Breaking Bad: Face Off   Rewatch 
December 31, 2014 6:00 PM - Season 4, Episode 13 - Subscribe

Walt and Jesse team up to take on Gus. With Saul's help, Walt finds an unexpected ally.

"I won."

James Poniewozik, TIME:
The history of Breaking Bad is a series of ethical lines crossed; there’s a reason the show is called what it is. Walt began as a meek, resigned–if resentful–chemistry teacher. Then he started cooking meth. Then he killed, in self-defense. He let a young woman die. He indirectly, through his callousness, caused an air disaster. He killed again. He indirectly got his brother-in-law shot, and excused Gus for allowing it. He had another meth cooker, who did nothing to him, murdered so he could live. Always with the rationalization that he was a decent man, that he would not harm the truly innocent, that he would never willingly endanger a child. Then he willingly endangered a child.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
Is it appropriate that such a big moment would come out of misdirecting the audience for an episode and a half? Is that a cheat? For me, it worked. In hindsight, I think we do see the moment where Walt decides on this course of action - when his expression changes from resignation to calculation after the gun points to the plant - and the rest is misdirection but not an outright cheat.
Logan Hill, Vulture:
Gilligan’s able to pull it off because of the previous episode’s setup: Last week’s demanded that you imagine Gus was so horrible he would do something even worse than all of the devious crimes he’d committed over the last two seasons. At first, it seemed absurd, but you knew Gus would do anything to survive. Once the show established the relative plausibility of that sadistic trick, it paved the way for the anti-empathetic leap of the finale: If you believe that Gus would murder a child (or at least risk a child’s life) in order to protect himself, then why wouldn’t Walt do the same?
Vince Gilligan hit the interview circuit after the episode: here are postmortems with James Poniewozik, with Alan Sepinwall, and with Dave Itzkoff, NYT, which includes some discussion of Gus Fring's mysterious origins:
We talked a long time, my writers and I, about what exactly was Gus’s back story? How bad a dude did he have to have been, back in Chile, for the cartel to spare him, even though they were very insulted by his actions? And we went back and forth, we talked about Pinochet and his government, what did he do back there, precisely? And we borrowed a bit from “Pulp Fiction,” I suppose. Because in “Pulp Fiction,” Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are carrying around a briefcase, for the entire movie, that the contents of which are only hinted at. At one point, you see a glow emanating from inside the briefcase, but you never do find out for sure what it’s in it. And I always liked that, as a viewer. To me, the audience’s imagination as to who Gus was in his past life is potentially more interesting than any concrete answer we could give them.
That final song: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Black (featuring Norah Jones). Here's AMC's list of music used in S4. In an interview with WIRED, Music Supervisor Thomas Golubić noted that the original choice was Foster The People's Pumped Up Kicks.

"Still, he-- he had to go, right?"
"You're damn right.""
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" instead of "Black"? Holy smokes did they make the right choice there - "Black" fits the show like a glove, the lyrics are chilling and you can feel the singer's desolation; "Pumped Up Kicks" is way too light and poppy, hits the wrong tone. Fascinating to hear about the creative process that unfolds behind the scenes on shows like Breaking Bad, and how even the best choices sometimes seem so close to not being made.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:05 PM on December 31, 2014

The music in Breaking Bad is incredibly well done -- the mixture of well-chosen existing songs chosen by Golubic and original compositions by Dave Porter, and the lightness of touch in choosing when to use music and (especially) when not to.

Black always seemed utterly perfect to close out the episode. I also like the Dave Porter composition that plays during Gus's long walk from the car into the nursing home -- very much a Western moment, and the music slightly reflects that but with an atonal skew -- and the way that it drops away to silence as Gus enters Hector's room.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:50 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

(They even have Gus cross a western-style island / car roundabout during that scene, it's a bit High Noon - something Vincey has definitely seen.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:34 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

The music is especially good in the series, and you're right about that Western-sounding track playing over Gus's entry. The establishing shot at Hank's, in the previous episode, also has an Ennio Morricone/spaghetti Western feel to it.

Watching this just now, it occurred to me that when Walt goes into the hospital, telling Walt that he has to think of somewhere--anywhere--Gus might go outside of his usual places, or "we" are dead, that he is (as usual) not really telling the truth. Walt and his family are in danger, yes, but at that point Jesse's still in relatively good graces with Gus.

Also, I know a lot of ink's been spilled on Walt's various murders, hits, and negligent homicides, but this season I thought that plenty of his other actions were reprehensible as well, including convincing some of the laundry workers to come help him clean the Superlab (resulting in their deportation) and calling his neighbor to ask her to go see if they left the burner on (putting her in danger--who's to say that Gus's assassins aren't going to shoot the first person who walks through the door?) Sending her over to chase out the assassins is also in stark contrast to his statement in the cold open that he alone should bear the brunt of his actions (which hasn't really ever been possible once he decided to start cooking meth).

On another note entirely, I'm not sure how much of the final season they'd mapped out at this point, so I'm not sure whether that scene of Jesse cuffed to the equipment in the Superlab is foreshadowing or just an (un)happy coincidence.
posted by johnofjack at 10:28 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I always felt like the reveal at the end of this episode was just one step too far. Not because Walt wouldn't endanger a child -- of course Walt would endanger a child! -- but because the plan working as Walt intended would require so many things to happen just so.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Johnofjack: As I understand it, they didn't have that much planned. For a clockwork universe show, Breaking bad did end up being written as it went. We'll see soon that diner sequence with Walt: at the time of filming it, the writers didn't know how Walt was going to end up there.

I love the drama of Gus standing up to fasten his tie. It's silly, but I love it.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:01 AM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed this lady, that was a fun moment. And I love it that after this show aired, there was real debate as to whether she could identify him and could get him busted, or whether she was dead, or crazy.

It makes me sad that so many people were turned off of the show during the next season, but it's sort of understandable because of the change in tone. Obviously his actions became less and less defensible over time, yet the show itself backs him through the end of this episode in a way that it won't later. It shows his loneliness and sad desperation, and depicts his plans as audacious yet unlikely. He's even getting spanked for his lack of criminal skill in this very episode, when he comically breaks into Saul's office only to be extorted by his secretary.

Walt is obsessed with Gus in a fiendishly jealous way, and the events of Box Cutter gave him an early excuse to begin scheming. We know that if Walt would calm down and be compliant, he could have far more than he wanted in the beginning of the series. Except that now he also wants Gus' notoriety. The show could have been very explicit about that as it was happening; instead, the tension between the two characters was ramped up so that it became completely plausible that Walt should be concerned about his own life and his family's safety, and his creepy plan looks like self-defense. It certainly looks that way to him, and that's the only way he would have it right now.

I almost got whiplash myself in the next episode--the terror is over, but instead of relief and loving hugs for his living family, Walt's ego is so inflated that he may as well be a parade float. I feel like he was so consistently interesting that it didn't matter whether he was likeable, but obviously I think it's an interesting subject.

Yay, everyone is happy.
posted by heatvision at 4:18 AM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh god, I don't like Walt. I don't think I ever really liked Walt. One of my favourite things about this season was the world showing Walt how ludicrous his hubris is. I have said this before, but Walt crosses the moral event horizon several times. Basically, when you have been offered a solution to your problem which completely avoids breaking the law and only involves you swallowing your pride, and you go for the law breaking one, then you have lost all claim to morality, to doing things for your family.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:05 AM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

"calling his neighbor to ask her to go see if they left the burner on (putting her in danger..."

Vince Gilligan's mother! :D He had his mom do a small cameo.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:19 AM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not saying Walt didn't cross a point of no return, but I absolutely do not buy there could have been any long-term accommodation with Gus. Gus was going to kill Walt and Jesse eventually. Gus already made up his mind on both of them, and he wasn't going to leave that thread hanging, even if there had to be some temporary adjustments.
posted by spaltavian at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2015

One of my favourite things about this season was the world showing Walt how ludicrous his hubris is.

Yet he never never learns from it. I still see that scene from S5 where he's stolen the vat of methylamine and Mike has a gun to Walt's head, and Walt is just smirking his face off. He thinks he's a mastermind but most of the time he gets his way only because people are so gobsmacked by the blind idiocy of his claims that they want to see him go through with it.

Gus was going to kill Walt and Jesse eventually.

Frankly it's pretty amazing that he let them live as long as he did, given their predilection for fucking over or killing their own coworkers.
posted by psoas at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Gus was going to kill Walt and Jesse eventually.

Frankly it's pretty amazing that he let them live as long as he did, given their predilection for fucking over or killing their own coworkers.

Wow. How could I have forgotten Gale, even briefly? Yeah, I think you're both right; between Hermanos and Salud it seems clear that Gus would just bide his time until he had a good chemist in place and felt like he no longer needed Jesse.
posted by johnofjack at 6:04 PM on January 2, 2015

The scene where Gus enters the nursing home is absolutely my favorite scene from any TV show ever. The music, the landscape, the tension(!), the POV shot come together so so well. I could watch that 5 or so seconds on loop forever.

I enjoy the discussion here but I feel like all I have to contribute is just how much I love this show.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:04 AM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

That part is awesome; such a high-noon type scene. The last two seasons really become a Western. There's the train robbery, of course, but so many other elements too.
posted by spaltavian at 6:32 AM on January 5, 2015

I noticed this time that they -- presumably Gilligan, directing -- so wanted Gus to walk that long straight line to the nursing home that they ignored the landscaping; there's no path in that island, just a bunch of planting and some river rock. But they made it work anyway.

On the other hand, Gus's Terminator tie-straightening always feels a little cheesy on rewatch; like they over-egged it in pursuit of a big reveal and a memorable final moment for the character. I think it'd work better without that scene: cut from the explosion to Walt listening to the radio report in his car, so that we find out that Gus is dead at the same moment that Walt does.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:59 PM on January 23, 2018

I think it'd work better without that scene
But then they would have had to compromise on the episode title … a lost pun too far!

Gus- as we learn in both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul - is a master ambusher. So it seems fitting that it takes the combined guile of Walt and Hector (who are both formidably cunning in their own right) to outwit him. In the end it is probably the unexpected teamwork between adversaries that Gus fails to predict.

I love how the DEA, despite having been key players in the setup, are left absolutely no wiser from it. They get only “SUCK MY…”
posted by rongorongo at 3:57 AM on September 16, 2022

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