The comedy that had been cleverly laced within the first 3 episodes of season 1 returns in the finale, albeit with varying success, and the needle that had been pinned to 10 on the plausibility scale for the majority of this run tips to the other end on occasion as the crime drama draws to the end of its first year.
The show opens with Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Skyler (Anna Gunn) attending a public schoolboard meeting over the arrest of Hugo the janitor. For whatever reason, Walt starts diddling Skyler under the table they are seated at, and she allows him, until they are brought back to reality when Walt is called on to list the items stolen from the chemistry stockroom.
The couple later complete the act in their vehicle, in the first row of the school’s side parking lot—one space away from a cop car. When Skyler asks why it was so good, he replies, “Because it’s illegal.”
I’m guessing these scenes were meant to be amusing, though they just ring odd. However, they do surface the running moral motif of the disconnect between what constitutes a crime in the eyes of the perpetrator compared to that of the bystander.
At the high-end store where Marie (Betsy Brandt) had gotten Skyler’s baby shower gift, the manager detains Skyler for stealing the tiara. She threatens to go to the media and stir up a frenzy for holding a pregnant woman against her will in a dank backroom. Then, she lies about going into labor on the spot, pretending to have contractions, and playing it up with some seriously intense Lamaze breathing. It was hokey at best.
But what this scene sets up, is the fact that there are plenty of hypocrites breaking the law (looking at you, Marie), or perhaps walking the line (which side are you on, Skyler?), and if you separate the sinners from the saints, you’d be lucky to end up with Mother Teresa.
Walter brings the heavy-handed moral message home by saying to Hank that the liquor they’re drinking in 1930 would have been a criminal act. “Another year, we’d be okay. Who knows what will be legal next year.” But as a DEA agent, Hank (Dean Norris) doesn’t give an inch on the issue of drugs—illegal is illegal.
However, the Cuban cigars Hank got from a buddy for doing a favor, that’s not breaking the law in his world, more like a perk of the job. And Marie, as the wife of the DEA agent, seems judgmental and stern when it’s believed Walt is smoking pot and when the underage Junior is caught trying to buy beer. Yet when Skyler confronts Marie about the incident at the store, Marie denies the undeniable, insisting she has no idea, though it’s obvious that she’s been caught red-handed in a felony theft.
“A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” gears up from there with Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) having to supply an enormously large order. After being beaten to a pulp by Tuco, Jesse is reluctant to work with the “insane ass clown dead-eyed killer.” The amount of dough Walt wrangled from Tuco is enticing, but Jesse sees the bigger issue, and he mocks Walter for not understanding how difficult it is to get pseudoephedrine: “You think the meth fairy’s just gonna bring it to us?” Talk about chemistry, Cranston and Paul cook up quite a rapport with their ongoing dialogue jousting—a brilliant pairing.
In the scene at the doctor’s office, Skyler is desperate for reassurance that her husband’s health is improving, and she awkwardly reports to the doctor that Walt’s been friskier these days. The sawbones makes light the idea, saying they probably have the meds adjusted just right. She then asks about alternative medicine—which Walt later uses to his advantage as a cover for a weekend getaway to cook meth—and the MD honestly states that aside from the psychological boost, it probably has little physiological efficacy. Walt just squirms in his seat. Another scene likely meant to be funny that falls flat, but Anna Gunn is terrific at bolstering a cringing feeling inside.
Walt and Jesse meet with “psycho-lunatic” Tuco in a junkyard (with Walt donning what will become part of his signature look in the series—a porkpie hat). Tuco is mad that the boys have brought only 0.53 pounds when they promised 2. “We had some production problems,” Walt replies. Even so, he boldly demands seventy grand, saying “consider it a capital investment.” Tuco shrewdly counters with fifty-two and a half, 25 points vig (interest, weekly, Jesse explains).
Jesse is then shocked when Walt says they can deliver four pounds. “What did you just do?” he moans. Walt the chemist comes up with a plan: instead of using pseudoephedrine, he will make phenylacetone in a tube furnace, then use reductive amination to yield methamphetamine.
Jesse manages to get most of the items on Walt’s shopping list but comes up short finding the methylamine. Some of Jesse’s contacts are willing to swipe it from a chemical warehouse, but want a wad of cash that the boys find too steep. So, in an extremely amusing scene, Walt and Jesse play thieves. They lock the lone guard in a port-a-john, and unable to find easy-to-manage gallon-sized jugs, they have to heft a large, metal drum. Moving like turtles, they shuffle past the crapper where the guard is banging away to get out. Perhaps the slowest getaway in film history.
It’s time for the Walt and Jesse to head to the dessert to make a boatload of meth, but the RV’s engine throws in the towel. Since they have a deadline looming and aren’t going anywhere, they decide Jesse’s basement is the next best option.
Luckily, they remember the realtor has scheduled an open house, so Jesse calls to tell her to cancel—unfortunately, he leaves the message on Walt’s prepaid cell which is sitting in the RV. While cooking in the basement, they see legs, legs, and more legs walking past the small windows. Panicked, they scuttled about. Just as a little girl behind her mother is walking past the basement door, Walt peeks out to check the situation, looking like a demented Mickey Mouse with a respirator resting on top of his head.
Vapors waft up through the floorboards as they continue to cook, and the realtor hopelessly sprays air freshener from an aerosol can. Jesse, who’s been guarding the door, blocks a man from wanting to look at the basement, telling him it’s occupied, and then he bursts out and kicks everyone out, saying the house isn’t for sale.
Walt and Jesse deliver the 4 pounds, as promised, to Tuco, who’s skeptical of the baby-blue product. A quick sample gives him confidence, and he tells Walt and Jesse their partnership is going to make them all a lot of money. His charitable mood blows away in the wind when he beats down his own man after the hood tells Walt and Jesse not to forget who they are working for. Mouths agape, the duo contemplate the devil they are dancing with.
“A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” furthers the rising tensions between Walt’s furtive meth operations, clashing with not just himself internally, but also with his home life and career. It also continues to expose the imperfections of the family he thinks he knows so well. The first season finale started off with a bad case of the cutes, which got worse before it finally hit its stride half-way through and delivered a crackerjack finish. Mild missteps aside, factoring in Emmy award-winning acting from Mr. Cranston, Emmy nominated direction, and an outstanding supporting cast, Breaking Bad is one amped-up, dramatic series—which is why it’s one of the leading shows in television history.
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.