Sunday, January 12, 2014

TV REVIEW: Breaking Bad

*************  SPOILERS AHEAD****************

As you know, I hate the synopsis as part of the review format.  When I read a review, I want to know if the piece in question was good. I don't need or want you to Cliff Notes the story for me.

In the case of this review, it is more of a sharing of opinion with those who have seen the show. If you haven't seen it, besides suffering spoilers, you will also not understand who or what I am talking about for the most part. Check back in once you've watched the show from start to finish. I recommend you do this in a few consecutive sittings for maximum effect.

Well, here it is: my foray into breaking down Breaking Bad.

Is the show really that great?

For me, and I can only speak for myself, it is.  My reasoning for this is very simple. A great television show is one that is maximally compelling and entertaining. Breaking Bad rates a 10/10 on both fronts. The story reels you in, dangles you around for a while, but never lets you go. There are some plot holes, but the script is remarkable, the characters so well-drawn, the dialogue so honest. And the actors? They are gonna have a hard time topping these performances.

What really drove me, though, was the relationship between Jesse and Walt. They are teacher and student, father and son, criminal and accomplice, master manipulator and prey. Infuriating, tragic, touching, and terrible, this relationship is one you can't easily forget. It is hard to imagine that the Jesse character was actually supposed to be killed off early in the series. I don't think Breaking Bad would have meant much of anything to me without the unsettling symbiosis that was Jesse and Walt. However, there were many memorable characters and performances.

The Characters

Walter White

Bryan Cranston has plenty of awards and an email from Anthony Hopkins calling his performance "the best acting I have seen--ever." So, there you go.

One of the big questions for anyone watching the show is: when did you stop rooting for Walt? He pretty much lost me when he let Jesse's girlfriend drown in her own vomit, but I would continue to occasionally like or appreciate something he did. The 'liking' usually had to do with his somehow protecting Jesse, and the 'appreciation' usually had to do with his smartypants MacGyvering or his killing of characters that I really hated. But even though I might have liked this or appreciated that, I was not rooting for Walt. Thanks, Walt, for getting Jesse to rehab, thanks for killing those assholes you killed, but I still hope you get your ass caught in a big way. That was my feeling toward Walt.

I can sympathize with his being a very smart man and never truly being valued or respected for that. I can also sympathize with Walt for feeling that he'd been dealt a pretty crappy hand in life. But when Heisenberg comes out---he is (as Jesse says) The Devil.  He enjoys the role of kingpin and does not seem to feel any genuine remorse.  His every move is self-serving. He lies and manipulates and betrays the trust of every single person in his life.

I do feel he redeemed himself a tiny bit in the end, again by killing some other monsters (I know bloodlust and redemption don't really go together), also by saving Jesse, by turning down a deal for the money, and by finally speaking the truth to Skyler: he did what he did because he liked it.

Jesse Pinkman

Jesse is that lovable kid who sat behind you in Bio---when he actually showed up to class. You know the one. He was most often out under the bleachers getting high. He was also kind of dumb (or maybe that was just the dope), but he was funny and nice and if someone was picking on one of the disabled kids at school he would speak up and say, "Hey---that's not cool man. Chill out." And you would smile to yourself and think, "He's pretty much a loser, but he's awfully sweet."

While Walt was busy making a career of manipulating Jesse, Jesse seemed to be making a career of letting him. It drove me crazy and I was practically euphoric when he finally exploded and showed that he understood  exactly what Walt had been doing to him.

As Walt's true character leaks and out and shows you that he is evil, Jesse's leaks out and shows you that he is not only smarter than you gave him credit for, he's also remarkably loyal (and not in the self-serving Walt kind of way). But the biggest thing about Jesse? He has his own moral code. He is deeply remorseful when he breaks it, and he has a solid line that he will not cross, even under threat of death. And he proves this more than once. He's more than just "awfully sweet", he is convicted.

I loved Jesse. He was absolutely the heart of the show for me. He was always the one I was rooting for, and he was also the one I cried for. Aaron Paul's emotional breakdown scenes were just heartbreaking.

Hank Schrader

Dean Norris. How did he not get nominated for an Emmy? That's insane. Right from the get-go, I thought his performance was remarkable. He NAILED his character.

Hank is the man. He never wavers. He is the guy who still has passion for his work, loves his wife through her issues, embraces her sister, and her sister's husband, and their children. He is just a good man.

Walt is a monster for contributing to Hank's death, but I do believe he would have done anything to save Hank in the end. How could he not?

And Everyone Else

Gus is a good time. You just can't help but enjoy his calm, cool, collected, demeanor. Part of you wants to believe that he is the guy who is somehow able to run a criminal empire in a professional and ethical manner. But the rest of you knows that is not possible, and that somewhere, sometime, a ruthless killer is going to emerge. And boy, that happens in a big, big way with Victor.

Tuco. What a maniac. Couldn't wait to see him get his due. And the same for his cousins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Good riddance.

Mike. Well, you gotta love him on some level. He's very good at his job.

Todd is scary. And so is his uncle.

Saul provides comic relief.

Lydia is so annoying that I wanted to poison her myself.

Hector Salamanca is another example of really great acting: ding, ding, ding.

And last, but far from least, Anna Gunn does a great job as Skyler. She's never your favorite, but her character is so well-written and her performance is so nuanced and shows such depth and deftness and range.

The End

Well, it certainly wasn't the outcome I was hoping for (Hank's death was a big blow, and Jesse's captivity was beyond disturbing), but everything did seem fitting and right in the end. In no way did I feel that there was a better ending. I believed that this was the ending. And that means they did a good job.

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