Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Breaking Bad - "Blood Money"

Last week in anticipation of the final season of Breaking Bad, the AV Club ran a series of fawning articles claiming the show as the greatest on TV right now. To which, not a lot of arguments here. It’s certainly the show I most anticipate. No, it’s not as experimental as Louie (my candidate for the just best show on TV right now), but few other series are as stylistically adventurous as Breaking Bad. And not to mention, the shit is like meth. I can’t stop watching and I can’t stop thinking about what it will be like when I watch new episodes and oh God can I get a fucking hit of Breaking Bad right now, just a little taste?

Anyway, the AV Club, in an attempt to show the site wasn’t completely run by Breaking Bad fan-boys and -girls, did allow Stephen Bowie to write a piece excoriating the critically acclaimed show, calling it a hollow exercise in generic thrills with only one real character: Walter White. The rest of the characters, he claimed, function merely as plot devices, and what little consistency there is to these flimsy pretexts of characters generally flies out the window whenever the opportunity for a morbid joke or badass moment presents itself.

Yeah, well...but how could...but...

Ok, look, I can’t really come up with many good retorts to these complaints. This show is a stylistic exercise, for the most part; it is mostly about clever plotting, less about (non-Walter White) character development; it is more about thrills, less about the creation of a viable fictional universe populated by believable fully-developed three-dimensional characters. And, in fact, it is these complaints that initially had me confused about how I should feel about the show. You see, movie- and TV-wise, I have always preferred character-based rather than plot-based stories. Like junk food, plot-based material may be more fun in the moment, but it is an ultimately hollow form of entertainment lacking any sort of emotional nourishment. Character-based stories on the other hand, though less immediately satisfying, will grow on you, its riches revealing themselves on multiple rewatches, the characters so real, you feel like revisiting old friends when rewatching. With addictive, suspenseful plot-based fare, on the other hand, it's more of a one and done situation. Oh, so that's what this was leading to? I get it. What else now?

But you know what? I forgot about every single one of those complaints as soon as the final season premiere’s "Blood Money" began playing. Fuck it; I love this junk food right now. And in fact, you know what, I think I even have to call bullshit on some of the complaints. Stephen Bowie claimed that all the side characters are stock types, and in lieu of actual character development, each is given a single ironic vulnerability. Hank, Bowie claimed, is a macho blowhard hiding crippling anxiety. And although there is a grain of truth to that claim, I don’t know how anyone could watch "Blood Money" and not be fully emotionally enveloped by Hank’s arc. (Also, good fucking God, what a performance.)

Hank has spent the better part of his career chasing the white whale, the elusive Heisenberg, a man constantly one step ahead. One step ahead, Hank now realizes, because Heisenberg has been intimately involved in his life. How is Hank supposed to process this info? The brother in law he loved as a brother not only fucked up his police work, not only severely injured him in the process of fucking up his police work, not only put the safety of his own family in jeopardy by engaging in a criminal activity, not only exacerbated a drug problem by flooding the streets with his pure meth, he put Hank’s livelihood at risk. How willing will Hank's superiors be to believe that he wasn't on the take? How could his brother in law run the largest criminal enterprise in the southwest right under his nose without him at least catching a whiff? If Hank is to bring this to light, he has to know that his superiors will think one thing (paraphrasing Casino here): either he’s in on it or he’s stupid; either way, he can no longer be DEA. It is this vice grip of lose-lose choices in which Hank now finds himself caught.

Stephen Bowie's piece mentioned that Breaking Bad doesn’t work as drama because Walter White doesn’t have any narrative equals. Many people continue to root for Walter White (though I sure as fuck don’t) because there is no ballast, character-wise, to balance the force of nature that is Walter White. Well, I don’t know about you but Hank has become that ballast for me. In his confrontation with Walter in the final scene, he is not a plot device thrown into Walter’s story to gum up the works, he is a fully-fledged person charged with conflicting emotions, trying to grapple his previous love for Walter with the crimes he now realizes the man is responsible for. After punching Walt (honestly, the most cathartic blow in the entire series), Hank doesn’t continue pummeling Walt. He pulls him close, almost embracing him, looking into his eyes, trying to understand the man. Beyond any macho-posturing, Hank is a man, much like Walt, who is defined by his commitment to his work, his need for perfection at whatever he does. Unlike Walt, however, Hank's motives are less vainglorious; he just wants to prove to himself that he's worth his work. And now that he's proved himself, will he be able to follow through?

Random Notes:

Love the heartbeat type sound as Walt walks through the abandoned house; kinda reminds me of the sound effects at the end of "Crawl Space."

There’s Checkhov’s ricin again. Who wants to place odds on whether this will actually ever get used?

As for the claim that Breaking Bad sacrifices character consistency, emotional resonance, and reality whenever it finds an opportunity for a cheap gag or punchline, I guess you could point the whole "Hello, Carol" bit as proof of this—it certainly punches a hole in the tension of an otherwise resonant scene, deflating the urgency—but goddamn I loved that bit.

Dig the space-door sound as Hank opens the sliding door to return to the patio. Stepping into an alien world now that new info has brought shit to light. Nothing is as it once seemed.

Now Walt wants to expand his car wash empire. He just can't turn off the ambition, greed switch. Which, by the way, I would totally watch a show about the cutthroat, murder-filled world of competitive car-washing.

I don't think I ever noticed before that one of Saul's burners is a Hello Kitty phone. What kind of fucked up shit is he hiding?

Walt puts the towel under his knees before he vomits. It's been a while since I've seen it, but wasn't that what Gus Fring did on the episode when he drank the poison?

Random Quotes:

“You are the devil.”

“Hello Carol.”

“Just wondering who washes a rental car.”

“Dude, why do you think McCoy never likes to beam nowhere? ‘Cause he’s a doctor, bitch. Look it up, it’s science.”

“Scotty beamed his guts up into space.”

“You know you can’t smoke that up in here.”

“You’re still gonna be 2 miracles short of savin'.”

“You need to stop focusing on the darkness behind you. The past is the past.”

“I think he’s dead and I think you know that.”

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