SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen Rabid Dog yet, you might want to look away.
'Rabid Dog', like many of Breaking Bad's best episodes, comes down to Walt and Jesse. Although the pair are kept separate throughout, it revolves entirely around what each is respectively willing to do to protect or destroy the other. Unfortunately, due to how this final season has been structured, the episode is also highly frustrating at times. Potential moments of dramatic payoff are denied and many narrative routes are closed over these 47 minutes for the sake of expediency, and the episode hangs together somewhat incoherently as a result.
'Rabid Dog' makes clear that the net is starting to tighten around Walter. With two known parties out to get him, his acting skills are being constantly put to the test as he layers lie on top of ostentatious lie. He reached a new intellectual, if not moral, low last week giving a mesmeric performance and a frighteningly plausible alibi in his video confession to his in-laws, but within minutes of this week's opening he is again forced onto the back foot and looks far less graceful in his deception.
Walt fumbles around in order to cover up Jesse's aborted attempt at burning down the White household. He does not make light work of the task and blames a "pump malfunction" at a petrol station for all the gasoline that has dried into his living room floor. It's so brazen and poorly thought-out that both Walt Jr and Skyler see through it instantly.
When Hank gets involved things start to get problematic, although the forceful strain he puts on the episode's narrative credibility is necessary considering the amount of ground that needs to be covered in the final four.
There was no hint of him tailing Jesse in 'Confessions' yet he turns up to stop him burning the White residence down in an instant. Gomey is brought into the fold without more than a cursory mention, even though the relationship between the DEA partners has been established well enough that a potential scene in which Hank tells Gomey of his latest crackpot theory surely would have been worth some screen time. And Gomey probably would have laughed at and instantly rejected the notion that" Mr Rogers with a spot on his lung" could be the great, towering Heisenberg - he definitely would have taken more convincing than he seemingly has.
Jesse even goes through the whole Heisenberg story off-screen, despite the fact that there are few things better on TV than when Aaron Paul is given a lengthy monologue, so the whole exercise feels like a waste. This should be a cathartic moment - the son finally turning against the father after a year of abuse - but it is another casualty of this season's time constraints.
Gomey asks "Where do we start?", and the idea of Breaking Bad running another couple of seasons as a Wire-like procedural with Hank as McNulty and Walt as Stringer sounds very appealing. Alas, this is not the time to add pieces to the board, the game is in the hands of these people and these people only, not to mention the fact that we have only four episodes remaining.
Breaking Bad built its reputation on methodical plotting and narrative cleanliness with a few "HOLY SHIT!" moments thrown in, but there have been several uncharacteristic hiccups in this fifth season as Gilligan and company seek to wrap everything up. There has been a lot of plot to go through, and it is obvious at this point that two full-length seasons would have made for a fairer endgame than a 16-episode batch.
The final scene, much like Jesse's missed pick-up last week, bears all the hallmarks of a tense Breaking Bad showdown, but we know it's not going to go down as planned, so it falls a bit flat. Gilligan is so obsessive about tying up loose ends and stringing these things out as long as possible that it could never end as easily as this with Jesse picking up Walt's confession on a DEA wire.
Jesse's sudden transformation into a man-with-a-plan goes against everything Aaron Paul has had to play this season, but we'll see where it leads next week. Either way, it's enough for Walt to cut ties with Jesse and call in Todd's family again - never a good sign. After all, as Marie's therapist Dave says, "There is no problem, no matter how difficult or painful or seemingly unsolvable, that violence won't make worse."
Words: George Morahan