Breaking Bad Rewatch 1.05: “Gray Matter”

Jesse (Aaron Paul) tries to get a job in sales at a realty company, but he finds his qualifications are only worthy of a human billboard. Angry and discouraged, he walks back to his car when the current dollar-bill clad sign spinner calls out to him. An old friend named Badger (Matt Jones) shares a joint with Jesse in the back alley while chatting about the old days and bemoaning their current situations. Before you can say thanks for the toke, they are joining forces to make some extra bucks by cooking up some crystal.

Badger supplies the pseudoephedrine to get them started and does little else, except dance about, goof around, eat Cheetos, and read a porno mag before passing out. Jesse takes on Walt’s fulcrum position, and he’s given a front row seat to how Walt must have felt working with him. Now dedicated to the illegal craft, he finds out devotion isn’t the only thing it takes to make the clear glass of Walter’s skill and standard. He’s created a subpar product—cloudy ‘crap.’

Walter and Skyler White (Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn) attend a birthday party for Elliott Schwartz (Adam Godley), founder and owner of Gray Matter Technologies. Years before, Elliott, Walter, and Elliott’s wife Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) were students together. Skyler approaches Elliott, without Walter’s knowledge, about the cancer. Elliott immediately offers his old school chum a position within the company mentioning their superb health benefits.

The series could have ended here. Most viewers in Walter’s position, I suspect, would have taken the offer if faced with the same opportunity. Consider facing a $90k hospital bill and worrying about your family’s financial well-being, then salvation is gift-wrapped for you. Problem solved, and the screenplay of your life story isn’t going to be made—unless it’s one of those sappy Hallmark movie specials that used to be so prevalent.

As the overwrought couple wait for the valet to bring their car, Walter rips into Skyler. Though Walter and Elliott put forward a warm and fuzzy front in this initial character introduction, the underlying tension is palpable, and something wicked in their history is set to surface. Later in the episode, Gretchen calls Walt and tells him to take the money—they consider his contributions to the early stages of their company integral to its success. When she asks if his refusal has to do with history between them, we know past troubles are going to tip some scales of injustice.

Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) gets busted for asking a convenience store customer, who just happens to be an off-duty cop, to buy him beer. He calls his Uncle Hank (Dean Norris) for help instead of his dad. This is the only scene that didn’t really work. Boys being rebellious and getting caught buying alcohol is tired, and the canned advice comes across forced. However, it’s no fault of the actors who do their best with the under-baked scene.

Skyler asks her sister and brother-in-law, “Why would anyone in their right mind choose not to do treatment?”, and she convinces them to participate in a “family meeting.” Later, when Walt walks in the door, Skyler—who’s holding the “talking” pillow—forgoes the pleasantries and jumps right into it, wearing her feelings on her sleeve. She passes the pillow to Hank, and he stumbles around a couple of shoddy analogies and then hands the pillow to Walter Jr. The kid, who hasn’t exactly had it easy living with cerebral palsy, says he’s pissed off, calling his father—who’d recently given an athletic-looking complete stranger a beat down for mocking his son—a pussy for being scared of the chemo.

When Marie (Betsy Brandt) gets the pillow, she reveals that she thinks Walt should make his own decision. That starts an altercation between Skyler and Marie, until Walt, who’s shown great restraint to this point, interrupts. He exclaims that throughout his whole life he has just been pulled along by circumstances, never making his own choices, and this is his last opportunity.

When Walt wakes up in the morning, he approaches Skyler and says he’ll do it. Committing himself to the treatment and its cost, knowing he has no insurance coverage and won’t accept Elliott and Gretchen’s generous offer, Walt has only one fallback.

The tragic fatalism of the final scene lingers with Walter standing before Jesse, the two men feeling that they are out of options in a society that doesn’t cater to their fringe talents. Walt asks, “Wanna cook?” An image of the free enterprise system gone awry as a unique bond is born.

[Continue on to Episode 1.06: “Crazy Handful of Nothin' ”]

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