Monday, October 28, 2013

Breaking Bad 6.4-6.8

These comments will probably seem as quaint as the events of “Rabid Dog,” for example, seem after watching “Ozymandias,” but, in honor of maybe the first TV drama that ever truly ended, I didn’t want to leave this unfinished.


There have never, ever been that many people in Civic Plaza, not when Los Lobos isn’t playing a free show. Hank calls it the “most wide open public place in all of Albuquerque,” to reassure Jesse, and it’s true, but can you call it a public place when no member of the public has ever been there? Still, the weirdly populated depiction (food carts?!; children?!) of a reliably empty place is another of this show’s crucial amplifications, where reality’s overwhelming realness sets the course of events.

Skyler and Walt’s inability to say the word “murder” as they discuss killing Jesse, moments after Walt’s impatience with Saul’s euphemisms, is pretty funny. It’s easy to forget how timid these people remain on the subject of death.


I love the way that, even now, at the finale of one the most heavily plotted shows ever, characters are still allowed to have quiet private moments (though, given the nature of the show/the plot, these sometimes appear to be moments of cryptic motivation, initially, somewhat masking the beauty): Todd erasing the edge of Lydia’s lipstick on a coffee mug; Walt regarding Skyler and Walt Jr. at the car wash register before getting Jesse’s (Hank’s) fateful text.

I sensed as it was happening, and I think I was right, that the moment when Walt Jr. is star struck by Saul Goodman at the car wash (priceless!) would be Breaking Bad’s last straightforward comic moment (key word straightforward; almost everything in this show is funny from a certain angle).


“Sorry for your loss,” says Todd. He’s often described as the show’s ultimate psychopath, but I always saw him as just really dumb, eager to be useful and, therefore, to prove he knows what’s necessary. Maybe he’d even avoid killing someone if he didn’t see it as practical! (Or not; more about this in the next episode.) So when he says that to Walt I think he stupidly means it, as much as he’s able, and that he’s not trying to reinforce the evilness of Jack’s gang. It’s quite the opposite when Walt tells Jesse the truth about Jane – evil compounded.

So far the story of Skyler and Walt Jr. has been the equivalent of that great Pistol Annies song from this year, “Trading One Heartbreak for Another” (i.e. trading a monster for a fractured home), in particular that moment when the knife in Angaleena Presley’s heart goes in even deeper, with the realization that “he’ll always have me to blame.” I’ve admired the way this show has always protected Walt Jr.’s innocence (how easy it would have been to cut away to a scene of teenage drug use, or Walt Jr. reacting to confusion in some equally ineffective way) even as it’s been the cause of so much pain for Skyler. So that was satisfying when, during the frenetic interior scene (the kind that usually involves cocaine) of domestic violence we’ve all been waiting for (I love how an echo of the episode’s opening flashback, with knife and phone, introduces the scene), he responds to the chaos with something resembling clarity and finally takes his mother’s side. Innocence maintained!

Walt shakes Jack’s hand again, and this time, in daylight and from the opposite angle, we can see the swastika tattoo.

There is, again, a direct correlation between the deterioration of Walt’s physical condition and the amount of physical work he has to do. His cancer has returned, so he must roll a barrel full of cash through the desert.


Robert Forster. That was some brilliant casting, and certainly the appearance of the long-rumored vacuum man was contingent on getting an actor like Forster.

I’m very, very upset that Andrea had to die. It makes no sense and strikes me as the kind of mistake the show couldn’t afford to make in its final episodes since, by calling attention to the hand of the writers, the plausibility of every other decision is brought into question. It’s not that Jesse had anything left to live for, because already he didn’t, and it’s not that I saw Todd as the kind of clueless yet practical guy who would recognize that a bluff would be good enough to retrain Jesse (“I think she got the message,” he says to Lydia, about Skyler). No, it was just the last body/last straw that finally turned this show into a game of who lives and who dies, also an occasional shortcoming of the even bleaker Walking Dead. Up until now every awful thing on this show had a way of deepening an already overwhelming horror, but this time all I felt was a lapse into the void of inconsequence.


There’s a theory that the finale is a fantasy playing out in Walt’s head as he freezes to death in a car in New Hampshire? As far as trick finales go that wouldn’t have been so bad, as it would’ve been a clear response to the helplessness and dislocation of the previous episode. But I don’t see how the finale was any more fantastical than the rest of the series, nor how anyone could have expected that this modern yet far from revisionist Western would end with Walt dying on any but his own (vastly reduced, according to the original premise, but still his own) terms. He’s already mostly dead when he returns to Albuquerque, half-ghost half-myth, and carries out his final errands with floating ease. What happens really happens, literally, and yet… TV rarely requires interpretation beyond the level of, say, character motivation, and Breaking Bad, with its real locations and plausibility as a sturdy backdrop, has mostly inspired more of the same. So, unconvincing as I think the finale theories are, I’m glad that the perhaps implausible efficiency of Walt’s exit has opened the show up to consideration of its let’s say figurative language.

Jesse lives, and for what? Nothing, probably. That’s been obvious for a long, long time, and anything else would be wishful thinking, so how perfect that the last of Jesse is a flash of relief as he speeds away. That’s the rest of his life, right there. Paired with the beautiful vision of his box-making triumph (the show’s final non-narrative flourish), Jesse’s exit allows him to retain his soul, something that would no doubt prove impossible if we followed him another minute.

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