Scepticism is something that follows me wherever I seem to go. When I decided to finally buckle into the phenomenon of Breaking Bad, this was no different. I was equal parts intrigued and concerned as to whether the enormous hype surrounding the series would build my expectations to unreachable levels and in a way, that’s what I’m trying to still work out. For want of a much, much better phrase, has all the talk ruined the walk? Before I get going, I should point out that I’m halfway through season 4. I would have written this after getting completely up to date with the show, but I unwittingly heard about what happens at the end of this season and while my opinions are fresh I better get them down, right? Also, this contains spoilers.
The premise of the show immediately informs me that my moral compass is going to be flung about more than a teenage girl at a gypsy wedding. Bryan Cranston’s Walter White, a chemistry teacher, contracts cancer and turns to manufacturing crystal meth in order to leave money behind for his family when he pops his clogs. How lovely, you’re thinking. Wrong, Walt is presented in such a way that it’s too fucking difficult to ever understand why he makes the choices he makes. For example, just take out life insurance. Don’t go down a road that leads you into a psychopath’s (Tuco, I like Tuco) drug den with a handful of explosives to tear some shit up. I’m all for focalizing through unreliable protagonists, they can really work (Black Swan, Kick Ass), however with Walt it seems as though he’s being written for shock value as opposed to solid, thought out character methodology and development.
That isn’t to say I lack empathy for Walt. When his cancer had that enormous remission I might have punched the air, but can someone please tell me why his illness, from that point on, becomes no more integral to the story than the fish finger sandwich I just had for lunch? I’m no doctor, but as far as I know, cancer doesn’t just go away like a stomach bug and if any of the writers are reading this (which they obviously are) then getting Walt to have a few coughing fits in sporadic episodes does not constitute a narrative thread. It may be that this is referred to more than I remember, but to be extremely truthful, I found too many episodes too slow, too tedious and frankly too mediocre for any of it to stick in my head.
The Fly is one episode that springs immediately to mind. It’s undoubtedly filled with metaphorical meanings and symbolic gestures, but elements such as these are supposed to be cognitively processed, not rammed down my throat. It felt like I was being ambushed by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis for 45 minutes while some guy on the screen got a bit flustered and started shouting something about contamination. Obviously, not every episode can be fast-paced and full of breathless set pieces, but what I do want from a TV show is to be riddled with some kind of intrigue. Unfortunately, since this episode I have gradually lost all interest in the show.
There are moments of excellence throughout, but they are just too few and far between. The pay off of these moments is great, sure, but for me the tone of the show is so difficult to judge that it renders these highlights ineffective. Is it tongue in cheek or these characters really that fucking stupid? The motivations and character arcs feel like they are trying to be too human by having them make wrong decisions every bloody time something important has to be done. At times, Walt and Jesse come across as two kids bickering in the school playground and it’s just not dynamic enough for me to care. Breaking Bad, more than anything, is a character study but the inconsistencies cause it all to feel tiresome and forced. A redeeming factor for the show is the visual aesthetic. It’s beautifully shot, with almost everything being done without tripods. It always takes a brave crew to attempt fluid, life-like shooting styles but it is pulled off with both competency and frankly, brilliance. Every shot does feel natural, and the shaky look doesn’t hinder the show when things get hectic, which can happen all too easily.
It’s tough, Breaking Bad has an excellent premise without a doubt, but what follows is a misguided foray into the taboo subject of drugs, in which glamour and exploitation of stereotypes is hyperbolised in order to gain shock value and a unique selling point. What starts as an exciting, original idea now feels like a shoelace getting looser and looser. If the people in charge of Breaking Bad don’t tighten it back up soon, they’ll be limping towards a conclusion that none of them will be happy with.