Friday, May 25, 2012

Breaking Down: Season Two of Breaking Bad - Part One

For those following along with the series the first time through, we’ve decided that we will break down Breaking Bad at the rate of a half season per week, and then shift to episode-by-episode for the last episodes of Season Four in prep for Season Five which is set for a Sunday, July 15 start. That’s about seven-eight episodes a week. I once watched eight episodes of Season Two in a hotel room bed without moving. I got up for the restroom a time or two, but I tell you, I did wish I had a catheter. So this time around will be the first eight episodes of Season Two. Enjoy.

Recap: Season Two starts with Walter and Jesse being held captive by Tuco in a Mexican border shack. Somehow, Hank stumbles out to the property and catches Tuco with a couple of 9s to the chest as Walt and Jesse make a miraculous escape into the desolate desert background. As they have been missing for days, their plan to avoi d detection involves Walt feigning a psychological lapse as he streaks through a grocery store. Meanwhile, Jesse plays dumb with the DEA. With funds running low, Jesse assembles a street team to peddle the blue meth. Several problems arise, including a run in with the nastiest meth couple imaginable, and eventually Badger is arrested, at which time the services of the incomparable Saul Goodman are sought.

Stan Earnest: The very first episode of Season Two starts with a mangled pink bear in a swimming pool sans explanation and ends with Tuco kidnapping Walt in his own driveway. This was the first time in the series where I was sure that the writers had mopped themselves into a corner. Boy was I wrong.

Halloween (we hope)
Craig Scholes:  The first episode is more setup than anything, not much really happens. I do like how Walt came to a seemingly random number in $737K to support his family. I also like how in the first episode of Season Two you really start to get the sense of how good Hank is at his job. The second episode on the other hand, that episode is great. Old Man Salamanca is one of my favorite characters in the whole run.

Eventually we were going to have to break out these pictures. Apparently each year the Breaking Bad cast and crew has a Halloween party. I think they speak for themselves.

SE: Yes, those pictures are awesome. Cranston as the ole bell ringer is brilliant, and how much does Aaron Paul look like his television girlfriend, Krysten Ritter?

The dinging of that damn bell is one of the more genius moves of the show. That episode is pure tension. I also like how the show sets up the kidnapping as Tuco trying to off the Walt/Pinkman tandem, but through viewer deduction we find out that Tuco merely wants them to cook meth for a larger operation in Mexico. The show has this blend of straight-up storytelling that gets mixed with scenes that the viewer doesn't directly know how they fit into the larger picture that I believe sets it apart from a lot of other shows. Season Two gets a little out of hand with the foreshadowing of the pink bear, but one thing I had forgotten is how those scenes are set in the backdrop of each episode. The titles of each episode can sometimes seem a cheap ploy, but when I rewatch the black and white scenes with emergency sirens blazing in the background it gives that extra sense of terror that is about to be rained down upon Walt. I remember getting so sidetracked by the episodes plot lines and forgetting about the pink bear, specifically how in the hell Walt and Jesse were going to make it out of Tuco's reign without their cover getting blown.

To boot, the show adds the extra nuance of the Walt vs. Skyler scenes, including the failed kitchen sex scene. The first time I saw that I think I thought it was funny, especially when Walt Jr. sees the guacamole face splatter on the fridge and cocks his head sideways (like Hank stumbling around a crime scene), but when I stop to think about all the bullshit Walt put himself through it's no wonder he wants to take it out on his wife, and she isn't privy to Walt's motives either. For all those Anna Gunn haters out there, she really shines when ripping into Hank's ass for asking her to support her spoiled sister. The failed Hank hug of Skyler will forever remind me of freshmen high schoolers doing the awkward shuffle at the homecoming dance. Hank really gets a roller coaster ride in Season Two, from the utter humility of paying for his neighbor's toy car to his hunch leading to Tuco's demise. Not only do we get to see what moves Walter, but we get to see what exists in Hank's world that drives him to what he becomes. 

CS: Something tells me Tuco's hamburger fajitas weren't exactly sanitary, since he used the same knife to take bumps of meth and cut peppers. I love how Walt is the classic pick-on-the-smaller guy.  The only person that Walt can take his anger out on is Jesse, and he does it quite frequently. How about Hank with his super skills of badassery, but what are the chances that P.O.S. Monte Carlo actually had Lo-Jack?

I actually had no idea there was any Anna Gunn hatred. She plays her role fantastically. In many aspects she is just as smart--if not smarter--than Walt. Hell, she might actually have more street smarts than all the other characters combined, which makes it baffling that Walt continues to think he can keep pulling the wool over her eyes.

SE: Veering off the beaten path here: between the first two seasons of Breaking Bad there was a big break because of the writers' strike, so AMC ran some minisodes, five of them in three - five minute snippets, to appease the fanatics. Have you seen them? The best one by far is the last one (see video below) where Walt attempts a B & E with everyone's favorite dope, Badger. Hijinks and hilarity ensue. When the series wants to hit the zany button, it stamps that puppy with precision. 

CS: I've mentioned a family member that reminds me of Pinkman. Well, said family member has a friend that reminds me of Badger. Really nice guy, but dumb as a sack of door knobs, but don't we all know a guy like that? Good find though, I had seen a couple minisodes, but I didn't enjoy any of them as much as that one. The Breaking Bad guys seem to have quite the sense of humor when they aren't trying to weave a story as epic as Breaking Bad.

SE: Years ago, I was called out to come pick up a friend, a Jesse Pinkman type, on a gravel road. Seemed the local law enforcement had pulled him over and he had admitted to drinking, but passed all the sobriety tests. This particular officer didn’t have a breathalyzer at the time, and, since said friend was only 16, decided give the kid a break and have someone pick him up. He had his friend, a Badger type we all called Booger, with him. When I got there, Booger was passed out in the passenger’s seat of the old junk Mustang. Who falls asleep as law enforcement is threatening punishment for violation of the law? Badger would. By the way, RIP Booger, aneurysm. Everybody liked that goofball.

What do you make of the style of showing a clip from the end of the episode in the beginning of said episode? During Season Two, I thought it worked well to ratchet up some of the drama; when the slow burn sizzles, no need to worry because the goods are in the pipeline. I do find it interesting how the show manages to encompass a wide range of styles--from hard-boiled drama to avant-garde edits of drug making sequences to the music choices to the differences in the younger characters and the older characters--and still gels the overall style of the show together. I think it has something to do with the pacing of the show and that, unlike other shows, Breaking Bad doesn't throw any obvious info in your face; you have to figure out what the characters are plotting on your own. Skyler looks at a picture of her with some unknown man, and the viewer has to decide what she is thinking. Pinkman shows up with a killer RV, and we get to guess where it came from. Then we have Walt guarding his window with a kitchen knife. Come on Walt, were you really gonna take on Tuco with a butcher knife? 

CS: I like the preview scenes. Mainly because I've never once been able to guess what was going to happen based on those scenes. And I agree about how well Breaking Bad mixes is it up. The show has some downright hilarious moments too, and in Season Two you really start to see the layers of complexity in the characters. You clearly are paying closer attention to detail than I am; first I missed the guacamole smear on the fridge, and now I've missed Skyler looking at the picture of an unnamed man (though I can guess who it is). For such a smart guy, Walt sure does some stupid shit. There is no way he could defend himself against Tuco with just a knife; hell, if he had a lightsaber, he'd probably just cut his own arm off.

SE: And the evolution of Walt continues. When you break bad, you can't half-ass it, you have to break full-on badass. In Season Two, Walt falls right into Tuco's lap, fails to poison Tuco with castor beans, and needs every scrap of luck to stay alive. Season Two is also about--as you’ve touched on--sympathizing with the characters. Walt's poor family puts up signs for his disappearance and then deals with the humility of his public nudity. Hank develops some PTSD. Jesse falls in the RV's blue lagoon. I've been told that blue stuff is made to melt a turd; surely Jesse has chemical burns. You learn anything about that in chemistry class?

CS: Chemistry wasn't my strong point. If I had failed Chemistry in college, I was going to change my major, so if it was mentioned I don't remember it. Even though Pinkman is a borderline fuck-up, he has had tremendous amounts of bad luck and just can't catch a break. I mean, I guess life is what you make of it; but, beyond bad decision making, his motorcycle getting ganked sucks. I wonder if there was a cut scene of him buying it. What about Walt's horrible music choices? He has got to be the only person who has said that Boz Skaggs is unmatched in musical talent. I would have pegged Walt to be more of a Blue Öyster Cult guy, something with a little more edge to fuel the inner badass. Clearly Walt is the only character--real or fictional--to have ever even considered breaking into a chemical warehouse that also enjoys the band Steely Dan.

SE: Those middle-aged chops sure helped him weasel his way around the psychologist that evaluates his fugue state. That was a scene straight out of Ordinary People. If you haven't seen it, there is a great scene between Donald Sutherland and Judd Hirsch. There are many interesting moments in life where you meet someone in their professional field, whether it’s a policeman, a professor, or a psychologist, or maybe you're the professional, and one side needs something that requires the professional to act in a more humane way and not the bureaucratic way. I've always wondered how insane you have to have to be to try to bribe a professional when you're caught. Walt seems to bypass the psychiatric review with precision. And how about Walt and Jesse's plan to evade detection after escaping the Salamanca desert shack? Their plan actually worked for once, but desperate measures had to be taken, as trusting a meth hooker isn’t ever the first option.

CS: The first time through I thought Walt was just going to tell the psychologist the whole truth, drop the mic, and walk out like a boss. In reality though, the only reason that plan worked is because every sketchy person involved had an unwillingness to cooperate with the law. I wonder what Skyler’s educational background is... [SPOILER ALERT] You eventually find out that she was some sort of accountant, but does she have an MBA? Is she just great with numbers? Also, is it just me, or does Flynn seem to be a little bit of a moron outside of his occasional quick wit?

SE: I hate comparing Flynn to a Pontiac Aztec, but the choice of his character is another cold calculation by the writers: giving Walt a son with a disability that doesn't share his academic passions, but remains a witty smart ass. Walt can't even reprimand his kid when he constantly feels sorrow for him. And what kind of a dick move is refusing to be called by your father's name- let alone not even a middle name- in favor of a self-chosen name? It's the perfect slight that only Flynn, a son, can pull off. He knows his dad is up to something, too, which makes the interaction with Jesse--his other child--much more loaded with subtext. Is that how Walt really wants to treat his family? His interactions with Jesse come unfiltered in Season Two. I know I felt Walt really wanting Jesse to be his own son at times.

CS: I actually never understood the desire for a father to name a child after himself, logistically it just sounds like a pain in the ass. Do you think Walt would still want Jesse as his son if he had heard the music stylings of Twaughthammer? I don't so much think that Walt wants Jesse as his own son, but more that he is a teacher at heart, constantly wanting to teach and guide. Walt’s also somewhat of a control freak. Why do you think it is that Walt is so unreceptive to Jesse anytime Jesse tries to contact him? I get that Walt is trying to keep the Walt and Heisenberg stuff separate, but it’s a pretty flawed business model for a partner to never listen to the other guy.

On a side note, how twisted is it that Hank nabbed Tuco's grill? And how in the hell would he be allowed to do that, since a Platinum grill has got to run on the pricey end.

SE: I think you hit the vein on the first try. Walt wants control. He wants the business run the right way, Walt’s way. Later on in the season, we see the Walt/Jesse dynamic morph into a whole other beast, but I don’t think Walt saw Jesse as anything other than a pawn at that point. I may be more influenced by later episodes and got crossed-up; the relationship in the early part of Season Two involves Jesse wanting a father figure to impress.

Let’s take a dive into darkness. How demeaning was the Spooge episode? That poor hungry kid was dealt a pretty appalling hand, with methed-out parents in that creeped-out house. Jesse couldn't finish the deed, and yay for him for being the softy. I'd say Spooge deserved the ATM dropkick. I'll be honest with you, I didn't rewatch that episode. I didn't want to. That tells you something about the grim reality of the meth underworld.

CS: I just watched that episode, and man is it brutal. That poor kid. And how in the hell do you steal an ATM?  Can you imagine the police report for that 911 call? There is no way that kid has a name, or any sort of records, or has ever had any immunizations, probably has worms too. I loved Jesse flipping out at the parents for not feeding the kid a decent meal and not having cable. Leave it to Jesse to have the priorities in life straight. Of course, the thing that was the saddest part about that episode, was Hank's brew going berserk. I loved Hank going into SWAT mode though, scoping the "gunshots."

SE: PTSD is a mofo.

The midpoint of Season Two brings two of my favorite things Breaking Bad has done: the mariachi Heisenberg song and Bob effing Odenkirk. Better call Saul, bro.
CS: Oh Christ, I hate Mariachi music--everything about it. Corny and cheesy. But Bob Odenkirk is MONEY! He has perfected the role of the sketchy lawyer. Breaking Bad has done a great job bringing in fairly big names for relatively small parts. Several comedians that I love (and a couple others that I’m not a fan of as well) have had roles. I would imagine that has to do with just how solid the show is. Running with that theme, the midpoint has my least favorite part of the whole run. How in the hell do you have Danny Trejo and only give him like 8 lines of dialog? Granted, his demise was quite epic.

SE: Mariachi criticism aside, I thought that prelude was the perfect depiction of the heap of madness Walt has fallen into. All of Mexico knows that Heisenberg is a dead man, if only Walt knew what kind of danger he has put his family in. Walt better retrace his steps, or his head is going to end up on a turtle shell canvassing the desert a la Danny Trejo. At this point, Walt still thinks he is on borrowed time with the cancer lurking, getting his rocks off playing Heisenberg, but when you step on a cartel's rattlesnake boots, you're bound to get bit sooner or later. I like that Trejo only had one--well, two--scenes; it's the writers saying, "Look, this show isn't like other shows. We are here to tell a story, and we'll entertain the hell out of you while we do it, but we want to remain true to our vision. If that means we pay Danny Trejo and kill him off in one episode, so be it. That's how we roll. Hold on tight."

CS: It takes a pretty moronic DEA agent to just kick Trejo's head off that turtle, especially with the message written on the side of the turtle. What about Jimmy In and Out? What a fantastic and convenient, although really expensive service. Is there a shady entrepreneurship that Saul doesn't dabble in? Something tells me that there isn't anything that Saul couldn't acquire or just flat out weasel his way out of.

SE: Bob Odenkirk as Saul is one of those very few times where I can't imagine anyone else playing the character. I mean how often does that happen? I can come up with very few: Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction, Chris Farley in everyone of his movies, Ian McShane as Swearengen, Michael Kenneth Williams as Omar, and maybe a handful of others. That wind-blown comb-over, the worried-but-I-got-this look, you're right, Saul could weasel his way out of anything. I like that Walt and Jesse try to get hardcore with him and his response is for each of them to put a dollar in his pocket for client-lawyer confidentiality.
One of my favorite scenes comes in the Better Call Saul episode with the aforementioned Jimmy In-and-Out. Walt and Jesse befuddling Hank before his very eyes with the Aztec saving the day! I love that Walt can dance like a past-his-prime Ali around Hank, and Hank just can't put the pieces together and for good reasons. Shout out to DJ Qualls for the Badger bust. Better Call Saul is definitely one of the more entertaining episodes.

CS:  So in summation, Season Two picks up pretty much exactly where season 1 leaves off. We see our anti-heroes witness a psychotic, methed-out drug kingpin murder a man for talking. He then kidnaps our anti-heroes and treats them to a surprise brunch with his uncle in a vacation home sitting near the border. We then see Hank use his super sleuth skills to track down Walt and Jesse out of jealous rage for not being invited to this fantastical brunch and shoots down Tuco in cold blood for his transgressions. Walt is so scarred by this that he is found naked in a grocery store. Because of Hanks transgressions he is then charged to police a turtle race in the desert where hilarity ensues. Jesse then takes it upon himself to track down a missing ATM and helps the family who found it by babysitting their child. Fearing that Walt and Jesse are losing their minds local Samaritan Saul Goodman takes it upon himself to be the guiding light to right the wrongful ways of Walt and Jesse...

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