Episode 12 - Phoenix
29 June 2017
Synopsis: Walt arrives late and meets his daughter Holly. Jane makes excuses to her father about missing her NA meeting while Jesse freaks out that the meth has been stolen. Walt refuses to hand over money to Jesse while he is using. Walter Jr sets up a website asking for donations to save his Dad and Saul suggests they funnel his money through it. Jane's father Donald barges in to find her using and demands that she go to rehab. She begs for one more day and she uses it to blackmail Walt into handing over the money. Walt does but then receives wise words from Donald in a bar.
The Good: Bryan Cranston really landed the role of a lifetime with Walter White and once more he delivers a stunning performance as Walt enjoys the delights of his infant daughter, before fretting over Jesse's fate and then finally, horrifically, watching Jane die.
The structure of the story was equally good. What marks Breaking Bad out from your average TV show is that every character is allowed a complex range of emotions. Walt is furious with Jesse for letting him down when he needed him. You can sense that he also enjoys withholding Jesse, yet another way for him to exert control. However there is also genuine concern. He doesn't want to see Jesse slide into drug abuse and fears for where Jane might lead him. He has real fatherly concern for him. For his part Jesse looks up to Walt and wants his approval. He would never inform on his partner and feels bad even threatening to do so. Yet he naturally wants what he earned and is in love with Jane. She is an addict. Despite her love for her father and feelings for Jesse she is at a stage where she will manipulate anyone she has to to be able to use. She claims that they should get clean and part of her really wants that (she managed it for over a year) but you suspect had they made it to New Zealand she would have squandered their money.
This cocktail of understandable and contradictory emotions led Walter White to another life changing choice in the space of two episodes. Cranston was supreme with his facial expressions. He naturally runs to Jane as she begins to choke on her vomit. But then he stops. Here is a chance to rid himself of someone who knows his secret. Then he glances at Jesse. Perhaps he can free him from the control of this woman? Bring him back under Walt's control? Whatever justifications he needed to tell himself he swallows them all. Tears and distress make their way to the surface but Walt is gone at this point. Other people's suffering won't get in the way of his goals. He has come this far and apparently his soul is now sufficiently dark that he murders Jane through inaction. It's pretty shocking stuff and a moment that felt exceptionally well crafted if not purely organic (see The Unknown).
The strange coincidence that it was Donald who gives Walt the advice to not give up on Jesse (again see The Unknown) had a certain poetry. Unlike Walt, Donald gave in to his daughter's sob story allowing her one more day to get her affairs in order and unknowingly condemning her to death. It's a pretty dark, Greek tragedy-like turn of events for a man who clearly loves his daughter deeply. Seeing her manipulation of him work was really sad.
Walt's frustrated reaction to Walter Jr's sweet website was nicely handled. Walt's crimes are such a betrayal of the moral code he raised his own son with that he can't possibly come clean about his millions. So in impotent frustration he will now have to continue being a pity case in order to afford to baby proof his home. Again it's a wonderfully crafted situation which exposes Walt's emotions to a simmering injustice of his own devising. After all, if he could swallow his pride and take silent satisfaction in his work then there would be no problem. The moment where he shows baby Holly the money was as close as he can get to what he'd like to do.
You've gotta love Saul. His ridiculous suggestion that Walt claims he found a bag of money gets a suitably dismissive response to which this ultimate bottom feeder comments "Works for me." The parallel between the baby and the junkie needing to rest on one side, because of their vulnerability, was very clever. The writing really stayed true to the characters in every possible detail. I loved teacher Walt being unable to resist educating Donald about the significance of finding water on Mars.
The Bad: Nothing.
The Unknown: Because Jane was with Jesse and has been in the show for nine episodes it would be easy to mistake her for a main character. But in a way I'm not sure she is that different from the Spooges. It's an unfair comparison of course because she means more than they did. She does however function in the same way within the whole show. She draws Jesse into another aspect of the drug world and then dies tragically in his presence, thanks to Walt. I think her story was very strong and I dread to think how desperate Jesse is going to feel when he wakes up. However I have to note that there was a brevity to her story which in a very small way diminishes the emotional resonance of her passing. I commented last week that her swift return to using felt rushed. Here we get a glimpse into the desperation of her addiction in a way which we had no time to get used to. With her father inadvertently condemning her to death too she becomes a plot device more than a central character. I don't mean that to be a criticism of the show. It's merely a classification of her passing in the wider context of great television moments. As brilliantly written as her demise is, it still functions more as a moment in the lives of Jesse and Walt than a tragic loss in itself.
I was surprised that Skyler wasn't more annoyed at Walt for being late. His excuse that traffic was backed up is a risky one if she checks into it and to delay him for, presumably, hours it would have to be some accident.
It seemed odd that Walt asked Jesse to pee into a cup to prove that he was clean. He saw Jesse strung out on heroin a day or two ago so what would he expect to happen? Jesse's response of "How gay are you?" did make me smile.
Best Moment: Undoubtedly the final minute. A master class from Bryan Cranston and a writing team who have made Season Two one of the great seasons of television.
The Bottom Line: This was about as emotionally rich and complex as TV gets. Walt and Jesse combined are millionaires. They have lied, killed and destroyed to get there and now they can't even share the truth with one another. Heartbreaking stuff.
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