Alex S (barrysarll) wrote,
Alex S

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Breaking Bad

Not only for length, and permanence, but because here, unlike Facebook, there's no risk of a spoiler popping up on someone else's page and causing upset. I was a latecomer - I think I watched the whole thing over almost exactly a year. And maybe it's because I didn't live with the characters for as long as a lot of people, but while I liked it, that widespread temptation to give it The Wire's pedestal? I don't see it. Not least because fundamentally it's one plotline from Babylon 5 with all the aliens removed so as not to trouble the viewing public, who may have been able to handle Battlestar Galactica but that was just humans and robots. Walter White is Londo. A proud middle-aged man who feels washed-up, spurred by a crisis into an attempt to regain stature and control by making a deal with the devil, only to find himself on a horrible ride he can't leave. He's in a love-hate relationship with a fundamentally hapless, roundfaced younger associate, and against him stands a blowhard gradually revealed as a figure of true determination and a certain heroism. Yes, that single episode where G'kar doesn't realise what Londo has done, and is being friendly to him while Londo looks pained, was great - but did it really need to be stretched out to five seasons? Initially, I thought this could be coincidence, but we know the writers are at least aware of
Babylon 5 from that line about the surveillance on Badger and Skinny Pete. I'm surprised JMS hasn't picked up on this so far as I've seen; he's not generally backwards about coming forward.
Beyond that, there was the need for acts of utter stupidity at key plot junctures. Yes, the idiocy of male pride was a big theme throughout, and that's fine. Ditto anything Jesse does - as was noted, "some people are immune to good advice", and Jesse is definitely one of them (I was really hoping he'd drive into a wall while hooting like a twat in the finale). But when the entire final act relies on Walt doing something incrediblt stupid (well, that and the incredibly convenient schedule to which his cancer worked)? No. This isn't the drunken suggestion that Gail wasn't Heisenberg, which was entirely in keeping with his fragile pride. This was the sheer baseless idiocy of leaving something incredibly incriminating in the fucking loo.
Related to that, the tendency to lapse into sitcom. Not that I'm against a blurring of genre lines, but this was a bit much at times, and I never got why Heisenberg was considered such a badass icon when he spent so much time running around in a panic as if the vicar were about to drop round for tea while he had no trousers. Certain scenes got repeated so. Many. Times - in particular, the near-offing of main characters. How many times was Jesse on the verge of killing Walt? But no, because everyone who was there at the start had to make it to the last three episodes. Never mind The Wire - Oz and Justified were braver about doing away with lead characters when their time was up, rather than feeling obliged to keep them around. Hell, Primeval was braver about doing away with lead characters.
And yes, those characters. I generally have little patience for the sort of Bechdel bollocks applied like some one-size-fits-all shroud to all TV shows, but it did begin to grate when we met Lydia, who was, what, the fourth significant female character in Breaking Bad - and guess what, she's a massive bitch just like the other three! This from a show which had three female writers, too. It just felt...less than it should have been.

So why did I persevere? Because even a budget Londo is still better than no Londo at all. Because Bryan Cranston, even when he didn't have enough to work with, was mostly mesmerising - and other characters like Saul, Mike, Fring, even Huell and the ginger kid, weren't far behind. Because the camerawork was a lot more inventive than on most shows of this sort, who are often still to some extent pointing a camera at a play, and because this got the most out of that stunning New Mexico landscape*. I loved the 'Musée des Beaux Arts' way they had with the sense of life going on beyond these few strange, frantic people - the remote-controlled car, or the dogwalker, who passes through some major scene. The respect for life's irrelevancies was one of the things I most loved in The Sopranos, and the thing British attempts to do Serious Drama of late have tended fatally to omit. I loved that while the female roles may have been thankless, they engaged in the rare bravery of disability-blind casting for a high profile role; Walter Jr wasn't disabled for any plot reason, just because the best actor for the part was. I loved that driving awareness of the intrinsic awfulness of work - and the realisation that gangster fantasies are just that, because it is all work, and either the boss is a problem, or the logistics of being the boss are a problem. So yeah, maddening as it was, I'll miss it. It wasn't better than The Wire, but in a world where people take Homeland seriously, it doesn't have to be to be worth watching.

*The night after the finale, I watched Red Dawn, also filmed in New Mexico. And for all its lunatic vigour, it never made the landscape look so grand, not even in its God Bless This Land moments. Though it might not have helped that they were pretending it was Colorado. Breaking Bad was only set in New Mexico in the first place because of tax breaks, but thank heavens for those tax breaks.
Tags: sopranos, the wire, tv
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