August 21st, 2011
Admittedly, I am once again delayed in getting to Breaking Bad by another commitment (this time covering The Glee Project finale over at The A.V. Club), but I also think it’s another episode where an extra-long treatise feels sort of unnecessary.
“Cornered” is another straightforward hour for the show, getting right to the point thematically and having the characters more or less follow suit. Walt, in particular, has been an open book in recent weeks, at least to an audience that has been watching the show all along. It’s not quite a cry for help, as Skyler diagnoses it early in the episode, but I do think that it’s an obvious sign that Walt’s worst neuroses are rising to the surface.
And that Walt and Jesse are as much alike as ever before.
July 17th, 2011
It has been over thirteen months since Breaking Bad finished its third season, which isn’t something that happens all that often. Of course, AMC will be dealing with this issue twice in one year when Mad Men returns early next year, but that show didn’t leave on an arresting cliffhanger. “Full Measure” was a thrilling hour of television, creating suspense through uncertainty as opposed to mystery. We know what happened, and the sequence of events that allowed it to happen were delineated without any sudden twists or turns, but the finale left us with a sense of disbelief: we were haunted by that final image more than we were shocked by it, and we desired its conclusion less to have something resolved and more to see something begin.
“Box Cutter” picks up where “Full Measure” left off, although not immediately. The episode is very interested in the dramatic power of delay, lingering in those moments of waiting for the other shoe to fall. It doesn’t seek to surprise us so much as it seeks to make us reconsider: it knows we spent a year thinking about the various possibilities, so it lays out a likely scenario and then basically sits back and lets our own anxiety drive this story forward. The result is bracing in its minimalism if a wee bit writerly, further cementing Breaking Bad’s reputation as one of the most distinctive dramas on television.
And, yes, one of its finest as well.
Why I’m Not Writing 2010 Emmy Nominations Predictions
July 7th, 2010
Like anyone who follows the Emmy Awards, I have accepted that I will derive equal parts pain and pleasure from this particular interest. While I pride myself in remaining objective about the awards, I wouldn’t follow them the way I did if I didn’t get giddy on Nomination morning and if I didn’t spend the hours after the announcement bemoaning the mistakes the Academy has made. While my interest in the awards may be more intellectual than emotional on average, the fact remains that my analysis comes from a genuine love for the flawed and frustrating notion of award shows rather than simply an outsider’s curiosity surrounding a fascinating nomination system.
And so when I sat down to write out my final predictions, I balked: I’ve handicapped the major categories in comedy and drama, looked at the individual changes for a number of series of interest, and chatted about it on Twitter, and I sort of feel like I’ve run out of momentum. I think I have made most of the points I really wanted to make, and staking my claim on particular nominees doesn’t feel necessary or particularly valuable to me personally. It’s not as if I begrudge those who predict every category, or that I feel they are degrading a complex process: rather, the part of the process in which I have the least interest in is trying to consolidate all of the potential circumstances into a set of predictions that will be almost surely wrong.
You wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that I’m effectively copping out of this particular process, but it isn’t because I’m worried about being wrong: rather, I just feel like I’ve written so much already that going into every individual category seems like a daunting task which would make me less, rather than more, excited about the nominees and the process of sorting through the lists seeing how the races are shaping up.
However, since I don’t want to appear to be flaking out too much, here’s my basic feelings heading into tomorrow’s nominations in terms of who I’m hopeful for and who I’m hoping doesn’t make it onto the ballot, which best captures my state of mind as we enter the next stage of the process.
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting
June 3rd, 2010
On the drama side of things, there’s fewer trends that we can follow through to the nominees than there are in comedy. There, we can look at Glee and Modern Family and see some logical directions the awards could take, but in Drama there’s really only one new contender (The Good Wife), and the other variables are much more up in the air in terms of what’s going to connect with viewers. Lost could see a resurgence with voters in its final season, or it could be left in the dust; Mad Men could pick up more acting nominations now that its dynasty is secure, or it could remain underrepresented; Breaking Bad could stick to Cranston/Paul, or it could branch out into the rest of the stellar cast.
That unpredictability isn’t going to make for a shocking set of nominations, but I do think it leaves a lot of room open for voters to engage with a number of series to a degree that we may not have, so it’s an interesting set of races where I’m likely going out on some limbs.
April 18th, 2010
You may have noticed this, but Breaking Bad’s third season is effectively a long string of meetings.
This isn’t entirely new for the series, but there isn’t the same level of action and reaction that the show is used to: while previous seasons seemed to build in altercations, or create circumstances where Walt and Jesse need to clean up a mess or solve a particular problem, this season is focused almost solely on characters having isolated and personal moments of reflections which come into play when they meet with another character on the show. These aren’t all formal meetings, but whether it’s Skyler and Ted meeting up in the bathroom post-coitus, the White family meeting for dinner, or Gus and Walter sitting down to discuss their future together, there is this sense that things are playing out in slow-motion. While the first season was about how quickly things can escalate, and the second season demonstrated the challenges which faced any sort of expansion, the third season is about choices, and so escalation is replaced by contemplation.
“Mas,” like “Green Light” last week, demonstrates how challenging it can be to make difficult choices, and how particular choices will create consequences that you may not be able to understand. Watching these characters come to grips with where they’ve come to, some more slowly than others, is proving just as compelling as anything else the series has done, languishing just long enough within each character’s struggle in order to give us a sense of what perspective they bring to the next meeting.
Which, considering the trajectory of these characters, may not be a pleasant one.
April 4th, 2010
Breaking Bad is a show more or less governed by self-destructive behaviour. We’ve been watching Walter White fall further and further into choices that threaten to destroy his family for over two seasons, and more importantly we’ve been watching everyone around him fall into similar patterns. If we really break it down, Walter’s self-destructive path has led directly to the struggles facing Skyler, Jesse, and Hank, and so “I.F.T.” becomes a sort of test of how Walt, and those he put on a similar path through his actions, are dealing with their self-destructive tendencies.
The result is one character who refuses to accept the consequences of his actions, and three characters who embrace self-destruction in an attempt to take control of their fate, although some more reluctantly than others.
March 21st, 2010
“That’s what human beings do – we survive.”
I wrote a fair deal about my reaction to the first two seasons of Breaking Bad on Thursday, about questions of agency and questions of tragedy amidst the show’s complex and fascinating character study. But I knew going into my catchup period with the show that I was, in some ways, watching it “wrong”: this is a highly contemplative show, so I knew I was missing part of the true experience by rushing through Season Two in a four-day period. While the mystery of the pink teddy bear was a long and drawn-out process for some, it was a four day journey for me, and while the show purposefully tries to play with the pressures of time and the challenges that one faces when his or her worst fears are compounded by the temporality of it all I nonetheless felt like I was cheating in some ways.
“No Mas” picks up where “ABQ” left off in terms of displaying the passage of time through the struggle and torment that it creates for these characters. It turns out that the questions that viewers have been mulling since May (or, in my case, since Thursday) were weighing on Walt, Jesse, Skylar and “Flynn” as well, questions that after only a week have started to eat through their attempts to survive this trauma. However, while Walt makes the argument that what human beings do is survive, Walter White’s struggle is that he wants to do more than survive. He wants to live, and he wants to have everything he believed he was fighting for when he cooked his first batch of meth in that RV, and he is forced to decide what he needs to do in order to be able to live with the man he is, even when he seems unsure of just what kind of man he believes himself to be.
In short, Breaking Bad remains an enormously compelling character study, a stunning visual spectacle, and the kind of show that anyone with a love of dramatic television should be watching.
At length, meanwhile, check out some more detailed thoughts after the jump…
Agency begets Tragedy: AMC’s Breaking Bad
March 18th, 2010
Last night, as Todd VanderWerff and I talked about this year’s Emmy awards on Twitter, he remarked that Breaking Bad will always be held back at the Emmys thanks to its Albuquerque setting – by filming outside of Los Angeles, and outside of more acceptable industry alternatives like Vancouver or New York, the show is alienated with primarily L.A.-based voters. My response to this was to make what, on the surface, seems like a really complimentary comparison: Breaking Bad, in other words, is the new The Wire, another show that by shooting in an off-market city (Baltimore, in the case of The Wire) was never able to get as much respect as it perhaps deserved.
Now that I’ve finished the second season of AMC’s second original series, this comparison is infinitely more interesting than I had imagined it last evening. While I love The Wire, and fell in love (in an entirely non-romantic way, considering the darkness of the show) with Breaking Bad over the past few weeks, the two shows couldn’t be more different in terms of how they represent agency. While The Wire tends to argue that the organizations which govern both sides of the law are inevitably corrupt and fraught with challenges that prevent all but a lucky few from rising above it, Breaking Bad offers Walter White countless opportunities to escape the life he has chosen to live, and at every turn he makes personal decisions that send him further down his dark path.
If I tried to talk about everything I had to say about the first two seasons of the show, I would be writing for days, so instead I’m going to focus on a few elements of the series (many relating to questions of agency) that I thought were particularly effective. If you have yet to watch the series, I can’t recommend it enough if you’re not afraid to watch something that’s morally compromising and unafraid to go to some very dark places – this isn’t a show for everyone, but it’s fantastically well-made, and you can all look forward to reviews of the show’s third season starting on Sunday.