YouTube HOF: Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad‘s fifth season premieres on AMC this Sunday, and we at Grantland are quickly approaching Tuco-after-20-knife-bumps levels of excitement for our yearly return to the ABQ. Join us in a (spoiler-heavy) look back at the dark, soul-crushing, and occasionally sing-along-able journey so far.
Mark Lisanti: Has any character in the history of television ever so artfully and effectively deployed a single word? The answer is d’oh. But Jesse Pinkman’s dependable use of “bitch” as angry, sentence-ending punctuation is a close second, bitch.
Michael Weinreb: I also enjoy hot dogs. Bitch.
“Negro y Azul”
Alex Pappademas: Unlike its chief best-drama-of-the-decade rival Mad Men — whose creator, Matthew Weiner, majored in Symbol-Loaded Fever-Dream Writing at David Chase University — Breaking Bad seldom opts for the stylistic flourish, the dancing-dwarf indulgence, the gratuitous dip into look-at-me-subverting-the-conventions-over-here jazz-handsiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff, especially since Weiner’s really good at it. But at the end of the day, when the meth hits the scale, Breaking Bad is a thriller, in which everything that happens onscreen is there to crank the tension and tighten the vise. Even that seemingly oblique teddy-bear-eyeball-in-the-pool-filter stuff in the second season turned out to be a fairly straightforward piece of slow-dose foreshadowing, as opposed to, like, a symbol of Walt’s lost innocence or whatever. So when the seventh episode of Season 2 began with the trio Los Cuates de Sinaloa, singing a narcocorrido about the growing myth of Heisenberg, in a full-on music video complete with cheesy screen-wipe effects, it wasn’t just a formalist showpiece. This was back when we were first getting to know the cartel, and the degree to which they were not playing around — by the end of this episode, Danny Trejo’s head was on an exploding tortoise — and the song’s English-subtitled lyrics (written by Vince Gilligan) convey important information. They are speaking Heisenberg’s name down in Michoacán; the mysterious gringo boss and his blue meth have the narcos’ attention. The fact that this song even exists in the fictional world of the show reveals that Walt’s actions are rippling outward in unexpected and dangerous ways. Sure, they could have gotten all this across in a scene where a few DEA guys frown at a dry-erase board and trade exposition over coffee. But why dump data when you can make it sing?
Gale Sings Major Tom
Jonah Keri: Gun to my head (ideally by someone much less badass than Walt), I’d have to nominate one of those scenes as my favorite in Breaking Bad history. Walter’s appearance in Tuco’s office ending in a mercury fulminate–induced explosion. The scene at the end of “Half Measures” where Walter runs over Jesse’s two would-be assassins and caps the one writhing survivor, execution-style. Or everyone’s favorite, the Gus Fring face-off. I mark the impact of a great television show by the number of times a scene ends with a mouth-agape, unable-to-speak reaction. When Gus briefly turned into a flesh version of a mutilated Terminator, there was no “HOLY SHIT” in my house, no yelling, no reaction at all, really, except silence and a giant, open maw of disbelief.
But here’s the thing: Breaking Bad can be really, really fucking funny. I don’t consider Saul Goodman a TV character so much as a role model and the platonic ideal of comedy. And this (extended) scene, in which Gale performs Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom,” is comedic perfection. The song itself is impossibly dated. Gale’s neckerchief/vest/patterned T-shirt combo would make the slickest GQ model out-of-his-mind jealous. And the way Gale sells the song, from the faux accent to the hand gestures to the white man’s overbite, is just … just … there are no words, really.
Season 5 is going to be dark, violent, and suspenseful. But it’s also going to make us laugh our asses off, often at times we’d never expect. CAN. NOT. WAIT.
“I Am the One Who Knocks” Blooper
Chris Ryan: Breaking Bad is intense. Sometimes oppressively so. For some reason it comforts me that even in the darkest, most revealing moments of the show, the cast can find the lighter side of things. Here’s a blooper of Bryan Cranston cracking up on the cusp of the “I am the one knocks” speech. The fact that he loses it and then, at some point pulls it together enough to deliver one of the iconic monologues of the series is pretty great. Cranston!
A Special Message to the Victims of Wayfarer 515
Emily Yoshida: Whether or not Breaking Bad is the best show on television is I guess debatable (LOL) but when it comes to fictional Web presences, it’s second to none. (Have you visited SterlingCooper.com recently?)
Bill Barnwell: It’s unfair to compare any line to “I am the one who knocks [HUNDRED IMPLIED EXCLAMATION POINTS],” but the moment when Jesse Pinkman finally gets excited about science in Season 1 produced the second-best line from the series’ run so far.
Dan Silver: Part of the fun of this series has been to watch Walter morally, ethically, and mentally devolve (or break bad). The Walt we know now, the one coming into Season 5, is a cold-blooded, calculating, and cerebral man driven by hubris and paranoia. He’s the King now, and a far cry from the timid chemistry teacher we saw running around the Arizona desert in his tighty-whiteys and a gas mask. Like a hit of Blue Sky, Walter’s decision to kill Crazy-8 hooked him, and started his slow journey down the rabbit hole. The dichotomy of themes, imagery, and action in this scene neatly sum up what Breaking Bad as a series is about. Walter breaks one of Skyler’s plates, and in an almost emasculated way tries to fix it. When he realizes his efforts are in vain, the dormant Heisenberg part of Walt’s brain is triggered. And much like Walt’s decision to cook and sell meth after he finds out he’s got terminal cancer, Walt takes control of the only thing in his life that he can, and callously heads down the basement and chokes Crazy-8 to death with a bike lock. This is something a King would never do. He kills a man with his own hands. It’s raw, intimate, passionate, and dirty. Very dissimilar to the methods of manipulation and deception that Walt currently uses now to get what he wants (see Gus’s death). But like any narrative ascension to the top, the hero needs to start at the lowest point to make the claim to the throne consequential. In Walt’s case, it was literally the basement.
Tim Whatley, DDS
Mike Philbrick: While everyone knows about Bryan Cranston’s evolution on Breaking Bad from sickly high school chemistry teacher to deadly methamphetamine kingpin, transforming into something he isn’t is nothing new for him. Back in his Seinfeld days, Cranston planted the seeds for his role of Walter White by playing dentist Tim Whatley, a converted Jew. Both characters quickly immersed themselves into the culture; be it Mr. White cranking out his trademark Blue Sky and blowing up his rival or Tim Whatley asking for “a shtickle of fluoride” and torturing Jerry for calling him “a sadist with newer magazines.” In the end, each character was only motivated by one thing: money and jokes. (I forget which one was which.)
Hector “Tio” Salamanca
Andy Greenwald: Ding. Ding ding ding. Ding! Ding ding! Ding ding ding ding ding! DING!