Sunday, September 2, 2012

Breaking Bad - "Gliding Over All" Review

Well, it had to happen sometime.

I'd like to open this review thusly:

I miss Mike.

Honestly, I really do.  The first few scenes of this episode for me we're spent just accepting the depressing reality that Mike is swimming with the hydrofluoric fishes.  A hole has seemed to form in his cold, stoic absence, though maybe that's the point.  Maybe Mike's journey into a three-dimensional character was designed ultimately to represent the collective grief that so many feel in the Wake of the Walter White ripple effect.  Maybe we were driven to sympathize with Mike so that when he left, we'd feel the emptiness more potently and view the forthcoming surge of unbridled success with extra contempt, especially towards any subsequent transgressions that occur, like, I dunno, murdering close to a dozen people. As Walter stands calmly in his peaceful home, further disconnecting himself from the worst aspects of his profession, we now feel even further connected to the sad, unfair, and miserable fluids coursing through the veins of a seemingly fluent and pain-free operation.  With the death of Michael E., so too dies any remaining cognitive dissonance toward Mr. Heisenberg.  Maybe Breaking Bad gave me what I needed as a viewer, and not what I wanted.

It is certainly one of the things the show does best.

The shot of Walt in the shower was interesting to me, and not just because I enjoy Bryan Cranston's flank scar.  It's a very deliberate shot, and one that we've seen a few times before.  It always seemed to represent Walt's increasingly futile attempts at trying to wash his guilt away; closing his eyes and getting lost in the pounding beads of water as he attempts to expunge the ambiguity from his steadily corroding moral compass.  Oh, if only consequence would go away, things would be so much easier.

This time, however, it felt different.  At first I scoffed to myself, thinking, "Well, no way you're washing this off, Mr. White," though not soon after, a second, much more disturbing thought took its place.  Walt isn't trying to wash the guilt off anymore, he's trying to wash himself off.  He stands naked as he is slowly drained of his remaining humanity - of the person who felt the guilt in the first place.  Walt's mind has officially attenuated to the thought of murder.  After having to jump that hurdle, willingly or not, so many times, it's become easier to jump.  He's getting rid of who he was and embracing the man he needs to be, and the ruthlessness and necessity that goes with it, because it's all he has left.

I also have to take some time to praise Laura Fraser for making a slimy, spineless, panicky suit seem not only watchable, but engaging.  Normally I puff my nose at late in the game character introductions of this importance, because they so often feel like fish out of water, but this one feels quite seamless.  I also like adding large multinational corporations into the business.  That's always fun, isn't it? Gives everything a grander scale, and begins to convolute things so impenetrably that we find ourselves on the inside of a conspiracy theorist's wet dream.  Can't say I'm not a fan.

It was nice to see Hank experience a considerable setback in his all-encompassing and all-unknowing pursuit of his brother-in-law - you know, before that ending and all.  It was threatening to become a slight belief suspending problem that Hank was so on the nose about everything, and even the heaviest of government bureaucracy couldn't stop his vision quest for true justice.  Instead, Breaking Bad unconfoundingly sidesteps another potential narrative land mine in its vision quest for pitch-perfect storytelling.

Unfortunately, that's really all I have to say about this episode.  It was virtually all faux-resolution and set up for the second half of the season.  The montage in the middle of the episode is quite apropos for this review.  Walt expands business, ties up (and stabs, and sets on fire) loose ends, makes metric shit ton of money, Skyler asks Walt to leave business, Walt accepts, Walt pays Jesse, who is understandably anxious at the thought that his own ends may be tied, Walt gets kids back, all is right in the world.

It's all wrapped up in a nice, pretty bow.  In that regard, the vibe of this episode was quite similar to the ending of last season.  This hour spends a significant time looking at the lone shoe on the ground and asking us not to pay attention to the one still skyward.  It wasn't earned, given Walt's determination and all he went through to get to this point, to suddenly pull a 180 and give it all up, it was too easy.

Because we all know Walt was never going to get his happy ending.  As he stands atop his one-man empire, reaping the benefits of everything he slaved and fought for, he finds, ironically, that it is as lonely and boring at the top as anywhere else.  That feeling of unabashed vitality he got from leaving his normal life has all but dissipated.  He's lost the only reason left to press on.  So, with Skyler's help, and heavy deliberation (many callbacks from past events in this episode), he decides that maybe he can go back.  To a simpler time.  To the life he originally left to preserve.  To true happiness.

Only it's time for that other shoe to drop.

And was their anybody out there who thought that shoe wouldn't be Hank's?  We're eight episodes out, people, there were only so many second tier conflicts this show could feasibly erect at this point before pulling the final trigger.  I myself was poised and ready as soon as Hank and Walt sat down in Hank's living room, drinks in hand, listening to Hank slide wearily through a story about tagging trees.  I was just waiting for the scornful, cutting remark that comes out of nowhere, bubbling from his exhausted throat.  The grand "I Know" moment - the elimination of all remaining leads serving as a light to the powder keg of frustration in his mind, allowing him to think far outside the box. To the unlikely.  To the impossible.  It didn't go down that way, but it was still a great character moment.

When it finally did go down, it was appropriate, but suffice it to say, I was not surprised, and I don't know about you, but if I we're a mass-murdering drug dealer with a super intuitive DEA agent of a brother-in-law who's frequently over and loves taking shits, you best believe I'd have burnt that page, hell, that book, to a crisp.  Say what you want of Walter's pride and his overwhelming desire for flattery, but that's quite a significant overlooking for someone so calculated.  I mean, the show itself reminded us of the heart-throbbing conversation they had last season, you'd think he'd at least hide it under his bed or something.  Definitely not throne reading material.

Alas, such has been the tragic flaw of Walter White.  His deadliest sin of all.  Pride.  I told you we'd be getting Shakespearian.  Although, I guess that's more Dante than anything else.  Whatever, you get my point.

So here we go... next summer.  Balls.  I have to wait a damn year for them to wrap this up?  I really don't get this two-part season deal that so frequents serialized television.  Either air a whole season, or make it two seasons.  Why all the splitsville nonsense?  TV development is weird.

80% = ***1/2 = "Amazing"


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