Breaking Bad – “I See You”

“I See You”

May 9th, 2010

I don’t have much to say about plot development in “I See You” because there largely isn’t any: after the shootout at the end of last week’s episode, we spend the hour sitting in a waiting room as Marie and her family struggle with the uncertainty of not knowing whether Hank would make it out alive. There are no crazy twists or action sequences, replaced by people waiting to find out the fate of their husband/brother-in-law/uncle/partner/colleague/etc.

However, the hour raises an important point: from the beginning of this season, we have been made aware of things which Walter has, to this point, been ignorant to. While Walter’s life is dominated by uncertainty and paranoia, we have a lot of the answers that he’s looking for, and our knowledge is making Walt’s struggle particularly interesting but also, if we’re being honest, somewhat unsuspenseful. Last week’s episode lulled us into a false sense of security before unleashing the Cousins on Hank, but this week’s episode has Walt panicking over something that we watch being taken care of, an odd juxtaposition which makes an interesting thematic point regarding the season but which lacks some of its impact now that the worlds collided last week.

I don’t entirely mean this as a slight on what is a fine episode of the show, but it feels a tiny bit indulgent in ways that I want to try to get a grasp on.

One of the things which makes this show work so well is how cohesive everything feels, and yet I found “I See You” was missing some sort of touch which makes this possible. While other episodes have nicely integrated comedy and drama, the Jesse scenes in this hour felt a bit too over the top, contrasting too heavily with the family’s struggle in the wake of his shooting. There were moments with Jesse in the episode which gave me chills, especially his smile at the opening of the episode, but letting him roam free in the lab seemed like a play on “waiting” which took away from the rest of the episode. Breaking Bad normally isn’t in the game of addition/subtraction when it comes to an episode’s quality, but something about this one kept working against itself.

It may be the fact that after last week finally brought the Cousins into Walt’s world, the episode spent a lot of time having Walt discover facts that we already knew, and have known about for a very long time. The season to this point has given us a further glimpse into Gus’ empire, which has been very interesting (and fantastically played by Esposito), but which has sort of taken us outside of Walt’s head. Before, we were right there with Walt standing on that desert road wondering whether that siren was the police coming to arrest him, but now we’re also in that fire truck and we do not necessarily share Walt’s anxiety. In this episode, Walt fears that the surviving cousin will somehow come after him (and worries that there is more where he came from), but we already know (from Gus’ discussion with his Mexican counterpart) that he is unlikely to survive lest he reveal to his bosses that Gus was the one who gave the go-ahead to kill Hank. While the season has drawn some nice tension from the idea that Walt is acting and reacting with no idea how close Hank was to catching him, or how much Gus was protecting him from the cartel, those moments were captured in scenes like Walt and Jesse trapped in an RV. This time around, Walt’s reaction centered on fear and anxiety rather than situation, which is problematic not because it’s subtle but rather because we know too much to really share his reaction.

The show has always lived on gaps in knowledge, characters acting without fully understanding those around them, but to some degree this season started to change this: Skyler learning of Walt’s chosen profession seemed to be opening doors for more open communication between characters. However, now Walt is trapped in a room with no cell service, divorced from Skyler and not able to understand the situation. And while for a while we were within Skyler’s life and learning her motives, it seems like we’re being welcomed into the criminal side of Walt’s life but being shut out of his family at the same time. We don’t entirely understand Walt Jr. or Skyler’s position on this whole situation, and that kind of made the whole episode a bit confusing. That confusion used to be the point of the show, but when we’re being told so much on the other side of the coin (seeing Gus’ plan to take down the Mexican kingpin for his own benefit, for example) it creates an imbalance that seemed a bit too apparent this time around. It seemed like they were reveling in showing Walt some of what he’s been missing, with the script perhaps working a bit too hard to manufacture those moments rather than allowing them to come naturally (hence my concern that they’re indulging in those moments).

Over time, I think the show is making a transition: it knows that they want to send Walt into more of a paranoid posture, so he learns (as we learned ages ago) that Gus knows about Hank’s relation to Walt, and he puts together that it was Tuco’s cousin in the hospital, and he begins to fear for his family. From this point on, Walt isn’t just living a care-free life, and perhaps he places Jesse into the lab rather than Gale as a reminder of what it is he’s doing this for, and why he’s risking everything to support them and make up for what he did in the past. All of that is really engaging, but it exists mainly in potential: Walt’s interactions with Jesse are played for comedy which is funny but perhaps note entirely relevant to this episode, while his behaviour in the hospital has him stumbling into knowledge we’ve had for too long for the episode to remain novel. I don’t need Walt to get into huge situations or get substantial dramatic scenes each week, but it seemed like this one spent a lot of time waiting and didn’t entirely know what to do with all of that time, or at least not how to best prioritize it based on what we know to this point in time.

In terms of the performances and the aesthetics of the show, it’s just as good as it always is – this is not like some sort of low point for the show, and it’s not like it doesn’t set things up or fails to capture the consequences from last week’s shooting. However, it seems like it spends a lot of time playing catchup with where we already are (or were), and while this leads to some fine small moments I think it needed a slightly more clear connection to the big picture to avoid from seeming more patchwork than perhaps they intended. When I start writing bullet points below, there will probably be enough hilarious or exciting moments that you wonder about my cynicism, but it was something that made everything seem more disjointed than usual, which is rare for the show and is something I’ll be able to unpack better when we see where things are headed next week.

Cultural Observations

  • I may have found Jesse’s humour a bit distracting, but man was it funny: his opening reaction amidst Walt’s Classical/Jazz explanation made me laugh a great deal, and his various antics (which a bit repetitive) featured some fine comic acting from Aaron Paul.
  • The scene with the Cousin crawling out of bed towards Walt with his stump legs was visceral and powerful, but also a tiny bit over the top – makes sense that the theatrical Cousins would go out that way, but it still seemed a bit overdone.
  • Another fantastic moment was Gus’ blank stare as Walt lied to him about why he wasn’t cooking – it was the one scene that felt like it captured a moment of particularly genius in Walt’s ignorance rather than sort of indulging in it. Watching Saul’s cleanup man leaving was one moment that worked, perhaps, but was so choreographed earlier in the episode that the lack of surprise meant it wasn’t quite as powerful as I wanted it to be.
  • I was really hoping that the divorce would give Walt Jr. some more material, but Walt moving out of the house has actually sidelined the character even further: the whole beat with the Pablo Escobar book and Walt finally realizing that he hasn’t really considered the people chasing after him and their role in this whole affair was really well played by both actors, but I think I wanted more like that from both the character and from Walt in terms of those types of realizations.
  • That “underwater camera” they used in the teasers of the plane crash in Season 2 is a real favourite, here adapted into the “inside the deep fryer” camera – still awesome, unsurprisingly.
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One response to “Breaking Bad – “I See You”

  1. Pingback: Catch Up on Breaking Bad Season Three | Tired and Bored With Myself

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