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Monday, 25 of May of 2020

Breaking Bad – “Bullet Points”

“Maybe lying doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to you.”

Breaking Bad title card
Well, enough of these supporting character shenanigans. Skyler, Marie — get back in the cage with Walt, Jr.

There just isn’t enough room for the family characters when the spotlight shines on Jesse and Walt. And now that Mike and Hank jockey for a part of the glow, too, this sausage fest just doesn’t have room for developing these supporting roles. In most shows I would be a little disappointed to see the female characters take a back seat but I don’t think it’s gender-specific. There’s a reason why Bob Odenkirk is the most famous person in this cast that isn’t Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.

As an actor, you’re not going to get a better story than them. You’re not going to play the part better than them. You’re going to take a back seat. These characters standing in the wings: their slight is not gender-specific. Their leads are just larger than life.

And now some (really long) bullet points:

  • The scene might have been long but the Skyler establishing the script on how they would lie to Hank and Marie is illuminating with a subtlety lost during Walt’s near-soliloquy later in Saul’s office. One could watch this scene and see it as tension between a husband and wife still working through their issues, where Skyler is levying her maternal quality on Walter yet again. It runs deeper though.

    Walt isn’t reacting against the Skyler being bossy; he’s reacting to her ignorance. She is constructing a lie based on a calculated reality. Predictions about how people will react when provided different stimuli, what will be convincing, how to sell a life to family members to prevent any questions. It’s formulaic how she puts everything together, scripting it not even in outline form but complete with lines to say, so precise as to evoke the correct reactions from the audience. This is a world Walt doesn’t recognize anymore.

    Walt is reactionary now. Cunning, sure, but the man knows he can’t really plan too much. Everything is a rough outline, performance in the moment. He’s seen so much that he can’t explain that he knows all he can do is offer emotion and that is more important than the actual locution or phraseology. He can make it up as he goes. That Skyler thinks everything will go according to plan is actually laughable to him, even with evidence to the contrary (Skyler played her way into getting the car wash afterall). Walt’s world is too gray and messy so, to him, all this construct is a waste of time. It’ll sound fake if it’s too planned. And insincerity will get you killed. Maybe not by your family members. But the man knows how to pretend to be sincere.

    Skyler is Big Bang Theory while Walt is Curb Your Enthusiasm. Questions of quality notwithstanding, the execution of these shows exemplify their approach: strict scripting vs rough outline. Skyler’s approach may work on a broader audience (and does for the most part here). But her plan carefully thought-out plan would probably never work out in Walt’s universe. There’s just not enough room to improvise.

  • Speaking of people that are gray and messy, Jesse is steadily advancing to a place beyond social construct himself. Whereas Walt recognizes things are messy and that people are “incapable of behaving in a professional manner,” Jesse has let go of life entirely. The people in house may have been minions last week but this week they are curiosities, pathetic attempts at interaction while he numbs himself. They are a community from which he can pluck individuals to entertain him, whether that’s shaving a head, getting laid, or just someone to play a Sonic go-kart game. He might have been King Jesse last week but now he’s just Sad Jesse sittin’ in a house.

    Walt, of course, is the only person able to get any kind of real emotional reaction out of him and that’s only because he tries to make Jesse relive what got him here in the first place, the horrific act of loyalty that has essentially ruined him as a human being. Mike can’t get a rise out of him as Jesse has transcended human connection. Life is nothing. His existence is flow. The negative defines the positive. He doesn’t care if the money was stolen because (a) he’ll get paid again and (b) these are just the way things happen. Mike puts him in a car, probably to either make Gus scare the crap out of him or in order to arrange for his death.

    Mike wants so badly for Jesse to do something, cry or plead or something. He can’t control someone that’s numb to fear. When he has no reaction to Mike’s stunt with the thief, in fact rationalizing Mike’s bluff, he realizes that Pinkman is a problem. It has nothing to do with his careless behavior (as Walt surmises) or that Gus just doesn’t like him. That Jesse is at almost Taoist Enlightenment by way of PTSD and isn’t controlled by fear (which is Mike’s go-to for encouragement) becomes the tipping point for him being a situation. He’s is accepting of this universe of pain (“You get used to it” he noted last week). How do you hold a grip on someone that has come to terms with the fact that his life can only be darkness?

  • One of my favorite things about this series right now is the relationship between Hank and Walt. It’s like watching Superman and Lex Luthor hang out before realizing they’re diametrically-opposed to each other. Batman and the Joker, Xavier and Magneto, kittens and puppies that grow up together. Yeah, Walt knows Hank’s on the other side and probably assumes it’s going to come out eventually that they’re enemies (I kind of hoped for more of a glimmer of pride when Hank mentions that Heisenberg is his Enemy Number 1) but, for now, they have an understanding for each other since they both live and breathe the criminal mind. It’s a showdown that I can’t wait for but I don’t want to come too soon. So I guess that means I can wait for it? That doesn’t seem right.

More bullet points!

  • The cold opening is — Mike is just a beast. As if we need to re-establish that the dude is a killer. Literally and figuratively. Stone cold.
  • The moment before the door opens at Hank and Marie’s. Skyler looks over at Walt with a brief moment of doubt. Beautiful little beat there, especially since it’s broken by Walt and his convincing smile.
  • Why didn’t I put it together until this episode that Walt totally knows a lot about Hank’s collection? I love that he, in one run-on sentence, eviscerates the one thing Hank could hang his hat on without police work.
  • Gale and karaoke. Let’s just come out and say it: the man was multi-talented. Poet, vegan, scientist, linguist, singer. Lover. The world is less without him.
  • I have to say I’m a little disappointed in the scene with Saul. The show had been very good with being (more or less) subtle and then Walt goes on a tirade that ostensibly catches everyone up by making every nuance, every assumption, obvious. It’s story-motivated but kind of a disappointment since it was stuff we all already should know. I half-expected a lesbian scene to start up in the background. Along with that lack of subtlety comes what is probably going to be the season-ending cliffhanger: Walt having to decide whether he should stay or h should go (I’ll spare you my willingness to extend Clash lyrics — especially since I already did this joke for a White Collar review).
  • This is the second week with the ranting meth-head (last week about being pushed through a fence and this week about radio waves). Do I smell another DJ Qualls-like plant, particularly since he didn’t spend all the money on nonsense and actually came through with the pizza?
  • A couple of the songs used in Jesse’s house this week: “Flyentology” by El-P (yeah, that was Trent Reznor guesting on vocals) and “The 808 Track” by Bassnector. If you know what track was happening behind Jesse asking for pizza, I’d be interested to know.
  • Should they just list RJ MItte as a guest star?

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