Breaking Bad, Season 2

Sometimes I think I should rename this blog “behind the times” or “finally jumping on the bandwagon” or “late to the party” or some other cliche phrase to indicate that I typically don’t watch things that everyone likes until they’re off the air, or whatever. But then I remember that Chris Hardwick hasn’t seen The Wire, and I feel much better about myself.

So, Breaking Bad. My various trusted television sources were right–this show most definitely gets better with time. The first season left me very underwhelmed, much in the same way that Parks and Recreation‘s first did, too. Both shows only got a few episodes to make a go of it, and while you could tell there was something special there, none of the characters seemed particularly compelling. Sort of shells of interesting people played by very talented actors. But both shows got second-season pickups, and never looked back. Breaking Bad is clearly a TV powerhouse, but it does its thing without any pretension whatsoever. It’s weird, too, because its network, AMC, houses the most pretentious show(s) on TV: Mad Men and The Walking Dead, which I admit I watch, but my very use of the word “admit” shows that there’s a little embarrassment there. The shows aren’t quite as mind-blowing as everyone makes them out to be, whereas Breaking Bad is tride and true, un-glamourous, un-trendy, exactly the way TV ought to be. It’s entertaining, it makes you think, it gives you a taste of something you might not otherwise experience.

One thing I really like about Breaking Bad, which I think became very apparent this season, is how unapologetic it is. Unlike many other “quality” shows running right now, Breaking Bad doesn’t try to justify its characters’ bad behaviour or teach its audience something really deep about humanity. Or maybe it does, but the lessons aren’t saccharine or obvious. They’re there, I suppose, embedded deep in the hearts of the characters, but you don’t necessarily have to learn anything from them. You can just enjoy the show for what it is.

Bryan Cranston is incredible; this can be gleaned from his Emmy three-peat, but I want to say it anyway because he’s such an underdog in Hollywood. He’s such a normal-looking dude, one that you’d think could never play anything other than an accountant or, say, a goofy dad (Phil Dunphy would be NOTHING without Hal), yet Cranston completely transforms into Walter White the second you see him on the small screen. He’s terrifying and sympathetic, and all of the other adjectives that have probably been used to describe him. He becomes this real, conflicted, heartbreaking person, the embodiment of a tragic hero, and while I can’t necessarily say that I want him to come out on top (because I know he won’t anyway), I find it fascinating to watch him try.

It’s sort of interesting how this show presents so many characters in so many tough situations, and yet for me it’s hard to give them my full support. I think Walter gets most of it, by virtue of his impossible drug-cancer-baby predicament, but the rest of the characters give “gleaning sympathy” the old college try, and very valiantly so. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means I have less emotional investment in the show (and more, I don’t know, plotline investment? story investment? who cares). RJ Mitte is adorable, but he’s got these eyes that suggest something so hurt all the time, which make him magnetic whenever he’s onscreen. Anna Gunn is so strong and so cardboard at the same time, the beautiful, work-ethical mom with something dark that I suspect we’ll find out about as the show progresses. Her sister, her bro-in-law, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito… I could go on about how awesome they are, but the only person who can hold a candle to Cranston is, of course, Aaron Paul. I love him under any circumstance on this show, even when Jesse is being a total dickbag. Paul is so real, too, which is why they’re such a mesmerizing duo, with this bizarre non-chemistry that sucks you in to their fucked up not-so-little world. I was sad for Jesse when Jane (the chameleonic Krysten Ritter) drugged herself dead, but it’ll only make him a more fascinating character, and it’ll only give me another reason to watch Season 3.