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Josh Reviews Breaking Bad: Season Two

Yes, I know I am hugely late to the party on Breaking Bad.  Just as everyone was getting excited about the finale of the show, my wife and I were just starting to watch it from the beginning.  I enjoyed season one, though I found the show hard to watch at times because of how unhappy so many of the characters were.  Still, I recognized it as very well-made television, and I was eager to move on to season two.  (Click here for my review of season one.)

I enjoyed season two just as I had season one, though it took me far longer to get through the thirteen-episode season than I had expected.  There is no question that it’s a unique, bold show, one that is the product of a team of extraordinarily talented people.  But man I found it hard to watch.  So much so that after watching the first few episodes of the season I stopped, and it took me a while to get back into it to finish out the season.

I am sure this is not news to anybody, but Breaking Bad is a very bleak show.  That is part of what makes it so compelling and bold, but it also for me makes the show tough to get through.  I watched many of the episodes with my stomach twisted all in knots as  terrible thing after terrible thing happens to (and by) the main characters in the show.  It is rough.

I am definitely not someone who things that all good TV should be simple and happy.  Quite the opposite!  I already love and respect Breaking Bad for its incredible quality and its breath-taking freshness.  I am just being honest that I have a tough time watching it!!  (As I noted in my review of season one, I felt this way, to a much lesser degree, about the early seasons of Mad Men, but I eventually grew to fall totally in love with that show and its characters.  I am curious to see if the same thing winds up happening to me with Breaking Bad.)

One thing that immediately impressed me about the show is the way it never let’ the views off the hook by skipping over anything in a way that would let the audience say, OK, well, they did such-and-such and I don’t need to think about why or how, they just did it.  No, instead the show always digs deeply into the details.  For instance, season one ended with Walter and Jesse making a deal with the drugs-dealer Tucco.  I had expected season two to pick up the story weeks or months later, with the boys now in deep with Tucco.  But, instead, season two picks up literally seconds after the end of season one, with our boys still standing out there in the junkyard with Tucco, and we (and Walt and Jesse) immediately see that there are going to be problems in working with Tucco.  The shop doesn’t just skip ahead until things have been settled, we have to live and sweat every moment right along with Walt and Jesse.

I had read that Breaking Bad was a show that burned through story-lines at a rapid pace, and in season two I really started to see what that meant.  It’s something I love about the show.  Breaking Bad doesn’t milk things for episode after episode.  Shit goes down fast and furious on this show.  I had expected Tucco to be a presence throughout all of season two, but he was out of the picture by the end of episode two.  That was a huge shock to me, and this gives the show a roller-coaster-ride intensity .  It’s very cool.

There are a lot of great actors in the show (including some great guest-stars, more on that in a minute) but the success of this show rests solely on the shoulders of Bryan Cranston as Walter White.  Holy cow is he good.  He can play every aspect of this character, from the pathetic to the dangerous.  (I love the moments when we get to see Walt at his most bad-ass, dangerous self.  Those are my favorite moments in the show.  I look forward to seeing more of that as the series continues and, presumably, Walt slips deeper into villainy.)  Mr. Cranston is so good that the show suffers a little bit whenever he’s not on-screen.  If Walt is not in a scene, I always find myself impatient to get back to him.

In addition to the very solid main cast (including Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, and RJ Mitte), season two boasted some wonderful guest stars.  At the top of the heap was Raymond Cruz’s fierce, energetic work as the unhinged drug-lord Tucco.  I wish this character had been in more episodes!!!  This was a great performance.  I was also delighted to see John DeLancie as the father of Jesse’s new girlfriend.  Mr. deLancie gave a compelling, heartbreaking performance.  So great.  I am loving Giancarlo Esposito’s work as the quiet, unassuming drug-lord Gus (whom Walt first meets at a fast-food chicken joint).  I am eager to see more of this intriguing character in season three.  I was also thrilled to see Danny Trejo, though he was only in the show for two seconds!  I wish that Tortuga had lasted longer, oh well.

Of course, my favorite addition to the Breaking Bad ensemble was Bob Odenkirk as the crooked lawyer Saul Goodman.  What an incredible role, and what perfect casting.  (I feel like Mr. Odenkirk’s work as Larry Sanders’ untrustworthy lawyer on The Larry Sanders Show was good practice for this role!)  I gather that Saul will continued be an important part of Breaking Bad for a while, and nothing could make me happier.

The one major mis-step of the season, in my mind, was the very ending.  All season long, the per-credits sequences had been hinting that something Very Bad was going to happen.  Each episode we got to see a little more of what was an ominous scene unfold: men in hazmat suits, Walt’s glasses in an evidence bag, and deceased figures under sheets.  I assumed that this was going to be the result of something going terribly wrong with Walt & Jesse’s drug-dealing scheme.  So I was quite non-pulsed to learn in the final moments of the season finale that what caused all the chaos was a plane crash.  While I like the idea of the ripple-effects of Jesse’s bad behavior (he gets his girlfriend hooked back on drugs, she dies, her father is distraught and doesn’t pay attention at his job as an air-traffic controller, which results in a deadly mid-air plane crash that kills hundreds), this felt like way too outlandish a situation.  So far, for me at least, the power of Breaking Bad has been in its this-could-happen-to-anyone, this-could-be-you-or-your-neighbor realism.  But the plane crash was a step too far into fantasy for me, and it was a hugely anticlimactic ending after the season-long build-up.

I will definitely be moving on to season three soon.  I am very curious as to whether this is going to be a show that I will continue to respect but which leaves me cool (as it does now) or if I am going to start being more engaged by, more hooked into, these characters and their story-lines. There is no doubt in my mind that Breaking Bad is a noteworthy achievement in television and an extremely well-made show.  It’s just not yet a show that I am in love with.  But I am forging ahead.  Let’s see what happens!!  I will be back here soon with my thoughts on season three!

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