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'Breaking Bad': It's all good

April 5, 2009 | 11:01 pm

The best show on television (that’s right, I said it) didn’t even need to ride the bony shoulders of TV’s best actor (uh oh, did it again) on Sunday night. Instead, “Breaking Bad” delivered another great hour in spite of its hero really not knowing what the hell to do.

In fact, the episode typified why this second season is so much better than the first: The peripheral characters are a-changing, some (Skyler, Jesse) getting stronger, some (Hank) weaker. The result? A more complete and interesting television show, and there was no better example of this than what we saw Sunday.

First there was Jesse (Aaron Paul), standing up to Walt (Bryan Cranston) instead of down to him. He dictated the action and didn’t just listen to the smarter guy’s next big plan.

“There’s a third way,” Jesse said when the two brainstormed over how to get back to making the big bucks. “We’ve got to be Tuco. Cut out the middle man. Run our own game. … We control production and distribution.”

“I’m not willing to do that,” Walt said, fearing the risk.

“Who said anything about you?” the kid said. When he later added, “You need me more than I need you, Walt,” the “Walt” was clearly an exclamation point; Jesse had always before called him Mr. White.

And then there was Skyler (Anna Gunn), at home, reading a book. You could tell that all she wanted was peace and quiet and to eat her panini guilt-free. But so much for that: Honey was home.

“Whatcha eatin’?” Walt pleasantly asked, and somehow, as a clock tick-tocked in the background, we knew this was going to get ugly. What followed was just another great exchange between the couple, the kind of exchange between husband and wife that’s riddled with questions that aren’t really questions and forced pleasantries that mask inner bits of bubbling contempt.

Welcome to marriage:

Wife: “Panini. There’s another one in the freezer if you want it.”
Husband: “Yeah, I thought we nixed those, didn’t we?”
Wife: “Did we?”
Husband: “I mean, aren’t those the ones with the off-the-charts sodium?”
Wife: “I had a craving. Once in a while is no big deal.”
Husband: “So where’s Junior?”
Wife: “Out.”
Husband: “With whom?”
Wife: “Lewis.”
Husband: “Out … where?”
Wife: “Somewhere, I don’t know. He’ll be back by 9.”
Husband: “I just thought you might have a clue where your son is.”
Wife: “Why don’t you? Why am I the only one who needs to keep track of our son? I’ll tell you what, Walt, you wanna know where he is? Ask him. Just pick up the phone like I do.”
Husband, returning with a box of cigarettes: “Perhaps you might know something … about this?”
Wife: “Perhaps. And then again, perhaps I don’t, Walt. Perhaps I smoked them in a fugue state.”
Husband: “I’d like an explanation.”
Wife: “Oh, you really don’t wanna go down that road, Walt.”
Husband: “You’re pregnant, for God’s sake!”
Wife: “Three and a half cigarettes is not going to do a thing to the baby. Nothing.”
Husband: “Oh, well, I’m glad you’re so sure, doctor.”
Wife: “Three and a half! That’s it! I tossed the rest! And I’m sure you’ll be very glad to hear that yes, I felt ashamed.”
Husband: “Skyler, this is something that. … This is so unlike you.
Wife: “Really? How would you know?”

Zing. 

Elsewhere, actor Dean Norris continued to do fine work portraying Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank, largely because the writing now allows him to stretch his acting chops a bit. In the first season he was too often just the rumbling-bumbling loudmouth. Now, still shaken by the Tuco shootout and facing the prospect of more violence with his promotion to El Paso, that hard shell of his is beginning to crack, just like those bottles of home-brewed beer he keeps in the garage.

And so it was, everything and everyone cracking just a little bit more, inching further into darkness. “It’s all good,” Walt told the doctor at the top of the episode. Clearly.

Fun fact: Jesse’s family forcing him to move out of his house has been a nice little side storyline, but it was actually necessitated by real-life circumstances. That very Albuquerque home was put up for sale and sold last year – someone apparently forgot to tell Albuquerque about the housing crisis -- forcing the writers to figure out a way to move Jesse.

Good news: On Wednesday, “Breaking Bad” won a Peabody Award for excellence in television.

Better news: On Thursday, AMC renewed the show for a third season. “ ’Breaking Bad’ is one of the most unique and layered dramas on television today," AMC executive Joel Stillerman said in a statement. "The Peabody win, the critical acclaim and strong audience growth for the second season reinforce that this is the kind of exceptional original storytelling AMC intends to deliver to audiences."

-- Josh Gajewski

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