'Breaking Bad': Simple chaos
On an important night in television history -- the phenomenon that is "Lost" coming to an end -- here, on another channel, we've got the anti-"Lost." Nothing big here. No mind-blowing scenes. No huge revelations or long-awaited answers. Just two men trying to kill one tricky fly. That was it. That was your "Breaking Bad" on Sunday night. And still, not bad. Not bad at all.
As we've long discussed, simplicity isn't a bad thing when it comes to "Breaking Bad," the show so often moving at a measured pace as it either builds up to something big or comes off of something big. This was another of those episodes, though here the extent of the simplicity was pretty astounding. Really, "Breaking Bad"? A whole show that revolved around one pesky fly? To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I do know I was still thoroughly entertained from start to finish. And it's another testament to the writing staff and to AMC for even attempting such an episode. No pandering here. And no fear.
The point of it all? A character study and symbolism, it would seem. Walter's neuroses continue to bubble up inside of that bald head, especially now in the wake of the Hank shootout that he knows had everything to do with him. And anxiety tends to manifest. Here, it turned into Walt's sleeplessness and subsequent obsession over the buzzing fly.
"This fly is a major problem for us," Walt (Bryan Cranston) said to a flabbergasted Jesse (Aaron Paul). "It will ruin our batch. And we need to destroy it and every trace of it so we can cook. Failing that, we're dead. There is no room for error. Not with these people."
"How about we go get some air?" Jesse suggested.
"Get some air?"
Throughout the mostly comedic "flysaber" madness, I couldn't help but think about how far these two have come, and that too may have been part of this episode's intent. It was, in a way, like a retrospective, Walt putting some thought into all that's transpired and actually expressing his feelings to Jesse. So rarely do we get to see him actually speak his mind; it's usually more of a look that tells his story, as this man with a secret must keep so much inside. "I've lived too long," Walt said at one point. He seemed to be realizing that he no longer had control, which for him is an especially important thing. He is no longer sure about who may be watching, listening or even threatening his family's safety. And then there's the thing that's eating him up even more: his legacy. He just wants to be loved again, to be appreciated again. And nothing jilts him more than his wife's refusal to give in to this wish.
"You want them to actually miss you, you know?" he said, talking to Jesse about his family. "You want their memories to be ... But she won't understand. No matter how well I explain it, these days she just has this ... I mean, I truly believe there exists some combination of words -- there must exist certain words in a certain specific order that would explain all of this -- but I just can't ever seem to find them."
But as a man in a bar once told him, never give up on family. This is about the time when Jesse's interest was finally piqued. He of course has always longed for that familial connection, and that man in the bar was of course the father of the girl he loved and lost. Walt finally told him about that night, about meeting Jane's father, though he certainly stopped short of telling him everything, and we wonder if he ever might. Probably best to take it to the grave.
"The universe is random, it's not inevitable," Walter mused. "It's simple chaos. It's subatomic particles in endless collision. That's what science teaches us, but what is this saying? What is it telling us when on the very night that this man's daughter dies, it's me who's having a drink with him? I mean, how can that be random?
"That was the moment. That night. I should have never left home. Never gone to your house. ... Oh, if I had just lived up to that moment, and not one second more. That would have been perfect." It was a great scene, made so by Walt's rare candor. Also interesting was Walt's choice of words. When Jesse pressed him on the details of his conversation with Jane's dad, Walt said that they'd discussed "water on Mars," and family -- specifically their "daughters." In fact, Walt that night had actually told Mr. Margolis about his "nephew" who'd gone on a wayward path. I remember thinking then that the choice of the word "nephew" may have marked an important moment, Jesse becoming more of a family member in Walt's eyes, someone he wants to look after and protect. But throughout this season and especially during this episode, Walt again straddled that blurry line. In some moments he couldn't care less about the kid; in others, he seems to genuinely care. And we closed this episode on that kind of note, Walt bringing up the recent meth shortages in the way a father might bring up a tender subject with a son. "I'm not accusing you, you understand?" Walt said. "But if they ever found out ... I'm just saying that I won't be able to protect you."
"Who's asking you to?" Jesse said, even though Jesse may inwardly wish to be protected, and Walt may inwardly wish to protect.
Finally, a few random thoughts:
-- Regarding "Lost," this episode was actually reminiscent of a "Lost" episode from long ago. Sawyer once spent an episode obsessed with finding and killing a tree frog that had been bugging him and keeping him from sleep. It was a minor story thread, though, rather than the meat of the tale like it was here.
-- And on a personal note, the fly concept had me laughing a bit, thinking about the one time I visited the "Breaking Bad" set in Albuquerque two summers ago. On that day, flies had mysteriously made their way into the building, creating a bit of a production nuisance. I wrote about it in detail here.
-- And how great was the show's opening? That ugly fly matched with Skyler's beautiful lullaby. "That was the moment," Walt later told us, the moment he wished it would have all ended for him. And kudos to Michael Slovis, who returned to the cinematographer's chair for this episode, for the fly close-up; just another in a long line of great "Breaking Bad" images. In case you missed it, here's a article I wrote about Slovis last week.
-- Josh Gajewski
Photo: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) sits with a flyswatter during Sunday night's "Breaking Bad." Credit: AMC
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