Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I'm Disappointed with Breaking Bad

 “I find that intriguing. I enjoy it when I’m given by the creator of a show or a movie all the elements that will keep me interested in the story, but leave a few aside so I can do a little of the work myself. I enjoyed that kind of storytelling and I want to tell those kind[s] of stories myself.” - Vince Gilligan 

Over the last 4 years ‘Breaking Bad’ has definitively shown itself to be the best show on TV.  In its first two seasons the show went toe-to-toe with ‘Mad Men’ and while it came up short in my estimation it was definitely getting there.  Then came season 3 and it was solidified that ‘Breaking Bad’ was the best show out there. 

What amazed me was that no matter what you thought you had figured out, no matter how you thought you had the show pegged; it was always able to go in a different direction.  Walt being in a small way responsible for Jesse’s girlfriend’s death, her dad being the cause of the mid-air airplane crash, the handling of the Gail situation, what happened to Jesse when Mike took him out into the desert, all of this was proof that this show was smarter than the rest of us.

The best part about serialized TV shows is cooking (no pun intended) up your theories on what will happen with the storyline.  Trying to figure out what will happen each week with ‘Breaking Bad’ was part of the most fun of the show because rarely was anybody right.  I have seen ever episode of shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Friday Night Lights,’ to name a few and each one of those were predictable.  Those shows didn’t thrive on unpredictability; they thrived on how their characters dealt with the events that transpired in their lives.

While this is definitely part of the success of ‘Breaking Bad,’ the other part of it is the unpredictability.  Until the last two episodes of season 4, this show had maintained the level it had through the first 3 seasons.  What transpired in the final two hours of programming went against what had made this show successful.


When Walt decides he wants to kill Gus, it’s a completely reasonable reaction given his situation.  Once the situation presents itself in which he can find a way to turn Jesse against Gus Walt takes it and runs.  Constructing an old school car bomb and finding a way to lure Gus out into the open doesn’t quite seem like Walt’s style.  Walt has never been a man who can use brute force to make his point or bend others to his will, and it wasn’t until he discovered that his ability to cook meth gave him the power that his physical limitations never allowed him to have.

When trying to assassinate Tuco in season 2 Walt concocted the idea of Riecen poisoning that would slowly kill the man over a period of time.  When he found he couldn’t get close enough to Gus to kill him he tried to use the same method and to get Jesse to help him with it.  When he has confronted Jesse to physical confrontation he has lost and wound up a beaten man.  In the cat-and-mouse game that was season 4, if Walt was going to win, it wasn’t going to be by brute force. 

Gustavo showed early on in the season that he had the brute force and mentality that Walter lacked and he could get to anyone and destroy anyone (sorry Victor).  It seemed as though Gus displayed this early and often this season to prove to Walt that Walt was inferior.  What Gus didn’t want Walt to realize is that he knew he wasn’t inferior and that Walt always had and always will have the upper had as the creator of the infamous ‘blue meth.’

That is the key that allowed the creators of this show to remain unpredictable.  Lesser writing would have Walt going full charge at Gus and trying to kill him, hiding out at his house and trying to gun him down, trying to get Jesse to gun him down, etc.  And while he seemingly tried to gun Gus down, Gus was too smart to put himself in that situation.  This is where Walt had to realize that he had to come up with another way.
After convincing Jesse that Gus was the one who poisoned his girlfriend’s child, he had the ‘in’ he needed to galvanize forces against Gus.  We saw Walt creating a trigger mechanism that was obviously for a bomb, it was still slightly intriguing because we didn’t know how Walt was going to make this scenario work.  He and Jesse apparently concocted a plan to get Gus down to the hospital where Walt could place a bomb under Gus’ car.

Somebody who has so many people out to get him in his life, you would think Gus would leave somebody at the car to make sure such a thing would never happen, but he didn’t.  Then he all of the sudden suspects that Walt could have made this happen to try and do exactly what Walt was trying to do.  While I understand this is to show the interplay between the two characters, how they continually outsmart each other, it just doesn’t fit.

After that plan doesn’t work, Walt has to go to work to find a way to make this plan work.  He ultimately finds a way to get Gus to go to a nursing home and use the bomb to kill him there.  The idea that he can force Gus’ hand and predict his movements may give credence to the thought that Walt had the upper hand during the entire season.  While I could buy that, again, it doesn’t fit. 

We all knew somebody was going to die and the initial thought was Gus.  Between Gus, Jesse, and Walter it had to be one of them this season and Gus was the easiest because he wasn’t a main character.  That’s what you would expect from a normal show, but ‘Breaking Bad’ is not a normal show.  ‘Breaking Bad’ has transcended all that normal TV show fodder and been something more as it has shown that the creators have had a plan all along and it didn’t matter what the public wanted and what they thought, they were going through with their plan.

Shows like ‘The Soprano’s’ chickened out of doing anything drastic in the same manner until the last episode of the show.  ‘Breaking Bad’ had established itself as above that and something crazy could have happened that would have us all asking where this show is going to go and what they were going to do.  Could you kill Walt and make this show something special still?  Maybe it wouldn’t go over well, but they wrote out their main character for a season in ‘The Wire’ so it’s no unprecedented.

In an article that came out today via The AV Club Vince Gilligan was quoted as saying  the following about predictability in TV shows:  “When in doubt, do what the audience does not expect.” It is my contention that he did not follow through with that axiom for the first time in his 4 years of putting one of the best shows on television.  Instead of shocking people with doing what we didn’t see coming, they went ahead and did the obvious and then tried to bring up the shock factor by showing a gruesome scene that I was not aware would be allowed on television.

This is sub-par by ‘Breaking Bad’ standards and it made me come away from Season 4 satisfied but slightly disappointed.  The season was really great and the interplay between the two driving forces of the show Gus and Walt was fantastic, but with such great characters and so much buildup, they just didn’t come through as I had come to expect from this show.

With 16 episodes remaining in the series there is obviously a clear end game that the show is working towards.  The writers seem to have a clear picture and that made me feel comfortable knowing the confidence the creators had behind their vision.  I am slightly less comfortable now.  In my estimation Walt has to die in this series and I feel that Jesse will be driven to kill him.  Jess and Walt have operated as a sort of yin and yang in which one balances out the other.  Walt started as the good man doing well for his family and Jesse was the junkie feeding off others in his life.  They have switched roles as Walt is using everyone in his life to his advantage, but Jesse is the man who has seen the dark side of his world and wants to come back but is trapped.

That is my prediction, Jesse cannot be released from his world until Walt dies and Jesse will have to pull the trigger, metaphorically and possibly physically (let’s also not forget that Jesse can find out that Walt basically killed his girlfriend and almost killed his new girlfriends son).  This is my thought for how the next 16 episodes ultimately play out and I hope, hope, hope that I am wrong.  I hope that the show once again takes me somewhere I didn't think it was going.

1 comment:

  1. "Breaking Bad," one of my all-time favorite shows, felt different somehow in Season Four. From the very start, it felt padded. Unlike the first three seasons, it digressed wildly into boring subplots about buying a car-wash, or endless (and vapid) episodes that centered around Skyler (that were evocative of the yawn-inducing "Lisa" episodes of "The Simpsons".) And what about their pointless new baby: the amazing low-maintenance infant that disappears for whole episodes at a time? Digression upon digression upon digression. And while they're going wildly off-plot with these story arc-killing sidebars, they're neglecting wonderful and magnetic characters like Saul. Or abandoning early story-lines about Walt's early partnership in an up-and-coming science lab. Or his long-lost flame.
    All of these much-stronger internal dramas, complexities and characters are abandoned for weird, boring filler episodes where even the main characters got shorted. (For instance, Jesse suddenly became a one-dimensional and psychologically-inconsistent character. In the pilot, it was established twice that he was into older women and liked "milfs". This dovetailed nicely in later episodes when you saw the loss of his family and the unresolved Oedipal issues with his mother. But suddenly by Season Four, all traces of the earlier Jesse are gone [love of milfs and all]. He just becomes this one-reel parody of a stoner who listens to loud music and say "Bitch" every third sentence. He exists in a vacuum: no family, no internal issues, no back-story. Zilch.)
    Walt, too, seemed to have suddenly lost his past [see: earlier career and tension with former chemistry partner, former love interest, etc.]. And in losing his past, his character lost its moorings.
    . . . . No, as a fan, I sense that something terrible happened in the hiatus between Season Three and Season Four. Like the producer Vince Gilligan absented himself and placed the writers on auto-pilot (much like producer Alan Ball did with his show "Six Feet Under," right before it tanked). Either that, or he was asked to consider stretching out the story . . . to pad it in the event that they could squeeze another season or two out of it. Ad revenue is ad revenue. And if they can keep it on the air longer than originally intended, well---

    What's a producer to do?