Sunday, April 12, 2009

Breaking Bad - Episode 2.6 - "Peakaboo"

Life -- real life -- is not a game.

Sometimes it sure seems like it. We are the players. We have our objectives. Along the way we encounter obstacles, like the Molasses Swamp, or a "Go to Jail" space. Occassionally we land on "Go," get a free turn, or even feel like we've actually "won" something.

But life is not a game. It's very real, because playing is for keeps.

Tonight's episode of AMC's powerful "Breaking Bad," cleverly called "Peekaboo," is about these games we play.

As usual, before I go deeper, let me recap:

Tonight's episode featured two storylines:

A) Jesse tries to get his money from the two addicts that stole from Skinny Pete in last week's episode, "Breakage."

B) Walter has to face exposure of his lies by the unlikliest of sources: Gretchen, the wife of his former partner, whom Walt has everyone believing is paying for his chemotherapy.

As with some games, we start playing without quite knowing the rules. This is more than true for Jesse. At the end of last week, Jesse was handed a gun by Walt and told to "take care" of the junkies that robbed Skinny Pete. The message was clear: you better scare the shit out of everyone before they get the opportunity to fuck you over. What Walt didn't understand was that Jesse's not a muscle-guy. He's the guy squirming in his car, smoking crystal to get the courage to point a gun at someone. This game Jesse is being asked to play has rules he doesn't get. Just to make this clear, we got a darkly comic scene in which Jesse, practicing his tough guy approach, is interrupted by a mailwoman who wants to discuss the weather. There's no way he is ready for this when he is scared shitless by a postal worker.

But the game gets more serious as he breaks into the house of the junkie known as "Spooge." He discovers amidst the trash, crumbs, and shit-smell that the junkies have a kid. And the kid is alone, abandoned by his parents with no food, no decent clothing, and a TV that only shows Ginsu knife infomercials. He is quietly waiting for Mom and Dad to come back, although whether or not he cares about this idea isn't easy to tell. This child is creepy, accepting Jesse's appearance in the house without any trepidation. He doesn't talk much, or even share his name.

All he shares with Jesse is a simple game of peekaboo.

And then the game ends, Mom and Dad show up, and Jesse has to start over again. He seems to have the situation under control -- he's going to make Walt proud -- but then things get more complicated. Spooge and his "skank" wife have stolen an ATM machine, and offer to pay Jesse for his drugs if he helps them open it. Opening an ATM is not as easy as it would appear, just as shaking down a couple junkies is not as easy as it appeared. Jesse's interest in the kid gets the best of him and he is overpowered by the skank.

Walt, meanwhile, is in a different place than Jesse. While Jesse is starting to play a game whose rules he doesn't understand, Walt is playing a game he now understands, but finds he can't win. He has been winning to this point, despite the difficulties, but now he is really trapped.

Gretchen, the wife of Elliot, his old partner, calls out of the blue to check on Walt. Skylar, Walt's wife, answers and issues a long overdue "thank you." After all, Gretchen and Elliot were the ones who had been paying for Walt's chemotherapy. At least, that's what Walt told her. Now, Gretchen is smart enough to cover for Walt in front of his wife, but she wants to know why his lie is causing her to lie.

Walt tries to play the game. He tries manipulating Gretchen into leaving the truth alone. Then he bullies her. But it's not working, and in the end, he loses. Gretchen calls Skylar and tells her she and Elliot can no longer pay for Walt's treatment. Devastated, Skylar goes to Walter. Since he's become a pro at this game, he lies to her by explaining that Gretchen and Elliot's company, Gray Matter, is broke.

So, Jesse is trying to learn a new game. Walt is trying to find a way to win the current one.

But, like I said from the get-go, Life is not a game.

The stakes are real. Jesse can act as tough as he wants, but he is not tough. Not even close. As he watches the skank drop the ATM machine on Spooge's head just because he wouldn't share his drugs with her, Jesse freaks out. Just as we were expecting a climax in which the skank tries to shoot him, she passes out on the couch, coming down on heroin. But none of this helps the child. It is the child that sits in the other room, staring blankly at the wall. Jesse calls the cops, and leaves the child on the porch, telling him not to go back inside the house. Looking at the kid, Jesse can see that his life is hopeless.

In a game, you always have a chance to win. In life, winning is only for those who have the resources to succeed.

Yet, Gretchen, as rich as she is, can't get Walter to tell her why he lied. He says he only owes her an apology. Maybe he's right, but she makes a good case: Walt dragged her and Elliot's name into this mess by telling Skylar they were helping. She doesn't know how to play this game, either. Walt has faced hardened killers and held his cards close to the chest. He's not about to show them to an ex-flame.

So, Gretchen does what every child does when he/she knows they can't win: she quits.

Since life is not a game, though, she can't quit. She's involved now, and backing away isn't going to change anything. Skylar will still have questions. There's no way she's going to completely buy into Walt's bullshit about Gretchen and Elliot going broke. Anytime Walt's in the room, now, Skylar's bullshit radar is perfectly alert.

And that leads me to my final thought about life and games...

If life were a game, we'd always have a chance to win. Like most of us, though, Walt isn't going to win a thing. The game is rigged. The house always wins.

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