BREAKING BAD: YES, BUT…
Okay, to start off, before I get banned from the internet, this is not an anti-Breaking Bad post. I like Breaking Bad. I am very pro it. This is an I like it, but with qualifications post. I know that in this era everything has to be either The Best Show in History (TBSIH) or a Total Disaster, but I’d like to pretend there are some grades between A++++ and F minus. In the case of Breaking Bad, I’d like to pretend that the grade A -/B+ still exists, because that’s what I’d give it.
For those of you who can remember the days when teachers didn’t give everyone A++++’s just for showing up so they didn’t have to leave school feeling like you weren’t as good as anyone, the purpose of less than perfect grades wasn’t to say that if you got an A - you deserved to die. It was, optimistically, to tell you, there’s room for improvement. And here are things you have to look out for. A -/B + does not equal F, as painful as it might be for some to picture something you love being less than perfect.
We’re not doing Breaking Bad any favors by saying that every second of every episode is the best thing that’s ever been on television. Some episodes have been incredibly great. And others have been, frankly, uneven. If you don’t point out where it’s had missteps, you can’t appreciate where it get things really right. You cease to be an active viewer and just become a hysterical fanboy jumping up and down and clapping your hands with glee at the sight of the Chicken Brothers sign.
I won’t going into all the things that I think are good about Breaking Bad because frankly, you have the entire rest of the internet to do that. I’ll just say that it is a totally unique show in TV history and for that alone it has my support and respect.
There are reasons why I look to tomorrow night with guarded enthusiasm and concern about where the show could be headed and those reasons are:
• For me, the show hit its apotheosis at the end of Season Three with the plane crash. In that final arc, everything happened. Walt was enveloped by the consequences of what he’d become, he embraced the darkness and that darkness exploded upon the world.
• If this is a deep dramatic show about Walt’s character, since then frankly, it has been spinning its wheels. That S3 finale was so apocalyptic on such a personal level, that it’s never been able to recapture that inner darkness. The ending of last season may have been a more elaborate scenario but what Walt did with the plant and the kid wasn’t really a development over the place he was at two seasons ago, but a return to it.
• There has been this arc: Walt or Jesse gets freaked out by what they’ve become, tries to step back from gangster life, but realize they’re no longer any good for normal life so come around and embrace being gangsters. This arc has now been passed back and forth several times. At some point, it crosses over from realistic conflicted emotions to what we call, characters fighting the premise of the show. And at some point, the moping about having to be drug kingpins, while certainly understandable, gets a little tiresome. If they had limited themselves to just one bum out each, they could’ve taken over the Southwestern drug trade three seasons ago.
• In the place of character growth, the cartoonish elements of the show have grown and now, just about swallowed it. You had from the beginning these gothic, unreal elements, but they set off the intense, sunbaked, bitter realism of Walt’s life. Now, what with the Chicken Brothers and Saul and the Mexican hitmen twins, the whole show is in gothic cartoon land. Or at least it was at the end of last season. Walt can’t continue to be an intensely real character in an entirely cartoon world. Eventually, that tension can’t hold up.
• Maybe it would be more anchored if there were more supporting characters that had any weight to them, but there’s really not a single really fleshed out compelling character on this thing. Hank, Skylar, Walt Jr…all of them feel like dramatic foils just to keep things complicated for Hank. There’s not a one of them that I’d be willing to spend a full episode with. I know you need a mix of flat characters and round characters supposedly, but the whole point of this novelic approach to television is to be able to make characters infinitely richer and more complex. And I just don’t see the real complexity or shadows with the supporting characters on this. No fault of the actors, but none of them have taken me to any place that has surprised me yet. Gus did, in a Gothic way, but he’s dead.
• Unless I’m missing something, Walt just put a bomb on the bottom of the chair in the room that Gus was going to go into. So he didn’t need to poison the kid to get Jesse to get him into the hospital to get close. That whole thing didn’t pan out. The plant that they showed in the final show was beside the point, not the key to the whole plan. Some scientific criminal mastermind.
Other than that, happy Season Five Breaking Bad!