While the world watched ABC to find out that the Lost island was actually located in a retarded kid’s snow globe, AMC put up an episode of Breaking Bad that will probably win this year’s Peabody. “Fly” was part chamber piece, part slapstick comedy and completely fucking kick ass. It was also one of the more hyper-stylistic episodes of the show, no doubt due to director Rian Johnson, the guy behind the kiddie film noir Brick and quirktastic con man movie Brothers Bloom. Though I thought those two films reached diabetes-inducing levels of cute, after the strength of this episode I have gained some respect for the man, might even catch his next movie.
The bookends of the episode dealt with Walt first discovering that they’re missing a couple of ounces of meth, then at the end of the episode kindly warning off Jesse from stealing meth and Jesse, of course, telling Walt to go fuck himself. But in the twenty-four hours between those two scenes we got Walt, and at the start of the next shift Walt and Jesse, trying to kill a fly (or as Walt would say, a “contaminant”) that is loose in the lab. That’s fucking it as far as actual events in “Fly,” but what happens between our two main characters in the episode is revealing, powerful and extremely suspenseful.
The episode teases us with many possible explanations for why Walt is losing his shit over an insect. At first it seems just like plain-old Walt determination, the type of shit we see evidence of in every episode (remember the episode where he attacked the mold in his house?). After he falls (brutally, awesomely falls), it seems like maybe he hit his head and something got fucked up in there. When Jesse shows up the next morning for work and Walt is still there working on the fly situation, it just seems like he needs rest. After a bit Jesse asks if Walt is using the product, but that would be very much out of character. Then Walt says a line to Jesse that implies that the danger and stress of working under Gus has given him a nervous breakdown. Later, after he has drugged Walt in hopes that he’ll pass out so Jesse can start cooking, Jesse tells a story about his late aunt losing her shit about an opossum (Jesse’s ramblings on the shift from “possum” to the decidedly irish “opossum” was good shit) that turned out to be delusions brought on by brain cancer. Walt assures Jesse that his cancer is still in remission, that he just saw his oncologist last week.
What it turns out is really bothering Walt, what the fly really represents is his loss of control. In a brilliant monologue, Walt talks about how it wasn’t supposed to be this way, how he was supposed to die months back, not live and watch himself and his family life implode. He was supposed to die and be remembered fondly as a provider and good man, but instead he lives on and continues to make meth, to be hated by his wife. He even says he sometimes feels like Skyler would get it, that she would come back to him if he could just explain his criminal activities “one certain way,” which in the current situation is kind of like saying “If I could just catch that damn fly…”
But then things turn when he says he knows when he should have died: the night Jane died. It’s a harrowing scene, Walt’s drugged state making it possible that at any time he could let slip that he watched Jane die, that he could have saved her. Instead he just says that he talked with Jane’s dad that night in a bar, that they talked about their kids, water on Mars. We’d already seen Jesse discovering one of her old cigarette butts earlier in the episode in his car ashtray and this further mention of Jane endears him to Walt’s lost cause. He’s standing up on that rickety fucking ladder, swinging away at the fly, and Walt is holding onto the base, barely able to keep awake and telling him it’s hopeless, and then he’s fucking apologizing for Jane – I damn near shit my pants. Luckily he doesn’t give it away and, what do you know, Jesse is able to kill the fly already. Too bad Walt passed out and missed it. Though you’d think that this moment regarding Jane they share together would improve their as-of-late rocky relationship, Walt gently telling Jesse not to rip off Gus only enrages Jesse, brings them seemingly right back to square one.
But in addition to all this seriousness and thematic shit, there were a ton of huge laughs in this episode, from Jesse’s non-stop small talk (“Gatorade me, bitch!”) to Jesse gladly swinging at the fly on Walt’s face, “Fly” was a chucklefest (my lameness levels are dangerously fucking high). I’m thinking these next three episodes that close out the season will be pretty action-packed, though I’m still not entirely clear on what the main threat will be other than Jesse’s side-dealing stupidity at this point. But as ever, I could be totally wrong. After all, who would have thought that two dudes trying to catch a fly would yield a great hour of TV?