September 25th, 2011
This isn’t going to make much sense, but when things get particularly busy it’s the good shows that suffer.
I am aware that this sounds odd, and do lament that I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for the past two weeks when it comes to Breaking Bad, but the reality is that I’m less likely to write about something when it’s delivering on this kind of level. Without screeners, I’m not able to watch things in advance, and my early week schedule is such that any sort of extended breakdown of the episode just isn’t feasible in the way it was during the summer. Even as I write this, I’ve got lesson plans to work on, names to learn (I made promises!), and reading to get a jump on, and so it becomes much easier to just hand you all off to Alan or Noel (whose reviews were posted as soon as the episode concluded) who I am quite certain share my opinion that “Crawl Space” was a pretty great episode of Breaking Bad.
While I remain a strong believer in the value of post-air analysis, I’ll admit there are points where our coverage of “prestige” dramas like Breaking Bad becomes a bit hivemind-y. It’s possible we might focus on different things, or make slightly different observations, or offer different theories for where things go from here. Similarly, we might write more or less, and include more recap or less recap depending on our proclivities on that subject. However, at the end of the day, we’re all basically saying that Breaking Bad’s fourth season has been particularly strong, and that “Crawl Space” benefits from having brought numerous storylines together in a blissful bit of horror as Walt manically laughs while his life falls apart around him, a capper to what was a truly impressive performance from Bryan Cranston.
If I had time, I’d love to explore the inner-workings of this episode more closely, diving into smaller details or analyzing character arcs as compared with earlier seasons, but the problem is that I don’t have time to do it. Really, I don’t have time to do Breaking Bad justice, which is why I haven’t written reviews for the past two weeks and why I don’t have as much to say about “Crawl Space” as I might like to. The great shows are the ones you watch even when you should probably be doing something else, but they’re also the ones that you’re less likely to write about when you know that everyone else is more or less saying the same things.
However, at the risk of being repetitive, here’s a few hundred – okay, it ended up being more like a thousand – more words about the stellar “Crawl Space.”
The single biggest trend this season has been the show’s willingness to render Walt as pathetic and weak. Throughout the season, rooting for Walt has been nearly impossible, his every move driven by a selfish pride which risks endangering the very people he got into this business in order to protect. However, we’ve now reached the point where Walt has to be our hero, whether we like it or not: when he leaves that desert, he’s the only person who can save Hank’s life, and he has a brief moment of clarity when he realizes that Hank doesn’t deserve to die for this. It was Walt growing a conscience, albeit a conscience that appears only briefly before being (understandably) swallowed up in a huge pile of crazy.
The second biggest trend this season has been the heroism of Jesse Pinkman, a guy who simply wants to do the job he’s been asked to do. It’s telling that Walt shows up at his house to find him playing Sonic the Hedgehog with Andrea and her son, a far cry from what was going on in Jesse’s living room earlier in the season. While one could argue that Jesse is still a pawn in Gus’ game, having been turned against Walt by Gus’ (debatable) heroism in protecting both Walt and Jesse from the cartel, is he not better off for it? We’ve spent the season in Jesse’s corner, hoping he’s get his act together, and so should we not be grateful that Gus has helped him get his life back on track? And, if Jesse really has settled into as nice a life as a meth cook could hope for, should our concern not then shift to Walt’s predicament? And yet, given how deplorable Walt’s behavior has been all season, are we really concerned about his fate?
The answer is yes, although it’s not because of anything the character has done this season, or anything he does in this episode. In fact, what Walt does is enormously stupid, given that Gus has no plans on killing his entire family so long as Walt walks away for good; as someone put it on Twitter, Walt has a definite case of selective hearing, and the very idea of his family being killed is enough to throw him into a frenzy. However, it throws the audience into a frenzy as well, if only by proximity. What makes Cranston’s performance so fantastic is that it’s pulling the exhilaration of that final scene out of thin air. We know that Gus doesn’t intend on killing his family unless Walt does something stupid, and we know that Walt’s not going to find the money in the crawl space, and yet Cranston so wholly sells Walt’s mania that we can’t help but feel the sheer chaos of the episode all coming to a head at that very moment. Nothing about that final scene was surprising, and yet my heart was racing as though I had just been shocked in the most tremendous fashion, and that’s a credit to Cranston as well as director Scott Winant (and the entire crew, of course).
The past few episodes have seen the show adding some fairly mundane storylines (like Skyler’s issues with the IRS and the now-deceased Ted Beneke), and the show has had multiple narratives moving at varied paces for the entire season. And yet, despite all of that “Crawl Space” managed to make all of it come together in one crazy final moment without ever feeling inorganic. Sure, Ted’s nose dive into the wall was a bit convenient(ly disastrous), but the idea of Saul keeping his own secret in this game is just too good to complain about. At the end of the day, Breaking Bad has proven that while we might not like Walt, and might not shed a tear if he were to die, there is absolutely no way that we are not invested in his life (and the increasingly broad, and chaotic, world around him) after the (nearly) four seasons of television we have seen to this point.
We’re hooked, whether we like it (or him) or not.
- In all honesty, what would Hank find if he went to the laundromat? Now, going with Walt I see as problematic should he be recognized, and I understand the concern about Hank staking the place out and seeing Walt (or Jesse) coming and going. However, if Hank were to go into the place to check it out, would he ever figure out that there was a hidden meth lab?
- I am always a fan of a good Chekhovian device, so I’m with Sepinwall in considering Ted’s death the case of “Chekhovian throw rug.” Simple, maybe too simple, but I loved it nonetheless – a great bit of narrative pleasure, which is kind of disturbing given the context.
- Not to be all nitpicky, but where would Hank get the money for a hand-controlled truck? I know he isn’t aware of the extent of their money problems during his recovery, but has something changed between now and then in regards to their financial situation?
- Line of the night: “Reason’bly.”