Sunday, 7 August 2011

Breaking Bad: Open House - Making It Rain

- Last Week I mentioned how watching Breaking Bad week to week can be quite a different experience to the DVD marathon. Quite a few of my friends and apparently most of the world caught up on the show in the intervening year between seasons three and four, and I imagined there would be some growing pains adjusting to the pace and there'll be a subset of fans whom for the show needs to be intensely building to something at all times, those who care more about its plotting than its characters. Any episode that doesn't feature the gangster element heavily is going to be seen as frustrating, let alone one that has no Gus and no Mike but features Marie and Skylar prominently.

- Which is a shame, because the genius of the show is the level of intricacy it puts into its characters, as opposed to it's acumen as a thriller. And if anything the part which is thrilling only works on such an ascendant level because of the investment we have in all of the characters. So the ' I don't care about Marie' sentiments seen across comments sections everywhere following this episode grate me some. I know everyone already hates Skylar even though she's a fascinating character embodied by an incredible performance, but by my count Marie has never got close to this amount screen-time in any episode before this in spite of being a regular character, so if anything it's a faux-pas on the part of the show to just get to exploring her now. I don't get at what point complaining about spending time with great characters simply because they're women and not men becomes sexist, but I'm pretty sure it's getting close.

- Having said that, I do think this is the weakest episode of the season, despite liking almost everything in it. It lacked a throughline perhaps, and everything felt a little disconnected. Maybe because this was the first time Walt didn't lead any kind of narrative, and was the most sparingly used we've ever seen him be. They story-line he was involved in was lead by Skylar and because Breaking Bad is so fundamentally his story, and supporting characters even in their infinite complexity often act as a barometer of Walt's decision making, whose lives act as collateral damage to Walt's ambitions. All of them are worse off for the decision Walt made in the pilot, even if many of them are unaware of who he's become.

- The Marie story saw her visit open houses and each time making up an elaborate story for herself, always revolving around being at an exciting new turn in her life. Be it her 'husband' quitting his job at Nasa to spend more time with the family, or her getting into a clay modelling business and looking for a viable studio, it all revolved around Marie being pro-active, taking control of her life and turning a corner. Making a choice to be happy. Options which her marriage to Hank, which is now hitting a place of stalled existential despair, don't allow her. There she is a prisoner of her situation, nurse-maid and metaphorical punching bag of a man she loves and admires. A situation that has no end in sight.

-So her various fantasies of being somewhere new and exciting in her life, all terrifically played by Betsy Brandt, struck a very poignant note. It also saw the return of the kleptomaniac story from season 1, and while back then it felt arduous and unnecessary, here it made perfect sense. A desperate act of lashing out impotently. A it does no good but at least it does something kind of deal. Marie was essentially an erratic and self-absorbed person in the early going, but Hank's breakdown forced her into being altruistic and self-sacrificing, a person she's not necessarily built to be. Good stuff, and a long time coming.

- Dean Norris may be doing his best work as paraplegic Hank, and that's no mean feat given how excellent he was last year. He's just so angry, so bitter. And that scene where he discovered Marie had been arrested for spoon-stealing was incredible. I think he'll get better as it goes along though, particularly since his cop buddy gave him Gale Boetticher's Super-lab notebook. So it begins.

- In a way the episode's B story was lead by Skylar, who finally apprehends the car wash from the stubborn Bogdan, an does so in fantastically underhanded fashion. A think a lot of people's problems with Skylar stems from that she's a flawed yet forceful personality, and male viewers don't want a woman challenging their anti-hero. He's supposed to be rediscovering his masculinity and being awesome, not getting his balls busted by some bitch. Why is she telling Walt what to do? Why doesn't she just shut up and be clueless like Rita from Dexter. Now that was a great female character. SHE knew her place. OK, Rita bashing is always a cheap shot, but I genuinely believe this can be the only way these guys see it. Because the show's approach to Skylar has been one of the best things about it as its grown. Time was when she was just another clueless spouse, but she found out, discovered her darkness and now matches Walt almost in her scheming.

- Note the awesome scene where she tricks Bogdan into thinking his property is worthless via Saul Goodman stooge. Awesome.

- I love how Skylar is already starting to take control of the running of Walter White's Criminal Empire Inc, being the one who makes the decisions and decides which ways to go. Because Walt, for all his badassery and Heisenbergisms, is still the recessive one in this relationship, because that's how it always was. In a way Walt only found his balls once he pursued his extra-curricular activities and when he was separate from Skylar. Because when they get together she has a power over him that even he can't help. See for instance the scene where Skylar gets him on board with her car wash scheme, by expertly manipulating his ego, insinuating Bogdan doubted his manhood. It seems this is one dynamic that can never change.

- I think the seeds of the great White marriage reconciliation began here too, and one only had to look at the final scene between the two, as they shared champagne celebrating their new property. The slightly flirtatious vibe, the way that for first time possibly in the entire show, Skylar seemed genuinely impressed by Walt, his power and his status. This was an inevitablity, how is Skylar in the show if they split for good, but I like how they're not rushing it.

- Where the fuck is Walter Jr? His total season 4 screen-time currently runs at 1 line and 25 seconds.

- Aaron Paul's Jesse continues to be a hurricane through this season, such a presence of raw emotional pain that it hurts so much to see him on screen. This episode was Jesse-lite, but Jesse's go-karting/returning home to find his house a crack den montage was the episode's highlight for me. Jesse's primal go-karting scream hurts to the bone. And something tells me this is definitively going to be the year of Aaron Paul.

- Also the line that saw Jesse comfort Walt about getting beat up was I think meant to be funny, but ended up incredibly moving. At least to me. Jesse bin beaten up a lot, yo.

- As I said, no Mike, No Gus, No Walter Jr. I like Gus being here in everything but sight what with the security camera in the lab and his new henchman following Walt everywhere, but I think I'd like him to be in next week's episode.

- Overall, a nice little character episode that did a lot for the show's minor characters, and in particular for Marie, and giving her a little extra dimension was well overdue. Perhaps the episode lacked a little focus, but I liked so much of what it was doing I didn't mind. I think the plot best get started next week though or people be losing their shit.

Rating: 7/10

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