AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 1, Episode 6: “Crazy Handful of Nothin'”
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Written by George Mastras
* For a review of the previous episode, “Gray Matter” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” – click here
The start of this episode opens as Walt (Bryan Cranston) returns to Jesse (Aaron Paul), ready to cook in the Winnebago. But as he proclaims “no more violence“, we also get cuts of a new Walt, a shaved head. He walks across a parking lot with a ton of people bewildered by him. He’s bleeding slightly and toting a large bag, no doubt filled with money. The irony is not lost.
Cut back to a time before this coming incident. Walt does his chemotherapy, as Skyler (Anna Gunn) sits next to him, supportive and loving. She asks again about Elliott Schwartz and his paying of the bills. Turns out, Walt is continually lying. The mountain of lies has already begun. How big will it grow? Awful damn high, I bet. For the time being, Walter writes out thousands of dollars in cheques to the treatment center and goes about his daily life, trying to hide the burgeoning meth business under his chemistry teacher facade. At school, he’s discovering the side effects of the chemotherapy coming down on him; Walt sneaks away from class after struggling a little, vomiting hard into the school toilet. “The faster they undergo change the more violent the explosion,” he tells his class while discussing chemical compounds, but really – he’s talking about himself. In the bathroom, a janitor named Hugo helps Walter out after he makes a bit of a mess. So sad to see an independent guy like Walt having to deal with this brutal illness.
Then there’s Skyler, Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) and Walt Sr at a meeting, some support group for cancer patients and their families. His wife asks about where he disappears from time to time, which pushes Walt into one of the first few lies he’s been trafficking in. Walt says he needs alone time, so that gets him out of the house and away from the family a bit.
And now we’re back in the Winnebago with Walt, cooking up their product. He’s having trouble, though. The chemicals make him woozy and eventually send him flying out the door, into the desert. Jesse ends up noticing some marks on Mr. White after he unzips the protective suit he’s wearing. Pinkman knows about the cancer, due to his aunt having a similar dot on her chest, the targeting for radiation. Turns out Jesse is a little pissed about not being told, them being partners and all. Above all, he now understands exactly why Mr. White wanted to get into the meth business: he’ll likely be checking out, soon enough.
Too ill to get the batch done, Walt has Jesse finish up where he started.
In the city, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and his parnter Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) meet up. They’ve identified the gas mask in the desert: it came from the high school where Walt teaches. Uh oh? Nah. Hank would never ever suspect Walt has anything to do with it. He was almost floored when finding out Walt smoked a bit of pot, so naturally Mr. White is too inconspicuous for anybody to ever assume he’s cooking drugs.
Taking over on all fronts, Jesse is out about town selling off their new excellent product, from gas stations to laundromats to silver-grilled gangsters hanging in parking lots. Only the money he brings back to Walt isn’t what the man was expecting. He wants to move to the big time, he doesn’t want Jesse selling it in small amounts. Although, the younger of the two points out: “You don‘t know jack about slingin‘ dope.”
They start to talk about who took Krazy-8’s place in the meth food chain. A man named Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) has taken over the business. He is very high up the chain, which Jesse makes clear. So they need to have some sort of in-road to the big man. Walt yells at his partner – “Just grow some fucking balls” – but is that going to be good for Jesse? Will being forced into talking with this Tuco make things any better, or is it going to spiral them downward into more criminality, more murder, more madness?
Now, Hank is over at the high school to talk with Walt. He’s tracking down the gas mask, and it brings him to chemistry teacher Mr. White. At the same time, the obvious answer is not obvious. Hank never once assumes Walter to be the culprit, but merely sees him as a bit of a dough-head chemistry teacher who doesn’t take care of his equipment, or keep track of it. We almost sweat alongside Walt, as he wonders what is about to come next. He further finds out that Krazy-8 was a snitch for police agencies, which definitely is interesting to him. But the conversation goes on a little, and the more we stress with Walt, the more dark comedy comes into the situation. Because whereas Hank is definitely a good, solid DEA agent, this is his blindspot. Walter is easily underestimated, so can you blame him? Regardless, Occam’s razor presents itself and Hank doesn’t go for it. Why would he? There’s no reason to suspect ole Walt. At this point.
Meanwhile, Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) says he and Tuco are like “two nuts in a ballsack, yo“, and so he brings Jesse up to see the man in charge. Apparently Pete and Tuco were cellmates at one point. This puts Pinkman in a meeting with the new dangerous man in charge of Albuquerque’s meth game. And he certainly is dangerous – a meth sniffing, knife wielding, psychotic business sporting a telltale teardrop tattoo. Jesse presents the meth, which Tuco samples quickly and also give him a taste, to ensure they’re all on the same criminal level. The meth impresses, to say the least. Things become tense when Tuco doesn’t hand over the $35,000 for the bag of drugs immediately, saying “you‘ll get it“. Afterwards, when Jesse tries taking the bag and running he ends up on the bad side of Tuco and his temper; and boy, does he ever have a mean, nasty one.
Because Walt isn’t suspected, poor Hugo the janitor gets pinched for the stolen meth making supplies. Hank and Gomez show up to arrest Hugo, which obviously makes Walt feel terrible. Yet not terrible enough to clear up the whole mess. At home, things aren’t much better. Walt hasn’t yet heard from Jesse about their latest venture, clearly worrying him. Playing cards together the whole family is at the White house, with Hank and Marie (Betsy Brandt) present for a bit of fun. Furthermore, talk of Hugo comes up and burrows the guilt deeper into Walt, as Hank talks of Hugo’s previous criminal record, a “big fat” joint in his truck, so obviously he must’ve been skipping over to meth, right? No. But still, Walt has to let another man take the fall. “You hidin‘ something?” Hank asks, referring to the poker game at hand but it calls Walt’s new business to mind; amazing writing, as usual. In fact, the whole poker situation speaks incredibly to the overarching plot and themes happening. The titular handful of nothing comes to describe Walt’s poker hand, and it also leads us into the opening situation of the episode, which we see in the finale shortly.
Walt tries to reach Jesse, then finds out he’s in the hospital. Skinny Pete watches on faithfully, as Pinkman lays there in a neck brace, busted ribs, and more. Tuco went wild on him. But no longer can Walt let others get hurt because of him: first Hugo, now this. It can only get worse as time goes on. So Walt decides there must be retribution, both for Jesse and for them to get their money back.
The new and improved Walter White comes to us now. Pissing out rusty coloured liquid, losing his hair, taking pill after pill, he makes the choice to shave his head. Before the chemo can take it. Everything about Walt is him trying to get ahead – of the illness, of the debt. And shaving his head is a way Walt can step out in front of everything, on his own terms. His family is a little taken aback first seeing him completely bald. Though, while Skyler is almost mortified, Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) calls it “bad ass“.
We arrive to the finale. Walt heads up to see Tuco, shaved head, bag of drugs on him. A new side to the chemistry teacher. Beginning with the poker game, Walt is going all in. On everything. He no longer has much fear with the cancer creeping up on him, inside him, every single day. Further and further. When he gets in to see Tuco, though, things become decidedly different. Walt declares his name as “Heisenberg“, a reference to Werner Heisenberg (the Uncertainty Principle). A new man is born. Walt also asks for money to make up for Jesse’s hospital visit, plus money for the methamphetamine. Except it isn’t meth in the bag Walt brought. It is an explosive.
He tosses a crystal at the floor. Outside, the top floor of the building blows up. Heisenberg holds the back above his head threatening to blow everything sky high. And this is how the episode opens, after Walt walks out with money in hand, bleeding slightly, as well as with a deal in tact to make Tuco more meth. Amazing. Down in his car, Walt celebrates by himself, yelling, touching the money. Is this the birth of a new man completely?
Next episode is the last of the season, titled “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal”. Stay with me for the finale.