Well, this is a new one: As Albuquerque's KOAT 7 local news breathlessly reports, someone broke into Bryan Cranston's car in December and lifted a script from the upcoming final season of Breaking Bad. And while there is now a suspect in custody, the highly desired script is, dangerously, still on the loose.
Walt Whitman is a very strange choice for a Deus Ex Machina because, let’s be honest, he’s about as far from a machina as you could possibly get. Soaring, sloppy, and sentimental, Whitman gained notoriety and acclaim for his humanist poetry, passionately idiosyncratic verse that broke free of the rigid demands of meter, rhyme, and, occasionally, reason. Leaves of Grass did not have a tidy conclusion. The book was published and republished, in increasingly swollen volumes, over a span of 40-plus years. It was a life’s work in the most literal sense; it ended only when Whitman died.
All good television shows are about either work or family. The best, of course, are about both. The office and the home are the two great sacred spaces of American life (with the sports stadium, the movie theater, and the Laser Tag arena close behind); any program that concerns itself with one or the other — or, better yet, the push/pull between the two — will likely find not only an audience, but also find itself celebrated for its universality.
Two of the most acclaimed comedies of recent years have followed this blueprint to a T: The Office, with its sad drones learning to love those they work with, and Modern Family, about manic relatives forced to work hard to deal with those they love. The laughter, in both cases, comes from recognition. On the dramatic side, the challenge is bigger. Using extremes of context — murder, say, or the pre-dating of casual Fridays — shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men seek to hold a mirror up to our own voracious ambition. Maybe we think it’s OK to skip a few birthdays or not make it home in time for dinner, but there’s a slow, debilitating cost to all that earning, a price we pay for providing for others. Even if we can’t spell gabagool, let alone eat it, and would never allow our daughters near a creep like this, when we cringe, it’s also out of recognition.
A lot can change in a year. About twelve months before the events of “Buyout,” Walt and Jesse were confronted with their first corpse. After much nausea and even more nerves, they eventually decided on a corrosive plan: use hydrofluoric acid and it will burn everything away. The stuff is clear like water, but it’ll eat through just about anything: clothes, guns, even a bathroom floor. Once you splash it out, there’s no stopping it; the acid can even dissolve a human being. With the benefit of a calendar year, we can see something else that can be all too easily devoured by it, too: the humanity of the people on the other end of the bottle.
We’re all fascinated by danger, but terrified of risk. It’s why we press our face up against the glass at the zoo, raise our hands in the air while safely buckled into the car on Space Mountain, or watch other people eat Paula Deen’s food. It’s human nature, this desire to touch the flame but avoid being burned, and it’s something that Jesse Pinkman has come to understand well. Over the past four seasons, as his wardrobe has matured from the discount rack at Spencer Gifts to the executive collection from Today’s Mook, so, too, has his conscience. He may have ventilated Gale in a moment of panicked self-preservation, but otherwise he takes great pains to avoid hurting other people — especially young people — even if the product he’s cooking is a killer. And now, since launching the meth division of Vamonos Pest, it’s fallen to Jesse to play peacemaker and attempt to thread the needle between Mike’s murderous cool and Walt’s voracious ego. His is the voice of reason constantly trying to suggest a third way, a potential plan that can achieve the same devious goal as his partners’ but with less fatal ends: think of the magnets in the premiere, or even preserving Lydia’s life. But the devastating final moments of “Dead Freight” proved irrevocably (and quite unforgettably) that when you get down to it, Jesse’s placating third way is about as good as the third rail. There’s always a cost on Breaking Bad. As long as Walter White wants to get paid, the piper will be, too.
A few weeks ago, I argued that Breaking Bad was unique among its prestige brethren in that it seemed to get exponentially better from year to year. Not only better, but deeper, too; crazier, scarier, darker. The idea being that since the show is essentially telling one story — from the unlikely beginning to the inevitable, bitter end — each season builds directly on the one that came before it, showcasing Walter White’s undoing with a relentless, unparalleled focus. There are no dips in quality because the storytelling never blinks, never wavers. Vince Gilligan is telling his tale with the jacked-up concentration of a perfectionist chasing Adderalls with energy drinks, and the result is a show like no other; a roller coaster that doesn’t circle back to the start; an elevator without an “up” button.
“Secrets create barriers between people. Speaking from experience. Believe me. All that you’ve done — it’s part of you.”
This is Walter White’s version of fatherly advice, passed along to a receptive Jesse Pinkman as the two of them sit together, bathed in the glow of an old Three Stooges serial and the satisfaction of a successful cook. Walt’s not wrong, of course, but Jesse — so desperate for paternal approval he’ll later offer up bricks of his own Benjamins just to deflate the tension between his two bald surrogates — doesn’t stop to think the thing through. Walt is never short on words, but drill just below the surface and they’re never not about himself. The secrets that threaten to gum up Breaking Bad’s only successful partnership — the spanner in the works, the bug in the ointment, the uncatchable fly from the Super Lab now retired to an infested McMansion in the Albuquerque suburbs (you noticed it, right? Perched on the touring case? Nothing on this show is unintentional) — aren’t between Jesse and Andrea. They’re between Jesse and the malignant megalomaniac sitting next to him, calmly sipping beer on someone else’s couch.
The biggest concern going into this bifurcated final season of Breaking Bad was always about structure. When Tio’s bell tolled for Gus, it made for explosive television but risky long-term planning. Other than the predictable bonds of morality, family, and legality, what would exist for Walter White to chafe against going forward? The calm, now decomposed visage of Mr. Fring gave Walt something both to aspire toward and cower from. Even if it were time for Heisenberg to lay claim to the crown, who would be there to sharpen the guillotine?
For television's biggest stars, Emmy nominations day begins as either the best or worst of mornings, as the assiduously watched iPhone on the nightstand either lights up with the caller-ID photo of an elated publicist thrilled to rouse a nominee, or remains eerily, mockingly silent, a glassy black slab reflecting back the look of soul-annihilating disappointment on the exhausted face of the snubbed. For those lucky enough to get The Call, the rest of the day involves shuffling through a congratulatory conga line of media outlets eager to get their reactions, inevitably a litany of effusive, grateful sound bites, offered over and over again without any chance for reflection. Or honesty. Below, we attempt to decode what secret messages the nominees are actually trying to communicate through their bland "I'm so happy!"s and hostage-video-quality "It's an honor just to be nominated!"s, as collected by THR.com:
The fifth season of Breaking Bad opens with a series of images so shocking, confusing, and disorienting that it makes Season 2’s floating teddy bear acid trip seem downright conventional.
Yes, the time jump is surprising, as is Walt’s full head (and face!) of hair, his new identity as a proud New Hampshirite, and the monosyllabic return of Jim Beaver as an extralegal gun peddler. But what really boggled the mind was the idea that a member of the White family — a clan more dedicated to breakfast than the Butterworths — would leave a plate of eggs untouched. Forget what Saul declared late last season. If the man who sired the perpetually ravenous Walter Jr., a boy with syrup in his veins and an Eggo where his heart used to be, is able to ignore his free birthday bacon, it can mean only one thing: These truly are the end times.
Breaking Bad's fifth season premieres on AMC this Sunday, and we at Grantland are quickly approaching Tuco-after-20-knife-bumps levels of excitement for our yearly return to the ABQ. Join us in a (spoiler-heavy) look back at the dark, soul-crushing, and occasionally sing-along-able journey so far.
Mark Lisanti: Has any character in the history of television ever so artfully and effectively deployed a single word? The answer is d'oh. But Jesse Pinkman's dependable use of "bitch" as angry, sentence-ending punctuation is a close second, bitch.
I don’t know that Vince Gilligan has a post-it stuck somewhere in his office listing the general narrative priorities of Breaking Bad. But if such a document were to exist, it’s fair to surmise that “Plausibly depict the interpersonal vagaries of the southwestern methamphetamine trade” would rank somewhere below “Revel in the philosophical ramifications of moral ambiguity,” and “Stylized violent imagery is kewl!” If the only, only, only possible way in the entire world for Walt to manipulate Jesse into helping him kill Gus Fring was to secretly poison a young child with a backyard plant, then, via a bodyguard’s strident patdown, switch out a pack of Parliaments in Jesse’s jacket pocket to help support the ruse, rather than just say, “Hey, Jesse, I heard that Gus thinks only pussies wear Affliction t-shirts,” then far be it for us to challenge. Good thing Walter’s spinning revolver — this is how we’re making all our important daily decisions from now on — didn’t wind up pointing a few degrees to the left, we’d be piecing together how a hibachi brought down an all-powerful meth kingpin. (Oh, right: spoiler alert.)
For devoted partners who’ve repeatedly risked their own lives to spare the other’s, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman don’t actually work together much. Or, really, communicate with one another other than to fight. Jesse still calls his old teacher Mr. White, and while that old habit now reads like a running joke, it’s more than a cute affectation; he does this to constantly remind himself of his subservient role in this so-called partnership, to give himself something to bristle against, as if he wasn’t already harboring enough resentment. While everyone speculates whether Vince Gilligan will end the series with Walt’s death, the moment Jesse utters that first name and truly feels respected as his mentor’s equal will be the moment Breaking Bad reaches its ultimate conclusion. It’s his Rosebud. So when Jesse storms out of Walt’s house to kill Gus and avenge Brock, and Walt — with the indentation of the .38 snub still visible on his forehead — says, “Let me help you,” that’s about as close as this show gets to triumph. They’ve destroyed the lives of everyone they remotely care about (not a terribly high number of people at that), so now their only recourse is to team up and assassinate the southwest’s reigning methamphetamine kingpin, likely escalating a cartel war and further endangering themselves and their families. Yay?
Somewhere, I’m sure, there’s a message board on which people are currently whinging that this fourth season of Breaking Bad is too slow, too staid, too something, that the show, painting itself into a corner with 19 episodes left to go, has no choice but to drag out the story and the relationships. And while there’s no pleasing everyone, ever, about anything, it would be difficult for even the grumpiest of trolls to posit that nothing happened on this third-to-last episode, or that the plot’s threads aren’t being knotted and unknotted with force. To wit, a sampling of dramatic proceedings and revelations in handy, impactful, ostensibly argument-supporting bullet-point form: