Somewhere, I’m sure, there’s a message board on which people are currently whinging that this fourth season of Breaking Bad is too slow, too staid, too something, that the show, painting itself into a corner with 19 episodes left to go, has no choice but to drag out the story and the relationships. And while there’s no pleasing everyone, ever, about anything, it would be difficult for even the grumpiest of trolls to posit that nothing happened on this third-to-last episode, or that the plot’s threads aren’t being knotted and unknotted with force. To wit, a sampling of dramatic proceedings and revelations in handy, impactful, ostensibly argument-supporting bullet-point form:
- Jesse rushes a gut-shot Mike and a poisoned Gus to a pop-up urgent-care in the middle of the desert that is well stocked with blood for all three men in the always likely event they will lose significant amounts of their own. Proof that even a private ER will screw you with preferential triage policy, Mike bleeds out while the man who pays the salaries is treated.
- Ted tells Skyler thanks but no thanks to auntie’s $617,000 check — it’s not enough to keep him and his family in the style to which they’re accustomed, so best to just blow off that whole IRS back-taxes thing and let nature take its course, unless of course she wanted to cough up even more, not that he’s suggesting that, no. Skyler tears up his check, hires the fake EPA dude and a man-mountain named Hewell to stand sentry while Ted writes the check to the IRS, then he trips on his nice carpet trying to run away and slams his head and is now, we’re lead to believe but never told, dead.
- During their six-mile hike to the border, Jesse tells Gus he won’t take over the lab if it means Walt will be killed.
- Hank asks Walt to drive him to this dry-cleaner which, he suspects, miiiiight just have a methamphetamine superlab in its basement, so Walt purposely crashes pulling a U-turn, injuring them both, but getting Walt off amateur sidekick duty for good. What has taken more of a beating on this show: Walt’s Aztec or Hank’s spinal cord? Discuss.
- Gus torments Tio Hector one final time to tell him his bloodline has been terminated, resulting in what might be the most dramatic lip-quiver in basic-cable history.
- After getting kicked out of Jesse’s place again, Walt is tasered on the front lawn by Tyrus, then hauled out to the desert, where he is not executed by Gus, but told by him in no uncertain terms, that execution is imminent, pending the disintegration of Jesse’s last few annoying bits of loyalty. Less lucky is Hank, who must be dealt with, and if the DEA were to be tipped off, that will mean the death of not just Walt, but Skyler, Junior, and Holly.
- Walt reacts in typically calm fashion, bolting into Saul’s office and demanding the number of the Man Who Makes People Go Away, then tells Saul to … tip off the DEA. Which is fine, because Walt’s got, like, what, a million dollars stashed in the crawl space of his house. But when he finds the pile about $617,000 light, and Skyler tells him what’s become of that cash without even knowing about Ted’s fall, and Marie calling to say that the house is surrounded by DEA agents because Gus is coming after Hank, Walt, who has just minutes to gather his family and flee forever, laughs and laughs and laughs and the camera pulls back as he lies in what may as well be his shallow grave, and holy shit.
So, that’s kind of a lot. Breaking Bad’s calling card has always been to put its characters into deep holes, only to sharpen the shovels so they can dig deeper, so it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a plan in effect here. Walt is the world’s best/worst escape artist, always getting out of one dead-end situation to find a more dire one, but the last eight minutes of “Crawl Space” feels like a new level, even by the show’s standards. Granted, whatever’s left in those vacuum-sealed bags would be sufficient to live on for a little while, but is hardly reflective of the risks Walt has taken and the sacrifices he’s made, at least as his soul is concerned, over the tumultuous past year of his life. There’s no question Walt could pass for an anonymous schlub in some distant cul-de-sac somewhere without raising suspicion — if Hank isn’t clued in, no one ever will be — but any chance of a clean getaway seems scuttled.
Oh, and the coughing. So much coughing. If the season ends without Walt looking into his palm at a hacked-up glob of cancerous sputum, then we’ll play Russian roulette with Jesse’s pack of Parliaments.