I know I don’t typically review TV on any sort of regular basis. When I do review TV, I either don’t give the episode a grade score or I keep to the end of the review. Well, right now we’re going talk about Breaking Bad and how I give this first episode of its final half-season an A+. Because that episode was spectacular, beginning to end and everything in between.
But I really don’t think I’m going to do a straight review of the episode anyhow. You can read it done better other places. But there are a few things I want to touch on, and no, Saul’s barn door ain’t one of them. Or maybe it is. *shudder* no its not.
First let me say how refreshing it is to see that most of the side characters that I’ve come to know and love and help move this show along were at least somehow brought into view. Saul, his aforementioned barn door and his glorious office, Lydia and her rental car, and most importantly of all Badger and Skinny Pete. Moments before their scene I looked at Fighting Nun and said “Listen, all I’m saying is if they don’t bring back Badger and Skinny Pete for at least one more episode, then this whole half-a-season and the rest of the seasons will have been a wash.” As if reading my mind in the future, Gilligan and crew decided “Oh we’ll give you Badger and Skinny Pete all right and we’ll write them in a moment that was handcrafted just for you.” Badger describing his Star Trek Fan fiction involving a Barf-o-rama-esque pie eating contest on the Enterprise in which Scotty is beaming pies out of Chekov’s stomach so that Chekov can best Spock only Scotty gets distracted by Uhura’s rack and ends up beaming Chekov’s bowls into outerspace and Skinny Pete getting his mind blown by this idea? Tell me that scene was written expressly for me? It’s what I never knew I wanted until I got it and it made me smile and my heart leap. Thank you Breaking Bad.
Consequently, if some tech-savvy enterprising type (@bobbyfinger or @JAMNPP perhaps?) could make a gif of Badger spouting the ending of said fanfic and it cut to Skinny Pete's face when his mind gets blown for me to have for the rest of my days, I would be forever grateful. Somebody make that happen, Mmmmkay.
But that was the only heart leap to be had this episode, at least by me. The rest was one gut punch after another. That’s not entirely true. That scene where Skyler storms through her own car wash and charges Lydia like a mother bear with her claws out was everything to me. Being a mother who would do anything to protect her children, I’ve sometimes questioned a lot of Skyler’s motives and decisions, but in that moment I didn’t have to question and I would’ve done the same thing, maybe even more. Good on her and good on the show for finally giving her something to do in a more substantial way than they have in the past.
But let’s stop describing the highs of this rollercoaster ride and get to the gut churning lows. When that opening shot of the show finally zoomed out to reveal those skate boarders riding in the emptied out pool of Walt’s house, my heart dropped into my stomach, and then, when we get to see the interior of the house, gutted and graffitied, I felt like this show just injured one of its characters. I’m not sure I’m the one to deliver a much-needed think-piece on locations and inanimate objects as their own characters on Breaking Bad (I mean, isn’t this Matt Zoller Sietz’s territory?), but that’s what I intend to deliver.
This show has such a sense of place that I feel that some of these locations, some of the objects were characters themselves. The episode where the boys and the Winnebago were stranded in the desert: that was the Winnebago getting to have its own dialog, getting to insert its own say in the episode. And the episode where they destroy her? I think I cried actual tears. It made just as much of an impact as any character death on the show. The same could be said for the underground lab and the Fly episode. They made that lab a character with its own input and when they destroyed the lab, I had an opposite but equal reaction of elation, like, finally they took down the bitch. Even the cars have a significant role. You can’t tell me Walt’s Aztec and Jesse’s red clunker haven’t been players in their own right. The Car Wash, Saul’s office, they’ve all played their parts, have they not? Let’s not even get started on Jesse’s house and the horrors its had to endure. The list could go on and on.
But Walt’s home more than anything felt like its own character with its own role to play. I watched as she bemoaned horrible water pressure and water heat. I watched as Walt fixed her up and she repaid them sort of by burning Walt Jr.’s hands. I watched as she became overrun by airplane wreckage and how she overcame the damage. I watched her hide Walt’s secrets time and again, I watched her welcome a new baby and protect the inhabitants as best she could. I watched as she handled Walt throwing a pizza at her for chrisssakes! So when they showed her gutted and mutilated, with the word Heisenberg scrawled on one of her walls with boys out in her pool skateboarding (WITHOUT HELMETS! GAH!) I felt her wounds, her heartbreak, how she was betrayed.
If Jesse’s house goes down in ball of fire I will cry gigantic crocodile tears and then I. WILL. RIOT.
But that’s how good this show is. It made me invested in not just the characters, but better than any other show in my memory, the place as well. And that’s just not home state pride talking. I think I did start watching the show because Albuquerque and the state of my youth were featured so prominently. This wasn’t just a production that decided to use a city’s place name but recreated it in some Canadian backlot somewhere (Supernatural, your use of Kermit still stings). This was a production that filmed on location and got it right. I don’t know if the motel they dubbed the Crystal Palace was an actual location in ABQ or one they had to build but I will tell you it called to memory some of the seedy motels I’d seen in Albuquerque of my youth, and that’s saying something. Every place felt real and authentic and important.
A year or so ago, Fighing Nun had to go to Albuquerque and he’d send me pictures of what he was convinced was the Car Wash and the Lazer Tag place. I think he even took a picture of a good facsimile of a Pollos Hermanos restaurant. Two more place pictures and he could’ve won Breaking Bad Bingo.
If another enterprising graphics-savvy person would mock up a sample Breaking Bad Bingo card with just Breaking Bad places in the card and send it to me, I would be again, forever grateful. These, while close aren't quite there yet.
And lastly, I want to discuss the other gut-churning/lurching moment worth mentioning, which is obviously the ending. Yes, I could talk about the Jesse, Walt scene, which has its merits and is worth talking about, but let’s get to show stopper shall we?
My gut really had no idea where to be. At first it was in a holding pattern, waiting, moment to moment, and then Walt pulled out the GPS and it jumped forward about fifteen feet. As Hank lowered the garage door and my stomach found a new low underneath my bowels. As the show down commenced, I felt like I’d taken a few in the solar plexus. As they continued with verbal jabs instead of actual ones, my guts didn’t know where to be. Hank tore Walt a new one and my stomach churned, Walt told Hank the cancer was back and it sunk again. And as the episode faded out, with the two of them excellently lit and shadowed, recalling to mind that episode of Walt and Gus discussing business matters, my insides felt utterly exhausted.