Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers — we got tons of them! If you haven’t seen all of Breaking Bad up to this point you have been warned.
What I’m going to say in this post will seem like heresy to most Breaking Bad fans. I would have thought it heretical just a couple of weeks ago, until I did something that popped the bubble. I went back to the beginning and watched every episode through season 4. Until you do that, and start watching season 5, I don’t think you can see the problem. So if you love Breaking Bad, even the current season, I suggest not watching it again from the beginning until this season is over. Me, I’m going to have a hard time watching any of it. And I find it hard to believe anyone is taking it seriously.
With that out of the way, let me say that the first four seasons are wonderful, cohesive, consistent, and develop the plot and characters in a way that left me in awe much of the time. Incredible acting, writing, editing. Nice touches like Steve Jobs’ story about the wood on the back of a fine piece of furniture. Breaking Bad had that kind of quality.
- [Jobs] said that his father refused to use poor wood for the back of cabinets, or to build a fence that wasn’t constructed as well on the back side as it was the front. Jobs likened it to using a piece of plywood on the back of a beautiful chest of drawers. “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
The second time through there were no cliff-hangers for me. I knew how every crisis was going to be resolved. It was still great. The end of season 3, with the meetup between Gail and Jesse was probably the best 5 minutes of television ever. In every way. Even so, season 4 was wonderful, but the finale left the writers with nowhere to go. I can see now it should have ended there. The final scene with Walter White on top of the world, his nemesis dead, his family safe, cancer in remission, out of the meth business, with a great legal business to return to, everything was wrapped up except for Hank. Maybe you could make an episode out of the face-off between Hank and Walter, but first you have to try to make a bunch of ridiculous things make sense. It stopped working with the first episode of season 5.
I was trying to figure out what the problem was, other than the show was already over. Then I remembered this great piece about the state of science fiction movies by Ryan Britt in The Awl about the awful sterile movie Elysium. He said, and he’s absolutely right, that the problem with science fiction these days is that the movies don’t respect their own premises. Here’s a small excerpt.
- In Contact, Jodie Foster’s Ellie worries that everyone is okay with installing a chair into the nifty spacepod the aliens told us to build, even though the schematics said nothing about a chair. The real-world answer is ‘because it’s a movie,’ but the fact that the script addresses the chair at all is part of what makes it a serious science fiction film. The chair also serves to introduce more doubt about whether the spacepod functions — but mostly, the movie actually wonders about how the science fiction would function in a real-life situation.
The characters in season 5 of Breaking Bad do things that they would never do, based on what we know about them. Walter hugs Jesse. Jesse figures something out and flies into a rage. Sorry that’s what Walter does. And what Jesse figures out makes no sense. It seems they needed quickly to get to a cliff-hanger so they waved their hands quickly and hoped we wouldn’t notice it was nonsense. One minute Mike is insisting on killing Lydia, and a few minutes later, well okay she can live. Sorry Mike is always right. And Mike, Jesse and Walter as the three amigos? No. No. No. It. Does. Not. Fucking. Work. Every five minutes the characters emote, the acting is great, but it has nothing to do with who they are. Why exactly does Walter want to get back into the meth business? We have no clue. Saul even says it makes no sense. Walter just waves it off. This is the same writing staff that came up with the scene with Walter and Jesse in the RV who got Hank to leave to tend to his wife in the hospital? No.
There are a few good moments that make you wonder. Skyler showing Walter the huge pile of cash and asking if this isn’t enough, what will be enough? That’s something Skyler might do. But most of it has no respect for who the characters are, based on what we know about them from the previous four seasons.
I wonder sometimes what happened. Did they have a massive reorg on the staff? Is there a new show runner? This seems like very ordinary TV, not the breakthrough series Breaking Bad was in its first four seasons.