Thursday, October 17, 2013

My son has been asking me... write something about Breaking Bad, now that I'm finally finished watching it, but I really don't have enough to say to fill a whole post. (I'm not very opinionated.)

But I guess I do have a few preliminary thoughts (spoiler alert!):

First of all, there's the joke that Breaking Bad was one big, long advertisement for the Affordable Care Act. And it's true; this series couldn't have taken place in any other developed country.

(Season One, episode one): Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher in Canada France Norway Germany Switzerland Singapore Japan Australia, is diagnosed with lung cancer. Everyone in the family is very upset.

(Season One, episode two): Walt seeks medical help and is either cured or dies. End of series.

Second, two of the most clever scenes that immediately come to mind are from Season 3, episode 6, "Sunset," above, and Season 5, episode 11, "Confessions."

In the first:

At a junkyard, Walt discusses the demolition of the RV with the junkyard owner, who assures Walt it will be destroyed and recycled into patio furniture. Walt is alone in the RV when Jesse barges in. Seconds later, Hank drives up. "You led him right to us," says Walt.

Hank pounds the RV's door. "Last chance to do it the easy way," he tells Jesse. Walt strains to hold the door shut as Hank tries to pry it open with a crowbar.

"Got a warrant?" the junkyard owner, Old Joe,* asks Hank. "I don't need one if I've got probable cause, counselor," Hank replies. The owner and Hank spar over whether the RV is a vehicle or a domicile. If the latter, its residents would be constitutionally protected against unlawful search and seizure.

Hank rips some duct tape off the door, revealing bullet holes from Walt's confrontation with Emilio and Krazy-8. "There was a firearm discharged inside of this domicile," Hank says.

Walt orders Jesse to reply, "How could you have known that they were there before you took off the tape?" and Jesse complies. "This is my own private domicile," Jesse continues, "and I will not be harassed... bitch!" Hank heads to his car and calls ASAC Merkert to obtain a warrant.

Walt, meanwhile, makes his own call.

Minutes later, Hank's cell phone rings. A woman identifying herself as an Albuquerque police officer informs him that Marie has had a car accident and is being airlifted to a hospital. Hank leaps into his SUV and drives off.

At the law office, Saul's secretary Francesca hangs up the phone, telling her boss, "You're gonna have to start paying me more."

Hank rushes into the hospital looking for Marie. Through his panic, he finally realizes his cell phone is ringing. It's Marie, checking in to make plans for dinner. Hank realizes he was tricked.

Back at the junkyard, a forklift rips apart the RV and loads it into a crusher.

In the second:

Walt sits in front of a video camera in his bedroom and takes a deep breath. Wary Skyler presses record. "My name is Walter Hartwell White," he says. "This is my confession."

Skyler and Walt meet Hank and Marie at a restaurant. Without admitting anything, Walt asks Hank to back off, saying an investigation would devastate Junior. "Why tear this family apart?" he pleads.

"Just kill yourself," Marie proposes calmly. Skyler and Hank both balk at this calloused suggestion. Hank insists that Walt's only course of action is to admit his guilt. With nothing left to be discussed, Walt places a DVD on the table and leaves with Skyler.

Back at home, Marie and Hank watch the DVD, in which Walt spins an elaborate story pinning Hank and Gus as the masterminds behind the blue meth empire. He claims Hank forced him to cook meth and held his kids hostage for three months to prevent Walt from talking to the police. Walt also reveals that he paid over $177,000 for Hank's medical bills after Gus tried to have him killed.

Marie insists Hank show the video to the DEA, claiming no one will believe it. He considers, but admits that there's one part of Walt's story that confuses him: the very specific figure of $177,000. Marie deflates, and confirms that Walt did pay for some of Hank's medical bills — it was the only way they could afford the treatment he needed.

"That's the last nail in the coffin," Hank laments, knowing he and Marie look irrefutably complicit now.

Finally, there's the whole subject of free will. Huh?

Consider this: the whole show hinges on a series of choices. (Doesn't everything?) With Walt, once he finds out he has cancer he has a choice: to fight it or not? Once he decides to fight it, should he use his own insurance or take a job with Gray Matter or just charity from the Schwartzes? Each decision led to different outcomes. With Skyler, she chose not to take her divorce lawyer's advice and turn in Walt. Jesse and Hank had a similar set of decisions which effected their lives.

But did any of these characters really have choices, or were they constrained by their own personalities and circumstances? Take Hank, for example. Is it really conceivable that he could have ever quit chasing "Heisenberg"? Wasn't he a little like Javert in Les Miserables? Wasn't he compelled to make the choices he made? (Aren't we all?)

Oh, well; those are some of my initial reactions to Breaking Bad. It was a really good show; right up there with The Sopranos. Check it out.

* P. S. Did you notice that the actor, Larry Hankin, who played Old Joe also played Kramer in Seinfeld, "The Pilot," Part One? (Hankin actually auditioned for the role of Kramer when Seinfeld began production.)

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