But at the same time, I do feel like the hour’s two major narrative evasions are at least somewhat cheap, and I think it is fair to feel that way in comparison to what we have been primed to expect. On most television shows, a cliffhanger like the one we got last week would annoy the hell out of me. When you have a character do something as big as Jesse storming into the White family home spraying gasoline everywhere, it had damn well better pay off in a meaningful way, or the entire purpose would have been to shock and titillate the audience, rather than actually moving the story forward. And most stories would, inevitably, take the latter path, because fully following up on the ramifications of a moment like that leads to a narrative corner. But Breaking Bad had, as previously noted, built this entire final season on exploring the depths of such narrative corners, and so I did not mind last week’s cliffhanger – instead, I was invigorated by it, because I was sure it would lead to something spectacular.
And in its own diffuse, unconventional way, the cliffhanger did lead to something spectacular – more on that in a moment. But the opening scene of “Rabid Dog” still felt at least a little like a let down, even if it was brilliantly directed – the long, tight tracking shot of Walt going through the house was an absolute master class of tension, but it was also an exercise in tension without fulfillment, and at this point, having been conditioned to crave the fulfillment, that bothered me at least a little. What “Rabid Dog” winds up doing with that initial dispersal of tension is absolutely justified and satisfying, but if I am being honest, in the moment, it felt cheap. Same goes for the final scene – I think it is brilliantly, beautifully executed, but after spending an entire week and then this entire hour waiting for Jesse to confront Walt, the show backing out on that confrontation does not, immediately, sit right, even as what they ultimately do with it – Jesse essentially declaring war on Mr. White, and Heisenberg responding in kind – seems, for the moment, justified.
And ultimately, that reflects how I feel about “Rabid Dog” as a whole – minor disappointment in two key moments, mixed with a pervading sense of satisfaction at how things are handled overall. Let us examine how the first dispersal of tension is handled to further explain my reasoning.
From the end of last week’s episode, “Rabid Dog” proceeds from two different points of view, starting with Mr. White’s as he enters the gasoline-soaked living room. While the eventual discovery that Jesse has left the scene serves as a diffusion of tension for the audience, Walt’s sense of danger is in no way dissipated. Not only is he thinking Jesse could return at any moment – needing only a match to destroy everything at this point – but he also knows he has to cover this incident up for his family. Through the first half of the episode, we follow Walt’s side of this story as the aftermath of Jesse’s near-rampage forces him to reconsider his and Jesse’s relationship.
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