One of the less productive things I did over over the New Years was watch the entire run of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad with my Mom while she was visiting. In our defence… have you watched Walter White’s life story? Just heartbreak.
It wasn’t the first time I tried to watch Cranston’s Walter White. I remember making it through the first two seasons at the tale end of a bad long-term relationship and when I was watching the show the subtext was just killing me. You have Walter White and Skyler (his wife) just constantly lying to one another while at the same time condemning the other for being deceptive.
I thought a few years would make it less difficult to watch but instead my audience/empathy hat just went to Jesse Pinkman and his plight instead. Life is difficult when you are seeking your life purpose, but what happens when your only telos (function) is making crystal meth better than anyone else. This feels like Macbeth… if Shakespeare wrote about homicidal mexicans and illicit drugs.
What follows would probably be considered spoiler-laden, but when the series finale is coming up this fall, you should know better. It’s not often where I feel a television show gets better as time passes, but the 3rd season of Breaking Bad is like watching a show with the sword of Damacles hanging over your head. Like Jenji Kohan’s Weeds we have a central figure who has to resort to illegal means just to get by… then they get a taste of actual “profit” … then season 2 and 3 come along where they learn there is no room for growth, that there are bigger fish, and they have only made themselves noticed. What I love about Breaking Bad though is at the end of season 3 where Walter, being the smart yet cornered man, he realizes there is a power vacuum that needs to be filled.
That being said I have never felt so conflicted about how I feel about a actual protagonist before… meaning most of the time I feel like I would have made similar choices as Walter up until the “power grab” and minus assisting in Jesse’s girlfriend’s death. The strengths of Gilligan’s writing and of course Paul and Cranston’s performances are what make the decisions that they make… plausible.
But like a great movie… this show “had” a great antagonist. To say Gus came out of left field as a threatening villain is understated. Portrayed by under appreciated character actor Giancarlo Esposito’s this chilean mexican gentleman has a great public image… but also owns a huge fried chicken chain that distributes crystal meth across the state. Gus was civil yet terrifying in how he was so capable of putting Walter White in his place and if it wasn’t for Jesse he would have never stood a chance. I miss Gus.
But most heart wrenching about this show is Hank and Flynn. Walter’s son as well as his brother in law hold him in such high esteem that it is a slow turning knife waiting for Walter either to come clean or for the truth to come out on its own. Right now I feel like Flynn has a good head on his shoulders. He’ll be fine, but Hank… oh boy he has had the short end on this show.
I feel like Skylar is the “Betty” of the show and if you watch Mad Men you know where I am coming from then, which is unfortunate where there are so few female roles on this show . Really it comes down to Skylar, her sister, Jesse’s two love interests and a few meth heads. No one wants to be hated like Betty, but it is hard watching a man dealing with cancer that only wants to protect his family get chewed out by his wife season after season, while she’s cheating on him and committing fraud at the same time. Then when Walter falls further down the metaphorical well… it gets difficult to side with him when he’s… frankly… being the bad guy… which is what I think the arc of the show is going for all along.
On a cool side note I saw Cranston perform as Lester Burnham back in September during the Toronto International Film Festival and it was surreal watching in Season 4 these really intense dinner scenes between Walter and Skyler sitting across from one another with poor Walt Jr. sitting in the middle. I have to assume it was intentional on Gilligan’s part to shoot those scenes almost identical (with genders on opposite sides). Even the lighting is similar.
I don’t want to make predictions(I’m enjoying the ride) but like previous seasons, Season 5’s first scene is a flash forward.We know Walter has a head of hair and is up in New Hampshire, and correct me if I remember this wrong but there was no indication of his family or of Jesse.
Just my humble opinion, there are three shows on television that I would describe as something better than TV audiences deserve. This is one of the them. July can’t get here soon enough.