2017.29: Breaking Bad – Season 2
Watching a tv show years after it ended has many advantages, particularly with their current fashion for multi-season story arcs. There is, however, one drawback- even if you don’t know how a story ends, you know when it ends, from knowing how many seasons the show ran. Its an issue I found during the last episodes of season two of Breaking Bad. I would imagine, back when the show first aired, audiences were unaware of how many seasons the show would last and must have been open to any season finale, including Walter’s money-making scheme finally succeeding and a ‘happy’ conclusion for all- or maybe it all collapsing into a sudden, final disaster.
But of course, watching it now, fully aware that another four seasons follow this one, I knew it would hardly end well for Walter- where’s the future drama of a cancer ‘cure’ and a million dollars in the bank? But back when this season first aired in 2009… maybe viewers were suckered into the possibility, incase a third season wasn’t forthcoming, or, if that third season would be the end of the show, maybe a turn towards a ‘proper end-straight?
There’s a moment during this second season, when a cancer treatment promises some reprieve for Walter from what he thought was imminent death from his lung cancer, that suggests that the critical and popular success of the first season had struck the showrunners with the problem of stretching the series out into more seasons than originally planned. I may be wrong, maybe there was always a plan to extend to five or more seasons, but it just felt a little forced to me following the relentless pressure of time that dominated Walter’s efforts in season one. I was always aware that Walter’s desperate actions stemmed from a lack of time, his health always an issue. Season two eases that tension somewhat.
That said, thankfully Breaking Bad is as much about the character beats and the incidental moments as it is the story of Walter’s plunge into the world of drug-manufacturing and distribution. In a way, the drugs etc are almost incidental- the biggest joy, if thats the word, in this show is Walter’s moral code being tested, his ‘crossing the line’ so to speak. His journey is a little like the ride up the river in Apocalypse Now, and at this point in the series, I don’t know exactly what Walters destination will be. The pleasure of this show is finding out.
One of the lines that Walter crosses is in allowing Jess’ girlfriend (Krysten Ritter) to die of a drug overdose through his own inaction. Her death solves an immediate problem re: a risk to his and Jesse’s enterprise but it has terrible repercussions later. Jane was a recovering addict who was pulled back into drugs by her association with Jesse, against the wishes of her caring father Donald (John de Lancie), who Walter himself has a conversation with in a bar- a chance meeting which has the feeling of other peoples lives, like the orbits of planets, being pulled into Walter’s gravitational pull, as if he were a black hole. Jane’s death hits Donald hard, and when he returns to work weeks after her funeral, it transpires he is an air traffic controller, and on returning to work we later see him unravel and cause a tragedy. But its all Walters fault, through him allowing Jane to die- Walter has caused the death of perhaps hundreds of people, ruined the lives of countless others. And he’s the good guy of this story, our principal protagonist. Its a study of chaos and causality, of Walter trying to make sense and order as events fall apart around him, and his actions causing effects beyond his control. I guess this sense of cause and effect is reflected by this season’s regular flashes-forward to the season’s final, disastrous event, a mystery that filters through all of it, fragments of imagery which are tantalising clues to what’s coming. Its a testament to the showrunners that I didn’t suss it out until Donald’s workplace was revealed and the horrific repercussions of Walters desperate act fully dawned on me.
That quandary I mentioned earlier, knowing ‘when’ a series will end simply by knowing the number of seasons it ran. Its something of a two-edged sword. There are still four more seasons of Breaking Bad to follow. What the hell happens next?