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Recap / Breaking Bad S3 E9 "Kafkaesque"

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Season 3, Episode 09:

Jesse plans to commit a little embezzlement.
Written by Peter Gould & George Mastras
Directed by Michael Slovis
Air date: May 16, 2010

"The place is full of dead-eyed douche bags, the hours suck and nobody knows what's going on, so... sounds kind of Kafkaesque."
Jesse Pinkman

The episode Cold Opens with an advertisement for Los Pollos Hermanos chicken, describing its irresistible taste and intricate cooking methods. A shot of salt being sprinkled down the screen fades out to an industrial quantity of crystal meth, cooked by Walter and Jesse and distributed across the country. Gus oversees trucks full of smuggled blue sky, the product concealed in buckets of fry batter.

Having returned to work, Walt, along with Jesse, gets cracking on making meth for Gus. They end up making a few extra pounds of product during one particularly productive week, and Jesse suggests keeping some on the side to ship later. Walt, however, insists that they give all of their product to Gus. Jesse is displeased: by his own calculations, he believes they are being ripped off as Gus pockets nearly a hundred million dollars to their comparatively measly three million. Walt chastises Jesse for his greed: they’re both going to be millionaires, and he's complaining?

"What's more important than money?!" Jesse asks.

The answer is simple for Walt, who visits Hank in the hospital after his attack by cartel assassins, the Cousins. Having regained consciousness, he tells Gomez of a phone call he received warning him shortly before the attack, which may be the one reason he is alive. This revelation takes Walt aback.

Jesse talks to his NA support group about his new job at a laundromat and that his boss is a dick who never tells them what's going on. The rehab leader suggests that the job is "kafkaesque."

At the hospital, Walt assures Skyler that their family is safe despite Hank's attack. At the same time, due to the injury Hank sustained to his spine, he has been rendered paralyzed from the waist down. Marie asks about his chances of regaining mobility and, displeased with the limited care covered by their insurance, decides to look for her own therapists, against the warnings of the doctors.

As Saul tries (and fails) to talk Jesse into buying a nail salon to launder his money, Walt meets with Gus at his company's chicken farm to "clear the air." Walt tells Gus how he thinks he was at one point the Cousins' target, but somehow, their attention was drawn away from him and to Hank instead. At the same time, someone put in an anonymous call to Hank to warn him of the attempt on his life, as a ploy to play both sides against each other and bring unwanted attention to the cartel from both Mexican and American governments. This would also cut off the drug trade across the border, meaning that a domestic meth operation would have a monopoly over the Southwest. "We're both adults," Walt concludes, "I can't pretend I don't know that person is you." Although appreciative - "and more than that, I respect the strategy" - Walt asks for one thing after his contract with Gus has concluded: assurance of his family's security.

Gus, however, makes a counter-offer: in exchange for protecting his family, he wants to extend Walt's contract to an open-ended $15 million/year arrangement.

Walt accepts the offer. As he drives home, he begins flooring the accelerator, closing his eyes, and coasting down the road. He only snaps out of it mere moments before hitting a semi head-on, and swerves to avoid it.

As Skyler begins to reconsider her affair with Ted once and for all after he visits her at home, Jesse meets with Badger and Skinny Pete to wax nostalgic on his "outlaw" days of cooking meth out of an RV, and asks what the point of being a criminal was when you had responsibilities. Jesse proposes starting up their own business again: all they would need is the product, of which he could skim from the superlab. To that end, Skinny Pete and Badger infiltrate Jesse's rehab group, in order to sell their product to the addicts in the group.

Back at the hospital, Marie, cross with their insurance company for refusing to pay for Hank's preferred physical therapy plan, is ready to go to TV news to complain. Skyler, however, offers to pay for Hank's hospital bills and rehab instead, stating that Walt has the money to pay for them. Before Walt can stop her, Skyler explains that Walt had earned over a million dollars while combating a gambling addiction, which started as a way to pay his cancer bills and was the reason for his and Skyler's marital issues. When Walt asks afterwards how she crafted such a masterful lie, Skyler simply tells him "I learned from the best." As far as she's concerned, Walt’s the reason Hank is in the hospital.

This episode provides examples of:

  • Answer Cut: After Jesse and Walt's argument that they're getting screwed out of a profit by Los Pollos Hermanos, Jesse asks "What's more important than money?" Cut to Hank in the hospital.
  • Call-Back: Jesse is insulted that Saul is still charging him 17% as opposed to Walt's 5%. "Privileges of seniority."
  • Cold Open: The episode begins with a commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Skyler tells a bemused Marie that Walt made a fortune by applying strategy to illegal, high stakes gambling.
  • Double-Meaning Title: One theme in Franz Kafka's work is people being mere tools of systems and organizations far larger in scope than they can ever hope to be as individuals and the suffering that it causes. The rehab leader speaking to Jesse is right in that his description of his job does sound Kafkaesque, but the title could reasonably also refer to the Cold Open of Jesse and Walt's cooking, showing how many people are involved in Gus' poison-dealing machine.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: When Jesse gripes about having responsibilities as a criminal, Badger points out that "Darth Vader had responsibilities. He was responsible for the Death Star."
  • Food Porn: The Los Pollos cold open, which shows off how their chicken is cooked.
  • Half-Truth: Skyler reveals to Marie that Walt acquired "up to seven figures" worth of money via gambling. Her lengthy tale incorporates a couple truths (notably that Walt refused Gretchen's payment) but also some clear fibs (such as Walt's fugue state actually being real due to losing his family's life savings to a bad hand).
  • Just a Gangster: Jesse again fails to acclimate to the more professional side of lucrative crime, rejecting Saul's attempt to have him launder money — after all, why should a criminal need to pay taxes? — and even ripping off his ruthless employer to sell on the street again. His childish, myopic aversion to sensibly managing his fortune veers into Stupid Crooks territory.
  • Match Cut: The episode opens with a Los Pollos Hermanos commercial extolling the signature fried chicken. It ends with a shot of blue salt falling in front of a background, dissolving into a pile of Blue Sky being boxed up by Walter and Jesse at the superlab.
  • MegaCorp: The German company Madrigal Electromotive, which owns Los Pollos Hermanos. The name appears in the fine print of the Los Pollos Hermanos ad during the first twenty seconds of the episode. This is the first appearance, subtle as it is, of Madrigal Electromotive.
  • On a Scale from One to Ten: After Hank is injured, his doctor uses this to help determine how much feeling he has in his legs.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Defied. Saul recommends Jesse buy a nail salon to use as a money-laundering front. Jesse will have absolutely none of it.
    Jesse: What's the point of being an outlaw when you got responsibilities?
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: Skyler wants Walt's drug money to pay for Hank's treatment. Since they can't tell Marie that it's drug money, she quickly spins a tale about Walt gambling that also explains the falling out they had. It's so good that Walter himself begins to listen in awe.
  • Spotting the Thread: Between Leonel The Determinator still trying to kill him in impossible circumstances, receiving the Death Glare from Leonel, hearing Hank describe how a scrambled voice over the phone had warned him of the pending attack, and remembering Tuco's previous reference to "The Cousins", Walt figures out Gus Fring's strategy.
  • Stealing from the Till: Jesse's plan to under-report production to Walt, and skim the difference to sell on the side.
  • Suicide by Cop: Walt nearly kills himself through a car crash when he realises Gus basically owns him for three months but narrowly averts it when he realises self-determination is more important.
  • Title Drop: Jesse's rehab therapist calls Jesse's job, which he describes as a corporate laundromat with jerk bosses and soulless employees, "Kafkaesque." True to form for Jesse, however, is the fact that the situation isn't exactly a real nightmare; he just perceives it as one.

"Somehow, something tells me that Hank is here because of you. And I'm not forgetting that."