Friday, November 22, 2013

The Idiot Box: Breaking Bad First Watch - Season Two, Part One

Hi again.

When I first noticed that Breaking Bad's first season was only six episodes and every other season was going to be thirteen, I decided to split up my further posts on the show to two per season, cutting each one roughly in half. At the time, I didn't realize the flaw in this method, as the show has so quickly become so watchable, and more importantly so binge-able than I was expecting, so much so that it was all I could do not to just keep going. I don't want to get so into it that I forget the details of what's come before and can't write about my evolving thoughts, so I forced myself to stop at episode seven of season two, right after a shocking twist that both aggravates and excites me as a fan of B movie actor Danny Trejo, and right before the introduction of a character I've been waiting for since I started watching this show last week.

Season Two begins with what I have since learned is an abbreviated confrontation with the psychotic drug lord Tuco, a character that was apparently intended to be the antagonist for the whole season until the actor asked to be written out due to being uncomfortable with the part. I can kind of see his position, as the whole point of Tuco seems to be to place the audience on edge waiting for him to just start stabbing someone with the same knife he just snorted meth off of (which I didn't even realize you could snort, but then I imagine that'll only be the first new thing I learn about drug dealing from this show). I like Tuco, but I think his one full episode back is a fitting end for a villain that might just have been too outrageously violent to sustain himself (from what I understand, he is replaced by a much calmer bad guy later on).

Tuco's exit leaves Walter and Jesse in a place that I gather they will find themselves in a lot during the course of this series, back to square one and trying to figure out how to get back to cooking and successfully making money at the one thing they're good at. One of the things I like about this show is the lengths it goes to strain the already flimsy deception Walter has maintained to keep his drug kingpin side away from his family life. The hoops he has to jump through to explain where he was during his 48 hour kidnapping, or how he's paying for his cancer treatments when the lucky lie of a friend's generosity is found out, make the characters in his normal life relevant and interesting in a way the still present kleptomaniac sister subplot emphatically does not, and to the show's credit, the characters being lied to aren't made to be stupid for narrative convenience.

I find myself becoming less and less interested in Jesse with every passing episode. It just feels like the druggie with a secret heart of gold thing doesn't really elicit the same kind of dramatic power next to the diametrically opposed story of Walter's corrupted pillar of society. Making Jesse out to be this little lost puppy dog didn't really help matters, as the attempt to bring him to such a low point that I'd just have to feel bad for him felt more than a little manipulative. His mostly solo episode Peekaboo was only salvaged by the insane crackheads stealing the show, so much that I'm surprised the episode wasn't titled Skank or some derivation thereof. It seems strange to me that people would believe him to be a ruthless killer following this incident, or that this wouldn't immediately attract more unwanted police attention after he was only just arrested a few episodes prior, but its not so unbelievable that I can't roll with it.

What I can't accept is the tragic waste of Machete himself Danny Trejo. Before I move on, I should point out that I am obviously not worried about spoilers here, because I figure once a show has ended, its fair game, but if you haven't seen this show, you might want to stop reading now.  I get the twist of casting such a well known bad ass in a role only to kill him off in the same episode before he ever gets the chance to do anything, but that doesn't make the impact any less maddening, or the opportunity cost of using him as a major villain any less pronounced. Yes, the way he goes out is cool, and an indelible image, but I don't think its worth the loss of such a potentially awesome adversary. I haven't felt this cheated since Trejo was the first to die in Robert Rodriquez's Predators, and did so off screen!

Even so, I don't have all that many major complaints with the show up to this point, and certainly nothing so annoying as to convince me to stop watching. I will say that as engrossing as the show is, I wouldn't say it is quite yet the modern classic its cracked up to be. Its pulpy and compelling and follows a central character sufficiently complex enough to justify the expense, but I'm still waiting for that moment where it tips over into the perfection so many of its fans insist it reaches. Then again, the next episode I've got is the one I've been looking forward to for a while now, introducing a character supposedly so good that he just got his own spin off series, so maybe I'll be getting there sooner than I think. Oh, and the payoff to the teddy bear thing better be as good as the head on a turtle.

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