After all that, Breaking Bad finally returned last night. And by "all that" I don't just mean the nearly one-year wait between the first half of the final season and the second. There's also been the flood of anticipation and speculation, which has led to the complete saturation of the Breaking Bad commentary market. Between June and now, Vulture had nearly 50 posts tagged with "Breaking Bad." Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog alone (so, not counting recaps and reviews) has about twenty posts with the BB tag. And, y'know, we've had ten. There's a lot of Breaking Bad stuff out there, is the point. And after a while it got to be too much.
Which is why it was so nice to remember that, despite all that increasingly annoying and distracting noise, the actual show we're talking about is still quite good. It's ominous and refreshingly quiet, a carefully structured and shot episode of television featuring thoughtful, lived-in performances and perfectly pitched writing. Last night's episode, while alienating to some, was a gripping hour, moving the story along swiftly while still finding time for moments of introspection and foreboding. What a great show this Breaking Bad is! Which is why, of course, it's earned all this breathless analysis and critique. It's earned it, but I'm not sure it deserves it.
Meaning, just as happens with Mad Men every season, the purity of the show is, for me at least, badly tarnished by the overabundance of anticipatory coverage. I've complained in the past about my sensitivity to endless TV chatter, but in Breaking Bad's case it feels especially damaging. Because of the show's intricately mechanical design, each scene, each moment, is incredibly pick-apart-able. And the more people pick and pick and pick, I think we forget what the thing looked like when fully assembled. It's a forgetting the forest for the trees thing, the grand picture of the show ignored in favor of little details, each one earning its own blog post and feeding the great content machine.
I suppose some of my initial lack of excitement also had something to do with this half-season nonsense, an annoying way to drum up attention that, while seemingly very successful, broke a certain narrative flow that previous seasons have enjoyed . Whatever the reasons, my doubts and, yes, exhaustion with the show (it's just talked about too much) quickly evaporated as I settled in last night. What a welcome relief, the realization that the series has weathered and maybe even ignored all the hype, continuing confidently in its own way toward what is, I'd have to imagine, given the tenor of last night, a pretty grim place.
It's probably in vain, but here's hoping that the final seven episodes of the show are allowed, in some way, to exist on their own terms, without being incessantly squeezed by blogs trying to wring every last egg out of this niche golden goose. Last night's episode reminded me that the show has truly earned that. It should not be damned with its own overabundant praise, but simply marveled at for the assured, masterful work that it is.
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