Season 3, episode 9: “Kafkaesque”

06 Aug

Breaking Bad, 3-9: “Kafkaesque”


In a TV ad for Pollos Hermanos an announcer with a Spanish accent talks about his “uncles, the Chicken Brothers,” and concludes, “Old ways are still best.” Then flakes falling turn into meth crystals Walt and Jesse are packing into plastic boxes. Other people on Gus’s payroll open the boxes, and using measuring cups, pack the meth into plastic pound bags. The bags are then placed in Pollos buckets of  fry-batter mix, and the buckets are placed on pallets and loaded onto tractor trailer trucks (one load’s marked for “Alamagordo”). The trucks start their journeys as Gus watches.

Scene 1: the lab, the hospital, Jesse’s NA group

Jesse gives a scale reading to Walt of 201.6 pounds, and Walt says, “Ship it as is.”

“That’s charity,” objects Jesse, “free meth! These bitches are bleeding us enough already! This deal you made is bullshit! He’s getting 40 large a pound. 2,400 pounds times $40,000 is $96 million! 96 to our three. That’s messed up, yo.”

“Jesse,” Walt says, “you are now a millionaire. And you’re complaining? What kind of world are you living in?”

“One where the dudes that are doing all the work ain’t getting fisted! What’s happened to you? Hey! I want to hash this out! What’s more important than money?”

Marie’s with Hank in his hospital room when Gomez pokes his head in and asks if he can visit. Hank pretends to be unconscious, then jokes with his partner. The three Whites are there, too. Gomez shows Hank a map of the blue meth distribution, saying, “You were right.”

Ignoring the meth update, Hank says, “I got a warning call.”

Outside in his car, Walt thinks about this. Skyler gets in, and he says, “I had nothing to do with it.”

“Are we safe?” Skyler asks.


“Are you safe?”


Jesse and eleven others attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, led by the same therapist as before. Asked how he’s doing, Jesse says, “One day pretty much bleeds into the next. I’ve been workin’ a lot. I got a job. It’s a laundromat – totally corporate. It’s, like, rigid – all kinds of red tape. My boss is a dick, the owner a super dick. The other workers are dead-eyed douche bags…Nobody knows what’s goin’ on.”

Leader: “Sounds kind of Kafkaesque.”

“Yeah, totally Kafkaesque. Majorly.”

In Hank’s hospital room, Skyler’s showing Marie the flowers and gift baskets people have sent when the doctor comes in and does an exam. Even though Hank doesn’t seem to be able to feel anything in his legs and feet below mid-calf, the doc says, “Looks like some nerve function is returning.”

Later, Marie and Skyler meet with the doctor and a social worker to talk about the months of therapy Hank will need. Marie quickly becomes angry, because the insurance she and Hank have won’t cover as much or as high a quality of therapy as she wants for her husband. Skyler backs Marie up.

Scene 2: A nail salon, Gus’s chicken farm office, Jesse’s NA meeting

Saul, getting a mani-pedi, offers Jesse the same treatment. Jesse declines, then gets angry when he realizes that Saul wants him to buy the salon for $312,000 as a money-laundering device. He says, “I ain’t buyin’ no damn nail salon, so just forget it!”

“You want to stay out of jail, don’t you? Avoid felony tax evasion? This is clean, taxable income.”

“You want me to buy this place so I can pay taxes? I’m a criminal, yo.”

“A criminal who doesn’t want to be a convict.”

“You just want your 5%.”

“That’s 17%.”

“I thought you said 5.”

“For your partner.” Jesse leaves.

At the chicken farm office, Gus asks Walt how Hank is, and Walt says, “He’ll live.”

“Good. I’m glad. Walt, you seem troubled. How can I help you?”

“I asked to see you in order to clear the air. I think when there are issues we need to lay our cards on the table to avoid misunderstanding…Someone called to warn Hank about the attack on him. I believe the same person is protecting me, that he steered the assassins to my brother-in-law. This person is playing a much deeper game, one that involves bloodying both sides, setting two governments against the cartel, and cutting off the supply of meth to the Southwest. With the market to himself, he could reap enormous rewards…We’re both adults. I can’t pretend I don’t know that person is you. I want there to be no confusion. I know I owe you my life, and, more than that, I respect the strategy. In your position, I would have done the same…One issue that troubles me – I don’t know what happens when our three-month contract ends.”

“What would you like to happen?”

“You know why I do this. I want security for my family.”

“And you have it. Three million for three months – that was our agreement. Extended annually, 12 million a year. Call it 15, if that’s agreeable.”

Back in his car, Walt seems angry and/or afraid. Is Gus just a sophisticated Tuco? Beginning to speed, consciously or unconsciously, Walt shuts his eyes, drifts into the oncoming lane, and is almost flattened by a tractor-trailer truck whose horn warns him just in time. Swerving and fishtailing all over the road, Walt’s Aztek ends up off the road, but upright. Did Walt have a bit of a death wish here?

At another NA meeting, the leader asks Jesse what he’d do for a living if money was of no concern. Saying he’d make something with his hands,” Jesse recalls that he took a lot of vo-tech classes in high school to get by easily. One, a woodworking class, was taught by “Mr. Pine…a Marine or something.” Jesse describes one project, to make a small wooden box that he completed quickly and shoddily. “It was lame, but it worked. Mr. Pine said, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ The way he said it – like, ‘Is that all you got?’ made me think I could do better. I made several more boxes, and by the time I got to number five, I’d built this thing out of Peruvian walnut, inlaid with cedar, held together with wooden pegs. I polished it with tung oil – it even smelled good. It was perfect.”

Leader: “What happened to the box?”

“I gave it to my mom.”

“It’s never too late,” the leader says. “You could take classes.”

“I didn’t give the box to my mom,” Jesse says sadly. “I traded it for an ounce of weed.” This is what Jesse could do instead of making meth. He could also pursue his art. He might not make much money, but he’d be happy with himself and have a good, simple life. Having pegged himself as a bad guy who needs to be punished, and lacking self-confidence and support, however, Jesse at this point doesn’t have the heart to give up what he’s doing and pursue his heart’s desire.

Scene 3: Casa Blanca, a casual restaurant, the lab, an NA meeting

Skyler and Marie are drinking white wine in the White kitchen when Ted rings the doorbell. Skyler seems uncomfortable having him there, but, when pushed, she invites him in and introduces him to Marie, who thanks him for the gift basket he sent Hank. Marie leaves to take a bath, and Skyler says, “This isn’t actually the best time.”

Ted says he hasn’t seen Skyler for days, and when she still seems eager for him to leave, asks, “Is there some reason for secrecy I’m not getting? We’re both divorced.”

Skyler, angry: “You’re really going to make me do this now?”

Now Ted gets it: their affair is over. “You’re right,” he says. “It was a bad idea to come here.”

“See you back at the office.”

“Take as much time as you want.”

Meanwhile, Jesse, Badger, and Skinny Pete are eating at a restaurant. Jesse proposes selling meth again to great enthusiasm. He’s going to skim a bit of meth off the top at the lab, risking retribution from Gus just to have something that’s his own and that will rally his friends around him.

In the lab, Walt’s polishing the outside of a stainless steel tank and seeming unhappy with the reflection of his face in it while Jesse packs meth into a plastic box. When Walt asks what the yield is, Jesse says, “201.8.” He smiles. It’s really 202.1, giving him a third of a pound, over $13,000 worth to sell on the street.

Next we see Badger and Skinny Pete at Jesse’s NA meeting, covertly advertising their product, a potent new version of the “blue stuff” that “lights your whole head on fire.” Jesse smiles again. Flirting with danger is fun when you don’t care whether you live or die.

Scene 4: the hospital

Marie, Skyler, and Walt are in the hospital waiting room. Marie says she’s thinking of going to the press, “because he’s a hero, and he’s not going to be in a wheelchair at 43.”

Skyler says, “Walt, we can pay their bills. We have the money – more than enough.”

Walt says, “Skyler – ” but she continues.

“I think Marie should know the truth…He earned it…gambling…You know we’ve been having problems lately. And it all came down to money. The diagnosis changed him, and I didn’t really understand what he was going through. He wanted to provide for us in case he died.”

Marie: “I thought – ”

“He never took their money…He was too proud. Walt’s a problem solver, and he did research, and came up with a system for counting cards in blackjack.” Skyler, now breaking bad for herself, is wearing black instead of her usual white, blue, or green, and we realize her clothing colors have been darkening for a while now. “He had to play in illegal backroom games so we wouldn’t find out. You were leading a double life, weren’t you?”

Marie: “The fugue state…”

“No, he didn’t fake that. He’d just lost $14,000 – his pension fund, our savings. He couldn’t live with it – he was suicidal.”

Marie asks Walt, “How could you do this to her?”

Skyler continues: “He finally got it to work. No more gambling, but we have the money.”

“How much money?” Marie asks.

Skyler defers to Walt, who says with quiet pride, “Well…It’s in the seven figures.”

Marie: “Holy Mary, Mother of God!”

“Take our money,” Skyler urges. “Use it to take care of Hank.”

“Yes,” Walt agrees.

Marie: “Does Junior know?”

“No,” Skyler says, “and we prefer to keep it that way. Don’t tell Hank either – he has enough on his mind.”

After Marie leaves, Walt asks, “How did you come up with that?”

“I learned from the best…Somehow, something tells me that Hank is here because of you.”


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