Skip to main content

Say my name.


Breaking Bad 
Season 5.1

Interviewed by The Vulture, Vince Gilligan had this to say about his vagueness and unease over how the show should end (post- the mid-season cut-off):

It was everything. We knew very little as of last summer. We knew we had an M60 machine gun in Walt’s trunk that we needed to pay off, and that was about it. We kept asking ourselves, “What would satisfy us? A happy ending? A sad ending? Or somewhere in between?”

It’s not a comment that sparks much hope for viewers who came to the stark realisation that series they had invested serious amounts of time in, such as Lost and Battlestar Galactica, were being made up on the fly. Sure, some were happy with the slipshod conclusions, but many were not (in the case of the former most definitely).

Breaking Bad is slightly different in that there are no enormous mysteries to solve; the puzzle for Gilligan to solve is where he leaves the audience emotionally. But I can’t help thinking (hoping!), “Wouldn’t that be clear way in advance?” There’s being adaptable and there’s looking around randomly for inspiration. Probably, I’ve just been let down one time too many to wholly invest in the possibility of a satisfying sign-off (the one I keep flashing on is a Michael Corleone type situation, but that’s probably a little too obvious).

There’s a boulderising effect once a new series gains a place in the online and media consciousness; an exhaustive fascination takes hold , which can do its upmost to wring the joy of discovery from anyone who strays too far from simple straightforward enjoyment. Breaking Bad is just the latest to have experienced a groundswell of passion following its first couple of seasons. While I came on board relatively early, I’ve taken the more laidback approach of waiting for the DVD releases to experience it. As a result, I’ve willfully (or lazily, depending upon your take) divorced myself from the weekly anticipation that gripped me during Lost.

So far, the series hasn’t disappointed. Indeed, Season Four takes some beating, a white-knuckle ride requiring Walt to use all his wits and ingenuity to outwit nemesis Gus Fring. Wisely, Gilligan has stuck to his guns and finished shy of the basic edict of seven season runs (if you get that far). It doesn’t mean he won’t be seen to have peaked early, but at least it ensures the kind of problem encountered by Dexter (all downhill after the unbeatable fourth year) is resisted.

But 5.1 of Breaking Bad begins, by necessity, with the fallout from the tension of the previous run. You can’t hope to equal it, and the series can’t hope to sustain itself in the same way, so it opts for a caper plotline involving magnets and wiping computer hard drives. It’s a wise move, keeping things lively while juggling the balls of where the characters need to realign themselves. Later in the run we’re thrown a train heist, and it’s a reminder of the skill with which Gilligan delivered many of the best X-Files one-offs (Driveand Monday spring to mind).

I’ve read criticisms regarding of the series’ plotting and how sequences don’t ring true, but it’s not something I can readily relate to; it’s only internal consistency (of tone) that is really important. I've found the whole series to be on a heightened plane from the off; to me, this isn’t attempting realism in the manner of The Wire was (one of the reasons the fifth season of that show doesn’t quite work for me is that the serial killer plotline is something out of a more mainstream, glossy show). I've certainly never seen it as something that would hold up to much scrutiny in terms of "Could this happen?" There’s the veneer of realism; domestic strife, guns, violence, deaths, desperate situations. But the series stacked the odds against believability as soon as it had its meth cook doubling as brother-in-law of a DEA agent.

In terms of the moral degeneration and criminal rise of Walt, his burgeoning sociopathy is something that's seemed entirely consistent; from the second season on, when he leaves Jane to die, there’s never been any doubt about the path he will take or the lengths he will go to; the skill is making you care about him despite it all. Bryan Cranston consistently works wonders, wringing out every scrap of nuance in his (d)evolution; you believe that he can be such a (creepy) blinkered doofus on one hand (his behaviour towards Skyler) and a cool customer on the other. I don't think that means he wouldn't indulge a bit of sentiment when it comes to someone like Mike. (Although, it’s as likely that the sentiment is only of the sort he can feel towards himself, reflected off feelings he has manufactured concerning Mike; everything with Walt has become so self-justified and insincere that he no longer has any grounding.)

The most resonant aspect this half season has been Jesse's realisation of Walt’s callousness. While Jesse gets to offer some inspired problem solving, his distancing from Walt means he’s not so front-and-centre, particularly following the heist. It will be interesting to see how this plays during the last half; there’s an assumption that all of Walt’s manipulations need to come out, but really why should they (and would Jesse blowing Walt’s head off really be a satisfactory conclusion?)

As far as Hank discovering the book dedication is concerned, it didn't particularly bother me that the reveal of Heisenberg’s identity hinged on an arbitrary discovery rather than solid detective work. But I was expecting a reveal that Walt is still in business. Going back to his conversation with Jesse about Gray Matters, and how cooking meth is something he's really good at, it seems inconsistent that he'd stop after all that groundwork has been laid to build his empire (of course, we'll probably find he lied during Episode Nine).

Disappointing to see Mike exit, as Jonathan Banks is a mighty screen presence. Many cite his Wiseguy role (I only ever caught the odd episode) but it was the underrated and prematurely curtailed Day Break where he first caught my attention (in a role that makes Mike look like a pussy cat).

I’ve particularly enjoyed the additions of Lydia and Todd. I loved Lydia (Laura Fraser) going batshit paranoid when the DEA are hassling her. I recognised Jesse Plemons from The Master, a kind of junior ginger Matt Damon; Todd showing himself to be a stone cold killer, but then displaying such diligence in getting the cook right, makes him an appropriate successor to Jesse. He mirrors what Walt is now about.

I’m curious regarding Gilligan’s comments suggesting that anyone who has a problem with the female characters in the show are misogynists. It seems like a too neat transference of the blame for not getting the dynamic right. That said, I don't think the problem is with the writing of Skylar (and I do think there is a problem somewhere in the mix, as like it or not the writers ensure you side with Walt; that’s what making a good anti-hero is all about, no matter who the moral compass is), it's that Anna Gunn isn't a particularly sympathetic presence; this is an issue that was there from the first episode (ie before Walt cooked up a batch).

So 5.1? Great stuff, but not quite as great as Season Four. It was probably wise not to find a replacement for Gus (I mean in terms of bringing in a new guest star), as the series should rightly drillsdown to its core relationships for the finale. But so far it’s been a case of holding my attention rather than putting me on the edge of my seat.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.