Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Microreview [TV]: Breaking Bad, S05E04

The Meet

Walt's a gansta. And treating your wife with respect is not necessarily gansta. At least the Geto Boys never mentioned it as a prerequisite.

This week's episode, "Fifty-One," focused on two women: Walt's wife Skyler and Lydia, the Madrigal middle manager and methylamine source for the outfit. Their associations with crime has caused them to live in fear. They epitomize being stuck between a rock and a hard place. For Skyler, the rock is Ted Beneke's crippling while Walt is her hard place. For Lydia, it's the DEA's investigation [rock] and Mike's dead mackerel eyes [hard place].

For all Breaking Bad's brilliance, female roles has never been really a strong point. The female characters have often been little more than stereotypes: Marie as the materialistic self-absorbed sister, Jane as the conniving junkie girlfriend, Carmen as the beautiful Latina assistant principal. The character of Lydia falls in line with this: an uptight, hysterical, maybe crazy mommy-with-a-nanny corporate go-getter. Her behavior in this episode plays to this type. Unsurprisingly, she's not very capable of being a crook. Granted she manages to pull one over on Jesse, but that shouldn't be all that difficult.

But, Mike is a tougher class of criminal. He's already given her one pass -- due to his soft spot for kids -- but he doesn't want to make the same mistake twice. “That's what I get for being sexist.” 

The only reason why Lydia makes it to the end of the show is because Walt joing Jesse in voting against killing her. Not because he now finds murder distasteful, but because he wants to keep the methylamine flowing. Walt likes being the boss and earning like one. And he's not going to let anything cause his new-found bosshood to be "ramped down." Not even a paranoid yuppie.

Skyler has been the only real onrunning female character on Breaking Bad. Last week I called her a bitch. Well, I almost did. This week, I have had a change of heart. Anna Gunn turns in yet another stunning performance. Her mock suicide at Walt's birthday dinner, her fruitless attempt to outwit Walt, her silent smoking. Dammit, they managed to do what they haven't since season 2. They got me to care about her. They went further: I want her and the kids to escape Walt. Or for his cancer to come back. If Gunn doesn't win the emmy...

Walt. He's on a downward spiral, made all the worse now that he's now embraced a self-image as a crime boss. When he puts on his old Heisenberg pork pie hat at the beginning of the episode, he looks no less ridiculous than he did during that first meeting with Tuco in season one. The only difference is that then he was clearly scared; that hat was a pathetic way of covering this fear. Now, he's no longer scared. When he sees himself wearing his hat, he sees not a man in over his head. He sees only a gansta. He sees the boss.

If Bryan Cranston doesn't win an emmy...

Last night I had an argument with a fellow sociologist over which was the better show, Breaking Bad or The Wire. I am pretty unapologetic: while I absolutely loved The Wire, I think Breaking Bad is simply a better show. The Wire may have been more realistic, but it's realism was often too heavy-handed and preachy -- as is most art with a message. This realism often got in the way of character development, with only a handful of exceptions -- D'Angelo, Bodie, Prezbo and the kids from season four. Breaking Bad may be less realistic as a crime show, but it's much better as a dramatic show. We settled our argument by agreeing that The Wire is sociological, while Breaking Bad is psychological, at its heart a character study -- even if we're pretty much only studying Walt, Skyler, and Jesse.

I still think it's a better show.

The Math
Objective Score: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for making me care about Skyler; +1 for the return of Heisenberb

Penalties: -1 for yet another weak female character

Nerd coefficient: 7/10, "an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"

[An explanation of our non-inflated scores can be found here.]