I never jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon when it first turned up on television. After the first season was released on DVD, however, Sue borrowed it from a friend but said it made her too tense to watch. Since I still hadn’t gotten into it, I was fine about her returning the set.
Then the series began coming to its conclusion and it seemed as if the only interviews on radio and TV were of the cast, director, and creator. Even Charlie Rose did his annoying gushing about the program, but what caught my attention was the focus creator/writer/producer Vince Gilligan received. Sure, there was an avalanche of accolades heaped on Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White the main character, Anna Gunn, Water’s wife Skyler, and Aaron Paul as his youthful sidekick Jessie Pinkman, but the amount of consideration given to Gilligan surprised me. Few people in his position garner the raves he received as the show’s end drew near. He was the creative force and wrote many of the scripts (and oversaw the others) like David Chase of The Sopranos.
About the same time my son Jake gave me Apple TV as a present and I decided to spring for Netflix Streaming and give Breaking Bad another shot. Well, I’m very glad I did. It is a damn good series with exceptional acting and writing, though I don’t believe it in any way, shape, or form surpasses The Sopranos or even the best years of The Wire. Still, it’s certainly a “contendah.” In an age where you have 180 channels and still find nothing to watch, that’s an impressive do.
But I’m not writing this column to compare television series, or even to analyze Breaking Bad as a whole. I’m writing about Season 3, Episode 10 called Fly. I don’t know if Fly more closely resembles a short story or a one act play, but I do know it was 47 minutes that could easily stand alone outside the series.
The plot revolved around catching or killing a fly that threatened to contaminate Walter’s meth lab. As a play (which is how I think of the episode) the actual plot had very little importance. It was just a vehicle to shine a light on the mostly contentious relationship between Walter, the older mentor, and Jessie his much younger, often sleazy, partner and mentee.
In an act of desperation, but mostly kindness, Jessie slipped some drugs into Walter’s coffee hoping to make him sleep after Walt’s continuous 24 hour obsessive hunt for that fly. But what the drugs actually did was allow Walter to talk about who he’d been, what he had become, and why. He talked about the importance “family” in his life and how it dictated many of his choices, despite a bushel full of regrets. And within the course of his confessions and conversation, his underlying affection for his mentee became increasingly clear.
Although Jessie didn’t verbalize his emotional reactions to Walter’s intimacy, his behavior (risking his neck to kill the fly, despite believing the entire effort completely idiotic) indicated his real concern for Walt, despite their relentless arguments and on and off again partnership. As the frantic fly hunt continues, layers of top skin are stripped from both participants. Although Walt and Jessie’s relationship has a much more complicated history, in many ways this episode reminded me of Mamet’s Duck Variations. In that play, two strangers sit on a bench and these old men start making assumptions about the ducks swimming nearby. Even though they know nothing about ducks or each other, their comments reveal more and more about who each of them are and an intimate connection develops before they go their separate ways.
And, of course, by the conclusion of Season 3, Episode 10, the fly has been killed, Walter has slept off the pills and, as they get into their cars, their tenderness has receded into the typical antagonisms.
Just a great 47 minutes and well worth trying to find whether you’re interested in the show as a whole or not. It’s not often an ongoing series produces a one act play as in depth as this episode.
Flipping through other channels:
Homeland, which I’ve written about before, has regained its footing this season. The acting has been strong (Claire Danes isn’t always crying or about to) but what has really been fun are the plot twists. Back in the day, I read a lot of spy novels, mostly favoring the intricate betrayals John Le Carrie wove through his early books. (I still believe both the novel and the movie of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are classics.) This season’s plotting of Homeland is very reminiscent of those early works. Folks who have cable television and On Demand might want to consider watching this season from the start.
And, of course, it was baseball’s play-offs, which meant hours upon hours glued to the set. Given the outcome, all those late nights and tired days were more than worth it. The Red Sox won! The Red Sox won!
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. C.G. Jung