From a listener e-mail to our podcast, The Ones Who Knock
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Greetings Joanna and David,
I wanted to write in because I have no other way of expressing my problems with Breaking Bad. Among my friends and people on the internet, Breaking Bad has now entered the elevated land of “BEST SEASON OF THE BEST THING EVER ON ANY MEDIUM,” and anything I say that goes against that narrative will be immediately shot down, terminated with extreme prejudice. Help me Joanna-Chen, you’re my only hope.
I have a couple of things that bothered me about last night’s episode, which upfront I have to say was a very good, tense episode (though perhaps not the godsend people say it was):
1. The flashforwards are hurting the show: I know this has been a big concern for David this season, and while they haven’t detracted from the show before, last night I definitely enjoyed the episode less because of what we already know. For a show that so expertly uses tension in the moment, how did Gilligan and company not realize that last night’s handcuff moment would be rendered completely inert by Mr. Lambert? Especially with the call to Uncle Jack. After the “Forget it…” conversation, did anyone in the world not think that the Deus Ex Neo-Nazis would show up and stop Hank from succeeding? I loved the entire moment with Hank and Walt, and then Walt’s disgust with Jesse narc-ing on him, but after a while it was simply waiting, waiting, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
2. I don’t buy Uncle Jack and the Hillbilly Bunch: Speaking of that other shoe, Uncle Jack and Todd don’t work as a dramatic foil. I think the problem is that they feel like that hopped in from a completely different show. With Breaking Bad, where everything is so meticulously planned out and every detail of an operation is vital to the success of the operation, all of a sudden we have villains from Sons of Anarchy pop on the show to fill in whatever dramatic hole the writers need filled.
Need Uncle Jack to have massive prison connections in order to kill a dozen people at once? Sure. How about a Seal Team 6 level of precision to wipe out Declan’s entire crew with nary a scratch? You got it! Oh, but we need them to show up to a place in the middle of desert in 10 minutes… and you know how they completely wiped out Declan earlier? We need them to totally miss two DEA agents standing 20 feet in front of them, even with 6 of them shooting automatic weapons. Uncle Jack’s got that covered!
The show never developed this team (other than maybe Todd) as anything other than White Supremacist (hooray dramatic shorthand!) boogeymen, and the fact that they are certainly going to be involved with the show to it’s bitter end doesn’t work at all for me. After the brilliant build of season 4 and the wonderful development of Gus Fring, the whole situation with Uncle Jack is a two-dimensional disappointment.
3. The ending was a complete cop-out: This is where I will find the most resistance, I’m sure. I suppose this comes down to what you think television should be. For me, a perfect episode of television has to have an ending which puts a stamp on everything which came before, either enhancing what we’ve already seen or adding an element which transforms our perception. Or it does something else completely! There isn’t a science behind it, or else we wouldn’t have shows like The Following. However, what they did last night, having the episode end right in the middle of a firefight, is akin a “Part 1 of 2” episode of The A-Team. It’s a gimmick which only exists to tease next week’s episode (something already done a few times this season), and didn’t add any thematic resonance to what has come before. It reinforced my view of what these last 8 episodes are: a thrilling roller-coaster ride only designed to get us from point A to point B.
This is a part of a much larger argument on why these episodes have been great, but not Breaking Bad great, but it still bothered me. Someone accused me last night of not connecting with the ending simply because I wanted to see what happens next, and while that’s partly true, after sleeping on it I can’t help but feel it’s a one-off gag which lessens what they were trying to say with this episode.
With the hype machine behind Breaking Bad I don’t expect any of these criticisms to garner anything but guffaws from the devotees of this season, but I thought it was worth it to examine some of these problems.
Richard from New York