Sunday, July 07, 2013

Breaking Out

With Breaking Bad about to restart its fifth and final season next month, I noticed AMC has made the first eight episodes available On Demand.  So I've rewatched them to catch up. (What follows will contain spoilers.)

It was hard to know where the show was going next when the season started.  Season four had ended spectactularly when Walt won the biggest faceoff up to that point with Gus.  What do you do after that?  Well, for one thing, you've got to start cooking again.

But the series was in an odd place, not just because the man who'd been driving the plot for the last two and a half seasons was gone.  Walt had alienated most of the other players.  His wife was terrified but stuck. His lawyer wanted out.  Gus's fixer wanted to kill him (there was a time he thought Walter was the sensible one).  Only Jesse was still on his side, and even that relationship was a bit strained.  So the show is about cleaning up old messes and starting anew, a strange place to be when you're nearing the climax.

On top of that, the tone has changed.  Up till now, Walt, no matter how bad he was, was the underdog.  Now he's the drug lord and, as the show makes clear, has become unbearably full of himself.  We've now got a show where almost all the audience finds the lead unsympathetic.  It can make for tough viewing.  With the audience sympathy now flowing to other characters, has the center moved?  Is the show now about Jesse?

I should add the fifth season starts with a peek at the ending, with Walt at age 52 returning from hiding in New Hamsphire, ready for some sort of major action.  But that's what we'll find out in the final eight episodes.  Before than, we get to see his 51st birthday in the fourth episode--so everything that's happened up to this point has taken a year (it seems like more than a year Marie remarks).

With Walt's enemies mostly vanquished, it may seem like the show has narrowed its focus, but it's also widened its geography. We learn a bit about Madrigal, the German company that helped with Gus's supplies, and we get a new character, Lydia, the nervous executive who works there and is fearful of getting caught.  We also get a lot more cooking all over Albuquerque and Walt and the gang set up shop in houses undergoing bug bombing.

One of the things that keeps the action going is all the new confrontations creator Vince Gilligan gets to do.  There are the old ones--Walter-Skyler, Walter-Jesse and so on.  But Vince also has fun with Walter-Marie, for instance, or Skyler-Jesse, not to mention the ongoing struggle between Walter and Mike. Maybe best of all, we get a showdown between the two biggest badasses on the show, Hank and Mike.

There are plenty of big moments, but the two biggest have to be Walt killing Mike--for fairly stupid reasons.  (If anyone was still sympathetic to Walt it's hard to believe they could last past this.)  And in the final seconds before the last credits, the moment we knew was coming. Everything is finally looking calm and settled when Hank--a great detective with one blind spot, his brother-in-law--stumbles upon evidence that shows him who Heiseberg really is. Presumably this will be what the final eight episodes are about.  Though who is Walt fighting for when he comes back?  His family?  Jesse? Himself? August can't get here soon enough.

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