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Breaking Bad - Season 2 Vince Gilligan
Breaking Bad - Season 2 Season two of Breaking Bad continues with themes established in season one. The most prominent theme is of Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) moving up in the drug industry and dangers associated with that. Hank (Dean Norris), now unknowingly following Walt’s exploits, remarks that the duo is probably stepping on a bigger trafficker’s toes. And, of course, they are.

It is implied that the man they are dealing with now, Tuco Salamanca (played by an old favorite, Raymond Cruz), has connections with cartels in Mexico. Tuco is unstable and paranoid and meets his demise in the desert thinking one partner (Gonzo, played by Cesar Garcia) had betrayed him over the death of another (No-Doze, played by “Jesus Jr.”). He kidnaps Walt and Jesse and hides out in the desert, hoping to escape to Mexico. Walt, Chemistry Super Hero, tries to poison him with ricin, but Jesse, Screw Up Super Hero, blows it. Tuco’s mute, wheelchair ridden uncle Tio Salamanca (played by consummate bad guy Mark Margolis) blows their cover. They end up shooting Tuco, who survives only long enough to get shot by Hank as Walt and Jesse escape into the desert.

With Tuco’s demise, the team must find a new dealer to sell to or, as Jesse suggests, they could be the distributor. Yes, Walt and Jesse will lead a gang of street dealers. Brilliant. Jesse enlists his junkie friends - the fidgety Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), the lovably absent-minded, yet good-natured, Badger (Matt L. Jones), and the far too optimistic Combo (Rodney Rush). So Pete gets robbed by the junkiest of junkies in Albuquerque, Badger gets busted by Kyle from Road Trip (DJ Qualls), and Combo gets killed by a kid on a bicycle. Just as planned.

Walt demands that Jesse get their stolen product back from “Spooge” and his equally reputable wife, forcing Jesse into the role of enforcer, which he is not qualified to be. The experience is almost a complete disaster, but with some luck it turns into some short term street cred. Walt even feels ballsy enough to chase some amateur meth manufacturers from his territory. Badger lawyers up with Bob Odenkirk. Well, actually the character’s name is Saul Goodman, but it’s totally Bob Odenkirk from Mr Show with Bob and David. Odenkirk does not undersell Saul the shady lawyer. I was half expecting Brian Posehn to be waiting for an appointment in some scene. Eventually Saul takes Walt and Jesse on as clients and is able to throw the cops off their scent and keep Badger out of prison, for a large sum of money. They do not weather the death of Combo nearly as well. They lose territory and the illusion of toughness.

Saul smells more money and convinces the duo that they need his expert services. With the cops looking at Jesse (because they found his car at Tuco’s) and Walt feeling exposed (Saul was easily able to track him to his work), they agree to a meeting with a larger distributor. That falls through, but Walt is able to force another meeting with Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the owner of a chain of fried chicken restaurants. Soon Walt is contacted by an associate (Jeremiah Bitsui) and frantically tries to deliver their product while Jesse is strung out and his wife is going into labor. As the money rolls in, Saul sets up a money laundering scheme through a fund raising website that Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) set up. A full-time drug dealer’s lawyer and a money laundering scheme; our boys have been promoted to the major leagues.

As mentioned earlier, Hank starts to gain more prominence as he unknowingly starts to follow Walt’s exploits. Hank is the one who goes looking for Walt and stumbles upon and kills Tuco in a tense action scene. His heroics land him a promotion, but also test his bravado. He begins to doubt himself at his new office. No longer is he the leader and his new co-workers don’t appreciate his hard-nosed style. He doesn’t speak the language (co-workers mock him in Spanish) nor does he have a solid understanding of his new enemy. After a bomb kills an informant and a Mexican Federale while tearing off the leg of a US DEA agent, Hank has a crisis of confidence. For the first time in his life he is afraid. He faces some of the same problems that Walt deals with with regards to his masculinity. And while Walt rebelled against these forces, Hank essentially backs down. He goes back to chasing the blue meth, never returning to his promotion.

Walter still struggles with feelings of emasculation, but he’s aggressive about regaining it. For instance, Hank has always towered over Walt in the eyes of Walter Jr. So at Walt’s “remission” party, Walt gives his son a shot of liquor in front of Hank. Then he gives him another. When Hank objects to a third, Walt angrily declares that it’s his son before Walter Jr. throws up in the pool from his third shot.

Walt’s lies were causing problems in season one, but they cross into the fantastic after Tuco kidnaps him. He fakes a “fugue state” to explain his absence, but Hank’s investigation brings to light Walt’s second mobile phone. Skyler asks Walt about it but is not satisfied with the answer. Walt’s pathetic explanations only push her away. The stress drives the still pregnant woman to leave the house for long periods and start smoking.

Drugged before major surgery, Walt lets on about the other mobile phone. As Walt is recovering, not only does Skyler figure out the second phone mystery, but she learns that Gretchen (Jessica Hetch) is not funding Walt’s treatment, and that Walt did not visit his mother when she dropped him off at the airport earlier in the season (he went off to cook meth in the desert with Jesse). On that trip, when Walt and Jesse are near death, stranded in the desert, Walt remarks "All the lies, I can't even keep them straight in my head anymore." If the liar can’t even keep them straight it is inevitable that he will be exposed. His doctor (David House) rebukes him for failing to report a health concern, urging “No more secrets, Walt.” The dramatic irony is thick for Doctor Delcavoli, but you have to wonder if it is equally so for Walt.

Walt and Jesse’s relationship has always been tumultuous. Their bonds are strengthened and strained in season two. Their battle with Tuco and almost stranding the RV in the desert causes friction but also ties them together like any traumatic experience would.

Out in the desert it is Jesse who sympathizes with Walt when he coughs blood even though Walt lied to him to get him out there. He tries to reassure Walt about his decision to sell meth despite Walt’s derision towards him. After their adventure in the desert, Jesse assures Walt that “Whatever happens, your family will get your share.” When it turns out that Walt is in remission Jesse is beside himself at the “kickass news”.

Despite his obvious disdain for Jesse, Walt clearly also sees him as his screw-up son though. Jesse loses his half of their earnings and has to beg Walt for more money like a teen asking his father. He bottoms out after being kicked out of his home, getting his bike stolen, and sleeping in his RV soaked in porta-potty toilet water.

When Walt happens across Jane’s father Donald (John De Lancie) at a bar the two strike up a conversation without knowing their connection. Donald has struggled with keeping Jane off drugs. Both are distressed that their children won’t listen to them. Walt is ready to give up on Jesse, but Donald sets him straight. "Family, can't give up on them. Never." Donald may be talking about his biological family, but those words send Walt back to Jesse’s house.

Walt may be a father figure, but he’s a jerk of a father. Jesse causes the desert adventure in the RV by inadvertently draining the battery, carelessly destroying the generator, and rashly wasting their water - but it was Walt’s lies about their supplies that brought the two out there in the first place. When Walt encounters Jane (Krysten Ritter) and Jesse’s drug induced sleep he has a chance to save Jane as she chokes on her own vomit, but instead recoils. Knowing how much Jesse cares about her he does nothing to save him the pain of waking up next to her dead body. Jesse enjoyed his life with Jane, but Walt didn’t approve so he destroyed it. When Jesse inevitably numbs the pain of his loss with copious amounts of drugs, Walt pulls him out of his spiral and puts him into rehab. So Walt “saves” Jesse, but only after the actions that Walt didn’t like ceased.

Once again it is the respectable middle class man whose morality and kindness is underwhelming compared to the junkie’s. After Walt demands retribution in the case of the stolen meth, Jesse reluctantly plays the role of enforcer. Upon breaking into the perpetrators’ house he immediately shows his good nature by taking care of a neglected boy. Jesse’s concern is as heart warming as the little read headed boy’s situation is heart breaking. The boy is disturbingly quiet (like developmentally slow quiet), and as filthy as the dump he lives in. Jesse brings the boy out of his shell by playing peekaboo with, making a sandwich for, talking to, and watching the one channel on TV with him. When the child’s junkie parents return Jesse, to his own detriment, does not harm them in front of the boy. When the situation turns violent Jesse shelters the child from the carnage and shuttles him outside, setting him on the front stoop to wait for the police and imploring him “Just don’t go back inside.” He cares about the boy, but can help no further. "You have a good rest of your life, kid”, he sadly wishes to the child.

I liked the use of flash forwards at the beginning of episodes - Tuco’s grill, Jesse’s bouncing car, the recurring pink teddy bear, even going back to the pilot. The images never gave anything away, and they didn’t effectively foreshadow either, but they were intriguing.

Walt again uses science to get out of some jams. He tries to kill Tuco with homemade ricin. Later, when Jesse dooms their return trip from meth cooking in the desert, Walt builds a battery out of supplies in the RV.

Breaking Bad continues to show the ruinous effects of the drug industry. Jane’s death sets off a chain of events which ends in her distraught father, an air traffic controller, failing to stop two planes from colliding. Hundreds die because of the chain reaction.
60 minutes
This product was released around March 2009 by AMC
I consumed this around September 2011
More: Breaking Bad - Season 2
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 10/29/2011 10:54:22 PM
Breaking Bad - Season 1 Vince Gilligan
Breaking Bad - Season 1 Several themes emerge in the short first season of Breaking Bad. First and foremost, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) feels emasculated. At first it's just his job. A talented scientist in his younger days (as evidence by flashbacks), Walt is relegated to teaching dumb, disrespectful high school kids. Worse, he works a part-time job as a clerk at a car wash. His boss often asks him to wash cars, leading to humiliation when those same students of him see him scrubbing a tire on his hands and knees. His son (RJ Mitte) is ridiculed for his cerebal palsy at times too.

Walt's cancer takes it to a whole new level though. He resigns himself to death, but his pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) wants to pay for the best treatment. Not only does Walt lose control over decisions about his health, but now expensive treatments will stop him from providing for his family after death. His brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) and old friend Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) each offer to pay for his medical bills. Hank even assures Walt that whatever happens, he and Marie (Betsy Brandt) will take care of his family. No man wants to hear that another man will see to his family's security though. This is especially true with Hank, a masculine DEA agent whom Walter Jr. looks up to. The teenage boy eats up Hank's stories about drug busts, while his stuffy science teacher father looks on. When Walter Jr - who prefers to go by "Flynn", discarding his father's name - gets in trouble with the law - allegedly smoking pot, actually getting busted for trying to buy beer - it is Hank who is called in to fix the problem. Walter Sr. is watching watching his son reject him as a father during his illness.

In the pilot Walt, thinking he is about to die, sends a later aborted message to his family.
I just want you to know that no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart.
But that's not true. Instead of taking two legitimate offers, Walt turns to "cooking" methamphetamine (crystal meth) with a former student, Jessie Pinkman (Aaron Paul). So it is quite early in the series that the audience loses sympathy for Walt. Had he swallowed his pride Walter White could have saved his family.

Walt kind of gets off on his new life. In his car after the explosion in Tuco’s office Walt breathes in the adrenaline rush. He twice makes passionate love to his wife after stressful situations (and once pushes the issue too far). His first kill is self defense, but a subsequent murder is slightly more cold blooded.

A life of crime is obviously going to involve a lot deceit. Walt's lies quickly start to affect his marriage. He fails to tell her that he quit his job. When a "telemarketer" calls, Skyler traces the call back to Jessie. Then when she confronts Walter about his partner, Walter lies again about their relationship. He lies about how he's paying for treatment, and uses other alternative treatment as a smokescreen to go cook meth. He explains much of his absence as just needing time to deal with his illness. Regardless, he is distant.

Breaking Bad looks like it will follow a similar path as Weeds. Both shows indicate that you can't just be a small time drug dealer. Larger dealers will not just let you exist peacefully. You either grow or die. Unfortunately, Walt and Jessie, while carrying a superior product, are inept at selling it. After selling on their own for only a short time they try to hook up with two small-time dealers Krazy-8 Molina (Maximino Arciniega) and Jesse's ex-partner Cousin Emilio (John Koyama). When that sours they step up to a better financed and heavily armed group lead by Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), a most vicious criminal. They take their beatings and face death from both groups.

The show's first scene is very clear about how bad they are at this. With Jesse unconscious next to him, Walter crashes a Winnebago in the desert in his underwear. When we come back to that scene we find out that the duo has barely escaped death, while starting a grass fire, and leaving evidence behind. Walt attempts to kill himself, but fails to take the safety off the gun. When he attempts to kill a drug dealer who will almost surely kill him, Walt hesitates, making a list of pros and cons and ultimately almost letting him go. Later in the season they stumble trying to secure supplies - Walter allowing Hank to trace supplies back to his lab, and the two clumsily stealing a large barrel of methylamine. Their mistakes are reminiscent of Nancy Botwin's (Mary-Louise Parker) in Weeds.

Jesse is an immature junkie drug dealer of limited intelligence, while Walter is a stuffy, precise science teacher. The two have little in common, but the development of their relationship is something to watch. Walter hides a lot from Jesse and Jesse is suspicious of Walter's reasons. The "good guy" and the "bad guy" are actually reversed in the relationship. Walter treats Jesse - somewhat fairly - as a child. Jesse is the one that shows a middle class man's care and understanding. When he learns of Walter's cancer he admonishes Walter for not telling his business partner, but also offers him advice on how to deal with treatment, his aunt having succumbed to cancer.

Walt becomes somewhat of a father figure to Jesse. Instead of ditching his new partner in the desert, he puts a gas mask on him and drives him to “safety”. After Jesse’s beating from Tuco, Walt comes back with vengeance to get their money but also for compensation for Jesse. Walter’s burgeoning care for Jesse comes along with deep condescension. Walter definitely feels superior to his former student. Jesse doesn’t help it though. He often fails to listen to Walt’s orders, most famously resulting in bit of Cousin Emilio falling through his ceiling.

One subtle theme in Breaking Bad is that the actions of Walter and Jesse have consequences beyond the drug underworld. Obviously people die and drugs ruin lives. I reaches further though. When the cops come looking for the thief who stole the school's chemistry equipment they find not Walter, but Hugo. It was the lowly janitor who compassionately helped Walt when he was fighting the affects of his cancer treatment, vomiting in the bathroom. Hugo is a good man, who happened to have a little bit of pot and a short rap sheet. Half of his reason for helping Walter was so that he could go back and teach his kids. When he gets arrested he not only loses his job but will probably go to jail.

It’s interesting that Breaking Bad goes in this direction. You would expect it to speak of the immorality of the drug war, but there is little of that. Over Cuban cigars, Walt remarks on the arbitrary nature of which drugs are made illegal to Hank. This is more of an attempt at justifying his action than a commentary on the war on drugs.

A more innovative part of the show is that Walt is like a chemistry super hero. He’s able to extricate himself from dangerous situations using his deep knowledge of chemistry. It’s not done in a hokey manner though. He’s not MacGuyver and he’s not trying to educate you like he’s Mr. Wizard. According to Jesse, Walt makes the best meth he’s ever seen. When Sudafed is lacking, Walt cooks it from a more basic ingredient, methylamine. To break into the warehouse that stores it he burns through a lock using thermite extracted from Magnadoodles. He escapes Cousin Emilio and Krazy-8 with a concoction that creates poison gas. Walt disposes of the body with hydrochloric acid. He blows up a car by placing a squeegee on some jerk’s battery. And in the most intense scene of the season, Walt walks into Tuco’s office and nearly blows the psychotic dealer up with fulminated mercury, or as Walt puts it “a little tweak of chemistry”.
60 minutes
This product was released around January 2008 by AMC
I consumed this around September 2011
More: Breaking Bad - Season 1
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 10/11/2011 11:48:31 PM

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