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

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c