Monday, July 16, 2012

Breaking Bad's Slow Roll-Out


By Thomas Burchfield


(Bits of this appear on Slate TV Club’s Breaking Bad page)

Here’s another thing I’d never want to hear from Walter White:

“I forgive you.” Right up there: “I’m not going to cheat you” and “This gun isn’t loaded.”

Breaking Bad’s fifth season has gotten off to a relatively low-key, but still pleasing, start. After last season’s explosive finish, trying to top itself right out of the gate would have been a bad idea. Start leisurely, let the fires burn slow. The best way to create great suspense.

I like the stop-and-start tension in the scene early on where Walter’s wandering through his house, trying to clean up the leftovers from the bomb he used to blow up Gus Fring: how he stops, relaxes, pours a drink, then realizes he’s forgotten something else, and hurries on, until Walter Jr.--still sweetly oblivious--Skyler and Baby return home. Why, I wonder, won’t he watch the coverage of Gus’s death with his son? Afraid he’ll be caught gloating, that he’ll let something slip . . . or is this there some feeble puddle of conscience left shining in him?

Ominous portents rose throughout this episode, starting with the traditional opening enigma—Walter, his hair fully returned, sprouting a full beard, purchasing an automatic rifle, in a town far away from New Mexico, maybe in New Hampshire (whose motto is “Live Free or Die,” the episode’s title. He looks about finished. A showdown looms. I’ll need a few more episodes in my brain before I start laying wagers. Too many equal possibilities, for now.

Big reveal: Hapless Ted is still alive and termbles before Skyler’s apparent awesome power. Whether he’ll keep his promise not to talk . . . eh. He’s still in shock from his “accident.” Inevitably, anger, rage, resentment will boil to the surface, where he realizes he has nothing to lose by spilling.

Jesse seems to be a junior partner again, a bit in the background this time. This is pointed up amusingly in the scene where Walter and Mike argue what to do about Gus’s laptop, now in police custody. The solution of the powerful magnet is ingenious, constituting the episode’s big action scene and once again allowing to Walter to reveal his towering hubris: “Because I say so!” Man speaks as God. (One possible slip-up: why didn’t the magnetic force rip away any of the metal on the evidence room guard’s uniform? Don’t cops wear any metal at all anymore? I also wondered if the bottom would be torn out of that truck)

A curious thought: I read recently that a group of Ayn Randroid libertarians threw a shindig in tribute to Don Draper of Mad Men, celebrating him as an upright libertarian hero (!?). On top of that, both Alec Baldwin and Michael Douglas recently commiserated on how the outright villains they portrayed in in Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street are also seen as cool heroes. (This is an old story, unfortunately.)

So, outside of the professional criminal class of drug dealers etc., are there any Idiot-logues out there running in circles, waving the hero flag for Walter White? This superb essay in Salon (via the L.A. Times) discusses how Walter White is, in part, an expression of that libertarian, every-man-for-himself ideology. (It’s a great essay on Breaking Bad for other reasons. Go read it. I now regret I haven’t read Paradise Lost.)

I shuddered at the closing scene: Walter and Skylar in the bedroom, Walter embracing her: “I forgive you”; the look of fear on her face; how his eyes shift in darkness. Would Walter murder Skylar? After all he’s done up to now, why not? Will he? That also remains to be seen.

As we followed Hank and the investigators, it struck me that I didn’t want them to close in on Walter too soon. Not because I think Walter’s a hero and want him to escape, but because I will be sorry when this show ends. I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay to this remarkable series.

(re-edited 7/17/12)

(Photo from AMC webpage)

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Burchfield

Thomas Burchfield has recently completed his 1920s gangster thriller Butchertown. He can be friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, and read at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.

No comments: