Up to date with Breaking Bad and …

Yes, my Breaking Bad 5 day marathon is complete. 54 episodes watched – and I actually took my time a bit, slipping in a bit of reading, a game of badminton and a cinema trip yesterday too. So am I glad I caught up with a show many people rate so highly? Hell YES! I love it, although I didn’t enjoy the latest season – the 8 episodes making up the first half of season 5 – as much as the previous two. Season 5 definitely misses Gus Fring played by the superb Giancarlo Esposito. His exit in the final episode of season 4 was extremely memorable – that Terminator-like gruesome image of him above and the way it unfolded was just brilliant.

Inevitably perhaps, season 5 hasn’t quite matched that. Walt and Skylar’s marriage degrades still further – if that is possible, Jesse’s morals highlight further Walter’s increasing amorality. It’s a weird thing but it’s 4 years since the the show aired yet it’s only been 1 year in the world of Breaking Bad – someone commented on their hopelessly out of date mobile phones! So true! Walter has transformed from that mild mannered teacher celebrating his 50th birthday, to a thoroughly nasty and ruthless drug lord, alienated from his family on his 51st birthday.

Season 5 opened with a flash-forward to Walter alone (and with hair!) at a diner, alone, celebrating his 52nd birthday by buying a machine gun! I guess those final 8 episodes will have a lot of story to tell.

Season 4 ended with Walter announcing to Skyler that the threat from Gus is over and that “I won” and as the season opens, we see him and Jesse team up with Mike to start up their own drug business.

Skyler’s ex-lover Ted didn’t die (surprisingly) but is so terrified that worse will happen to him or his family, he isn’t going to spill the beans. Skylar is in such an awful situation, not able to hand in her husband, and virtually forced to become his accomplice. While she was keen enough on the car wash at first, she soon sees that Walt doesn’t seem to want to escape from the drug world – placing her and the kids in danger. He’s a scary character these days, and Skyler seems pretty terrified for most of the time.

Meanwhile, a new character, Lydia played by Scottish actress Laura Fraser appears as an executive Gus was lining up a European distribution deal with. Skittish and nervy, she is not an obvious ally. I can see why Laura Fraser bunked out of the declining BBC3 series, Lip Service to be a part of such a great show as Breaking Bad, and her American accent sounds fine to me. Unfortunately, Breaking Bad hasn’t served its female characters that well. It took a while before poor Anna Gunn as Skyler got to do much but nag, her sister Marie is mainly comic kleptomania relief. Jesse’s girlfriends don’t last long. Lydia hasn’t really been developed that much as a character and I’m not sure if we’ll see her again.

The last couple of episodes really showed us Walter’s character as pretty irredeemably evil. He whistled away hours after an innocent child was gunned down (in a fun train robbery heist episode), killed poor Mike for not showing him enough respect, organised the murders of 9 of Mike and Gus’ men in jail and broke out the ricin ready to poison Lydia.  At this point, I think we are all just waiting to see how he gets his just desserts. There is no way Walter can walk away at the end of the final 8 episodes, surely. He has committed so many reprehensible acts, justice surely looms.

The final shot of episode 8 is Hank picking up a book in the bathroom and realising it was from Gale, Walt’s lab assistant at Gus’ superlab who was shot in the head by Jesse pretty much so that Gus couldn’t kill them. Poor Gale really was collateral damage, and his worship of Walter was very sad considering Walter used him pretty horribly and ordered Jesse to kill him to save their skins. In this final shot, we see the intrepid Hank, who is a smart cop, connect the dots from Walter to Gale to Walter’s alter-ego ‘Heisenberg’ – the name he gave himself when starting out in the drug business. I’m assuming the final 8 will show Hank go after Walter, forcing him on the run apparently – as that opening scene showed. Will Skyler go down as an accessory? Will Jesse give himself up? What will Saul do to stay out of jail? Will Marie be able to forgive her husband and/or her sister and brother-in-law? Will Walt die in a violent way, be killed by the cancer or be jailed? Surely no escape for him.

As I said, I think the show peaked with season 3 and 4, but season 5 is an essential part of the ‘what happens next’ story. Walt is very much the anti-hero these days. It is unclear at times what he wants. Power? Respect? It doesn’t appear to be familial love. Or even friendship from Jesse. He seems to demand respect and awe from people and cannot take anyone questioning him. Yep, he’s pretty much a megalomaniac mad scientist these days!

Amazing acting, great characters and plot twists galore. Breaking Bad is a great show, and a fascinating look at the transformation of a character – as creator Vince Gilligan says – from Mr Chips to Scarface. All in one year! Can’t wait to see how it all ends…