Breaking Bad: Mountains of Contrition

Let’s discuss “Problem Dog,” the seventh episode of the fourth season of Breaking Bad, after the jump. All our favorites are here, and only one scene with Skyler!

We’ve been waiting for Hank to be Hank again: to crack terrible jokes, and give Gomey shit and get back on the fucking trail of Heisenberg. And now he’s there. Hank’s back. And my question is this: as with Walt remarking at Hank’s dinner table that Gale couldn’t possibly be Heisenberg, do we believe it? Do we believe that Hank could connect the dots as he explained it to his DEA colleagues, from the Pollo Hermanos flyer in Gale’s apartment straight to Gustavo Fring himself?

Because it seems like a leap. It seems like a leap that even a crack drug enforcement agent would have difficulty making.

(Also: do we believe that Gale was only 34? Because that I definitely don’t buy.)

This is the second or third time this season that the show has had some trouble making a plot jump, in terms of the believability of the way the characters would act or think. I don’t think it’s a significant problem for Breaking Bad, though, for two reasons:

1) The leaps themselves aren’t so difficult to believe as to be impossible. It’s conceivable that Walt would be that egomaniacal and stupid when drunk, just as it’s conceivable that Hank is smart enough to trace Gale’s connection to Gus. Neither story point is utterly outside the realm of possibility.

2) The show’s so fucking good that I’m not sure it would matter even if the plot made suspension of disbelief impossible.

Any show that gives us a scene like Jesse at his narcotics anonymous meeting, with Aaron Paul delivering yet another in a seemingly endless string of captivating monologues, with Jesse simultaneously justifying his behavior, driving someone who cares about him away, and condemning himself to a hell that doesn’t exist — well, that’s a show that can withstand a few minor plausibility concerns.

Any show that offers us Bob Oedenkirk as Saul, dropping lines like “It’s what the kids call an epic fail,” — well, that’s a show that could get away with no story at all if it wanted.

And any show that remains as visually stunning and audacious as Breaking Bad does three and a half seasons in — well, that show basically gets a free pass on everything else, even it doesn’t need it.

A lot of shows that have come before Breaking Bad — The Sopranos, The Wire, Twin Peaks — received attention and acclaim for essentially turning the medium of television into the medium of film. These shows supposedly created a one-hour movie every single week. In terms of story, acting and effort, that’s true. But Breaking Bad is the first show that can match the best films shot for shot in composition and cinematography. It’s the first show where you can tell that the director of each episode puts significant thought into where to place the camera for every single shot, and where the showrunners put as much thought into how to tell their story visually as they do into how to tell it with words.

Each episode features at least two or three shots that take your breath away — in “Problem Dog,” it was the initial placement of the camera as Walt’s doughnut-ing Dodge Challenger came into view, as well as the smooth cuts between the video game Jesse was playing and Jesse himself. But that’s not even all of it — being showy isn’t that difficult, even if few other shows every attempt to be as showy as Breaking Bad.

If you pay attention to how each scene is shot and composed through an entire episode — Which characters are foregrounded and backgrounded? When is the camera low vs. high? When is dialogue occurring off camera entirely? What’s the color palette of a given scene? —  that process adds to the story, the tone and the episode’s themes immeasurably.

If Breaking Bad’s visual style were only about tricks, that would get old really fast. But the series is more like a Tarantino film: flashy but with an underlying reason behind every trick, every “wow, look at that” moment.

Because of that style, and the confidence with which it’s employed, the show is never not a joy to watch.

And in another nod to Tarantino, season four now seems to be headed toward its own version of a Mexican standoff, with Gus, the Mexican cartel, the DEA and Walter White all at odds, all with a metaphorical (for now) gun at each others’ heads. After several episodes of inching the season’s plot along step by crippled step, Breaking Bad appears ready to hurtle into the darkness.

With each passing season, Walter and Jesse either move or get pushed closer to the edge, only to claw their way back. We know that Walter (probably) has 22 episodes left to be flung over. We can guess that Jesse has that many too, give or take a few. Gus, Mike, Walter Jr., Skyler and everyone else — we don’t have as firm a timeline on their fate. So we can only wonder how the show will handle Walter and Jesse over these next 22 hours, and which of the other characters will be the next to join Gale as not-that-innocent victims of Walter’s ego and machinations.

Also: ricin’s back! Yay!

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1 Comment

Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

One response to “Breaking Bad: Mountains of Contrition

  1. Pingback: Breaking Bad: Victorious or Crucifictorious? | Pop Culture Has AIDS

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