Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Trending Topics: Breaking Bad - [a case of the summer]

Similar to my Walking Dead marathon viewing a little earlier this year, I finally bit the bullet and decided to give Breaking Bad a try.  I always knew I had wanted to watch it, but with the series nearing its end I had told myself that I would just wait for the finale, and then go crazy and watch the entire series at once.

Well, a couple of weekends ago I wasn't feeling well and stayed in for much of the weekend.  I had Netflix readily accessible and with the Breaking Bad premiere coming up, the intrigue was beginning to get the best of me.  So I thought, "Hey, let me try to get all caught up and then I can watch the rest of the series in 'real time.'"  Unfortunately, unlike Walking Dead, these are long seasons.  And there's five of them.

However, as of last night, I FINALLY finished watching the episodes and am now caught up to the one that aired this past Sunday.  Thus, this edition of Trending Topics will discuss the ENTIRE season.  So, if you're not all caught up, don't click the link below.  But, if you are, I'm curious to see what you think.

Continue reading "Trending Topics:  Breaking Bad - [a case of the summer]"....

At the end of the day, this series is about the descent of Walter White.  He begins the show as a somewhat mild mannered, happily married high school chemistry teacher who seems somewhat "stuck" in life.  His teenaged son suffers from cerebral palsy, he's got an unexpected child on the way, and his intellect is far beyond his profession.  What's interesting about Walter, though, is that while he's a good guy, it really doesn't take much for him to make morally questionable decisions.

There's no doubt that his descent is dramatic, but I was surprised by how quickly it came (in many ways).  Within the first or second episode (I don't recall) he had killed somebody due to a chemical explosion.  I thought this was a mistake, because the story of his second murder (the dealer that had survived) was a far more epic emotional journey.  We saw how much Walter struggled with that decision, and how murdering this man was ultimately the only thing he COULD do.  He wanted nothing more than to let this guy go -- especially after developing a light bond with him -- but he really had no other choice when it became obvious that his life (and his family's life) would be in danger if he did.  Yet, while holding this man captive, he fed him every single day.  I can't help but feel like that moment would have been even more significant if he hadn't taken another life within the first couple of episodes.

I was also struck by how relatively slow the first season is.  While the series is rightfully known for Walter's life in the meth universe, several episodes in the first season seem to pass where he's not even a part of that world.  I do admire that restraint, as it shows that entering this profession was not something he did lightly,

I was actually surprised to learn how much Skyler (Walter's wife) is hated by the online community.  Frankly, I find her story quite interesting -- particularly for the moments in their relationship where she can leave, but decides to stay.  You could tell that she feels a certain level of animosity towards Walt when she knows he's lying to her, although she doesn't have a clue about what.  This portion is somewhat difficult to watch, as you WANT things to work out for Walter (at this point, he's still a generally "good" guy), but you also can't help but feel for Skyler. 

Things get very interesting, though, when she puts all the pieces together.  She realizes he's not having an affair but that he somehow has all this money.  When Walter comes clean about cooking meth, she initially tries to keep him away from the family.  Slowly but surely, though, she comes to accept this aspect of his life and even reluctantly takes advantage of it (by paying for Hank's medical bills).  As things become less tense between them, you almost get the sense that she enjoys this new, empowered Walter (all it takes is a misinterpreted voicemail to get them in bed together).  It is actually Walter, and not Skyler, who seems to want the distance at this point.

And that brings me to the other aspect of this show I enjoy:  the moments in Walter's life when he can seemingly have it all, but he decides to risk losing everything.  There was this moment, where Skyler asked him to move back in but he decided not to (still feeling hurt over her affair).  Perhaps the most significant moment, though, is the conclusion of season four and beginning of season five.  At this point, things seem to be going very well between Walt and Skyler.  They're spending time together and they genuinely seem to care about the well being of one another.  And when the greatest threat to their safety -- Gus Fring -- is defeated, Walter seems to have the opportunity to have something of a happy ending.  His family is safe.  Things with his wife are improving.  And his tumultuous relationship with his partner Jesse even seems to be in a good place.  But that's not what happens.

Season five is the turning point for this character.  It's undoubtedly when he crosses the line from "morally questionable" to "questionably a monster."  Walter has now defeated an international drug lord, and as such he's feeling a bit cocky.  While he does need money, he decides to create an entire empire -- with him sitting at the throne -- and he's convinced he can get away with anything.  He moves back into his home without consulting Skyler, and quickly seems to become emotionally and mentally abusive.  He bullies her and seems to rub his power in her face -- like asking Jesse to come to their house for a meeting and then demanding that he stay for dinner (awesome awkward scene).  This is the absolute low point in their relationship.  And it's also the low point of Walt as a human being.  He no longer seems to struggle with the decision to take somebody's life (he has 9 people killed in the span of a few minutes) and seems to even have a nasty tone towards every day interactions.  From the look on his face to the way he says things, he really does seem like a monster.

And yet, there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  Instead of giving up on it all and "never changing her mind about him" like she warned she would, Skyler decides to try to get Walter to see what he's become.  She shows him a table sized pile of money and asks him how much more he needs.  Walter then decides to leave the meth game and try to rebuild his family.

And, once again, it seems like Walter has a chance at happiness.  He's out of the game, he's with his family, and things seem to be going great.  It is at that unfortunate moment that Hank finds the book Walt left out -- a sure sign of his cockiness -- which pinpoints him as the "Heisenberg" Hank had been searching for.

This is where the series takes an interesting turn.  Now no longer monstrous, Walter is back in the situation where he could possibly be rooted for.  And I can't help but wonder what direction the series will go in.  Does Walter return to his dark ways?  Does he just rely on his intelligence (which is what he's done thus far) while holding onto his soul?  Will Skyler stay by his side (which, amazingly, she has so far)?

I do have to admit, though, that I was surprised by how quickly Hank and Marie turned on Walter.  I really thought Hank would struggle with the decision of turning in his brother-in-law -- the man he had grown quite close with in the past year -- as the drug lord he had been investigating.  Instead, it was just pure anger and revenge.  If he had the evidence to do so, it seemed like Hank would arrest him right there and then.  That surprised me.  Marie was always a lot more emotional and irrational, so I sorta understood her reaction.  But still, I found it strange that right off the bat she's like, "Okay, how do we arrest him?"  This is your sister's husband (this review is getting a bit long, but I do want to note how much I enjoyed the evolution of the Hank/Marie marriage as well.  Both developed into individually interesting and likable characters -- and neither started off that way).

It would be criminal of me to discuss this series without mentioning the Walter/Jesse relationship.  I was actually quite surprised by this, because I thought their relationship would be a lot more.....harmonious?  It seems like we never got a "sweet" Walter/Jesse moment until sometime in season three.  The two were just constantly screaming at each other, and while there were glimpses of them caring, it really didn't seem that way.  Things seemed to take a turn when Jesse became a hardcore drug addict and Walter tried to save him.  But even though, all of their "honeymoon" periods were pretty short lived.  They've physically fought several times and have even threatened each other's lives.  It seemed like they FINALLY got to a good point in their relationship, but then Jesse figured out that Walter had poisoned his girlfriend's son (still don't know how he could have pulled that off).  Could you foresee Walter actually killing Jesse?

Overall, I love the series and enjoy the fact that you're seeing the descent of a character instead of the rise of one.  I really don't know how the story will end, but for those of you familiar with the dramatic principle known as "Chekhov's gun," I guarantee you that this series ends with somebody FINALLY successfully using the vial of ricin.

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