Breaking Bad Rewatch 1.04: “Cancer Man”

The anticipation of just how much Walter (Bryan Cranston) planned to reveal to Skyler (Anna Gunn) at the end of episode 3 is alleviated at a family barbeque in “Cancer Man.”

The family sits around the table, sharing stories and laughing as if all is well, until Walter’s reminiscing about how he and Skyler met sends her from the table weeping, and leaves the rest of the family—Walter, Jr. (RJ Mitte), Skyler’s sister Marie (Betsy Brandt), and Marie’s husband Hank (Dean Norris)—wondering.

The secret of Walt’s illness comes out. Marie says she’ll use her connections to get him a dream team of doctors. Skyler agrees, but Walt seems less than thrilled.

Skyler makes an appointment that requires a $5K deposit on a $90K bill. Walt laments the cost, arguing the futility of putting much-needed money into a losing battle—it’d only sink the family into debt once he’s inevitably gone. That sends Junior into a tailspin, and he blasts his dad for being too blasé about dying. He scornfully chides him, “Then why don’t you just fucking die, already? Just give up and die.” Walt feels terrible for hurting his son. He agrees to the treatment and tells Skyler he’ll borrow from his retirement for the deposit. Of course, it actually comes from his first blundered meth job.

Meanwhile, Jesse is getting paranoid from smoking too much meth. He flees his house after an alarming hallucination, and heads to the one place he’s always found comfort—mom and dad. They have a beautiful home and a younger son who’s bright, gifted, and…you know, the good one. During his stay, we learn Jesse has been there before with his folks, and they have always been let down when he returns to drugs. They seem to want to connect with their eldest, to genuinely help him, and he seems to know how to pull the strings.

On the flip side, Jesse seems to really want to connect with his brother, telling the boy he can tell him or help him with anything since he’s seen and done a lot. But his little bro seems disinterested, perhaps tired of all the wasted attention his parents give to the troubled eldest.

Tough love prevails. Jesse’s parents kick him out again, for good this time, after the housekeeper finds a joint. They don’t want Jesse to corrupt his little brother.

As Jesse waits outside for the cab, his little bro walks out and thanks him for covering for him. When he asks to have the joint back, Jesse drops it to the ground and crushes it under his shoe, telling him its skunkweed anyway.

Jesse’s friend Combo (Rodney Rush) calls asking to buy for friends who are willing to pay big bucks for the pure crystals Walt made. Jesse goes to Walt, who’s angry that his drug dealing partner would show up at his home—that is, until Jesse show’s him the $4K, which is Walt’s share of the sale. With a $90k cancer treatment to pay for, Walt obviously needs the money. I think we all know, he’s back in business.

After the first 3 episodes of season 1 set the bar dizzyingly high in terms of quality and pulse-inducing narrative, “Cancer Man” brought us in for a breather, slowing things down a bit. This is a quieter episode, but none less engaging. Series creator Vince Gilligan knew that for us to follow Walter down this dark path, we’d have to be invested in these characters. We were on board with Walter, more or less, from the jump, but this episode gives Walter Jr, Hank, Marie, and especially Jesse greater depths.

Walter drives to the bank for a cashier’s check. He patiently waits to park his car in a spot being vacated by another vehicle. Faster than you can say jackrabbit, a shiny BMW with the tags “KEN WINS” zips in and steals Walt’s space. To add insult to injury, KenWins (Kyle Bornheimer) is ahead of him in the bank line, and Walt listens to the pompous blowhard saying despicable things on his Bluetooth. Walt’s simmer starts to boil.

Up to this point, Walter White has played a defensive game—even the killing of Krazy-8 in episode 3 was a necessary evil. Here, he switches to the offensive in the closing minutes of the episode when he spots KenWins pull into a gas station. While the man is inside, Walt walks up to the Beamer with a squeegee in hand, opens the hood, and wedges it between the battery terminals, setting off a stream of sparks. Walter lowers the hood, and as he walks away, smoke pours out from under the hood until the car is finally set ablaze.

Walt gets a sense of vindication as KenWins runs to the car, wailing to call “the fire people.”  Walt calmly drives away to the tune “Didn’t I” by Darondo, which concisely says it all—

“I tried my best just to be a man/Didn't I.”

[Continue on to Episode 1.05: “Gray Matter”]


David Cranmer aka Edward A. Grainger is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP books and writer of the forthcoming The Drifter Detective #7: Torn and Frayed. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.