Breaking Bad Recap: Episode 9 "Kafkaesque" Takes A Hard Look At Death, Taxes, And Chicken

/Film will be recapping and discussing each episode of the third season of Breaking Bad. A spoiler warning applies after the jump for the recaps and for the comments section. Meth heads welcome. For previous recaps, click here.

The calamitous, nail biter episodes that were "Sunset" and "One Minute" were followed by two quieter if unsettling installments. The first, "I See You," focused on the mortality and health of several characters, and the latest, "Kafkaesque," naturally dove into the resulting problem of money and insurance—the serpentine topics at the series' core. The salad days of stashing illegal monies behind air vents and under the kitchen sink are long gone for our beloved meth-slinging duo. Their conversations and the scope of their operation have expanded into the tens of millions, if not more, and in this ep we see how differently they continue to (forever) handle greed, contentment, and "taxes, yo."

Their cash problems lie not only in finding and purchasing physical space needed for money laundering, but mental space as well. It's the latter here that unleashes a whopper of a lie. Taking the lie into context, an unrelated scene where Walter informs Gus that he wants to "Lay the cards on the table," bites with considerable irony. After the jump, we welcome your comments in anticipation of Sunday's episode, "Fly." Don't miss it, it's the best and easily the most creatively daring of the season (and some fans will say ever), directed by no less a talent than Rian Johnson (Brick).


Walt Respects "the Strategy" Because He Fears It

Walt's suspicion of Gus's involvement in the Cousins' failed hit on Hank is confirmed here after a laid-up Hank speaks of the anonymous phone tip that saved his life. Marie, Walt, and Skyler are there to hear and share Hank's puzzlement over the source, as is Steven, who's still lingering around New Mexico to support Hank after his promotion to Texas. Last week, a commenter wondered if Steven was somehow complicit in the meth trade—proposing that such a major reveal would be perfect for season three's finale. I have to admit, Steven's eyes have looked particularly bugged and mischievous in the last two eps, and the close-up on his overly joyous reaction in "I See You" when the Cousin died has me guessing. Could he be in cahoots with Gus? For now, it's a stretch but fun to ponder. Back to the conversation between Walt and Gus...

I know I owe you my life, and more than that, I respect the strategy. In your position, I would have done the same.

For some viewers, Walt's above confession might ring too closely to a spoken word b-side by Sun Tzu, but Gus's understated reaction was priceless. More than any other exchange, I think this line confirmed in the mind Gus that Walt not only respects him, but idolizes him to a degree, and will permit him to slither over family lines, unlike Saul, if it means protection in the future and fruitful business. In the last ep, we saw Walt gulp his pride and dignity when Gus appeared at the hospital in the guise of a grateful Samaritan. But only days later, Walt's inquisitive nature and alpha instincts are again in charge. Or is it fear that's leading Walt in this scene? Driving home after the meeting, Walt closes his eyes at the wheel and falls into an accidental game of chicken with a semi. (Throughout the series, Walt's suburbanite vehicle has humorously taken a beating due to his selfishness not unlike Jesse.)

The chicken man has gotten the best of Mr. White. Gus failed to offer him (and Jesse) a deserving chunk of the calculated $96 million he'll make off their work. Moreover, he used the life of Walt's brother-in-law as a pawn to strike a powerful, debilitating blow against the Mexican cartel, and in return only extends Walt's contract up to a year. In flirting with a deadly car crash, however subconsciously, we may very well being to see Walt entertaining suicide as a viable option rather than a last resort (recall the first episode of the debut season).


Jesse Doesn't Want to Be a Professional. What's New?

"Hey, what's more important than money?" Jesse yells at Walt inside the lab after they argue over the aforementioned millions. The camera then cuts to Walt's family at the hospital, but since Jesse doesn't have a family or a girlfriend, the message doesn't apply to him. Not only is Jesse skimming from the lab's excess blue product—implied as a deadly offense—but he's firmly and irritatingly against funneling his payday into a legit business. During a meeting with Saul Goodman inside a Korean nail salon/massage parlor, Jesse balks when Saul suggests he purchase the establishment for 300 grand (on top of Saul's admittedly high percentage). "I gotta pay taxes now? That's messed up! That's Kafkaesque." Teach.

It's odd to me—not "Kafkaesque"—that Jesse is so fearlessly ignorant of the IRS, not to mention of the authorities tailing him. I have to wonder why Steven and Co. are not tailing Jesse since he's responsible for Hank's first mysterious call and was linked to the RV. Both Walt and Jesse now park side-by-side in front of the same nondescript building day after day. It would not be hard for an undercover unit to piece their operation together by tailing Jesse's red auto. And when Steven shows Hank a map in the hospital of the blue meth spreading once again all across the Southwest, why is Pinkman's name never mentioned? I'm not suggesting conspiracy, but he's an obvious lead in their case. (Remember that his car was also at the scene of Tuco's death.)

In the name of independence and being an "outlaw," Jesse starts a side business slinging stolen product with Badger and Skinny P. They decide to sell product on the sly at Jesse's rehab meetings. Classy. The logic of these idiots recalls Chuck Palahniuk's Choke, wherein a character goes to sex addict meetings to pick up easy chicks. But Jesse's agenda is not only more ethically reprehensible, it's extremely flawed even by his inconsistent standards. Rehab meetings are commonly attended by family members with watchful eyes, as well as addicts reporting to probation officers and to fellow supporters. And then there's the chance of a narc, or a suspicious group leader. In cornering a market that will yield only a puny couple hundred dollars, what the fuck is he thinking? What's the upside here against a sure $1.5 million?


Better Therapy Through Black Market Chemistry

It's not yet interesting to me that Walt's money will being paying for Hank's physical therapy, but the whopper Skyler tells Marie to explain the Whites' newfound, shady wealth raises hilarious hypotheticals for the future. Walt is now a millionaire—Skyler and Walt confide to her sister—because he's mastered a card-counting "glitch" and reaped rewards from a nearby, underground gambling ring (re: tax free money). The cat is already clawing through the bag. For one, Marie can resist telling a secret like Hank can resist spouting a racial epithet. So, at what point does Hank find out and channel his guilt into convincing Walt to exhibit the famous gambling finesse? And when this happens, how does Walt bluff his way out of it? At the very least, he'll need to purchase the gambling books Skyler alludes to off Amazon.

"Kafkaesque" concludes with Walt telling Skyler he's impressed with her lie. "I learned from the best," she tells him, before alleging he's the reason Hank was shot. But before this, we've seen her break off the affair with Ted—will he seek revenge?—and urge Walt to guarantee her their family—her, Walt, Walt Jr.—is now safe. Earlier this season, it was up in the air whether or not Skyler would become a minor character in an exceedingly drug business-oriented storyline. Now, one could foresee her revving up to become Jesse's true replacement. She could cook the books, Walt the meth.

End Note: Gus's chicken commercial was awesome.

Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on AMC. For previous /Film episode recaps, click here.

Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila/gmail and followed on Twitter.