AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 1, Episode 5: “Gray Matter”
Directed by Tricia Brock
Written by Patty Lin
* For a review of the previous episode, “Cancer Man” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Crazy Handful of Nothin'” – click here
The fifth episode of Breaking Bad opens with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) circulating his “curriculum vitae” – his words – to try and get a sales position. Only it’s not what he thinks; more so an advertising gig. One that involves putting on a big dollar bill costume and waving a sign. After walking out, Jesse finds his old friend Badger (Matt Jones) is doing the job currently. They end up smoking a joint together. A little talk and Jesse starts thinking more and more back to his amazing meth, the stuff he made with Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Badger wants to partner up and make a bunch, though, Jesse seems to want a normal life. It doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for him, all the same. He pours through the classifieds, but then heads back to see Badger. His decision’s made, I guess.
In Walter’s world, he and Skyler (Anna Gunn) are going to a party thrown by Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz (Jessica Hecht/Adam Godley) – the old partners he worked with in his real chemist days, before teaching high school. Elliott’s birthday is well underway with all sorts of people. A few awkward moments pass where Walt is introduced to others, his role in Grey Matter, the company Elliott and Gretchen run, is talked of then he has to slyly get through a man asking which university is it where he teaches now. Most of all, we get the impression of Walt’s supposed missed opportunities, all that sort of thing. Not that Walt has a bad life. He just has shit luck, now compounding with the fact he didn’t stay with Grey Matter. Although, there are many slight clues as to why he didn’t, and those are things we come to find out more of later, as well. For the moment, Walt ends up pissed. We understand the connection he and Elliott had once upon a time, but Skyler ends up telling the man about Walt and his cancer. Bad move, at least in Walt’s eyes. He’s a proud man, and when Elliott offers him a job, it’s more than Walt can handle; a sort of peace offering, a “fig leaf” (olive branch, Walt?), to bridge their troubled relationship. He knows what it’s for – not to help, rather a way for Elliott to assuage any guilt about the company, what happened between them all those years ago, and so on.
When Badger and Jesse get together in the Winnebago, the change in Pinkman is obvious. He’s been touched by the partnership with Mr. White. Even if it’s not immediately clear to him, as it is to us. First, he corrects Badger on the different beakers and “basic chemistry, yo“. Very similar to how Walt had to initially show Jesse a few things when they started cooking. But now Jesse is back to the lower class, if meth cooking can ever be considered anything except low. They use a ton of ingredients Badger had to lift from pharmacies around town. Plus, Jesse has to do everything properly, the way Walt showed him. While Badger jokes around with a crossbow, eats cheesies, and a ton of ridiculous stuff. More than that, Jesse is not pleased with their final product. It’s glass grade stuff, but not as perfect as he and Mr. White made originally. He constantly regurgitates lines from Walt, such as the fact their customers will expect a certain “standard“, all the time Badger is freaking out over the meth Jesse keeps throwing out. Later on, they fight. Badger ends up thrown from the Winnebago trying to crossbow the R.V., as Jesse takes off through the desert.
Cut to Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) and his friends outside a convenience store. Of his three friends, Walt Jr has to go ask a guy if he’ll buy them beer. Turns out he’s an off-duty cop. What luck, right? Well, luckily for Jr he decides to call Uncle Hank (Dean Norris) instead of Walt. Hank helps him out of the situation, but cautions maybe Jr should’ve called his father: “Not cool,” says Hank. At the White house, Skyler isn’t impressed with her son. Hank and Marie (Betsy Brandt) try to put her at ease. They all have a talk about Walt, where it finally comes out he was smoking pot, and not Jr, which Marie believed. Laughing, Hank comments: “Shit. Didn‘t think he had it in him.” But Skyler decides they have to stage a sort of “family meeting“, or “intervention” as Marie calls it, so that they can all tell him how they feel about his refusing treatment.
The family all meet. Except Walt is adamant – he will not be having treatment. Everyone has their say, including Jr who calls his father “a pussy“. At the same time, Hank and Marie sort of understand Walter and his decision, to die on his own terms, in his own way.
Not too long after the family sit-down, Walt agrees to go for treatment. He realizes the massive hole he will leave financially, but more so he sees the emotional hole. He knows how deeply Skyler loves him, same with Jr, and so he agrees reluctantly, bravely. Walt lies and tells Skyler that Elliott will be sending a cheque, or at least that he’ll “take care of it“. We all know what’s about to come down the pipe shortly. Regardless, now we watch Walter begin the treatments for his lung cancer. It isn’t gruesome, there’s simply something about watching him get strapped into the plastic bag-looking contraption that makes me feel weird. Always has, each time I watch.
Then, before the episode closes and after his treatment, Walter pulls up in front of Jesse’s house. His eyes are full of regret and an unsure instability, yet he forges on. Before that, though, he gets a call on his cell from Gretchen. She’s heard of “the cancer” and offers more of their help, which Walt does not want. She wants him to take the money for the treatment, saying that money belongs to him anyways. Now, we hear of the “you and me” between Walt and Gretchen, something we briefly saw in an earlier episode where the two of them worked on a problem together. He lies to Gretchen about being covered by his insurance. We understand more why Walt won’t take the money; it isn’t simply business, it is very personal.
“Wanna cook?” asks Walt, as Jesse comes bursting from his garage, sort of pissed.
The next episode is titled “Crazy Handful of Nothin'” and brings us closer to the end of this first season.