(Lainey: the final season of Breaking Bad is a month away. Maria will be previewing the show every week until it starts. Oh Walt…what have you done?)
“Chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change. It is growth, then decay, then transformation.” -WW
Breaking Bad is simple: man needs money, man cooks meth to make money. And that is the basis for one of the best TV shows ever. Ever! I have never been able to correctly predict a storyline on Breaking Bad. And that’s entertaining as hell.
Walter White’s evolution as a character is biblical in scope. When we first meet him, he’s downtrodden, defeated, and timid. He teaches chemistry to a loud group of snot-nosed high school kids and in the evening works at a car wash to earn a few extra bucks before going home to his pregnant wife and teenage son. He’s a facsimile of a man, faded and blurred. And when he hears his dire lung cancer diagnosis, he doesn’t despair or make a vow to fight it; he quietly resolves to provide some financial respite for his family after he’s gone. The diagnosis stirs something in Walt that had long been buried under his self-inflicted mediocrity.
While on a ride-a-long with his fat-mouthed DEA brother-in-law Hank, inspiration strikes. Walt formulates a plan to make large amounts of money, quickly, by cooking meth in its purest and most valuable form. He tracks down a former student, Jesse Pinkman, who escaped from Hank’s meth house raid.
Walt sheds his fear through aggression, both spontaneous and calculated. He tells the boorish car wash owner to “wipe this down” (you can guess what the “this” is). He sabotages a douchebag’s BMW. He, um, gets really frisky with his wife (judging by the lackluster birthday handjob in the first episode, his post-diagnosis sex is aggressive). He tries to let a rival (Krazy- 8) go, but his common sense wins out over his empathy. He even makes a pro and con list when deciding whether or not to kill him. (Con: He’ll kill your entire family if you let him go.)
Walt’s relationship with his former girlfriend and former partner at Grey Matters really fascinated me. He seemed to have a big part in the patent that made them wealthy— but at some point he walked away or was cut out. They throw a party at their lavish house, and Walt is completely mortified when they offer him a job and to pay for his treatment. That’s quite a grudge.
And in Walt's house, there’s a plaque to commemorate his work on a Noble Prize winning project. His career seemed to be relegated to the sidelines of success.
“I have spent my whole life scared. Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine.” - WW
Jesse Pinkman: two parts heart, one part brain. He’s a low-level meth dealer and user scraping by with a little street sense and a lot of YO. Hank busted his meth cooking partner, so when Walt comes calling, it doesn’t take Jesse long to agree to a partnership with his high school chemistry teacher. They secure a mobile meth lab RV with Walt’s savings – I don’t know anything about drug manufacturing but I think this is brilliant! - and bicker about Jesse’s work ethic and Walt’s prickliness, and in the process of making and distributing their potent meth they kill rivals, messily dispose of bodies, make a bit of money, and pull off lucky escapes. Jesse worries about Walt’s health and reaches out for friendship, and Walt puts up walls with tiny peepholes, just enough so Jesse can see through but he can never get to the other side. Jesse is a stray cat and Walt has decided to ignore the meows outside his screen door.
Jesse tries to reconnect with his distrusting family (meth binges tend to make parents weary) and bond with his overachieving little brother, but when a joint is found in the family home, Jesse gets turfed. It’s not his. He has nowhere to go: no real friends, no girlfriend, no family, no home. Nobody wants Jesse; they only pretend to want him when they need something. And he feels this rejection, and it pushes him to be more needy, more sad, more desperate to please. And more inclined to use.
And while he can easily bend Jesse to his will, Skyler is more of a challenge for Walt. He spends most of the season lying to her and straining their marriage and his relationship with his son. He hides his cancer (for a while), his drug dealing, his cancer treatment payment source, and he hides who he is becoming. Skyler’s a bit of a dipsh-t with her short stories and eBay knick-knacks, but Walt’s secretive and sick so she can only push so hard when he goes off on long “nature walks” and claims to spend the weekend at a sweat lodge.
To Skyler’s credit, she knows Walt is doing something sinister, and she does her best to figure out what it is. She uses *69 (how retro) to find Jesse’s number and goes to his house, demanding he stop selling pot to Walt. Yes, she thinks pot is the problem. See? Dipsh-t. But she’s like a receptacle for all of Walt’s deception, she’s raising his son and carrying his baby—she absorbs all the family’s worry and doubt.
And with Skyler comes Marie, the bristly, bossy sister; of course it’s so satisfying when it turns out she’s a klepto. And even better when she gets found out after Skyler tries to return a gift from Marie and almost gets arrested for shoplifting. Skyler is morally outraged by Marie’s shoplifting. Walt’s a lot more understanding.
Marie and Hank are that couple you pray you don’t get stuck next to at a restaurant, because you know he’s going to call the waiter “Garçon” (hard c) and she’s going to loudly send back her entrée. Hank’s a giant meathead with a large repertoire of racist nicknames and dick jokes. But in his moments with his nephew (a cop uncle comes in handy when you get caught buying beer underage) and when he promises Walt that he will take care of the family, you see a man who believes in right and wrong. There’s no moral ambiguity, whereas Walt lives in a grey zone.
And while Hank is brash, he certainly isn’t dumb. He’s tracking Jesse and Walt’s trail from almost the beginning, tracing the meth lab equipment back to Walt’s school, analyzing the specific formula of meth and following leads that stop just short of the blue meth operation.
The season starts with a frantic Walt, alone in the desert in his underwear, videotaping his goodbye to his Skyler and Walt Junior. It ends with Walt and Jesse in a junkyard making lucrative and dangerous deals. Heisenberg – Walt’s criminal alter ego with the baldhead and black hat – is born. And he’s not washing any f-cking cars.
My favorite recap (of many). Full series spoilers.
Season one (in a minute) from AMC - click here.
Season one photos - click here.
Attached - Bryan Cranston at the premiere of Rock Of Ages last week. (Lainey: Yes, he’s in it; I had no idea. And then Walt White was participating in a musical number and what is this world?)