"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Breaking Bad: Cat's in the Bag

Things are starting to unravel fast for my "odd couple" of meth makers. Last episode left them with two dead bodies in the back of a wrecked RV filled with meth ingredients. How could it get worse? Well, what if one of those dead bodies isn't so much ... dead that is? The boys haven't sold any drugs yet, Pinkman's house is falling apart and White's marriage may not be far behind. Cranston's getting well deserved raves for his stellar performance, but as with most buddy comedies, and let's face it this is becoming a very dark comedy, it takes two great actors to pull it off, and Aaron Paul's Pinkman is an amazing foil for Cranston's White.

Breaking Bad finds a striking balance between humor, horror and anguish that had me laughing out loud at parts, shouting in revulsion at others and torn up inside at still other moments. It's an astonishing juggling act to master and more impressive to have me this emotionally invested in the characters after only two airings. And to this point, as they've had the most screen time, it's a credit to the acting abilities of both Cranston and Paul. In fact, Pinkman went from an annoying wannabe drug dealer to someone who, sure, is still all those things but I still care what happens to him. I feel bad for the horrible situations White has essentially forced on him against his will.

With this episode, Bad fulfilled its promise of being at least part comedy, though a very, very dark comedy. In fact, in this episode much of the humor is found in what to do with the dead and not-quite-as-dead-as-I-thought drug dealers Mr. White blew up (chemically) in last the episode. When Pinkman loses the drug dealer who didn't die (he gets out of the RV and wanders off), White finds him stumbling along the neighborhood road while driving home. The dude looks seriously messed up, but when he sees White driving along next to him, trying to talk to him, he takes off running ... right into a tree. Knocked out he ends up stuffed in the trunk and ultimately "chained" in Pinkman's basement.

So the boys have two problems. One dead body in an RV that's heating up in the sun and one very much not dead body chained to a pole in the basement. Who's going to take care of which one? What do you do? Well, flip a coin obviously.

One of the most disgusting but funny moments of the night came when Pinkman used hydrofluoric acid in his bathtub, despite Mr. White's insistence he use plastic and discovers that hydrofluoric acid eats through ceramic, wood, well everything that was underneath it. The resultant "mess" were completely predictable, and the timing a bit too convenient, but still fun.

As for their new prisoner, well Mr. White tries very hard to kill him, but when he gains consciousness and some semblance of coherence, he winds up with plenty of drinking water, a meal, a bucket for doing ... well, you know what. And even some toilet paper. Yes, hardened criminals these two.

I also started to see the deterioration of Mr. White's health, as he has begun to have periodic coughing spasms. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I believe the doctor said he had a year at the outset with chemotherapy. As he's clearly not doing chemo, what does that give him? Six months? Three? A few weeks? Who knows, but the scene where the Whites find out they're having a little girl and his wife asks him if he'll be so happy about having a little girl when she's a teenager. Oh man, that's acting. Knowing he won't live long enough to see his daughter, but having to keep this from his wife and play happy. It was heartbreaking.

And then his wife calls him out on Pinkman, having used *69 to deduce who he was and even checked out his "not MySpace" page. White, backed into a corner, tells her that Pinkman is his pot dealer and then, in the speech of the night, says: "I just haven't got to be myself lately, but I love you. Nothing about that has changed. Nothing ever will. So right now what I need is for you to climb down out of my ass. Can you do that? Will you do that for me, honey? Please, just once get off my ass. You know, I'd appreciate it. I really would."

Of course, she does no thing and goes to confront Pinkman, when he's trying to drag the body into the house no less, and tells him that White "told me everything." Well, not everything, but Pinkman agrees to stop selling pot to her husband.

Once I got past the fact that they are talking about disposing of dead bodies and killing people (albeit very bad people) it's easy to laugh at the absurdity that I've seen so far.Pinkman and White have managed to cook up a batch of amazing crystal meth, kill one person, inadvertently kidnap another, make a mess of Pinkman's house and neither of them has seen a dime off of this enterprise, though Pinkman did get to smoke some of White's fine meth, and White sampled some of Pinkman's weed so it's not a total loss, right?

If things don't turn around, I'm actually going to start feeling really bad for these two. Surely something good will come of all of this? Surely White will be able to do something good for his family before he dies? Man, at this point I'm not sure, but I'm sure enjoying the ride. It's official, AMC is on a hot streak with Mad Men and now Breaking Bad. Whatever's next is bound to be worth checking out. And kudos to Bryan Cranston for managing to work a fully nude scene into this episode, even though he had to spend most of the episode fully dressed.

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