cable drama of the moment

Breaking Bad: A Down and Dirty Primer

Yeah, we’ll say it: Breaking Bad, which returns to AMC this Sunday, is the most gripping show on television since The Wire. Which, for some, might be what makes it such a hard sell. The plotting certainly isn’t as intricate or impenetrable, but the mood is similarly hopeless, and that’s not everyone’s idea of a cozy Sunday night on the sofa. But if you haven’t already, give in — because centering a drama around a nebbishy, cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who squanders his family’s (and the audience’s) sympathy by turning into a cold-blooded meth kingpin is no small feat, and it deserves your attention. You may not feel good, but you’ll feel something.

Related: Breaking Bad Season-Premiere Recap: Double Trouble

Bryan Cranston deserves more than an Emmy, he deserves … we don’t know, we guess an Emmy is fair, he’s a TV actor, but still. The way he’s transformed Walt White from schlumpy victim (of lung cancer, life in general) to Machiavellian drug lord over two seasons would be cartoonishly implausible in anyone else’s hands. He is a man so committed to his own demise that the news of his cancer’s remission hits like a death sentence all over again. Just a hunch, but that’s probably hard to play.
Jesse can be grating, what with his whining at Walt and his pointlessly baggy clothes, but after going through a series of calamities and humiliations including, but not limited to, addiction, asshole parents, an OD’d girlfriend, and getting slimed by the contents of a porta-potty, he’s got nowhere to go but up. On any show but this one.
The episode where Walt and Jesse are held captive by Tuco and his mute uncle with the bell, where Tuco almost takes the poisoned meth then doesn’t because he hates cayenne pepper? That was like the “Sister Christian” scene in Boogie Nights, but simply relentless.
We thought we did, anyway. Doting, virtuous, preggo. But her waning patience with Walt’s increasingly pathetic web of lies dovetailed nicely with her reuniting with a grabby, and perhaps not unwelcome, ex-boss. Like her counterpart Betty Draper, she’s fuckin’ had it.
If Breaking Bad has a weak link, it’s the contrivance of making Walt’s brother-in-law a gruff, take-no-shit, brews-his-own-beer DEA agent who just happens to be tasked with finding the mysterious meth kingpin who is Walt. What are the odds, right? Chinks in Hank’s armor became evident in season two — nothing like a little post-traumatic stress disorder to deepen a character a little bit.
Why can’t all landlords be cute, Emily the Strange–looking goth waifs who draw cartoons called Apology Girl and seduce their meth-dealing neighbor tenants? But there’s a catch, all right — she’s got a little baggage.
Oh, that fucking burned teddy bear in the Whites’ pool, poked and prodded by investigators in hazmat suits. From the opening of the season premiere, teased again throughout the season, bogarting Lost’s flash-forward steez, what did it mean? Was Walt finally getting busted? Would something happen to the baby? Did someone just want an Elmo instead?
The revelation that Walt was maybe screwed out of his share of a lucrative research firm, and lost a sweet girlfriend to boot, was a key part of his past that helped flesh out his sad-sackness. But he’s able to turn this into an advantage by pretending that Gretchen and Elliott’s fortune — which should rightfully be his — is funding his cancer treatment. Until that all blows up in his face.
Oh, it’s just Bob Odenkirk as, not a criminal lawyer, but a criminal lawyer, smarmily counseling drug dealers in an Albuquerque strip mall. Nothing totally awesome about that.
After the Gretchen ruse was up, Walt Jr. did his part to help with his father’s mounting medical bills by starting the surprisingly fruitful, which pretty much made Walt feel like the biggest tool ever, presumably.
You know what would make the perfect front for the mastermind of one of the southwest’s biggest meth rings? Manager of a fried-chicken joint. Just as long as the person isn’t tightly coiled, like a Giancarlo Esposito type, because that shit would be a dead giveaway.
Badger, Skinny Pete, Combo — with a crew like that slinging Heisenberg’s product, success in the field of methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution is a given. Because an undercover cop would never look like the skinny twerp from Road Trip.
We think we see where this is going. Don’t do it, Skyler.
Oh, that poor dirty little kid, he deserves better. The rare instance in which having a parent crushed to death by an ATM machine in the living room is a best-case scenario.
We know it’s not ideal that daddy couldn’t be at the hospital for your birth, but he had a perfectly good excuse: He was frantically trying to complete a lucrative meth deal to help support you in the increasingly likely event of his brutal murder at the hands of rival drug lords or federal agents. But don’t worry, you should be fine.
Okay, fine, there is one other bit of logic-defying dodginess in Breaking Bad. Having Jane’s distraught dad not only have a drink with Walt but be an air-traffic controller so out of sorts that he causes a plane to crash in Walt’s backyard must have sounded killer in the writer’s room, and certainly anyone who said they knew that’s how the flash-forwards were gonna pay off was lying terribly. Riveting, but also … wha???
Breaking Bad: A Down and Dirty Primer