Binging Late (S2:E6) – Beetle Juice
No one will ever accuse this show of not being sufficiently raw. As if just the scene of the junkies’ shooting gallery of a home wasn’t distressing enough, and as if their mutually toxic treatment of one another wasn’t even more disgusting, the preceding horrors were all tame by comparison to the graphic atrocity we observed when Gretchen spooged Spooge’s head by dropping an ATM on it. Then, just to add another level of fiendishness to the scene, all of this goes on with 3-year old boy in the house, and the boy just happens to have red hair, pale skin, and freckles?! That ginger now haunts me, as it must haunt Jesse. Linking this imagery back to the beetle Skinny Pete smooshed during the teaser makes it all the more mortifying.
Just when I think my esteem for Walter White cannot sink any lower, he goes and surprises me with his profane send-off to Gretchen. Aside from being a repugnant way to treat someone who has tried only to help, it’s also a terrible way to cajole her cooperation in his lie. In an episode in which we saw a woman crush her husband’s head with a cash machine for calling her a skank, Walter’s rage was probably the rawest thing of all.
“That’s your excuse to build your empire on my work?” You identify that lunch scene as the rawest thing in an episode that depicts the ravages of meth use, and it is. Walt’s rage about the status of his life compared to his old friends is concretely established in that scene. He believes that he was used by them, and his work and research that launched Gray Matter. In retrospect, I think that scene–and its importance to the way Walter operates and his never-ending quest for more–was lost in this episode because the stuff with Jesse and the little ginger and the crushed head was so graphic, and disturbing, and memorable. As far as importance to the rest of the series, the Gretchen-Walt revelations undergird everything that follows, while the ATM tragedy isn’t much more than a brief reminder of the final victims of Walt & Jesse’s cooking.
Since the episode contrasted lives on opposite sides of the social and economic spectrum (a Bentley is as far to the 0.1% as it gets), I think it’s a fair time to renew my argument that a just-below-surface, subversive theme of the show is the deleterious consequences of the post-bust economic stratification. The show makes it explicit in both Walt (who is employed at a government job) needing someone to pay for his medical bills, and that there are individuals who have so much wealth that paying for those bills is nothing more than leaving a tip. Walt’s desperation leads him to cook meth, which finds its way to other people similarly fucked by America’s love for tax breaks instead of social services and financial bailouts instead of health care.