‘Breaking Bad’ Review: A Redneck Standoff in Tohajiilee

By  · Published on September 9th, 2013

So Hank’s definitely dead, right?

Because it’s rare that a dogged pursuer of justice in a morally anarchistic universe calls his wife and tells her he’s solved the biggest case of his career, using boastful but foreboding language like, “Hey baby, I got him. Dead to rights” and “It may be awhile before I get home” and still gets to live. Don’t forget: Hank was this close to early retirement, too, since the shame of Heisenberg being his brother-in-law would’ve ended his DEA career. Though every meth cook and drug mogul fears the police, rare is the one who meets his end in a prison cell. Breaking Bad is not a show where law and order prevails.

But Hank’s brains don’t yet look like the ones in his kitchen trash can, so let’s not mourn him. “To’hajiilee” wasn’t really about him anyway, but about the exquisite chess game Walt and Jesse played against each other. Their square-off begins as soon as the title sequence wisps off the screen, with Hank convincing Gomie to trust Timmy Dipshit’s plan. Thus begins another episode where Jesse is underestimated – which made Walt calling Jesse “stupid” while falling right into his plan wildly satisfying and may be the one thing that helps the unarmed Jesse survive the battle of the bullets.

It was a beautiful couple of moments before the gunfire. Walt appeared to be reaching for a last-minute scheme, but he ultimately decided to give up his gun and his future to Hank and Gomez. Jesse looked guilty, but also near-beatific in happiness and relief. Walt could feel fatherly satisfaction, if he wanted to, in the cycle of life because his protege had beaten him at his own game. Jesse got concrete confirmation that he wasn’t just another discardable nuisance to Walt because the chemistry teacher chose a sentimental location for his six-feet-under safe: “It’s the very first place we cooked, like, ever.” Probably for the last time, Hank heard the jangly clink of his handcuffs wrapped around a perp’s arm.

But “To’hajiilee” is a brilliant episode not because everything falls apart so quickly, but because it makes it understandable why everything falls apart so quickly. In other words, we know why the characters do the things they do, and that reason is family.

I wrote last week, “Whether Walt can go through with his plan to off Jesse will reflect how much of his much-diminished soul he’s further willing to sacrifice for the sake of his family.”

Last week, his resemblance to Tony Soprano was obvious. This week it became even clearer.

Walt was lured out to the desert by Jesse by his seven barrels of Benjamins. Jesse weirdly attributes Walt keeping the money to his ego, but this season has made clear that, especially with his cancer coming back, Walt has been busy installing a safety net for his family. In this episode, Walt says “Jesse is like family to me” – but that’s the point, Jesse is like family, not actual family. Walt gives himself over to Hank when their standoff finally reaches the point where Walt would have to either be arrested by Hank or kill a member of his actual family. No one’s going to a family vacation to Belize on his dime.

It’s that narrowing line of who counts as “real” family, that increasing tribalism, that drives “To’hajiilee.” Todd’s uncle and his white power gang are just business partners with Walt, which is why their patron’s wishes don’t matter a whole lot to them. “Don’t skimp on family – that’s what I always say!” Jack adds cheerfully. Walt’s ploy to lure Jesse to Andrea’s house doesn’t work either, because while Andrea and Brock are the closest thing that Jesse has to a family, they still aren’t his flesh and blood.

Family was also behind the lightest but most heartbreaking scene of “To’hajiilee,” where Skyler teaches an oblivious Junior how to work the cash machine and record inventory. While Junior is starstruck by Saul’s presence, Skyler patiently tries to show her son how to run the carwash in case something happens to her and Walt.

So Walt might be the worst man in Albuquerque, but unlike in the first run of the current season, it’s becoming increasingly harder to root against him, especially when his motivation is as easy to understand and sympathize with as “family.” Unfortunately, Todd, Jack, and his clan have a hard time seeing it that way. One man’s family is another man’s target practice.

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