Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Idiot Box: Breaking Bad First Watch - Season One

Say, have you heard of this show called Breaking Bad? I don't know. I don't hear a lot about it, having lived under this here rock for all my life, but I just found it on Netflix and its pretty okay I guess.

Alright, here's the thing, I've never watched this show before for a very specific reason, and that's because, weirdly enough, I love its main star Bryan Cranston a little too much. Specifically, up until this point, I've had such fond memories of his character Hal from Malcolm in the Middle that I've been afraid to watch the show where I know he goes evil, for fear that it might sully that silly, rambuncious man-child forever. This is not to say that I've suddenly soured on the Fox series and can now watch Breaking Bad with impunity, only that I've finally given up my resistance and started trying to figure out what all the fuss has been about for all these years. And since I have this stupid blog that's always struggling to find new content, I figured I would chronicle my journey watching the show in (somewhat) real time.

I've just now finished the first, very abbreviated seven episode season, and the first thing that jumps out at me is the pacing. Breaking Bad from what I can tell is all about the two threads of Walter White's life and the ever increasing threat that they will collide in a way that brings everything down around him. The problem, and this is by no means a big one, just the first I noticed, is that I'm thoroughly much more interested in one over the other. This might seem like an obvious point, considering that one of those threads is about dealing meth and the other is about being a father and chemistry teacher with cancer, but that doesn't make me any less tempted to fast forward through the slow bits in order to get to the next stage in the evolution of Heisenberg. I get that its all relevant and its not that the family stuff is completely boring, but seeing factory heist interspersed with a subplot about his wife's sister's shoplifting just feels a bit imbalanced.

As slow as the superficial suburban life of Walter White is, his burgeoning criminal career seems to be going maybe a bit too fast for me to quite believe it. Or at least the jump from amateur with good intentions to Lex Luthor style super villain happens very abruptly. I remember thinking that five episodes in, after their first aborted attempt at cooking is cleaned up, that it really seemed to be taking them awhile to get to the point where this was a regular activity in Walter's life, but then by the next episode, he's already bald, given himself a name, and throwing makeshift bombs around to intimidate rival dealers. This feels like the stage they might have wanted him at by the end of the second or third season, but with only seven episodes, they moved up the schedule to give us something to lead us into the next year. That's not to say that I think that's what actually happened, only that I would have held off on going this far this soon.

This brings us to my second, and probably biggest problem with the show so far, which is that the jump from unassuming perennial victim to badass criminal mastermind has seemingly bypassed a lot of the gradual corruption I was looking forward to seeing Cranston work through as this character. In the early episodes you can see the internal conflict on his face as he makes more and more compromises, leading to the eventual transformation into the ruthless monster he was always destined to become, but with one sly smile at the end of the penultimate episode, he almost seems to cough out the last of the old Walter White and give in to the dark side, which again just comes across as too soon for my tastes. This makes the cut backs to the family situation even less interesting when it feels like a man faking civility rather than juggling two natures to maintain a now complicated relationship.

Naturally, this is me speaking as someone going through this fresh with very little knowledge of how it all pans out, save for a few details I've gleaned here and there from fans. I know for instance that he eventually goes into remission, which seems like it has to happen for the story to work. And of course I know it all ends badly, as it also probably should. My main worry moving forward is that it will fall into the same trap as Dexter, minus the staggering downturn towards the end of that series, where the narrative requirement of Walter's success in criminal activities leads to a lot of fake tension where we think he might get caught, but know he can't, at least until he finally is. Until then, there's obviously more than enough reason to stick with it, especially since I haven't even gotten to Bob Odenkirk yet. Not sure how many of these I'll do, but probably at least two per season since they get longer from here. Until then, enjoy watching the next show I'll catch up on a year after its over. I'll get to it eventually.

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