, and Walter gives him a bunch of supplies. He's feathering the nest of a bird he must slaughter. Despite his abstract resolution to commit murder, he can't make a cold-blooded commitment to the consequences of his actions.

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