Breaking Bad, Ep. 4.07: ‘Problem Dog’

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 7: “Problem Dog”
Written by Peter Gould
Directed by Peter Gould
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC

First off: there is a very good chance that “Problem Dog” contains a piece of television history. David Costabile, who has continued to leave an indelible impression as doomed chemist Gale Boetticher, earned himself a Guest Star credit this week for an appearance that must have totaled around a half-second. Someone with a greater knowledge of TV history will have to get back to me on if this peculiar feat has ever been bested.

We’re officially beyond the halfway mark this week, and Season Four’s pace has yet to quicken significantly – if anything, Gilligan and his writing squad have taken the slow-boil principle of the previous season and taken it a little bit further. Since Gus’s bloody flare-up in the premiere, Breaking Bad has mostly consisted of human chess pieces in slow motion, waiting for the next game-changing moment to urge them forward. Yes, for those watching week-to-week, the pace can be a difficult thing indeed.

What’s most impressive about this season, whatever its flaws may turn out to be (this is a very tricky series to spot narrative problems in immediately, thanks to its slowly unraveling nature), is its unpredictability. By design, Breaking Bad is a show that can only feature so many outcomes. Virtually no plausible ones feature Walt surviving. Hank is too sympathetic and hard-working to not eventually crack the Heisenberg case, one way or another. Jesse can either wrest himself from his chaotic life choices and associations, or he can succumb to them. Essentially, we’re left with a set of binaries – but at this point, Breaking Bad has gotten so good at staying three steps ahead of even the most intrepid viewer, that we are left with the sense that any one of these issues (among the others that have been percolating constantly throughout the show and season) could be resolved or uprooted at any given moment. In other words: it’s still got suspense in spades.

That was best showcased this week through Jesse, who was the real focal point this week for the first time in a while. In the frankly stunning opening, Jesse plays the appropriately titled Rage, taking out baddies with his toy gun – which gets one of the show’s patented fixed-camera shots, as with Jesse’s shovel last week – as near-subliminal flashes of Gale’s murder (hence the aforementioned credit) find their way in. It’s entirely fitting that we get a virtual recreation of Gale’s murder this week, as Jesse is once again entrusted with the task of murdering a key foe. In this case, it’s Gus, via a version of the same odorless, flavorless poison Walt had planned to use on Tuco. Wasn’t there a part of every viewer that wondered, as Jesse fumbled with the powder at Gus’s meeting, that he might well do it? Rationally speaking, of course, there were too many variables to make it a prime opportunity, but still: what if? It’s very much to the credit of Peter Gould, the show’s executive story editor, who takes his first crack at both writing and directing this week (he previously scripted key hours like “Half Measures” and “Better Call Saul”), that the possibility that Jesse might have the nerve to go through with it is at all present, and it’s that slim chance that makes the suspense possible.

As previously mentioned, it’s very much The Jesse Show this week, though we do get welcome appearances from Saul, who’s been tragically absent of late, and from Jere Burns, who reappears – likely for the last time – as Jesse’s drug counselor. In a showstopping scene that might as well be labelled “Aaron’s Emmy Clip.” Jesse publicly airs his regret, anger and shame for killing Gale, who he refers to as a “problem dog.” No, he never bit anyone, and he wasn’t sick – he just had to go. As he lashes out against his counselor and his fellow addicts, effectively burning his remaining bridges to anywhere but the drug trade, it’s difficult to tell in which direction Jesse will splinter, but it is clear that there fewer good ways forward for Jesse than ever before.

With Hank swiftly making the connection between Gus and Gale this week, it seems increasingly unlikely that all of the major parties – Hank, Mike, Gus, the cartel heads, etc. – are going to make it through the season. But with no cryptic flashforwards or title puzzles to guide us along – even elliptically – the order and magnitude of upcoming events is harder than ever to predict. In other word, they’ve got us right where they want us.

Simon Howell

PS: I’m headed to the Telluride Film Festival this week and likely won’t get to see Episode 4.8 until the middle of next week. Either I’ll find a replacement reviewer, or you’ll have a to wait a few extra days – but it’ll be done. If you’ve been watching Breaking Bad on a weekly basis, you probably don’t lack for patience, anyway.

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By Simon Howell

Simon Howell is a new Toronto transplant, having divided the rest of his time between Halifax and Montreal. He joined Sound On Sight in 2008 and has since become a member of the OFCS (Online Film Critics Society). Currently he co-hosts and co-produces Sound On Sight Radio as well as the Televerse TV podcast, and obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University in the spring of 2012. His favorite films include F for Fake, Brazil, Stroszek, The Fog of War, Grave of the Fireflies and In a Lonely Place. Simon's Twitter handle is @suckerhowell.

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2 Responses to Breaking Bad, Ep. 4.07: ‘Problem Dog’

  1. tmack August 31, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I have a theory about how season 4 could end. I think Hank notices the cameras in Pollos and puts together a raid of the restaurant with search warrant. Hank finds the security cameras and spots one screen that shows the back of a guy wearing a chemical suit bending over a vat. Mike & Jesse get wind of the raid and call Walt in the lab to warn him. Walt answers the phone and as is his custom turns to the camera to talk to Gus.

    Bingo.

    Great blog, by the way. I’m quite frustrated with the pace of the show thus far and hope it’ll pick up for the rest of the season. Glad to see Hank & the DEA back in the hunt–they are a necessary antagonist.

    Reply
  2. SpanishPrisoner August 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I keep wondering if Walt won’t succomb to his illness in the end but actually end up alone (and lonelier) with all of the money and loved ones gone in one manner or another. I don’t see him sitting in jail, which means that Hank, though on the right track, will make a wrong turn and nab someone else. I can’t see how Jesse will get out of his depression too.
    Even more than the characters I really like watching the direction and camera shots. Sometimes they’re obvious and point to themselves but always accent the drama and perfectly place the characters where they should be in the story. (The party scenes in Jesse’s house were amazing!)
    Great story. Great watching. Great reading the blog. Have a great time in Telluride!

    Reply

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