The Atlantic Wire has turned to two recappers who've never seen Breaking Bad before to put fresh eyes on what some have called the best show on television. Here's what the show looks like to them.
Let's get this out of the way: I had no idea what was going on in the first scene of last night's Breaking Bad, and I was extremely confused in regards to what was going on with the ricin cigarette.
Aside from that general confusion, what really stood out to me in this episode was the show's use of kitsch to bring absurdity to otherwise super-serious situations. Sometimes, in my uneducated opinion, this use of quirk is entertaining and visually interesting but doesn't really make sense. For example: Why would Hank, Marie, Walt and Skyler pick that Mexican restaurant as the spot for their confrontation? Okay, sure, it's important to meet in a public place when doing things like talking about the safety of children during an impending showdown over a meth empire, but wouldn't a diner or a coffee shop—where waiters tend to leave you alone, and a cup of coffee is a normal order—be a better choice than a taqueria? That's not to say I didn't like elements of the scene, but the awkwardness of the setting seemed forced rather than natural.
In other parts of the episode the absurdity seemed more organic. Saul's columned, over-the-top office—a regular set piece—made sense based on what I know of the character. So did his gift of a Hello Kitty phone to Jesse. The phone was just a gag, but it was a good one: With it, Saul tried to emasculate Jesse who would later come and beat him up.
Now, about that beating. The show's big moments this episode were completely engaging. Realizing what was on Walt's "confession" tape was genuinely surprising, and I was captivated by Walt and Jesse's confrontation, even though I've often questioned Walt's sincerity with regards to his underling. I'm guessing the aftermath of Jesse's gasoline dousing might clear that up.
I am starting to think that Esther is enjoying this more than I am.
So the White house is the guidepost for the season, right? Episode one, we see a glimpse of how it will all end. In episode two, violence and pain arrive: Marie comes to steal the baby; Walter passes out in the bathroom. In episode three, actual damage: Jesse crushes one of the walkway lights as he pulls into the driveway. Oh, also he pours gasoline everywhere, which even if not set on fire certainly would ruin the wall-to-wall. But the house will be ruined and then someone will write "HEISENBERG" on the interior; it has been foretold.
That was not the best moment of last night's episode, however. The best moment for me was when, during the (otherwise inexplicable) introductory scene in the bathroom, a snippet of text popped up on-screen: "[TOILET FLUSHES]." This is because I am not a native speaker of the New Mexico Mutter and therefore, only a few minutes into the show, was forced to turn on closed captioning. Perhaps the entire show takes place in the final, asphyxiated thoughts of someone buried alive, and the muddy sound is a nod to that? Perhaps not.
When I harped on the audio issues last week, it was knee-jerk, simple frustration. I have now evolved that sentiment into something more robust: I think that Breaking Bad suffers from serious technical problems. One is the sound. The other is the script.
One character on a show that aired in 2013 had this line: "Eat me." Another said "fire up a doob," followed closely by "give me the dope." You know, like people say. These are minor transgressions however. More egregious: The scene in which Walter outlined his extortion against Hank. At first, it was clever, a good plot twist. And then three minutes elapsed, with cuts between Walter's thoroughly expository description of past seasons and Hank and Marie standing and looking at the TV. And then, just to make sure we got it, Hank told Marie that the DVD was a threat. Oh! OH. Now I get it. Thanks, Hank. And then Hank, a law enforcement official, decides this is the "nail in the coffin," instead of, you know, reviewing the evidence and so on.
This is lazy! This is bad writing. It is not quite as fingerprint-heavy as the wacky Interrupting Waiter™ schtick during the supposed-to-be tense restaurant scene, but it was close. The salvation, as always, was the excellent Bryan Cranston, who continues to make his costar look terrible in contrast. America, you're wrong about Aaron Paul. You are. You are incorrect in thinking he is good. I wanted to give him the chance to play something besides "catatonic stoner" before finalizing that assessment, but now he has and the assessment is final. I tried to think of the analogy that best fit his spastic, one-step-beyond-the-extreme acting, and came up with two options. The first is that, after watching Spinal Tap, he decided he would always take things to 14. The second, though, comes from Paul himself.
Aaron Paul is the emoji of actors. Just as he enjoys using emoji, the little pre-fab Japanese emoticons, to illustrate his tweets (examples above) (Get it? Fire? Get it?), Paul relies on pre-fab extremes for his role. (At least this season.) "Now I am Stoned Depressed Guy." "Now I am Sad Angry Guy." "Now I am Furious Burning Guy." That last shot of the episode where he's dumping gas on the camera? Maybe the director asked him to do that little bit of over-the-top nonsense, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it were Paul's idea after seeing one too many Rage Against the Machine videos.
In honor of Mr. Paul, then, here is an emoji encapsulation of his character so far this season.
Could have swapped that in and no one would have been the wiser. Then they could have used his salary to buy a mixing board.