Sunday, September 15, 2013

Breaking Bad 6.1-6.3

Or however you want to number these new episodes. I’m a little behind, but I’ll post my thoughts as I go along.


The world of Breaking Bad has been rotting from the inside out since the first episode, the present (future) state of Walt’s house in the opening scene being the latest, bleakest evidence.

Speaking of rot, Walt’s cancer is back. This seems like a sudden, soft revelation, but the show’s writers don’t do anything lazily, so I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to be found in the previous episodes, in hindsight. Or, it’s introduced in a way that makes it beside the point, which would be appropriate. And yet, for a while now, the only possible way I’ve imagined the series ending is with Walt’s cancer returning and killing him, per the original premise (final structure: terminal, solutions revealed as digressions). Come to think of it, he doesn’t look very well in the opening flash forward scene.

Breaking Bad becomes the second great AMC show to feature a character pitching a Star Trek episode. Badger’s concept for a pie-eating contest episode, in which the contents of Chekov’s stomach are beamed into outer space, sounds funnier and more wildly creative than the sober, allegorical script that Paul Kinsey gives to Harry Crane on Mad Men (but likely to remain unwritten). It’d be interesting to think of Badger and Paul as versions of the same guy in different contexts, so that what makes Badger funny, lazy, unconcerned (riffing with Skinny Pete), and what makes Paul serious, hardworking, desperate (pleading with Harry), are all the forces in their respective shows beyond their selves.

I’m still amazed by Breaking Bad’s efficiency. The main purpose of this episode is to get Walt and Hank to each acknowledge what the other knows. I could’ve predicted this playing out over a number of episodes, but even within one, it doesn’t feel rushed. And, funny enough, it almost doesn’t happen, but two small black objects (a tracking device, a garage door opener), and one of Walt’s frozen moments of misplaced pride, make it possible.

Jesse’s slack, stony mask of guilt and despair, sometimes broken with moments of vein-popping anguish, has long been the soul of this show, and Aaron Paul still finds new levels of inner torment to half-convey. When he looks sidelong toward the camera, away from Walt’s latest lie, there’s no sense that he’s looking at us, or anywhere closer than a million miles from here.


Skyler continues to get all the best lines. “Am I being arrested?” is nearly as shocking a moment as “I protect this family from the man who protects this family,” and another example of Skyler’s ability, on this show of towering lies, to perceive the reality of any given moment. Let’s not forget that she started the series as an apparently non-working writer, while proving her talents in her field every step of the way. She’s the show’s only successful liar, she manufactures its most convincing stories, and, given a little time to overcome the routine of a life with a man she thought she knew, she always figures out what’s going on.

I’ve read arguments in which Breaking Bad’s self-conscious trick shots are used as an example of what keeps it from the level of cinema. Well, it’s not cinema, it’s a TV show (although, that shot a number of seasons ago in which Walt lands a whole pizza on his garage roof is certainly an example of pure cinema), but I’ve always found these trick shots to be synonymous with what makes the show work, the way it hyper-adrenalizes every smallest fiber of its production. I liked this episode’s money barrel and merry go round shots, and the latter’s misty playground location—further amplification of the show’s raw materials. I never walked through a park like that in Albuquerque.

The comic relief duo (as I’ll call them, though I do remember that one is named Huell) has a great moment in the Whites’ storage container. I always thought the show made too much of Huell’s physical difference, but his decision to lie down on the money pile shows unusual agency, for him, and makes for a good visual concept.


This is the episode I was waiting for: the meeting of the now sparring in-laws takes place at Garduno’s, a restaurant in Albuquerque that would be closed for filming the day after I ate there with my own “in-laws” back in April. Look close enough and you might catch the shadow of our exit. No, you’ll be too transfixed by the scene, which features a lot of standard Walt hypocrisy, as when he demands Hank and Marie leave his kids out of the situation, while trying to use the image of Walt Jr.’s unraveled life as a way of getting Hank to back off.

Walt’s confession is a doozy, and overcomes so many leaps of logic that it seems pretty certain Skyler wrote it.

My only hope for this show’s outcome is that Jesse lives to see the possibility of a future. I’m not the only one. Breaking Bad knows we demand this, and cleverly taunts us with Jesse’s near-getaway. It looks like he blew that chance, but since his ongoing misery has something to do with his feeling of being jerked around by Walt for five seasons, his helplessness in the face of all the damage he’s caused, it seems pretty essential that he finally take an active role in his life and do something drastic, even if only by way of revenge.

Walt imagines for Jesse a future when all the events of the series might seem to Jesse like a bad dream. “It was all a dream” is the worst way to end a story, but, in a different sense, the only legitimate one.


“Lyrics are lyrics and poetry is poetry.” I read that somewhere recently, and agreed with it, and wanted to include it here for fear that history and my own published writing might appear to place me on the wrong side of truth. Earlier, I wrote that Julia Holter’s lyrics “constitute an actual poetry whose…” and very nearly included a footnote* with this statement, but decided it would be best to avoid overcomplicating the review.

*“Contrary to popular belief, lyrics are not poetry set to music. Holter proves this by way of exception.” Or something like that.

The other thing I tend to do is use the word “poetry” in reference to truth and beauty, rather than form. So when I wrote about Laura Veirs’s “America” and mentioned “the force of its poetry,” I can be accused of bad writing but hopefully not of mistaking Veirs’s lyrics for something else.


Since The World’s End is an Edgar Wright movie, all its greatness was sufficiently evident to me in the way it uses its soundtrack (the music, I mean, though the way a ringing bell entirely contains one long Simon Pegg speech is further proof of these guys’ art). The movie’s first four prominently heard songs, all early 90s, perfectly match their corresponding emotional/visual elements, and set the parameters of the universe Pegg’s character aims to recapture—for his pals and, yes (a sad discovery), himself. He’s ultimately failed to convince himself he still lives in that universe, even if the tape is still in his car’s deck:

Primal Scream, “Loaded”
Soup Dragons, “Free”
Suede, “So Young”
Teenage Fanclub, “What You Do To Me”

It’s not all bad news for Gary King. Three of those bands are still active, and two have excellent albums from this year.

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