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Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a drama about Walter White, a chemistry professor who is diagnosed with lung cancer. He enlists the help of his former student Jesse Pinkman to manufacture and sell methamphetamine. AMC 2008-???

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Episode 12 - Half Measures

3 July 2013

Credit AMC

Synopsis: Jesse plans to murder the dealers who killed Combo with ricin. Walt doesn’t know how to stop him and suggests to Saul that they get him briefly arrested. Mike pays a visit to warn Walt against half measures. Gus sets up a meeting where he tells Jesse to keep the peace but also instructs his dealers not to use children anymore.

The Good: There are two sides to the shocking double murder at the end of “Half Measures.” Jesse’s story is easier to follow so let’s start there.

Since Combo’s death he has faced nothing but misery and has at times lashed out looking for some kind of justice. We know that Jesse believes strongly in protecting children from the evils of the world (not just at the Spooges in 206 but also taking the blame for his brothers’ joint in 104). He may enjoy the rebellious existence of drug dealing but he doesn’t wish it on the innocent. His fury about Combo’s murder now extends to the use of young Tomas as hit men and by Gus’ dealers no less. His plan to use ricin to kill them is clearly a foolish and dangerous response but he is determined to bring some justice to at least one corner of his messed up world.

As afraid of Gus’ wrath as he may be he won’t cower in front of him. He bravely stands by his moral outrage and even calls out Walt for not supporting him. Gus is even shamed into accepting that the use of children should be stopped, even if just to placate the feelings of his producers. But when they kill Tomas now that they no longer need him (and to silence him I assume) Jesse flatlines. He gives up on his hard fought sobriety in order to get the nerve up to kill the dealers or die trying.

Jesse has been angry at the world all season and it seemed like he was ready to leave it. If he blames himself for Combo and Jane’s deaths or at least his part in them then this was his moment to gain some redemption and retribution. But Walt had other ideas.

So from Walt’s perspective this all seemed like more of Jesse’s ill thought out nonsense at first. Then he had to really consider the implications of children selling his product and killing over it. He’s spent so long blocking out thoughts about the consequences of his cooking but Jesse was laying it all out in front of him. Once again he tried to avoid dealing with it directly. The plan he suggested to Saul (to get Jesse temporarily incarcerated) was as ill conceived as Jesse’s. That prompted Mike to step in and offer some advice.

The “Half Measures” speech feels familiar. It’s a very conventional storytelling device for a character to relate a story from their own life whose message neatly applies to the protagonist’s dilemma. But between Jonathan Banks’ world weary delivery, to the emotive content, down to the dark implication that Walt should either kill Jesse or at least get rid of him permanently this was mesmerising stuff. Few speeches can so clearly give you a character’s raison d’être as this, particularly the line “Just trying to do the right thing” said in the context of the man who would go on to murder his girlfriend. Delivered with a shrug by a former police officer who very clearly grew tired of following rules and letting bad people continue to abuse others.

Walt bent over backwards to protect Jesse earlier this season (308) and it seems he still will. The shocking news of Tomas’ death pushes Walt to rush out and find Jesse. We don’t know what he would have done if Jesse had just been at home. But instead he was about to draw on the two armed dealers and so Walt runs them down. He isn’t here to just save Jesse either, he shoots one of them in the head. Earlier in the episode he claimed that neither of them were murderers but apparently he is. Whether he was morally offended by what happened to Tomas or simply wanted to protect save Jesse, he certainly crossed the line from half to a full measure. It was a surprising and violent end to the episode and leaves us all gasping as to what Gus’ reaction will be.

Hank and Marie have a cute scene where she tries to show him that one part of their marital life need not be absent and thus convince him to come home with her. Meanwhile Skyler makes more good points about the validity of her car wash idea. She does open the door to Walt spending more time at home and naturally he barges through it. I really liked Walt playing with Saul’s scales of justice as they waited for Jesse to show up and discuss their issues. How very appropriate.

The Bad: Nothing bad.

The Unknown: Season Two was quite exceptional for how organised its stories were. The narrative flow remained intense and dramatic throughout while building to the finale’s double whammy of Skyler finding out and the planes colliding. This season has felt like a lot of quiet fallout punctuated by two ultra violent moments. It’s been an interesting shift and perhaps a realistic or at least necessary one. Walt’s decision to kill Gus’ dealers certainly needs some unpacking to reach its full impact. Was that what he was planning to go out and do or was it simply done to save Jesse? If the latter then is Walt being selfless? Is he determining that if one of them needs to go it should be him and the younger man should get a chance to escape? Or was Walt somehow reclaiming the Heisenberg sense of freedom that he craves to feel alive? Or better put, was that a part of this?

Could it be said that Gus’ half measure was making his young employees shaking hands? Should he instead have insisted on killing Jesse? Last episode he said he never makes the same mistake twice. I guess we are about to find out.

The Wendy montage felt a lot less significant than many of our teasers. It was a nice reminder of who she was but the scene with Jesse discussing her kid probably could have accomplished the same thing. I thought Jesse was dumb to sit in the car with her before she handed over the poisoned burgers. He should have been nowhere near the scene.

Best Moment: The final scene was shocking but the “Half Measures” speech goes alongside all the great soliloquies on Breaking Bad for its impact and superb delivery.

The Bottom Line: An excellent part one (not technically but it functioned that way) to close out the season with a bang.

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  • Responding to babrock's thoughts on Gus: In S4 we also get the moment where Gus threatens to kill Walt's wife, son and infant daughter. That didn't sound like a hollow threat to me and if Gus was willing to kill baby Holly then I don't think he'd draw any line over killing Tomas. Aside from Tomas's death creating an opportunity to get rid of Jesse (without looking like he deliberately had Jesse whacked) I also don't think Gus would want to run the risk of Tomas turning police informant after being fired by the dealers. He needed to tie up that loose end.

    But I guess it does depend on how ruthless you perceive Gus and his operation to be. For example, when Walt has the three laundry women come in and clean the super lab...did those women just lose their jobs or did Tyrus kill them because they saw too much? Personally Gus struck me as a bit of a sociopath and I wouldn't put much past him.

    Posted by Kelly, 12/07/2013 12:08am (6 years ago)

  • On another matter somewhat; while I find Kellies theory interesting and I can find no evidence to disprove it, I never saw Gus as being that guilty of acts as heniouse as involving children. The only reason we have for thinking this is mearly Walts accusation that Gus poisoned Brock. But from a season four perspectiv, we know that too was Walt.

    We know Gus capable of running a game that deep. But we never have seen him pull any moves that low. So I preffer to think Gus had not set that up and that it was t two bulletheads acting on their own.

    Also I concur w her that Walt saw Jessie as t battered wife as that is how I saw it. Tho that is undoubtedly not how Mike intended it.

    Posted by babrock, 07/07/2013 2:34pm (6 years ago)

  • I consider t chartors involvment w drugs to be to be at least somewhat similar to a charctor being Jewish under a Nazi regime. While it is not generally admirable to be breaking laws and hurting people, commiting traffic violations while escaping gestapo agents and even being harsh w collaberators is at least understood if not admired.

    As such, I cut Walt plenty slack for stealing t lab equipment and letting t Hispanic janitor take t fall for it. And I even forgave him for Jane. She had threatened him w turning him into t cops.

    Jane really should have known better having previosly been involved w t drug culture herself. She, in fact, threatened Jessie w physical violence on their very first meeting, saying something to t effect of her knowing plenty of guys who would leave his beaten (if not dead) body in a dumpster if she crossed her when filling out his apt. rental papers.

    Posted by babrock, 07/07/2013 2:15pm (6 years ago)

  • In hindsight , I was obviosly wrong. But on first watching this, this is t very pinicle of Walt being t hero I admired.

    I make a rather big deal of t idea "To live outside t law, you must be honest". And at the time I saw this simply as Walt doing t right thing and saving Jessies life at no small risk to his own position.

    I had made exscuses for his other actions including Jane. But actually I was quite proud of Walt at this point actually.

    Posted by babrock, 07/07/2013 1:53pm (6 years ago)

  • Thanks for doing these casts Mr. Pierson. While I havenot been posting, I have been listening and enjoying every one.

    I last posted About t finale of season two.. It didnt get posted . So I got discouraged and stopped. Idk why. But again, I have enjoyed listening to your rewatch. And as this is my very favorite epizode, I figure I will give It another try.

    I do this at work mostly, where I repeatedly get pulled of writing this to do actual work. So It pays to post it On smaller bits as otherwise I lose it all each time I have to stop.

    Posted by babrock, 03/07/2013 2:30pm (6 years ago)

  • Mike's "Half Measures" speech became one of the signature moments of Breaking Bad for me. The writing is superb, and Jonathan Banks' delivery is show-stoppingly perfect. I agree with your point that it is a commonly used device, which is elevated here by the excellent execution. And the double homicide at the end of the episode really pushes the show in a new direction going in to season 4. I guess I don't really have that much to say about this great episode other than to note my agreement with your assessment, Robin. As usual, well written, sir.

    Viewer score: 86 / 100

    Posted by dfault, 30/06/2013 4:02pm (6 years ago)

  • ‘Half Measures’ seems to be an episode that leaves fans with a lot of questions, many of which are raised in this review. I have a very specific interpretation of the events in this episode, though I’ll admit that (just like Mike’s speech) the story could be viewed in different ways. Personally I think Gus was plotting to kill Jesse from the start; Gus was just attempting to kill Jesse in a way that wouldn’t upset his working relationship with Walt. Remember that Jesse hasn’t even met Gus before this episode. Gus has been careful not to let Jesse see his face because he doesn’t consider Jesse to be trustworthy. The only reason Gus allowed Jesse to meet him in ‘Half Measures’ was because Gus was already planning to get rid of Jesse. I think Gus always planned to engineer a shootout between Jesse and the two dealers, the same as he engineered the shootout between Hank and the cousins. When Jesse revealed his moral outrage over the dealers using kids he gave Gus the perfect method for provoking him into a suicide mission. It's my belief that Gus gave the order for the dealers to kill Tomas. Gus wouldn’t want a kid connected to his meth organisation, not because using kids is amoral but because it is so unprofessional. After eliminating the kid, I think Gus was hoping that Jesse and the dealers would kill each other. And if the dealers survived, Gus would’ve had Mike kill them to show Walt he wouldn’t let his partner’s killing go unpunished. Gus could easily claim not to be responsible for Jesse’s death as Jesse had disobeyed his orders and acted on his own.

    The mistake Gus and Mike made was underestimating Walt. Neither of them had seen Walt in Heisenberg mode before. They probably perceived him as a nerdy old chemist who they could easily control. All through S3 Walt has been struggling to regain control, still wanting to see himself as the provider and protector of his family. Walt includes Jesse as family too these days. In the ‘Half Measures’ speech, Mike tries to persuade Walt that Jesse is a dangerous addict who needs to be put down before he does any more damage. But when Walt hears Mike’s story he associates Jesse more with the battered wife; the person who is in danger of being murdered unless Walt takes a full measure to save him.

    As for the recent criticism of Skyler, I disagree that Skyler suddenly changed her mind and decided Walt cooking meth to make money was a good idea. I think the worst case scenario in Skyler’s mind is that Walt going to jail will result in her son’s innocence being destroyed, Hank’s career being ruined and her family being left shamed and destitute. The only way Skyler can stop this from happening is by keeping Walt’s secret, creating a cover story and laundering the drug money. While it is Walt’s favourite justification to say “I’m doing this for my family” in Skyler’s case I actually believe that her crimes and her collaboration with Walt are largely for the sake of protecting her family from the terrible truth.

    Viewer score: 93 / 100

    Posted by Kelly, 28/06/2013 6:05pm (6 years ago)

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