Last week, I received a package at my office from Billy Gibbons’ tequila company — three bottles nestled inside a heavy wooden box with my name engraved alongside a doodled self-portrait of the ZZ Top guitarist’s prodigiously bearded mug. From generous promo swag to macabre totem of instant, horrible death in just a few days’ time.
Gus Fring’s complicated BYOB policy doesn’t just carry on Breaking Bad’s proud tradition of lending menace to everyday objects (see also: teddy-bear eyes, take-out fried chicken, Martinizing), it also jolts the show as it heads into the season-four homestretch. What looked last week like capitulation to the cartel’s demands was actually just Gus’ first step towards this poisoned-añejo revenge plot against Don Eladio, host of Mexico’s worst pool parties.
Considering he’s the protagonist of the series, Walt has been pushed to the plot’s fringes at this point; he may even be expendable now that Jesse is able to bullshit his way to a 96-percent batch of blue without even knowing how to make pentawhatsit acid. (Raise your hand if you also thought that was the single most suspenseful digital-chemical-purity-rating-gizmo scene in television history.) While all the fireworks are happening south of the border, Walt is a non-factor, back at his condo nursing his wounds, literally and otherwise, bawling pathetically to Walt, Jr., who has his own problems trying to figure out how to be the first high-school dude in history to get laid driving a PT Cruiser. (On the upside, he may have a future career as an optician.) Vince Gilligan’s intention to flip Walt from sympathetic sad-sack to loathsome archvillain has long been clear; rendering the character irrelevant to the awful matters at hand seems almost too cruel. True that 96 percent falls short of Gus’ perfectionist standards and gives Walt a mathematical chance at becoming integral again soon, but it’s still shocking that this is what we’ve come to after last week’s decisive fisticuffs — a few measly decimal points separating the show’s central figure from oblivion.
Of course, it was just a few weeks ago that Jesse was on the sidelines, smoking meth in his graffiti-covered living room with the entire extras cast of The Walking Dead. (Shrewd cost-cutting measure on AMC’s part at this critical moment.) And now, with Mike’s gunshot wound appearing worse than a mere earlobe-grazing, Jesse’s on the cusp of becoming the most important figure in Gus’ operation. Which is probably a very, very bad idea. Bitch. Although it would hardly be surprising to see Mike back on his feet next week, having removed the bullet with a shrimp-cocktail fork and cauterized the wound with the car lighter. He just seems like the Road Runner of shady, surly, wisdom-espousing drug-ring henchmen.
In other news, while she isn’t busy humiliating her son by finding the absolute diametric opposite of a Dodge Challenger, Skyler continues to consult Scooby-Doo episodes for guidance in dealing with Ted, who blows the first chunk of his fortuitously timed mystery inheritance on a new Benz rather than, you know, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. Without an intact marriage to ruin, and with the family’s downfall more likely to come from the DEA side than the IRS, it’s hard to discern the stakes here other than to further marginalize the Whites in their own story.