The dark humor that spiked the first two episodes of Breaking Bad is toned down in episode three to target the emotional tribulations of a man teetering on the edge of a slippery slope. It captures that pivotal moment of the line that once crossed, offers no return—and for Walter White (Bryan Cranston), that moment occurs at the end of this episode when he’s standing backlit in the doorway leading down to the basement where Krazy-8 (Max Arciniega) is locked up. It reminds me of the acclaimed final scene of John Ford’s The Searchers, when Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) pauses at the threshold, thinking about joining his brother’s family in celebrating the homecoming of their abducted daughter, but instead, he turns and walks away. It’s not his world anymore; he’s changed—not for the better—and he knows it. And here’s our Walt, crossing over that point of no return as he prepares to kill or be killed.
The centerpiece to this remarkable episode, where emotions are charged as powerfully as the mind games at play, is Walter looking for any shred of reason that’ll give him an out from killing Krazy-8.
While delivering a sandwich, Walt passes out in a coughing fit, and drops the plate to the floor. When he comes to, he gathers the debris, and asks how long he’d been out. He seems to sense a concern in Krazy-8’s reply. He goes back upstairs to throw away the trash and return with a fresh sandwich, and also grabs a six-pack of beer to share and have a chat with Krazy-8 (thirteen minutes are devoted to one conversation). Krazy-8 warns Walt that this is only going to make it harder to kill him. Sure enough, bit by bit, Walter finds more than the shred of reason he needs to restore his good will. He bought his son’s crib from Krazy-8’s father’s furniture store, maybe even purchased it with a warranty from Krazy-8 himself—whose real name is Domingo (Sunday)—a name Krazy-8 never liked. Walter’s desperate grasp for humanity is realized as the drug dealer appeals to Walter’s moral side—this isn’t him, not the life for him. He decides to set Domingo free.
Walt treks upstairs for the key to the bicycle U-lock that’s fastening Krazy-8’s neck to a basement support post. While getting the key, Walt has one of those “hey, wait a minute” moments of clarity. He picks the pieces of broken plate out of the trash can, and as he starts fitting them together—fear strikes his heart. One’s missing, and the only logical conclusion is that Domingo/Krazy-8 has stashed a fragment and is not planning to play nice. With deep compunction, Walt goes back to the basement to face the music of the wheels he’d inevitably set in motion.
“I’m so sorry,” Walter repeatedly sobs as he pulls on the U-lock from behind, crushing Krazy-8’s throat to the support post. In a futile attempt to save his life, Krazy-8 blindly stabs the jagged plate shard with all his might. He manages to stick Walter’s lower leg a few times when Walt plants a foot on the post for the leverage to finish the job. Life drains away as Walter offers a final, “I’m sorry.”
Jesse, who’d split after growing tired of Walt’s procrastination, returns to find the RV cleared out, Krazy-8 gone, and no lingering evidence from their misadventure (except the large hole in the hallway ceiling).
Meanwhile, Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is in the desert where Walt and Jesse had parked the RV to cook. A gasmask had been left at the scene where the accidental fire spread and where Krazy-8 and Emilio’s car remains abandoned.
In an interesting twist, it turns out Krazy-8 was a snitch for the DEA, and locating Krazy-8’s killer is going to be enforced by the Feds. This will, no doubt, add pressure to the already tightly-wound chemistry teacher and his reluctant partner when they find out.
The show closes with a strong hook: after Skyler (Anna Gunn) had caught Walt in a lie of his whereabouts and told him to stay wherever he really was earlier in the episode, he now returns home and says to his wife, “There’s something I have to tell you.”
Trivia: The title of this episode, as well as the previous, borrow from a 1957 noir film, Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster (as J.J. Hunsecker) and Tony Curtis (as Sidney Falco) and the classic line, The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river. [Wikipedia]
David Cranmer aka Edward A. Grainger is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP books http://www.beattoapulp.com/ and writer of the forthcoming The Drifter Detective #7: Torn and Frayed. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.