I wanted to get Breaking Bad out of the way before I dive, and "Fly" was probably the worst episode to watch before Lost. It was a brilliant episode--if not to say totally bizarre. Last week's episode was named "Kafkaesque" and this week's episode could have been called that as well.
The first half of the episode is a flat out weird sequence of events. After talking with Jesse about lower than expected yields, Walter spots a fly and this new obsession to get rid of the contaminant arises. I was ready to write off the episode and trash it, and rightfully so. Their antics going after fly kept dragging on and went nowhere other than a couple sight gags.
Then, the episode takes a huge turn and from there the episode becomes, inescapably, a tour de force, a riveting ride, exposing the inner layers of these characters, slowly shedding aside all inhibitions. The pieces come together and there is some reason for the insanity. Walter forcing Jesse to stay leads to Jesse's story about his aunt's obsession brought on my cancer and finally, Walter's monologue, a mindblowing discussion, brought on by a lack of sleep, of the perfect moment to die. He ponders when, the exact moment in the past, it would have been optimal to die. At first, he's the cold, calculating Walt, choosing based on money but soon settles on the night Jane died while Skyler was singing to the baby, before going to Jesse's house. Again, Bryan Cranston owned the episode and the directing by Rian Johnson was as good as it gets.
Later, as Jesse climbs the ladder to kill the fly, Walter comes perilously close to telling Jesse the truth about Jane's death. He leaves it as "I'm sorry," not elaborating on what he means. Jesse assumes it's the kind of sorry when one feels bad for another, not the I stood by and let your girlfriend die kind. Jesse eventually does kill the fly and Walt goes back to his room only to find another fly.
In terms of story advancement, the episode had none other than Walt telling Jesse that he can't protect him if he is skimming off the top. We know he is and will continue to do so. And if Walt can't protect him, what happens to Jesse?
Was it a normal episode of television? No. Was it an exciting episode of television? No, my heartbeat was constant throughout. Did the episode advance the plot? A tiny bit. Breaking Bad is a show that actively defies convention and "Fly" was a perfect example. Using two characters and a single setting, the bare simplicity was able to convey more than most shows do in a season.