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16 September, 2013

Breaking Bad - 2 Shows left

If you aren't caught up on the show, then don't read this.

 It took me the better part of 30 minutes to find the right word to describe how I felt after watching this episode. I settled on despair. It was just a total sense of despair that washed over me. It was the most compelling hour of scripted TV I may have ever seen, and when it was over, I felt awful.

  The opening scene was a great reminder of just how far Walt and Jesse have come, or fallen. Walt was still in true science teacher mode, boring Jesse with the details of the cook. Jesse was in full "can we get this over with, I need to get baked?" mode. Unlike Rick telling Captain Renault in Casablanca, this was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, it was the beginning of the end.

  I'm a cryer. It doesn't take much to make me tear up when watching TV or movies. When Charlie was hung from a tree on LOST and they made it seem like he died, I totally lost it as Jack was pounding on his chest and Kate stood by crying her eyes out. In the episode of the West Wing when they had the military funeral for the homeless man intertwined with the children singing The Little Drummer Boy, I cried like I was 6 and someone stole my Christmas presents. And yes, I cried when Mickey died in Rocky 3.
   So I went into this episode fully prepared to shed some tears, is was just a question of when. The first opportunity presented itself right away, with Gomie already dead and Hank in it neck deep with Uncle Jack and his crew standing over him. But Hank, a lovable, goofy guy when the show started, lay defiantly in the desert dirt, looking up at Jack with a F-you expression on his face, being more heroic than anyone has been to this point in the show. And then Hank delivered his last and best line of the series, saying to Walt "You're the smartest guy I've ever met and you're too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago." The next 30 seconds were amazing. The look on Walt's face, Jack shooting Hank, the cut-away of the cliff with the gunshot echoing off of it and then Walt's slow collapse to the ground, dropping through the sunlit camera angle. Brilliantly done. (As a Rocky fan, I couldn't help but think of the end of the No Easy Way Out montage in Rocky 4 when they show Rocky falling to the mat through the arena spotlight. Throw the damn towel, Walt!)
   Still though, no tears. We knew this was coming. We've had a week to prepare for it. Hank's defiance in the moment bolstered me, and I was just pissed that Walt had let it come to this. Even though he tried to prevent it, this was still on him. As Walt fell to the ground, the full weight of that burden fell on top of him.

   Unlike The Sopranos, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire where we saw the characters we cared about get riddled with bullets, or strangled or stabbed, on Breaking Bad the characters we really care about who got it (Mike, Hank, Gomie, Gus, Gale. ) all got it off-camera, or in Mike's case, in a clumsy way with his actual death coming moments later. Is that an AMC vs HBO thing? Maybe it's just a director's choice and an effective one at that.

   Just when Walt gave us a chance to feel for him again, to look at his good side as he pleaded for Hank's life, moments later he reminds us what an asshole he can be. Walt stands in front of Jesse and tells him "I watched Jane die." That may have been the worst thing we've seen one person do to another on the show.

   Did anyone else notice Walt's original pair of pants on the ground in the desert as he rolled his barrel of bills?

   Not everyone likes Skyler and Marie, but give them this, they delivered two of the better scenes of the season. The first when Marie confronts Skyler about Walt and then tries to take Holly, the second coming last night when they talk at the car wash. Throw in the hotel room "I'm all in" scene from Skyler and she's had an incredible comeback season. Do they have PED testing for TV shows?
   The look on Skyler's face when Marie says "either you tell Flynn or I will" was even more pain-ridden than Walt's when Hank was shot.

   Jesse's condition in his holding cell was representative of how every important character (and the viewers) felt. Just battered and beaten. As awful as Jesse looked, he was in the best shape of anyone.

   Props to Walt Jr. for finally having his big moment. The scene with Skyler and Marie at the car wash was solid, but he upped his game in the knife scene. Speaking of which...

   The family scene at the house was extraordinary. Walt's running on nothing but emotion at this point. He's at the tipping point of the moment he had been working for, taking his money, and his family and starting a new life. And then his family tells him to leave, but not before Skyler goes all Jack Nicholson in The Shining on Walt, and then Jr. is the third man in the ring, throwing himself in front of his mom as Walt screams "We're a family!" Not anymore, Walt. Goosebumps exploded on my body. And just when you wanted to breath, Walt picks up the baby and makes a break for it. As Skyler ran down the street yelling after Walt, I reached down to pick up the pieces of my insides that had been ripped out of me. No tears though. It was more like I was Mike sitting by the river after Walt shot him. Just sitting there... staring... waiting to die.

   But I wouldn't have to wait long to well up. After the break Walt is with Holly, changing her diaper. When he picks her up she looks at Walt with her sad, blue eyes and chubby baby cheeks and says "Momma." Walt knows at that moment he has to give her back. It wasn't full blown tears for me, just some misting up. The pain in his eyes, the eyes of a father who knows what's best for his child is to give it up, got to me.

   The next scene may have been Cranston's greatest moment to date. He calls Skyler knowing full well the cops are listening and belittles her. Walt takes one for the team, making it sound like Skyler knew nothing about anything, but to be convincing he had to rip her apart and he did.
 Tears poured out of him as he summoned Heisenberg one more time. That will be the scene they show when Cranston wins an Emmy this year.

   Tony Soprano launched the "lovable but despicable" leading man genre. Walter White may have taken it to another level. We knew Tony was a member of the mob. We knew that came with a level of sub-human actions. Much of what he did, even things like killing friends and their loved ones, was done in the name of business. When we met Tony he was bad and stayed bad. Walter White broke bad. While most of the last few seasons Walt has been Heisenberg, he has spent the last six episodes in a Dr. Jeckly/Mr. Hyde like mode, bouncing back and forth between the two. To me, he is a more despicable character than Tony Soprano. The guy in the RV at the beginning of the episode (and series) wanted to provide for and protect his family, the guy on the phone at the end of the show was the same man. It's the guy that we saw in between all that, the guy who ruined lives, killed people, watched people die, poisoned a child and let greed blind him from his actual purpose... that's the guy who is going to hell. Much of what Tony Soprano did "had" to be done because that's how his business works. None of what Walt Heisenberg did had to be done until he allowed things to get out of control. His business, his empire business, was his creation.

   The episode was 60 minutes of pain. The number of looks of anguish on people's faces were in the dozens, each one like a dagger to the heart. It's funny that the White Family isn't one most people would rank among their TV favorites. Most people don't care for Skyler, are ambivalent about Jr and his breakfast habits and barely remember that Holly is a part of the show. But as we watch the White family disintegrate before our eyes, it tears our guts out. That's a testament to the actors, Vince Gilligan and his staff. Now just two hours remain. If I think about that for too long, I'll cry for sure.

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