16 July, 2012

Review - BREAKING BAD 5.01: 'Live Free or Die'

And so it has returned. The show all the Emmy voters automatically vote for as if it was ENTOURAGE, DEXTER, or DOWNTON ABBEY. Shows that once they become part of popular culture don't even need to be watched, or be of any measurable (or unmeasurable) quality to earn the highest praise.

In the case of BREAKING BAD the praise is at least still reasonable if not unbalanced by the hyperbole surrounding its perceived quality.

It is THE show of cool. Like the new STAR TREK or THE AVENGERS or what AVATAR was before it was suddenly no longer cool to have loved it (had AVENGERS made $800 million domestically, you could count on it suddenly becoming uncool to like it).

What I'm saying is that BREAKING BAD is good. It is sometimes really good. Even great a bunch of times a year. But it's not MAD MEN great. It's not THE WIRE awesome. It can't touch LOST or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or DEADWOOD or ROME or GAME OF THRONES. I know hardcore fans of this show freak out anytime someone points this out because it is still "cool" to like it, and so suggesting otherwise may slowly contribute to wearing off that shine. But don't worry about it. The show is safe from criticism. In fact, I bet this will be the only "negative" review of the show.

However, this isn't a negative review. More of a general and personal observation about the hyperbole surrounding the show.

I think it needs to be said:

It has excellent performances.
Great dialogue.
Fleshed out characters.
Sometimes totally forced story lines.

That final point is what bothered me about this episode. The effort to use a super-magnet to wipe out the data from a computer that can ruin all their lives felt like it only worked because the script said it should. There wasn't much organic about those sequences. It's all just too... "cool." And then of course Walt's overinflated ego-trip causes an unintended result where the police suddenly find new evidence that will obviously lead them to him down the line.

Too cute. And I bet most of you loved the shit out of it.

Where the show continues to exceed is in demonstrating the deconstruction of a once decent human being in Walt, and how he drags anyone along with him.

Walt is the top dog now and in his mind he can do no wrong. Also, everyone exists to serve him now that he has bumped off the mighty Gus. All plans work because he has thought of them. No one tells him it is "over" until he says it is. And he "forgives" his wife for acting to protect their family without talking to him about it.

Walt is the hunter and everyone else is his food chain.

Walt is king.

Walt is god.

And everyone is either condemned or forgiven by him. Perhaps this episode should have been called "You Are All My Playthings." It is the kind of thing that makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck and why Bryan Cranston earns every Emmy award he will ever receive for his performance. Walt is terrifying because he doesn't have the logical level or self control that Gus had. Walt is a loaded and cocked shotgun with a hair-trigger. He is going to go off eventually. We just have to wait to see in whose direction he is pointed when it happens.

As for the rest of it, the episode opens up with one of those scene teases that this show can do due to shooting the season before airing (most shows shoot a few episodes before the season airs), so we get a glimpse into future Walt and to wonder about whatever his need for weaponry means down the line. We also learn it is his 52nd birthday, meaning two-years will have passed since the series started whenever we get to this point in the season (finale?).

I should also mention that I enjoyed the way the show handled the recap of last year's final episodes and delivered the exposition of what happened in-between, by having Walt Jr. break it down for his dad in child-like excitement. Writers wrestle with how to effectively handle exposition all the time and this was a smart way to do it.

Sadly, Jesse isn't the focus of this episode which may be part of why I wasn't overly impressed by it. He is my favorite character and any time he is used as surface I tend to feel a bit disconnected. After all, it is Jesse who is the heart and moral compass of the show. And one could argue that Aaron Paul is the best actor as well.

At least he came up with the magnet idea. Though King Walt probably forgot that already, thinking that it was his idea all along. Power!

If I had to rate this episode, and a secret message behind a photo the police would otherwise have missed says I do, then I'd give it:

85 out of 100

I don't get washed up in the hype. This wasn't close to one of the show's best. It was good with a lot of potential for what is to come.

But still insanely superior to that shitfest that is BURN NOTICE. Holy shit... I watched all of the new season episodes of that show this weekend. What a piece of melodramatic bullshit. OVERACTING MUCH?!

Just thinking about it is making me want to score this episode higher.

So... what did you think?


  1. My Little Pony PillowJuly 16, 2012 at 8:58 AM

    I actually agree with you. It wasn't a great episode. I don't know what other critics have said but I thought it was good. My score is 88. I also agree it is not as good as Mad Men or Lost. But we can both agree it knocks the tits off Dexter right?

    1. Oh my dear gods... hell yeah it is better than DEXTER.

      That show has gone so far into the toilet it isn't funny.

      At least Yvonne Strahovski is on it now.

  2. 85 is a pretty good score. I thought it was going to be a 60 lol. Hopefully next week has more Jesse. He was a sidekick this week.

  3. I liked the episode.

    I have to disagree i think Breaking Bad is a lot better than Deadwood, Rome and Mad Men.

    I've only seen the first two seasons of the Wire but i think Breaking Bad has been better than that.

    i plan on watching season 3 & 4 of the Wire eventually so that could change.

    of course this is your blog and you are entitled to state that if you feel that way.

    One of the reasons i like Breaking Bad is because it's a thriller and i enjoy that genre a lot.

    it has the what the hell is going to happen next vibe that is very engrossing to me.

    Where as a show like Mad Men which i enjoy is much slower and not as enjoyable on that level.

    I love the situations Walter White gets himself into and then out of it.

    1. "I have to disagree i think Breaking Bad is a lot better than Deadwood, Rome and Mad Men."

      Unfortunately, there is no medication for that level of crazy.

    2. There was supposed to be more to that comment but... the site is going craycray today. The rest of that comment was supposed to be...

      Of course you are entitled to think whatever you want. It is what makes this Internet world so grand.

    3. The Wire seasons 3 and 4 were probably its best when they were at their crative peak. Mad Men is a great show but spends a little too much time contriving drama for drama's sake and Matt Weiener like Josh Schwartz has a knack for pissing people off, lol. Lost had some of the most brilliant moments in tv history...Walkabout, Through the Looking Glass, The Constant, The End, etc. but either side of those moments was a ton of narrative dead ends, infuriating dialogue and a lot of bullshit that drove fans nuts, lol, but I still think they got it mostly right in the end.

    4. Shawn... MAD MEN contrives drama for dramas sake? That's all BREAKING BAD does. It is ALWAYS contrived. Every piece works to make the next piece work. Nothing just happens, unlike MAD MEN where sometimes shit just happens.

    5. I think my point (not explained well by myself) was that Mad Men contrives drama without an overall purpose to the story or character arcs. I think all drama on some level is contrived and I suppose it is a matter of what kind of contrived one likes. I do not mind Breaking Bad contriving drama because there is a purpose to it...to make the story and characters darker because that is the point of the whole show (well for me at least)...to explore the moralality at play and the cost of ones soul.

      Mad Men contrives drama...but what is the overall purpose for the characters...where is it going? how different is Pete Campbell from season 2 and 3 adultry to season 5 adultry? did Peggy telling him what she told him at the end of season 2 not have any affect on him? Does Faye Millers warning about how Don just likes new beginnings stop him from basically (according to Wiener) dumping Megan at the end of season 5? Does Don not learn from the Suitcase that Peggy would one day walk out on him he pissed her off to much?

      What are these characters learning from the shit that they do, good or bad?...if nothing than I suppose for me that is kind of disappointing but never mind.

    6. "I think my point (not explained well by myself) was that Mad Men contrives drama without an overall purpose to the story or character arcs."

      With all due respect... I think you are fuckin' nuts.

  4. I couldn't understand why Jesse kept yelling "Magnus".

    1. Funny Stuff and I think he said "Magnus Bitch!"

    2. He actually previewed that line at Comic-con when he was asked what his favorite line was of this season.

      I honestly heard "Magnus". I didn't know the context, I guess.

    3. I'm going to pretend he was saying my name. I see nothing wrong with that.

  5. Actually, I liked this episode a lot. I found it really entertaining and funny in a dark humor kind of way.

    Even the part about the wife finding out Ted wasn't dead was sickly funny.

    I'm not adept at judging shows against each other because I see them so many years apart. For now, I think this will be my favorite for the next few months.

    ...Until it's over and something else comes along.

  6. You talk about the hyperbole behind Breaking Bad and then say "It can't touch LOST". Oh the irony! :)

    Solid review though, it takes balls to knock a cool show!

    1. I see what you are trying to get at but irony doesn't apply here. I didn't say "LOST is undeniably awesome and has no weakness!" I simply said BREAKING BAD can't touch it. I didn't even qualify in what way it can't touch it. Therefor, no irony. Just unqualified opinion. :)