Sunday, August 9, 2015

Breaking Bad (Season 3-4)

Breaking Bad; crime-drama series, USA, 2010-2011; D: Vince Gilligan, Adam Bernstein, Jim McKay, Tricia Brock, S: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte

Albuquerque, New Mexico. After he accepted the offer, Walter White now "cooks" meth in an underground lab for Gus Fring, a drug distributor who hides behind the ostensibly innocent looking dry cleaning and fast food businesses, which he uses for cover. Walter finally confesses that he earns money through meth to his wife Skyler, who is at first disgusted, but eventually accepts that and returns to him. Walter's brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank, is wounded after two Tuco Salamanca's and Hector's cousins tried to kill him. Walter ditches his lab assistant Gale for Jesse. However, after Jesse gets into direct confrontation with two of Gus' drug sellers because they killed a child, Walter intervenes in Jesse's favor and kills the sellers. This causes an ever bigger mistrust between him and Gus, which escalates when Gus decides to kill Hank, and presumably replace Walter with Jesse. Walter thus kills Gus by luring him into a retirement home where Hector is residing.

Following critical acclaim, seasons 3 and 4 actually even topped "Breaking Bad's" first two seasons in suspense. Episode 3.6, "Sunset", in which Hank corners Jesse and wants to get inside his RV, not knowing that Walter is in there was well, which is highly incriminating, immediately returns the series right on the track, thanks also to the neat trick the situation is resolved (Walter phones Saul, whose secretary tricks Hank into leaving for the hospital after feigning that his wife was injured in an alleged car crash), but the next episode, 3.7, "One Minute", even overshadowed the previous one and immediately became the best episode of "Breaking bad" until that moment: in it, Hank is in his car on a parking lot, when he receives an anonymous call, warning him that someone will try to assassinate him in a minute, and then two killers, Hector's relatives, show up and surround his car from two sides. You can nitpick it as much as you care, because "One Minute" is watertight and flawless, with so many references that almost every detail, word and movement has its point, cause and effect in the grand finale of things. Exquisitely written by Thomas Schnauz, "One Minute" truly is a small masterwork, and reaches a grand finale whose intensity reminds almost of a showdown in "Rio Bravo" set in the modern times (in one scene, Hank looks at his car clock, which shows 3:07, which is a reference to the fact that it is the episode 3.07; unarmed, Hank drives backward and causes tight pressing of one assassin with the car's rear end; the irony of a flashback in which Hector wanted to drown the kid assassin in water in 'one minute' and the "free bullet" that the other assassin drops by accident on the ground and is found by Hank...). The continuation of the storyline in season 3 is, despite that, actually rather stagnant and uneven: while these two aforementioned episodes are small jewels, there is a strange lull in the episodes before and after them, almost as if season 3 peaked there and suddenly dropped before and afterwards. Too many episodes are wasted on ponderous, exhausting family matters in Walter's private life, several supporting characters (Brandon and other drug addicts) waste the series' time because they are insipid, whereas some episodes, like "The Fly", are poorly, boringly written.

However, the story once again gains momentum with the beginning of season 4, where it reaches its heights and a 'golden age' of creativity. "Breaking Bad" takes a long time for a set-up. A very, very long time. But just like a sling, the more it takes to stretch it, the more velocity it releases in the end. And the finale features a pay-off of such monumental proportions it silences any previous questionable moments, which all align into a harmonious whole and have a bigger purpose in the spectacular ending. The last four episodes, from 4.10 to 4.13, are a magnificent demonstration in suspense, and the last episode, 4.13, "Face Off", directed and written by Vince Gilligan, even denotes "One Minute" to 2nd place and overtakes the throne as the best episode of the series. "Face Off" - and particularly the whole sequence where Gus goes to the retirement home in it - is an example of Hitchcockian thrills, a sophisticated lesson in ultra-suspense which gains such intensity of almost unparallelled proportions and catapults "Breaking Bad" on the Parthenon of best crime TV shows of the 21st century. Any mention of the details in "Face Off" should be a shame to spoil, but it is sufficient to say that the cat-and-mouse game between Walter and Gus reaches its climax, in a bravura crafted and conceptualized episode that gave such satisfaction that one immediately realizes how petty it is to waste any further time on remakes, sequels or any other unoriginal lesser forms of entertainment, and how "Breaking Bad" gave a genuine lesson about how the quality of (a large number of) films in the 21st century evaporated, but how it found its new fortress in the TV format. Rarely do you get such a kick out of a TV show as in this finale.


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