Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Breaking Bad is so much fun, I am Walter and I stink!

We started watching Breaking Bad the week it went off the air.

Well, that's not entirely true. I tried it once before, saw the now-famous opening sequence of Bryan Cranston driving an RV in a dress shirt and tighty-whiteys, couldn't understand the appeal of the show, turned it off and then didn't think about it for the next three months.

My friends Jen and Tim loved it, though, so I decided to give it another chance. It became awesome approximately three milliseconds after I stopped watching the first time, and stayed that way right up until the end.

This is going to both have a ton of spoilers and be pretty meaningless if you haven't seen the show, so consider yourself warned.

We were kind of dumb to start watching just as the show was ending, because I read a lot of stuff online, and coverage of Breaking Bad was absolutely ubiquitous. I'd think I was safe in reading an article about the Supreme Court granting cert to a case, and then all of a sudden, the author would throw in a gratuitous reference to Breaking Bad.

Walter: I really liked the deconstruction of the anti-hero. What's the difference between Walter White and the crew of the Serenity? Better press. It's nice to see a villain treated as such for once. He's such a jerk, an angry entitled nerd who thinks the world owes him something because he's smart. He's fascinating to watch, because he never stops thinking of himself as the good guy, right up to his "I did it for me speech".

I liked Skyler a lot. There were moments when I couldn't condone the actions she took, I generally liked her. I understand she had some vitriolic detractors. Anna Gunn penned an op-ed after the series ended.

Jesse: I'm not the first to observe this, but I like how he can never quite shake his upper middle class roots, and calls Walter "Mr. White" right up until the very end. A friend said that her tattoo artist hated Jesse. How can you hate Jesse?! I think she said it was because of all the crying. (The militia guys said something similar when they were watching the testimony Hank recorded. "Does he cry the whole way through?" or something)

I really liked the transformation in Hank across the series. He goes from this racist buffoon to the closest thing we see to a hero in the entire show. It reminds me of something Zelazny said about writing Damnation Alley, which was written in the style of an author he admired, who tended to structure his stories with a good man falling and a bad man rising up, with the drama coming as they encounter each in the middle.

RJ Mitte as Walter Junior was fun to watch. I loved how he went off on his dad at the end. I'm glad a legitimately disabled actor was cast in the role, as well. It's a small thing, but it matters to me.

Marie was interesting. Her shoplifting arc was interesting. I think I liked her when the intervention for Walt in an early episode and she spoke up in support of him, saying that he deserved the dignity of making the choice on whether to receive medical care, and the goodwill from that act was enough to sustain her for the entire series.

Gus was wonderful too. I have another piece almost completed about how AWFUL Once Upon a Time is, and it's funny to see Giancarlo Esposito being great in this show and terrible in that one. Such an interesting character, played to perfection. I even liked the way that he died. 

Every time Lydia came on the screen, I would start singing, "Lydia, oh, Lydia," and Jen after a time, Jen would say, "I don't know that song," and I'd say "It's a fairly well known song." I was thrilled to see that Matt Damon-looking kid had it set as her ringtone for her number.

See a theme here? I can't think of any characters I actively disliked. (Okay, maybe Badger) The show had some rough spots (the Magical Mexicans,

Pictured: Los Douchebag Hermanos

Mike's progression from smart ex-cop to impossibly competent special forces ninja samurai super-genius, the occasional moment of "exactly as planned" Death Note-nonsense from Walter/Plot-Induced Stupidity from Walt's adversaries (Mike's death was probably the worst) but it always rebounded from these stumbles and ranks among the best TV I've ever seen. 

I think "To'hajiilee"  the episode where Walt gets snookered by Hank and arrested and then rescued by the militia was astounding.

The finale wasn't AS good, but it was still pretty great. I like the "I did it for me" speech bit.

The bit with the machine gun reminded me of a story a family friend told me once about another chemist he used to work with down in Jersey. He had this plan to mail order machine gun parts, assemble them and sell the completed product. Well, even in in pre-September 11th America, the government was on top of that kind of thing. As I recall the story, he got off lucky in that they only confiscated his stuff.

One thing I like about British TV is the shorter seasons. They have a story to tell and they tell it and when it's done, it's over. Breaking Bad was similar to that. Whenever the formula was threatening to get stale, the show transformed itself. I thought this was well-woven into the narrative, as a consequence of Walt's swallow the spider to catch the fly method of problem solving. I can't think of a single show that's been as consistently excellent across its run as Breaking Bad.


  1. Excellent post! Jesse is awesome. Yes, he didn't like Jesse because of all the crying later in the series. That's a great pic of Walter.

    1. I wonder with Jesse if there isn't some kind of victim blaming going on. I remember in certain scenes, like where he was trying to talk Mike down from killing Walt, and he's going on about how great Mr. White is, and I'm thinking "Open your eyes, Jesse!"

      It's not fair to blame someone who's been fooled. By right, the blame belongs with the deciever. And we have resources that Jesse doesn't. It's not like he has the metatextual awareness of Grover in "There's a Monster at the end of this book". And as far knew, Walter was always good to him. Jesse acted rationally based on the information he had, and yet, I think a lot of people blame him for being fooled.

      It's an understandable and far too common reaction to blame the victim. That doesn't make it right, of course, but I think that might be some of the reason why some people turned on Jesse.

      Also, I liked the content of Anna Gunn's piece, but boy howdy is she a lousy writer. She should have had someone touch that up.