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.
Before Bump and I watched this most recent episode of Breaking Bad—belatedly, I must admit—I took BuzzFeed's "Which 'Breaking Bad' Character Are You" quiz. My answers yielded that I am, in fact, Jesse. Having just started watching, I'm really not sure what that says about me. It is, however, apropos considering "Rabid Dog" focused a lot on Aaron Paul's portrayal of a troubled young man. So let's, in fact, talk about Jesse.
My recap partner has some documented issues with Paul. Last week he called him "the emoji of actors." Now, I don't think that's being particularly fair to Paul. That's in part because I'm pretty sure he's had more range across the five season of the show—he says "bitch" a lot, right?—and also because Bump himself reminded me how short a time frame these past four episodes have spanned. It's been merely a couple of days since Hank made his realization. If Jesse really is suffering from some sort of Walt-inflicted PTSD, why wouldn't he veer drastically between emotional highs and lows.
That said, I think in this episode we finally saw some developments in his character thanks to his relationship with Hank. Jesse began this episode as a rabid dog. Saul suggests to Walt that Jesse is like Old Yeller, a loving loyal dog who eventually has to be shot. But Jesse actually does not descend into madness. Instead, by going with Hank he seems to regain some agency, and by the end of the episode he's calling the shots.
I've been interested in Jesse since we started watching the show, and, unlike Bump, have consistently wanted to see more of him. That's in part because there seems to be such a cult of fandom around the character and in part because he has seemed, yes, a little one note since I've started watching.
Fine, Aaron Paul did better this week, actually showing a little mid-range in his acting. I'd say that it was hardly the sort of grand march across the proscenium that would garner teary-eyed applause from William Shakespeare, but that's not really the benchmark we want to hit in television programming. I would also say that it was hardly acting worthy of any awards, but the pertinent award is the Emmy, so who knows.
Enough about Mr. Emoji. Let's talk, again, about the other teetering insufficiency of Breaking Bad: its technical flaws. We've covered the whispery audio problems, a problem dispatched with the use of closed captioning. We've also made fun of the script for its clunky spots. Does having a cheesy lawyer who says dumb things exonerate you from the clunky dumb things the lawyer says? Only the Emmy nominating committee can answer that question once and for all. And even they must consider that someone decided to name characters "Badger" and "Skinny Pete," which sound like the names of "bad kids" in a 1950s PSA about not riding your bike without signaling turns.
In the most recent episode, a new frustration: the show's insistence on manufactured drama. This was a middle episode in a season that needs to tie up every loose end in the show's history, so it's natural that it might be a little more expository in nature.
But maybe just move the plot forward, then. Instead we get a few little artificial jolts, little hits meant to keep the viewer's high going. (seewhatididthere) It opens, following on the melodramatic scene of Jesse dumping gasoline all over the White house, showing Walt creeping into the house as tense-yet-weirdly-Southwestern music plays. The director rips off Kubrick's from-below Shining shot of Walt reaching for the doorknob of the only room where Jesse could still be hiding — but he's not in there! Oh, OK. Later, Jesse sees some galoot staring at him from behind a statue — but the galoot is just there waiting for his kid! Ah. I was half-expecting a scene in which Walt enters a dark room and then he hears a noise — but it's just a kitty cat!
The most effective drama of the night, the sort of thing you expect from a show hailed as one of the best in history, came in a brief scene between Walt and his son. His son seems to be the only person on the show who sees Walt purely sympathetically, and his unaffected embrace of his father was sweet and humanizing. It was just a snippet of conversation and a deliberate physical reaction. It worked well. And for it to do so, Walt's son didn't have to stare catatonically into the middle distance for a few minutes or or switch into pure, aggressive fury mode for emphasis. He didn't have to half-chuckle while explaining to Hank that he had a new plan for sinking Walter White, adding little pauses into his lines for effect.
Ugh, Aaron Paul is still the worst.