Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review - Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode 4 Cancer Man / 5 Gray Matter

"Cancer Man"
After a string of high-octane episode, Breaking Bad settled down to give us a better look at Jesse who, until now, has been the funny one-liner guy. While nothing much contributes to the overall plot, we learn quite a bit about Jesse and where he's coming from. For the first time, there are real negatives to drugs, as Jesse hallucinates and runs to his parents house where we see that Jesse grew up in a good place but was eventually led astray. Jesse seems to be a decent person as well, covering for his younger brother and taking all the heat for the pot. But at the end of the day, he remains without a job and only has drugs to support himself, and no matter how good of a person he may be, it doesn't matter.

The episode also does a good job expanding Walt's relationships with his family members after he tells Skylar about the cancer and she tells the rest of the them. This immediately puts more pressure on Walt since everyone wants their input on the situation, and the result is that Walt is pushed further and further. He clearly wants nothing to do with drugs and that world which already forced him to kill people, but also needs the money for treatment. This all comes boiling out when he blows up a douchebags cars. In this circumstance, it's easy to get behind Walt since "KenWins" was so obnoxious, but it is a troubling precedent.

Score: 9.0/10

"Gray Matter"

Like the previous episode, "Gray Matter" sheds a lot of light on a character's past, Walt in this case. He and Skylar go to an old colleague's birthday party where, surprise, surprise, we find him married to that woman in the flashback. Apparently, the couple, Elliot and Gretchen runs Gray Matter and are filthy rich while Walter has nothing. We begin to see why Walter ended up where he is and the underlying anger, and it provides us with a better idea who he is. From all accounts, Walt was a brilliant scientist, far smarter than those now richer than him. So, when Elliot offers to pay for Walt's treatment, he declines. After all, Walt is smart--he doesn't need charity, not the least from Elliot. If there is no big thing to fault Walt for, it's that he simply doesn't take the money. He just has too much pride.

Meanwhile, everyone has a sit down with Walt so they can express how they feel about his conduct. The general consensus is that Walt is being far too passive, which is a valid point since Walt has practically given up. And with the Schwartz's offering to pay, there's is hardly any problem--except Walter isn't taking the money. Instead, he turns back to Jesse and the drug world.

That goes directly with Jesse story in the episode, which is an abrupt turn of events. After Badger gets the materials to cook up another batch, Jesse cooks again, but has a cloudy batch. The old Jesse would be fine with the cloudy shit, but the new Jesse has goals and wants to be the best in the drug market. Naturally, the Jesse who wants the clear meth and Walter who wants money at back together at the end of the episode.

This middle stretch of episodes in the first season is quite interesting. It relieves the tension in the first three episodes, and there is little chance Walt or Jesse will get caught, though Hank's investigation is leading him in that direction. Instead, the episodes spend plenty of time to build their characters, showing who they were and how that motivates them. At the end of the two episodes, they're back to where they were at at the end of the pilot, getting ready to cook meth. This time, however, their characters are much deeper and fully formed.

Score: 9.2/10
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