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'Breaking Bad' recap: This man is an island

August 27, 2012|By Todd VanDerWerff
  • Walter (Bryan Cranston, left), Jesse (Aaron Paul, center), and Mike (Jonathan Banks) prepare to meet the men from Phoenix.
Walter (Bryan Cranston, left), Jesse (Aaron Paul, center), and Mike (Jonathan… (AMC )

Like all serialized stories, “Breaking Bad” occasionally has to pull on its characters’ puppet strings just a bit to get them to go where it wants them to go. This is just an unfortunate side effect of trying to tell an ongoing story in any medium. Characters won’t always be in the right place at the right time, so writers will have to come up with inelegant ways to get them from point A to point B. “Say My Name,” unfortunately, is one of those episodes, and it hurts all the more because it comes at a very critical point in Season 5, when we’re one week away from the show going away for a year. This isn’t a traditional season finale. It’s more of a mid-season pause. But it still sucks the air out of the season just a bit to have this leading up to that episode.

Part of this problem may stem from the season’s unusual eight-and-eight structure. By breaking a 16-episode season up into two chunks of eight episodes, the story has to function as both two short bursts and one cohesive whole. This means that the build-up to this episode is filled with some great moments and episodes, but it’s also setting up lots and lots of dangling threads that may or may not be paid off next week. As an example: I certainly thought the death of that boy in “Dead Freight” was going to be a bigger deal than it has been. And while it’s ripped the Jesse and Walt partnership apart, it seem to have been there primarily to do just that. There’s none of the weight that’s been present in other deaths in the series, and very little of the sense that this was an unavoidable tragedy that can be directly tied back to Walter’s decision to cook meth in the pilot (something the show has always been good at doing).

Granted, there are nine more episodes to pull all of this back together, and one more if the show wants to tie everything up in a neat little bow before heading off until 2013. While that’s a large task, it’s certainly not an impossible one, and these writers should be more than capable of handling it. But more than all of the spinning plates and loose threads out there, I’m concerned that the storytelling has had to rush past certain important points to get where it needs to be. As a case in point: Mike needs to be dead at the end of tonight’s episode, and to get there, the show indulges in some, frankly, hard to swallow character moments.

Let’s be honest here: Nearly everybody who watches this show knew that there would be a confrontation between Walter and Mike at some point, and it would probably end with Mike’s death. This is just the way a story like this works. But while I like the actual details of Mike’s death (how, for instance, it only happens because Walter has his pride wounded), the road to that scene was peppered with weird choices on the part of the normally cautious Mike, who obviously and evidently set up an escape route in the event of the police becoming interested in him, then seemed to botch the execution of that plan just when it mattered most.

As an example of this, I don’t really buy that Mike would be so OK with Walter bringing him the bag (with gun conveniently placed atop everything else). The series wants you to think that the only three options Mike has are Saul, Jesse, and Walt, and that Saul will be followed and Mike doesn’t want Jesse being involved. I can buy both of those things. What I don’t buy is that Mike would suddenly be OK with Walter delivering the bag, that he wouldn’t try to find some other solution or even ask Saul to send one of his lackeys (Huell, for instance) to get the job done. “Breaking Bad” sometimes tries to speed past these moments through sheer momentum, but this one was executed fairly clumsily. Mike is successfully hiding out in the middle of nowhere. He can wait a few more hours for someone who’s not Walter. It’s also highly unlikely that Mike wouldn’t think to check for the missing methylamine in the car wash, to my mind, and I find the arrest of the lawyer somewhat troubling in terms of what charges, exactly, the DEA is bringing him in on. These and other weird decisions add up to create an hour that feels intent on getting us to that final scene, without really thinking through whether that final scene has been arrived at in the most convincing fashion possible.

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