Breaking Bad Is Back, Good, Slow

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.


  1. Whoops, I foolishly recommended this show to you. What a fool I am! Fuck!

    I can understand the criticism of the pace and setting (in fact, I remember reading an account by someone who had worked on that fly episode’s set. This person claimed that this was a money saver episode that was intentionally limited to one set, but I never thought to consider how many of the other episodes are like that too).

    Personally, I appreciate the unusual pacing, but then, I enjoy the “unusual pacing” of haughty classic literature (not that I’m making a comparison in quality here though I probably like the show more than you do, but not by *that* much). If the show is surviving by cutting corners like that, then I’m all for it. I’ll take some slow Breaking Bad to get me more Breaking Bad. I’m usually captivated by the molasses too and maybe that’s kudos to the actors/writers though I’ve tried to show the show to friends who have actually fallen asleep! Interesting formula though: to save money but keep interest, we will limit a bunch of shit and then have one crazy ass thing happen too.

    In the show’s defense, it did halfheartedly try to explain why there are no other suitable meth cooks around. Yeah, I don’t know why Gus doesn’t go after the family (he even saved Hank). Since I’m clearly exhibiting bias, there’s got to be a reason besides lazy writing! Like, I swear Gus said something relevant about family in the past at some point (I didn’t even remember what that fake eye thing was).

    Yeah that boxcutter scene was pretty disturbing. Can you think of another scene, even in film, that matched that length of grisliness? There have been more gruesome scenes in film, sure, but just sitting there and making us watch the whole thing (something like 1 minute)? My memory is going, I swear.

    • Christopher says:

      I’ve been watching Breaking Bad since day one, and it’s much better than I gave it credit for in this post. I think the writing is generally excellent, it just gets stretched a little thin sometimes, and some of the stuff with Gus at the end of last season didn’t make much sense to me. They built him up as this criminal mastermind, but then showed him personally meeting with his low-level street dealers (if he was smart, his dealers wouldn’t even know who they were working for). And then his strange choices in this first episode don’t really work for me. Still, good show.

      Also, the eyeball was from last season, which started with a bunch of debris from the plane crash winding up in Walt’s pool. The eye was from a stuffed animal, and it made a bunch of appearances last season rattling around the house.

      • No-no, I thought the review was fair and it’s still clear that you do like the show (your description of Walt’s pleas was nice) : ). I’ll blame my bias again asI say that there has never been a point for me in the show when I’ve thought, “Hmm, things are going a bit slowly,” but that’s just me. Chris/t, I like to watch a show that consists entirely of a therapist talking to a patient for 30 minutes, so who am I to think clearly about that sort of thing.
        Yes, I can see that they have been sloppy about some things, including Gus. I wonder how much of a corner they might paint themselves into sometimes, and it seems that when things get this elevated, it’s almost easier to end up with some holes.
        I was forced to see the Matrix 2 (after reading what I thought was the leaked screenplay which I later realized was a fake leaked screenplay), but the ending resulted in my refusing to see any more Matrix movies because of the corner into which those people painted themselves, among myriad other reasons.
        Anyway, the point of that was I’m afraid Breaking Bad is reaching a point at which they won’t have much left.

        Thanks for reminding me about the eyeball and its rattling about the house!

        By the way, is there a way to do some formatting when leaving comments?