Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breaking Bad - On the Verge

The latest episode of Breaking Bad turned out to be, of all things, a play by Samuel Beckett or Eugene Ionesco -- two characters in a tight scene facing an absurd situation, swinging between bickering and cooperating, frivolous and deadly serious. We the viewers are not sure if we should laugh, weep, or rage at what we see. Does it make sense? How do we understand it -- as a dream, a parable, a meth-fueled hallucination, an allegory? Exactly. The sense that it both succeeds and fails to hang together extends within and beyond the theatrical fourth wall. And yet, for all that, this sudden intrusion of modernist theater fit the larger story of which it is a part, and that counts as a compliment paid to the quality and depth of the series.

This video review provides more spoilers than I could ever hope to dribble out:

So there it is. How many ways could that episode have dramatized the idea of “on the edge” or “on the verge”? We saw Walt dangling off the side of a wall; Jessie precariously balanced and ready to fall from a ladder; Walt veering ever so close to telling Jesse the secret that their partnership cannot possibly survive; Walt staggering along the edge of consciousness for much of the episode; Walt’s overall mental balance, teetering as never before; the two of them coming close to missing the production deadline, risking the ire of their employer, who is anything but patient at this stage.

To the list I would add Walt on the edge of noticing that Jesse had spiked his coffee with sleeping pills. And -- here's another cliff of sorts -- maybe Walt did notice but pretended not to notice. If so, might we guess that some of these other thin lines were, likewise, crossed without anyone being willing to admit it, or perhaps without quite realizing it? Will we find that Walt's partial, stumbling confession will take shape as such in Jesse's mind?

Is it possible Walt crossed another line and tried the product?

Of course, balanced delicately on all of the above, totters the fragility of Walt and Jesse's partnership, which is the linchpin of so much else in the story: whether Walt's brother-in-law can ever afford the care he needs; whether Walt and Skylar can re-fashion their broken relationship into something mutually workable, if only for the sake of family; whether Chicken Man Gus's play to dominate the meth trade for the entire southwest can succeed; what will become of the attorney, Skylar's sister, Skylar's boss, the father of the daughter we saw die at the end of season two, and more.

That takeaway again: we, the appointment viewers of Breaking Bad along with the characters, stand on the edge of something very, very big.

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