There has never been a point in media history where we as consumers have been so interested in the little details. It used to be that over time we saw films and TV shows cut out the mundane more and more in order to “cut to the chase.” The journey was always said to be most important, but time and again we found the destinations to be the most memorable or well-received. But in recent years it seems the “slow burn” method is coming back into style, one which had its place here and there in early film but was rejected in favor of marketable strategies. Shows today such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Louie are supplanting the quick plots and jokes with slices of reality, effectively becoming the stand-apart offerings in an industry awash with the same old stuff.
This most recent episode of Breaking Bad, “Bullet Points,” both represents and validates this concept. As always, the series is saturated with tension and unease, but this episode primarily focuses on the rabbit hole Walt and Jesse have dug themselves into. Battling with his own demons, Jesse has become a liability for Gus and therefore his own self, as we find out later in this episode how he must be taught a lesson if he wants to continue being part of Gus’s enterprise. This was a point of heightened drama for the show, but personally it was a welcome change to Jesse’s run-down personality over the last few episodes. I’m aware that we’re merely four episodes into the season, but with a show like Breaking Bad each fifty-minute arc is akin to being in a real-world argument with a friend. We find ourselves longing for resolution quickly and rationally. Prospects look promising that, although Jesse’s “lesson” will surely be distressing, it will set him on the right path for himself, Gus, and most of all us viewers.
The other side of this story is Walter White, him being up to his neck in a miasma of lies both within his family and the authorities. Him and Skyler practicing their made-up story to tell Hank, Marie and Junior was one of the highlights of the episode, once again showcasing Skyler’s determination to be an asset and Walt’s excruciatingly slow progression towards trusting Skyler again. It surprises me on a weekly basis how much this show is really about relationships and the strain we put on ourselves to keep up the ones in jeopardy. Even the often overlooked relationship between Walter and Hank gets a jolt in this episode, and while it serves firstly as plot advancement I still believe that bringing the two closer as family is a step in the right direction for the writing staff. They understand so well how to mix conflict and trust into any character bond, as well evidenced when Walter and Hank discuss the elusive “W.W.” attribution in Gale’s lab book.
This episode also had the obligatory scene with Saul, and even though he got little screen time he always impresses with every moment on-screen. Odenkirk’s a pro; every nuance of his character has a lawyer’s off-the-cuff charm with the appropriate sense of reservation. It’s a small part of the overall production but speaks volumes to the direction and competence of the entire team.
Similarly, this episode as a whole kept the same “slow burn” feeling as normal but did a solid job of bringing each character into the screen at some point. Even Gale’s extra-dorky cameo was itself an extrapolation of his character, letting us know that the dead still once lived if only for a short time. My only real complaint is that the second half felt a little rushed at times, as if the writers wanted us to get through the important introductory information while they sped ahead to the cliff-hanger for the next episode. It may have been due to time constraints or a need to push the plot forward, either way it felt too planned when compared to the informal, realistic nature of the gambling storyline early on. But “Bullet Points” was still a fantastic episode. It’s hard to fault any character or turn of the narrative when it’s all so satisfying along the way.