Seeing that mark of quality, I gave Breaking Bad a shot. Same network and higher ratings be damned; all I wanted was to see Bryan Cranston in a serious role. It's a true testament to the talent of that man as, by the end of the pilot episode, I was not only hook but I didn't even think of him as Hal or Tim Whatley for a second. The series went on, it got more intense and it brought a few interesting characters into the fold. I especially enjoyed the textbook douchebag of Hank and the spot on portrayal of the-guy-who-hangs-around-McDonalds-at-3am in Jesse. You know who I mean.
But then season two started and Vince Gilligan went from neo-noir in one hour chunks to writing fanfic meldodrama for 15 year olds. There is no realism in Breaking Bad, I knew that from the moment Bryan Cranston pulls a pistol on an empty road wearing just his whiteys, but there was a real aura of contrivance throughout the second season that pushed the show in a far more linear direction that it deserved. Almost as if AMC top brass read a few audience reports, boiled it down into bullet points of what they liked and handed down a memo that just contained buzzwords like bleak, violent and grim; aptly forgetting characterization, drama and the fact one of the characters has cancer.
Episode 9, 4 Days Out, is the point where I lost the majority of my interest in Breaking Bad. It was prevalent in season one, but the dynamic of Jess doing something stupid followed by Walt doing something clever to fix the status quo came to the forefront in season two. With Skyler, Hank, 'Flynn' and everyone else relegated to background characters, the narrowed focus on Walt and Jesse reaches a pinhead in this episode, with Pinkman and The Brain locked into their standard battle of wits, only now in a bottle episode, keeping the focus on them and only them for the bulk of sixty minutes.
Jesse runs down the battery on the RV because he's a fucking idiot. Walt manages to fix it because he's a PhD. Jesse wastes all the water putting out a fire because he's a fucking idiot, in case you missed it the first time, or every other time he's done something since climbing out of that woman's window in S01E01. Walt comes up with a plan though that will save them because he's a PhD and that's his role in the show. At this point, it's Burn Notice with more swearing and less voice over. The worst part of the episode arises when Walt starts to give his monologue about how he's a bad person etc. It's well written and finely acted as always by Cranston, who earns his Emmy every time, but it's narratively redundant. The show spends such an abnormal amount of time getting you to dislike Walt, without ever giving you any real alternative to root for, that it becomes numbingly predictable.
Towards the end of the season, I forget the name of the episode, Walt is faced with a choice; does he go to Skyler who is great with child or does he go to a seedy drug deal at some scumfuck motel? It's a choice so black and white that it feels stolen from a video game. In fact, the only strange or interesting part of it is that it's posed as a cliffhanger. If, roughly, every episode in the series hadn't clued you in to the fact that every character in the show goes out of their way to make the worst choice possible, then maybe it would have been a surprise in the next episode when Walt goes to the drug deal and pretends he was stuck in traffic. Don Draper isn't always right, why is Walt always wrong?
Dick Whitman may be the face of Mad Men, but the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are the real main character. Breaking Bad is the same Walt show on the same Walt channel week after week and no manner of subplots can change that. Hank's progression through the ranks after icing Tuco comes and goes rather than being a main thread. Equally, I being to wonder if the train of thought that all the nefarious deeds are being done for Walt's family is more of an excuse for the writers to justify the machinations of the show than it is for the character. Every few episodes, there's a nebulous scene of Walt at a get together where he just looks totally out of place, which would be fine were he just part of the family from a diegetic perspective and it's us, the audience, who know something is amiss, but instead it just makes everything he's doing seem completely unjustified.
All of this comes before my final jumping off point: ABQ. Suspense is great when done right, and for a lot of the season, I was watching just to figure out what was going to happen to get that pink bear all crispy and into the pool of the White household. I was expecting some serious shit; with Heisenberg expanding and the Mexicans turning up the heat, everything pointed towards some exciting climax. Instead, we got two planes crashing into each other in a part of the show that belongs more in the Wait, What section of Norm MacDonald's Sports Show than it does in any legitimate drama. While I know not to expect realism and know that I should expect the grimmest shit possible, whether it benefits the plot or not, I'm still amazed anyone found this to be a good idea.
It falls into a more absurdist category of the same narrative trap that makes the boats from The Dark Knight such a bore. Having a message to your media is fine, but if it has to be shown in a segment that's completely apropos of nothing, only the special Olympians in the audience will be impressed. Much like how the ferries intended to show morality of the common man and all that deep and cerebral shit you've come to expect from Chris Nolan, but instead acts as both a tempo killer and a head slapper that forces the entire message of the movie onto you again, just in case you were too wowed by the Batmoblie turning into a buggy to pick it up the first time. The planes in Breaking Bad, so I've been told, were intended to show the consequences of Walt's actions as the bad guy of the show, but it's so tangential and deus ex machina-esque that it has zero impact on anything. The death of one is a tragedy but the death of hundreds off screen that we're meant to sympathize with is a joke.
Similarly, I appreciate that what we're supposed to be seeing is the external effects that Walt has had on things, but it's so tangential that he has no impact on the actual cause of the crash. The chain of events is all kicked off because of what Walt doesn't do meaning that were he there or not, Jane dies and, fine, that's a solid example of him being the big bad yet again but Q's decision to go back to work and then throw a benny has almost literally nothing to do with Walt at all. Considering the direct cause and effect model the show runs with, if it was intended to be a Magnolia moment, it's an utter failure and exists as drama for the sake of drama.
But, anyway, after all that baiting, I'm interested in knowing what Breaking Bad fans see in the show. The acting is top notch all round; I did keep watching Season 2 just on virtue of Cranston and De Lancie, but I just find the story to be so lame that I can't imagine season 3 or the upcoming 4 being anything more than bad things happen then more bad things happen interspersed with bad man talk and bad people dying savagely. What is it I'm not getting?