Monday, 25 July 2011

Breaking Bad: Thirty-Eight Snub - Left 4 Dead

Zombies are dead. It don't matter what they're job was when they were alive.

- I often think that you can identify the greatest television by how fascinating watching nothing happen is. If a show can develop its world and its characters enough that watching them be is as fascinating as watching them do, then I'd say you're onto something special. Now I have no doubt there will be Breaking Bad fans who wish every episode could be 'One Minute', who wish every episode could be 'Full Measure'. Those who wish the show would be about Heisenberg as opposed to Walter White. I'd imagine they won't like this episode very much. And don't get me wrong, those are my two favorite episodes, but they work as well as they do because of the sheer delicacy and intelligence the show puts into the build, because of the incredible level of understanding it has of it's characters.

- I don't mean to diminish viewers who like the show best as a thriller, but I am saying that if that is the only version of the show you have time for then the week to week Breaking Bad experience may be a little frustrating. For example plot-wise, there's pretty much scraps here. Walt decides to take out Gus but hits a dead end, Skylar tries to purchase the car wash but hits a dead end and Walt tries to sway Mike to his side. Thirty-Eight Snub was in many ways the calm after the storm episode, dealing with everyone reacting as oppose to acting, but it's still one that did a tremendous amount of character work and it's the kind of slower, quieter episode this show can do so well.

- I think the strongest aspect of the episode was the Jesse plot-line, which essentially saw him throw an epic day-spanning rager in his house, anything to avoid quiet, to avoid having to deal with what he's done. This both allows the show to get extremely creative visually, which it does at all quarters here with at least three visual set-pieces looking and feeling exemplary, but also Aaron Paul to do so much yet again whilst saying very little. I don't quite know how it happened, but Paul has gone from exaggerated comic relief to giving one of the best performances on television, and Jesse has gone from tertiary annoyance to profoundly tragic protagonist, the worst inflicted victim of Walt's path of destruction and I'd argue the truest centre of the show.

- Jesse's someone who's grown into a man before our eyes, yet this development has been surrounded by despair, by loss and by corruption. He's been disowned by his family, had his girlfriend die in bed next to him, been forced to fight back his almost innate decency all the way up to killing a man, all the while being deeply alone. Walt has his family. Jesse has no-one., because Walt's taken it all away from him. And the tragedy is Jesse is trying to become a bad guy at every turn, he desperately wants to feel nothing and be the monster his world requires him to be, he is just incapable. Which is why I loved his stuff in this episode. The party, which was just basically Jesse doing anything and everything not to deal with killing Gale (and seeing Victor's throat slit in front of him can't have helped) but at the end, everyone has to go home, even Badger and Skinny Pete, leaving Jesse with the person he least wants to be with, himself.

- How haunting was that final shot with Jesse in front of the super-woofer. Seeing him crack-up for the first time believe since all the shit went down, it was just agonizing. Give all the Emmy's to Aaron Paul for that scene alone. Honestly, when is this kid going to catch a break.

- Ok so the Rhoomba-cam shot was pretty inspired, as we got a POV of the little cleaning machine as it cruised through the aftermath of Jesse rave 2011. Not to mention the terrific way the raging scenes were shot, and of course that last pull away from Jesse. Some pretty pimp camera work and editing on display here.

- I do enjoy that Skinny Pete and Badger have become the number one source of hope and light on this entire show. The darkness is so thorough at this point that the mere sight of Jesse's ridiculous friends makes me do an internal jump for joy and have an involuntary big grin on my face. For Skinny Pete and Badger. Love these guys. True to form, their drug-fuelled debate about what in fact the best zombie game is ( Resident Evil 4, Left 4 Dead and call of duty: WOW zombie mode all in the mix) was a neat little comic gem. And Matt Jones and Charles Baker's giddy performances add great colour to the series.

- Also the show saw fit to bring back Jesse's sort of girlfriend Andrea for what I assume is a final bow. I do think she is a character that has been used a little too pragmatically, there simply to be related to the boy who shot Combo and to cause Jesse's anger at the end of season three, to be a catalyst rather than a human being. This is perhaps why she's being ushered off the show, as Jesse gives her money to start a new life with her son. Like I say, it's a pawn of a character, but Emily Rios was solid enough and I'm glad the character was given closure as opposed to simply forgetting about her. Aaron Paul was again awesome in that scene.

- As far as the Walt side of things go, this episode yet again reinforced the notion that Walt is much more adept at improvising than he is at meticulously planning, and his schemes to both kill Gus (by basically shooting him with an illegally bought handgun) and to get Mike to waver toward his side both ended in firm dead-ends. With Mike giving him a beating on the mere suggestion, and Gus actively distancing himself from Walt. Or as Mike says 'You'll never see him again Walter'.

- I love the way that Mike's relationship with Walt has developed this season, going from the sense that despite being a professional, Mike has a soft spot for Walt, even being constantly impressed by his scheming. But post-Gale, Mike is looking at a different man, a much more calculated, ruthless one than he thought he was dealing with. And that is showing in Jonathan Banks' performance, which is so much more distant, more cut-off. Great work.

- Perhaps the aimlessness of Walt's quest was a little too telegraphed, but it felt like a necessary acknowledgement the show had to make, so I'm fine with it.

- Who else let out a cheer when Mike punched Walt in the face? Walt has certainly become the least likable character on the show, by design of course as the slogan goes they're turning Mr Chips into Scarface, so full of Ego, of entitlement and of arrogance. Yet Cranston's so great that I' watching him with no less investment or interest.

- A terrific teaser, seeing Walt purchase his gun of an aged, good ole' boy type arms dealer. Deadwood's Jim Beaver only had one scene in the episode but he made for a terrific double act with Cranston, and made the teaser feel like a story unto itself. No show opens every week stronger than Breaking Bad, it has mastered the cold-open to the point where it's not even funny.

- The Hank and Marie arc continues to simmer, as Hank takes out all his frustrations and anger on his wife, treating her with a focused disdain. Hank is a proud man, and one who perhaps defines himself in more traditional masculine terms, so seeing him deal with being disabled is its own little horror, but it's bringing the best out of Betsy Brandt, who's stiff upper lip in dealing with his cruelty is quite heartbreaking. I'd say that Brandt has been underused in the past, but this season seems to be rectifying that, as she both has more screen-time and seemingly her own arc, for the first time in the season's run. Dean Norris, needless to say, is absolutely nailing the sheer resentment Hank has for his situation. This guy is probably never going to get recognition for this performance, there are too many other showier roles on Breaking Bad, but it truly is incredible and up there with anyone else on the show.

- If I did have a complaint thus far, it's that Walter Jr. Has pretty much been an extra so far. I think he's had at best three lines in two episodes. No Gus or Saul here either.

- Is it just me or was the Car Wash guy a really good actor, Anna Gunn was great but that was an unexpectedly good piece of acting by a guy hired for his eyebrows.

- But all a terrific, contemplative episode at least up to the standard of last week's premiere if not a little better. Keep it coming.

Rating: 8/10

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