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.
So am I allowed to be excited about what happened on Breaking Bad last night? Yes, last night's episode, even for a newbie like me, was damn thrilling. I grew nervous as those cars pulled up to the site where Hank had just arrested Walt, after duping him into the locale with a phony photo of a barrel of money. And as those bullets flew in the last moments I genuinely wanted to see what happened next, the most obvious question being: did someone die?
Of course, the excitement of that moment for me was obviously a different sort of excitement than long time fans of the show felt. For me, the moment was about understanding how the show works. The previous episodes—which I might have found confusing or slow or expository—suddenly built into something emotional and tense and shocking. For fans, there was surely something more cathartic in that hailstorm of bullets—five season worth of dedication playing out in a violent finale.
But let's get back to my first question: am I allowed to be excited about the show right now? Thinking things about the show without having watched the whole thing is simply unacceptable to some die-hard fans. (Just look at the comments at last week's recaps calling me a moron.) Breaking Bad fandom is a kind of monstrous thing, but it's also something AMC is clearly trying to capitalize on in terribly annoying ways—see Philip's discussion of their "second screen" experience below. Last week Darren Franich wrote about the virulent qualities of some Breaking Bad fans at Entertainment Weekly. "But there’s a bleak edge to Breaking Bad fandom: A kind of insistence that saying that some part of the show is anything less than perfect is tantamount to heresy," he wrote. "This is stupid, because nothing is perfect. And it’s also the kind of energy that can actually damage a show."
I hope some longtime fans would embrace the fact that this episode genuinely caught my interest, and be happy that I saw how good the show could be. I know some fans will simply pooh-pooh me.
Beginning with due, obvious credit: This episode was good stuff. Pinkman suggests they track the money, knows a guy that can help. Hank uses a wily plot to trick the lawyer's goon into giving up key information. Hank uses a second wily cell-phone-photo-based plot to trick Walter into 1) admitting that he committed crimes and then 2) heading to the site of the physical evidence. When Walter realizes he's been duped, he calls in an airstrike — until he realizes that both Jesse and Hank are there. Walter gets arrested. The airstrike arrives anyway. Tense, solid, dense.
Here's another thing that happened in that episode: The new meth-making crew finally puts together a higher-quality blend (Blend? Cook? Meth-makers, please leave the proper term in the comments) after too many low-quality batches. See, used to be that the batches were all really high quality! Then they got kind of crappy, but what are you going to do, you have to keep making the stuff for the addicts. But finally, they made another good batch, after what seemed like a long time.
Hopefully you see where I'm going with this.
It must be a drag to be a writer on a show that receives enormous praise. You are slotted for a certain number of shows a season that you need to flesh out. It's hard to cram all that plot into that few episodes — or, worse, it's hard to fill out that many shows with a plot that does what you want. This episode felt like the first episode that wasn't largely expository or filler. Looking back at the defenses of last week's show (the "rabid dog" one), it's got to be a little embarrassing, right? Trying to make the case for how that fourth episode wasn't just an attempt to eat up an hour of time before getting to the conclusion? Part of my reason for explicating all of what happened in last night's episode was to contrast it with the episode prior. There was essentially nothing in that episode which could not have been dispatched with in five minutes at the beginning of this one. But, you know, you gotta fill eight episodes, right?
Although, really, we're trying to fill 16 episodes. For obvious financial reasons, AMC is pretending that this is season six, but it isn't. The guy who is suing Apple for pretending this was Episode 5 of Season 6 instead of Episode 13 of Season 5 is correct. You know who else agrees it's Season 5, Episode 13? Everyone on the show, who called it "Episode 513." By breaking it out into its own season, AMC could ramp up the ancillary marketing opportunities. Like their "second screen" thing. Unlike the idea of having a "second screen" in most television contexts — watching along on Twitter and praising or making fun of the show — this was some weird, obvious set of pictures and polls and stupid facts. These are all actual "second screen" additions.
Good content, AMC.
Marketing ploys aside, I am for the first time excited to see what happens next week. Sunday's episode — solid, exciting — is what I expected to get when I signed up for watching Breaking Bad. Having one great show out of every five episodes is better than most TV series, I suppose. And it's hard to quibble with last night's.
Except, you know, for the final scene. Imagine if we saw the guns drawn, the screen went blank, and then we heard the gunfire. Way stronger, right? Why show two minutes of people shooting and no one being hit?
I guess they still had part of that hour to fill.