Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Feeling bad: On meeting Breaking Bad’s inevitable end

I watch Breaking Bad in a very specific way. I record it on my DVR on Sunday night, along with its sister program, Talking Bad. Sally is not interested in the show so I watch it when she has gone to work at her volunteer job.

This final group of episodes, as any Bad fan will tell you, has been rough on us.

Today I watched the episode that is third from last. Two more episodes to go and of course I have to see them, but after each episode this season I feel beat up. I never know where the blow will come from, but because of some scene or revelation in the show I will be punched in the head and sent reeling. My fellow fans who have watched the episode will know that it is one of the most difficult in the series. It kills off a character we have all known for a long time.

My usual pattern is to hit the fast-forward to get past the commercials, but in this episode I let them play so I could catch my breath. I was relieved to hear Talking Bad host Chris Hardwicke tell the audience that when he watched the show the day before he could only watch it in 15-minute increments, after which he would stop it and have to recover enough to watch more.

So how does a show get to a point where it becomes almost torture to watch, and yet we want to watch every scene, every line of dialogue? Well, it gets there by an awful lot of hard work on the part of many people, including writers, directors, and one of the strongest casts of characters ever to appear on a series television program.

Bryan Cranston has at last gone full out on show creator Vince Gilligan’s oft-repeated pitch to the network about what the show would be about: “I want to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface.” Just as Al “Scarface” Pacino begins to lose it in that classic movie, so is Walter White, cancer-stricken former high school chemistry teacher and family man, finally turned fully into Heisenberg, the drug kingpin, crazy with paranoia and rage.

Who knows what will happen? Two more episodes to go, two more chances to have us fans knocked down and pummeled by a storyline that is going all the way into…what? Well, the show has surprised us many times so far. We’ll see exactly what. But based on what we’ve seen in five seasons, probably something that will have us saying, “Did I really see that?” as we pick ourselves up off the floor.

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