Breaking Bad! It’s back! It’s good! It’s still slow as hell! (Spoilers follow)
I’m not a huge champion of Breaking Bad, but I do like it for the most part. Bryan Cranston is great, and I love Bob Odenkirk as his sleazy lawyer, and Jonathan Banks is fantastic as Hitman Mike, and, well, that’s mostly it for me. But those three are enough to keep watching, even if I’m not particularly in love with the show as a whole, and think Jesse is one of the most unlikable and unsympathetic and irritating characters ever put on television, and Hank is boring unless he’s out shooting drug dealers, and don’t care much for Skyler or her sister or anyone else we spend time with, really.
Aside from some of the cast and characters, what turns me off Breaking Bad has to do with the incredibly slow pace of most of the shows. This is a show where, basically, one thing happens per episode. Often, that thing is great, and the achingly slow pace helps make the brief outbursts of hideous violence even more shocking and wrenching. But there’s plenty of drag that doesn’t ever really pay off, too. There was an episode last season where the entire show was about Walt trying to kill a fly in the lab. I get that it was a metaphor, but it didn’t take me forty-five minutes to get it, and it certainly didn’t warrant an entire episode devoted to it.
At times, and this is only my opinion, I feel like the show is specifically written to assist the producers with their set logistics. If you see, early on, someone walking into a hospital, you can bet that character is going to spend that entire show on that hospital set. One episode, I think it was last season, had Jesse going to find a drug dealer at the guy’s house. And I just sat there thinking, Jesse is going to be inside this house for the whole show, because this is the only set they wanted to use this week, so they told the writers to write enough stuff so they don’t have to leave the set. And Jesse spent the whole show there.
Maybe it was the only set they had that week. Maybe they can’t afford to jump around like crazy between different locations. Maybe it makes all the sense in the world, from a production standpoint, to shoot the show this way. But it’s often tiresome to watch, and it feels like the writers might be tied to certain locations for certain episodes and just don’t have any choice other than to write long, drawn-out scenes so the show can park itself on these sets for longer than they should be.
Anyway. The first episode of this season picked up before the last season ended, showing Gale essentially talking Gus Fring into hiring Walt to cook meth, which just made Gale’s death at the end of last season even more tragic. Gale was extremely likable, and didn’t deserve to be executed (okay, he was a drug manufacturer, but an enjoyably nebbishy one), and his pushing Gus to acquire Walt’s talents just added insult to fatal injury.
The cat-and-mouse game between Walt and Gus continues, and it’s just as hard to believe as it was at the end of last season. Walt clearly has a gift for cooking high-quality meth, and Gus wants to own that gift, because otherwise the incredibly refined and discerning tastes of Arizona’s meth addicts will not be met. Like, what? Won’t meth-heads just do whatever meth is available to them? Are they known for being snooty and picky about their meth supply? The writers tried to defend this by Gale saying his meth simply wasn’t as good as Walt’s, but I just don’t see meth addicts caring as much as Gale seems to imply.
“Oh, no, this will simply not do,” says a stinky meth head, his monocle popping out as he pulls a horrified expression. “This latest batch of meth is entirely substandard. Here I came to you, sir, in the hopes of securing a high-quality shipment of meth to meet my desires of staying up for three days and nights clawing at my withered arms in my trailer, and you sell me this slop? I demand a refund, and I shall be taking my business elsewhere. Good day, sir.”
Whatever. Last season, Walt, to save his and Jesse’s lives, had Jesse kill Gale, the only other person in Arizona who can cook meth, I guess, except for Victor, who has been watching Walt cook for weeks. Gus arrives at the lab and after Walt pleads his case (Bryan Cranston was great in this scene, trying to sound defiant and logical but clearly terrified), Gus slashes Victor’s throat with a box cutter, presumably both because Victor had allowed himself to be seen by witnesses at Gale’s murder scene, and also to send a message to Walt: “Don’t fuck with me.”
Oh, wait, that message in its entirety:
“Don’t fuck with me. At least, not any more than you already have. Which is a lot. In fact, you’ve been doing nothing but fucking with me for a while now. You’ve killed my dealers and my lab guy. But don’t continue to fuck with me or I will kill someone else! No, I won’t go after your wife or son or baby, even though they’d be the perfect leverage to use against you to make you keep cooking meth for me, but maybe I’ll kill someone else who is extremely useful to me who hasn’t really done anything wrong! Yes, that’s right, I’ll kill another one of my valuable employees if you fuck with me a fourth time!”
So, yeah, it doesn’t really make any sense at all. AMC: Story Matters Here, Sometimes.
Some interesting details, though, during Victor’s death: Hitman Mike’s utter horror and surprise at Gus killing Victor. He even (briefly) pointed his gun at Gus as his hitman-y reflexes kicked in. Something tells me this will not sit well with Hitman Mike: you can’t watch a fellow employee get his throat cut by your impassive boss and not wonder if you’ll be next. Finally, a henchman who sees another henchman get killed, and has a reasonable reaction to it. Also note: I love Hitman Mike.
Also, while Walt was nearly barfing at the scene, Jesse composed himself, leaned forward, and locked eyes with Gus as Victor died. He later enjoyed a hearty breakfast. I think he’s over it. He clearly struggled with executing Gale, but he’s turned a corner. Like he said, everyone’s cards are on the table. Gus knows they are willing to kill, they know Gus is willing to kill. Everyone can get back to work, at least for the meantime.
As for everyone else, Skyler is showing signs of getting comfortable with a life of crime, using her baby as a prop to illegally gain access to Walt’s apartment in another seven-hour long scene. She’ll be running things soon, I imagine. Hank is recuperating, slowly, bitterly, and won’t be any fun to watch until he’s back on his feet being a badass.
I also was excited to see a sneak-peek of The Walking Dead during the show. That promo consisted of the sheriff wordlessly caving in a zombie’s head with a rock. That was, uh, it. AMC: Story Matters Here. Sometimes. But Right Now, Here’s A Dude Crushing A Zombie Head. Also, considering Breaking Bad featured the most gruesome murder ever shown on TV (I think), a dude hitting a zombie in the face with a rock was pretty mild in comparison.