Who wants chicken? I know *I* did after watching the awesome commercial that opened tonight’s episode, but…did anyone else happen to read the tiny credit that ran across the bottom of the screen toward the beginning of the ad? “Los Pollos Hermanos, Inc. is a registered trademark of Madrigal Electromotive.” I don’t think we’ve ever heard anything about this parent company before, but I’m suddenly beginning to wonder if this means that we’re going to see Walt working his way even higher up the chain of command in this operation. One thing’s for certain: he and Jesse are making up for lost time with their production. I loved the cut from the chicken in the commercial to the meth in the lab, and seeing them put the baggies into the contains of batter made me realize what a well-oiled machine Gus has going for him. Indeed, for one brief moment, I allowed myself to think, “Walt and Jesse are finally back on track and proving once again that, when they actually roll up their sleeves and get down to business, they’re capable of big things.”

It didn’t last, of course.

Chalk it up to being drug-free, but Jesse’s been more than a little schizo lately. Last week, I referred to him as being “about as loud, obnoxious, and useless as any human being can be,” but this week, in addition to working perfectly alongside Walt, he’s suddenly talking about how he’s been checking the numbers and has now decided that the deal they have with Gus is, in his words, “bullshit.” Walt seems astonished by this change in attitude (“You’re now a millionaire, and you’re complaining…?”) and can’t even be bothered to discuss the matter with Jesse, who asks outright, mostly to himself, “What’s more important than money?” Not therapy, apparently. He’s continuing to attend his meetings, which is something, I suppose, and they clearly still serve as opportunity for him to get a few things out of his system, as evidenced by blending of a fictional job at a laundromat with shards of reality (“My boss is a dick, the owner a super-dick”) and his highly illuminating story about the wooden box. But after he made the very foolish decision to step out into his own dealership and allowed Badger and Skinny hijack the therapy session in order to promote the return of the blue meth to the area…? That’s a brand new low.

That reminds me: was anyone else having “Superman III” / “Office Space” flashbacks tonight? Jesse’s clearly planning to skim the excess meth from Walt’s haphazardly measured containers, which immediately brought to mind Richard Pryor’s character’s plan to skim half-cents off the paychecks at Webscoe Industries. And what was the name of that character?


We’re through the looking glass here, people…

Hank’s still in the hospital, of course, though he’s recovered enough to be able to call his former partner an asshole when he comes to visit him. As it turns out, Steve’s come with a gift for Hank: not only has he been tracking the blue meth, but it appears that Hank was right about it all along. (Like this is a shock to any of us.) Hank can’t feel the excitement through the pain, however, leading Marie to all but hiss, “No more shop talk!” This was probably best, since Walt was trying and noticeably failing in his attempt to hide his nervousness about the discussion. But, then, Walt’s always been an open book for anyone who could be bothered to actually try to read him. As soon as Hank started talking about his warning call, you could see Hank mulling it over in his head, trying to figure out who might’ve made such a call, and even after he goes out to the parking lot, it’s clearly still on his mind. Obviously, it was on Skyler’s mind, too, as she joins him in his vehicle. He assures her that he didn’t have anything to do with it, but she’s not concerned about that, anyway. She only has one simple question: “Are we safe?”

It’s a valid question, one which immediately sends Walt on a trip to see Gus, resulting in a nice shot of Walt driving into the complex as the Los Pollos Hermanos trucks are driving out and, as he arrives, finds Gus waiting for him. Gus, as usual, is as cool as a cucumber, wondering casually how Hank is doing, but Walt quickly makes a demand for all cards to be put on the table. It’s so funny to watch Walt try to act as though he’s in the same league as Gus, saying things like, “In your position, I would’ve done the same,” only to have Gus give him a look that somehow manages to be half blank stare and half weary amusement. Finally, Walt asked the question that we’ve all been wondering: what happens at the end of 3 months? What happens, it seems, is that Walt signs on for another three months…and another and another and another. The half-hearted attempt at suicide initially came as a bit of a shock to me, but I guess the realization that he’s basically stuck in this situation until he finds the balls to get out of it was just too much for him to handle. Good thing his inherent cowardice kept him for making good on the attempt.

Now we come back to Hank’s condition…or, more specifically, Marie’s discussions about Hank’s condition. The doc – played by Mark Harelik, who I always think of for his work in “Election” – explains that Hank’s doing okay, but there’s still a long road ahead, and although the odds of walking are there, they ain’t as great as they could be. When the discussions about physical therapy start, however, things go downhill fast. I’m sure any of us who’ve had to deal with insurance companies were thoroughly sympathetic to what poor Marie was having to deal with: she knows what he needs, the doctor concurs, but he’s between a rock and a hard place, so he’s forced to describe Hank’s in-plan options as being “mostly fine,” eventually conceding that the insurance company is towing a line that’s medically justifiable but not absolutely optimal. Marie counters with her highly reasonable argument: if Hank gets more physical therapy with a better therapist, then it’s more likely that he might be able to walk again. The realism of the conversations in this sequence made it arguably one of the most painful scenes this season, and that’s really saying something… but, then, this was something that you could imagine actually happening to you.

I knew that Skyler was going to call on Walt and get him to use some of his ill-begotten funds to help pay for Hank’s medical expenses. What I didn’t expect, however, was the elaborate tale she spun to get away with explaining this cash influx to Marie. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one grinning as Skyler let rip with her lengthy tale, filling in all the holes in the back story to make it fit just so, leaving Walt to collect his jaw from the floor. He did manage to one-up her for a moment at the end – when he suggested that the amount of “winnings” entered the seven-figure range, her expression clarified that she hadn’t realized just how much money was involved – but she finished strong nonetheless.

A few random bits to close:

* Looks like Ted’s window has closed, the poor bastard. Somehow, though, I don’t think he’s just going to sit back and accept it.

* How awesome was “Money Laundering 101 with Saul Goodman”? Am I crazy, or have we reached a point where Saul is now officially making more reasonable decisions than just about any other person on this show?

* The use of Howard Jones’ “New Song” during the meeting of the Brain Trust (Jesse, Badger, and Skinny) was downright inspired. “Throw off your mental chains,” indeed…