Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Review: Breaking Bad

I remember hearing about "Breaking Bad" from when I sometimes watch movies on AMC, but after my disappointment with the premiere of "Mad Men" I didn't really pay it much mind.  Michael Offutt kept talking about it and then for a guest post on his blog I decided to involve the show in my post, so I figured I needed to watch a few episodes.  And from there on I was hooked for the most part.

The premise of the show from the pilot is there's a fairly normal chemistry teacher in Albuquerque named Walter White.  He's just turned fifty, he's got a teenage son with cerebral palsy, a devoted wife, and another kid on the way.  Things aren't great financially but they're getting by.

That is until Walt is diagnosed with lung cancer, despite that he's never smoked.  He's not given long to live, so he realizes he needs to get some money for his family.  But how?

Then he goes on a ride along with his DEA agent brother-in-law and ends up meeting crystal meth cook (and addict) Jesse Pinkman.  Walt teams up with Jesse to make some really awesome crystal meth in an RV out on an Indian reservation where no one will notice them.

From there most of the show revolves around all the various problems that come up for Walt and Jesse.  I think there was a rap that went "It ain't easy bein' a pimp" and the theme for "Breaking Bad" could be, "It ain't easy bein' a meth cook."  Here are just some of the problems they run into:

  • Two small-time dealer/distributors finding out about the RV
  • Disposing of said dealer/distributors
  • Hooking up with a bigger, psychotic distributor
  • Trying to survive said bigger, psychotic distributor
  • Explaining to the wife why he disappeared for days thanks to psychotic distributor
  • Explaining a second cell phone (which Walt isn't really successful at)
  • Obtaining chemical metha-something which necessitates breaking and entering
  • Turf war with other dealers
  • DEA agent brother-in-law tracking their "blue meth"
  • RV breaking down
  • Jesse getting too wasted to function
  • Jesse's girlfriend finding out about what he does
  • Choosing between delivering huge shipment of meth or going to birth of child
  • Wife finding out about what Walt does
  • Wife having affair with her boss
  • New lab assistant who seeks to replace Walt
  • Disposing of said lab assistant
  • A fly contaminating the lab
  • Laundering the millions of dollars coming in 
  • Escaping the wrath of the Mexican drug cartel
  • Escaping the wrath of Gustavo the Chicken Man
  • Disposing of Gustavo the Chicken Man
  • Wife's boss getting in trouble with the IRS
  • Destroying the evidence of Chicken Man's operation
  • Setting up a new meth cooking operation
  • Disposing of the Chicken Man's henchmen in prison
  • Winning the hearts and minds of wife and son (which Walt isn't really successful at on the wife front)
And yeah that probably just scratches the surface.  Especially in the first four seasons, whenever it seemed Walt was finally set with the money he needed (he estimated at least $737,000) some other disaster would crop up.

As I said in my "Strategery" guest post, I enjoyed the meth cooking parts and all the true crime-type stuff.  The family drama stuff got boring.  In the second and third seasons there are stretches where Walt and Jesse are going to stop cooking meth.  Those are the parts that get kind of boring, in large part because you know they aren't going to stop cooking meth for long, so it seems like vamping.

If I had watched the series when it actually aired, I might have given up in the third season.  Once Walt's wife Skyler finds out (almost out of the blue she deduces it too) she turns into this huge bitch (and in season 4 she's literally HUGE) and the scenes with her and Walt are usually as warm as in "Citizen Kane" where him and wife sit at the breakfast table after years of marriage with nothing to say to each other and barely-hidden contempt for each other.  And then after Hank gets shot and he turns into a whiny bitch it really wasn't an added incentive to watch.

I think what especially saved the fourth season were the secondary characters like sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, grizzled "fixer" Mike, and smooth operator Gustavo Fring (The Chicken Man).  Fring especially became awesome in that fourth season.  In the third season he just seemed like this nerdy black guy who owns chicken restaurants and happens to run a huge meth syndicate.  I mean the guy ran the operation largely out of his tiny office in a chicken restaurant, drove a Volvo, and lived in an ordinary house; not exactly "Scarface" or "The Godfather" there.  In the fourth season he shows his inner Michael Corleone, especially when he deals with the Mexican cartel.  And the riveting scene where he calmly puts on a rubber suit and then slashes a guy's jugular with a box cutter without saying a word.

In my first blog, though I said it's a problem if the secondary characters start eating more time and are more interesting than the primary ones.  Especially in a TV series the stars of the show are supposed to be your stars.  If guest stars are overshadowing them, then it's a problem.

The end of the fourth season, while pretty cool, is one of those annoying twist endings that relies on the audience discarding much of what we know about a character.  It also relies on precognizance bordering on ESP.  I mean for Walt's plan to actually work A) We have to discard what we think we know about him in terms of his homicidal tendencies and B) He has to be several steps ahead of the Chicken Man, which up to that point had not been the case.  But it was nice to see Walt outsmart Gus and thus reclaim his role as the focal point of the series.

To give you an idea how into the show I got, I paid $13.99 to get the first half of the fifth season on Amazon.  By that time it had already aired on AMC and apparently from their website they weren't reairing it any time soon.  (Nor was it On Demand and Netflix only has through season 4).  I didn't want to wait months to see what happened next, so I shelled out the money.  (The good thing about Amazon was I could buy the whole half-season at a slight discount per episode.)

Season 5 epitomizes another problem I have, which is that Walt is a wishy-washy badass.  Especially in this season he bullies his wife and gets tough with a new distributor, but still if it comes to a real fight he's kind of a pussy.  The only way he can kill anyone is if it's a sneak attack or he gets someone else to do it for him.  If you're toe-to-toe with him, though, you can still push him around pretty easy because come on he's a 51-year-old cancer patient, not some big tough young guy.  So sometimes he's Scarface and sometimes he's just a bitch, yo.

It's kind of funny how in Season 5 Jesse becomes the voice of reason.  When they need to erase some data on a laptop in police custody, he's the one who comes up with the plan.  When they need to hijack some metha-whatever from a train, he's the one who comes up with the basic plan.  When did he get so smart?  Maybe when he got off the drugs?

Anyway, overall though I enjoy the show.  I definitely want to see how it turns out next summer.  I mean what the hell is Walt doing a year from where the season ended with a .50-caliber machine gun in his trunk?  Is he going to go out in "Say hello to my little friend" fashion?  Hurm.

So I'd definitely recommend watching it.  It was a definite improvement over "Mad Men."  I'm just saying.

Check back tomorrow for a BIG BIG BIIIIIIIIIIIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!!! (Did I mention it's big?)


  1. Sounds like a really big announcement. I'll be sure to check back for it.

  2. This post outlines all the reasons why I could never take Breaking Bad seriously. Half the reason critics love it is because Bryan Cranston is a revelation in the show, or was when it debuted, and they can't change their mind now. That's how critics roll.

    It's basically a show that juxtaposes something audiences can be sympathetic about (and judging from your thoughts you care nothing about that aspect of it) with something they shouldn't (which judging from your the whole reason you like it). Like The Sopranos or Dexter it's just another cable TV show that does something with bad characters that seems like it compares favorably with movies that have done the same. It's much harder than critics (and the audiences that latch onto them) are willing to admit for a TV show to pull this off. It's basically a bunch of people agreeing that "edgy" is automatically a good thing. It's not. It's the equivalent of those SyFy movies everyone knocks and some people enjoy guiltily.

  3. Oh, you and Donald Trump have/had something in common. That being the "Big Announcement." I'm sure it will be as profound.

    1. Well we're both probably bald too, though I don't hide it like he does. Anyway, you already know half the big announcement.

  4. I watched the first season but got really tired of all of the sleight of hand the writers played, like at the beginning of the first episode when you are hearing police sirens, but, then, at the end of the episode, it turns out to be fire trucks. I don't like that kind of manipulation.
    The part where he throws down the little explosive crystals he made was the only part I really liked from the whole 1st season, and that wasn't enough to get me to keep watching.



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