Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Breaking Bad, Or Why I'm Underwhelmed

Let me just start by saying that I love Breaking Bad. I think it is possibly the best T.V. show I have seen, and that's no exaggeration. The transformation of the characters, the A+ caliber of the writing, and the show's uncanny ability to craft edge-of-your-seat cliffhangers on a weekly basis blow my mind. I am perpetually awed and floored by the show. 

Except, I haven't been for the past two episodes, and I will tell you why. 


As pretty much anyone with either a television set or an internet connection knows, we're in the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad. (Technically, this is Season Five part 2, but let's get real - eight episodes more than constitutes a season these days, and since it was over a year since the "first half" ended, we might as well just call this Season Six. But I digress...) Because the end is so unfortunately near, I have become overly critical of the show, perhaps a bit to the detriment of my enjoyment of the past two episodes.

My biggest gripe has to do with the frequent rehashing of previous scenes and seasons. Take a look at the three examples below to get a sense of what I mean. I know that all of these conversations had to happen in some form or other, but to me, many of them played as almost wasteful uses of what precious screen time the show as left.

1) Marie confronts Skyler, asking her when she first knew about Walt's criminal activities. This scene was four and a half years in the making (as, to a similar degree, was Hank's sit down with Skyler). As the sisters sit on the bed, Skyler chokes back tears, and Marie slowly begins to realize the length of her sister's complicity in Heisenberg's crimes. Marie says, to paraphrase, "Hank thinks you knew when you jumped in the pool, but it was sooner than that. Was it before Gus Fring? Was it when you bought the car wash? Skyler, did you know before Hank was shot?"

What follows is an incredibly powerful moment that irreparably tears the sisters apart and cements Marie's desire to see Walt taken down. After all, he was directly responsible for Hank's nearly fatal shooting. But did we need Marie to recap over two seasons of events for us? It felt a little bit like the "remember what happened last issue" dialogue that opens every monthly comic book.

2) Todd recaps the train robbery for his uncle. The train robbery was awesome. Todd would totally gloat about it. Would he do so this long after the events of it, though? His uncle surely knows the story by now (in which case, repeating it for us and taking up a few minutes of dialogue is gratuitous). Further, relaying the story in such a public place as a diner is just plain dumb. I expect, for that reason, that this will have greater implications. But still, Todd (aka Meth Damon - thank you, internet) robbed us of golden Breaking Bad screen time. Those of us who saw the train robbery episode distinctly remember it, so unless the uncle or his friend are going to turn state's witness, all that jibber-jabber could have been replaced with new, unfamiliar jibber-jabber.

3) Walt "confesses" to his crimes for Hank. Ok, I'll admit this one is me being a dick. Walt provides Hank with a DVD that provides a confession about his meth cooking, though certainly not the one Hanks wants to go public. Walt frames Hank, saying that his brother-in-law forced him to cook, pinning Heisenberg's activities on Hank. It's devious and evil and perfect reminder of just how smart and dangerous Walter White is. It is also a refresher course on the past few seasons of Walt's most nefarious activities. Granted, Walt's video deftly threatens Hank into silence, but for those of us who have seen every episode, it works in tandem with Marie's previous episode dialogue and Todd's recantations to reiterate stuff we've already seen.

The confession serves a purpose, for sure, but when we only have 220 minutes of Breaking Bad left (five episodes, minus commercials), do we really want to hear the characters talk about what's come already? Personally, I want them to focus more on where they're going.

Beyond the repetitious dialogue, I was starting to grow tired of the characters' paralysis. In the brilliant garage scene of the first episode this half season, Hank confronted Walt, laying out in no uncertain terms that he is onto him. Since then, though, he's been unable to act, unsure what the best course of action would be - and for good reason. Ratting on Walt will mean the end of the family life, the end of Hank's career, the end of so many things. This has left Hank frozen, not unlike how Jesse has been frozen. Jesse's stagnation stems not from being overwhelmed by an earth-shattering revelation, but by depression and guilt over his past crimes. Blank stares gave way only to tears, before leaving his face blank again. Jesse, I feel for you, man, but you are stuck. And with Hank stuck, too, I couldn't shake the feeling that Breaking Bad itself was spinning its wheels a bit, unsure quite how to get to the explosive climax we all know is coming.  It seems that Jesse finally broke, so at least his paralysis is over.  

I know I'm being nitpicky here, but I'm doing so out of love. I love the show and I am dying to know what's next. As much as I can't wait to see how everything wraps up, I dread the notion that we only have five more episodes before it is done forever. I just wish that Vince Gilligan and his team would use the time a little differently in the home stretch. I know what's come before. Why else would I be so hooked?