Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review - Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode 2 Cat's in the Bag… / 3 …And the Bag's in the River

"Cat's in the Bag…"

Most shows, even serialized ones, spend the second episode going back over the information present in the pilot, either to reinforce characters and themes, or getting new viewers into the loop. But not Breaking Bad. "Cat's in the Bag…" quickly jumps ahead, instead of starting a new problem for Walt to deal with, building on what was established. Krazy-8, one of the guys in the trailer presumed died, is actually alive.

Obviously this presents a problem, which the writers immediately confront. Walt and Jesse have to deal with Emilio's body and do something with Krazy-8. The safest option for dealing with Krazy-8 is killing him. For a high school teacher and a skinny punk, this a big deal. Further compounding the problems, Skyler is increasingly upset with Walt, and after Jesse calls Walt's home phone, she is lead to believe Jesse is selling pot to Walt.

The conclusion to the episode is one of the best scenes of the series. Jesse has been acting like a little shit the entire episode, but he hasn't done anything wrong, even squeezing out of a tricky situation from Skyler. But there are consequences for actions, and Jesse placing the body into the bathtub to dissolve, instead of a plastic bin, sows immediate backlash as acid eats through the tub and even the ceiling. The red mass splashes through the ceiling onto the ground, throwing red stuff everywhere and onto Walt and Jesse, a distinct reminder of what they did.

Part of what makes Breaking Bad great is how the writers don't moralize the cooking of drugs. In this way, the series is able to focus on Walt alone. What does he think about going down this path? How does he deal with his changing personality? Does he realize he's changing? Does he care? How does he reconcile his illegal actions with what he believes in. All of this boils down to the fact that the show of human action, what people do in certain situations, not about what is right and wrong. With Bryan Cranston's incredible acting, Breaking Bad gets off to a marvelous start.

"…And the Bag's in the River"

The world of Breaking Bad is a scary place. Walt spends a good part of the episode getting to know Krazy-8, and as far as we know, Krazy-8 is telling the truth about his origins and his family. To Walt and the audience, he appears to be a decent guy. But everyone made choices to get where they are. In Krazy-8's case, he became a drug dealer who threatened Walt. Now he's tied in a basement and Walt knows Jesse told him Walt's name. At this point, there are few options left on the table.

We see the beginning of Walt trying to justify his actions, writing a pros and cons list. On a pro side, killing someone is wrong obviously, but the con is that Krazy-8 will kill his family. Looking at it like that, killing Krazy-8 seems to be the best option. This line of reasoning is justified when Walt discovers a piece of the broken plate missing. So Walt heads back down to the basement and chokes Krazy-8 to death.

Reminding Walt every step of the way is the cancer, eating away at Walt's heart and forcing him to cough. There is a figurative and literal meaning to the cancer. It will likely make Walt die and increasingly harsh coughs are a clear reminder that Walt will depart soon and needs to get things in order his family. Figuratively,  it represents what is happening to Walt, an external, malignant growth taking him over. There is no looking back now that he's started.

Walt's brother-in-law, Hank, gets a lot more screen time as he tries to scare Walt Jr. away from drugs. In Walt's absence, Hank seems like a standup guy who is a stereotypic good guy. But att the end of the episode, he and Gomez find the place where the fire was set, the exact spot where the trailer was located. How will Walt deal with that? Hank's wife Marie gets more to do as well. She infers, incorrectly, that Skyler's inquiries into marijuana are for Jr. She also displays a willingness to steal things. It's not on par with what Walt's up to, but certainly worrisome.

The one thing which quite doesn't work among all this great stuff is the heavily stylized flashback. Walt and his assistant add up percentages of elements in a human body, and it doesn't quite add up to 100%. What's the missing part? The soul, the assistant says. Really? It's something to consider, but simply mentioning the soul means nothing. And then explaining it the soul would take forever.

Score: 9.2/10
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