Breaking Bad, Season 2 ~ Darker Days

If you read my Breaking Bad Season 1 review, you know how much I loved it.  In its second season, the AMC series’ episodes increase from 7 to 13 (the 2007-2008 Writer’s strike cut the first season short), meaning twice as many episodes for us fans to enjoy, which is a very good thing.  It also means twice as many episodes to produce, which makes it twice as challenging to come up with consistently spectacular episodes.  However, given that task, an especially tall order after such a phenomenal first season, creator and head writer Vince Gilligan and Company do a pretty damn impressive job of keeping the momentum and excellence of Season 1 going strong.

Now while I was still very much engrossed in the show over Season 2, without giving too much away (in case there is anyone else out there as behind as I am in this series), from the very start of the season, I had a much harder time maintaining the empathy I felt for Walt in Season 1.  His web of lies is so pervasive, it becomes almost tedious.  Even Jesse, in perfect Jesse form, says to him at one point “Yo, lie much?”  Furthermore, some of Walt’s choices become increasingly difficult to understand and therefore (morally) support.  I realize that as Walt gets ever more embroiled in his new “life of crime”, it is inevitable that the stakes grow and the deceits must increase in kind.  However, the argument that Walt is doing it all for the good of his family begins to lose steam when it is his very family who starts to suffer the consequences of his dishonesty and erratic behavior.  His home life seems to be crumbling around him, yet he carries on, either unaware of its deterioration (most notably his increasingly strained marriage) or so intoxicated by his newly-acquired “power” and earning acumen that he becomes blind to it.  Walt’s actions and behaviors start to spiral out of control to the point of seeming disrepair.  That said, while some of the changes in Walt’s character are disheartening (especially when the vicious, evil side of him begins to rear its ugly and frightening head), I also fully acknowledge that it is all in deference to the role of Walter White, who has to be one of the most complex, multi-layered characters in the history of television…and which Bryan Cranston continues to bat out of the park (as evidenced by his second consecutive Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama).

In contrast, Jesse (Walt’s “partner in crime”) becomes ever more appealing and sympathetic.  Aaron Paul seems to be the superstar of Season 2 ~ and is certainly given loads of fabulously rich material with which to shine, spanning from his usual comedic moments (numerous doozies of which exist in Season 2) to some incredibly meaty, emotionally intense storylines that are wrenching and raw and truly display the full range of his enormous talent.  (Incidentally, Paul received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama for his work here.)  Season 2 becomes as much Jesse’s story as it is Walt’s.  And the ever-shifting dynamics of their relationship make for some of the funniest AND most moving scenes of the season.  As wildly different as their characters are from one another, they begin to develop a genuine and caring bond with one another.  In fact, I found myself far more interested and invested in the father-son-like relationship that begins to form between them than I was in the relationship between Walt and his biological son.  It’s fascinating to watch Walt and Jesse’s interactions and what each brings out in the other.  I continue to love the scenes between them more than any others.  One of my favorite episodes of the season, “4 Days Out”, is almost entirely comprised of Walt & Jesse alone together.  It is exceptional both in its comedic and its dramatic elements.  Furthermore, the timing of the episode is perfect, in that just as I was struggling ever more with Walt’s choices and beginning to question whether the series was going too far, the show redeems itself by addressing precisely what I’d been thinking and feeling though Walt (finally) expressing regrets (“I deserve this…I had it coming”), even acknowledging that he can no longer keep up with his own lies.  In turn, Jesse reminds him that everything he’s done, he’s done for his family.  It is an amazing – and necessary – episode with a stunningly effective ending that packs a powerful (and literal) punch.

Bob Odenkirk, as Saul

There are some fantastic guest stars introduced in Season 2 that deserve mention.  Bob Odenkirk (of Mr. Show) appears early on in an ongoing arc as a smarmy (but successful) lawyer.  He couldn’t be more perfect in the role of Saul Goodman, providing plenty of comic relief amidst the darkness.  Krysten Ritter (currently starring in the sit-com Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23) provides Aaron Paul with Jesse’s first romantic interest in the series, a relationship and storyline that proves to have surprisingly far-reaching dramatic consequences.

And I have yet to even mention the other series regulars!  Walt‘s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) is repeatedly put to the test due to Walt’s strange behavior and the fears and suspicions that continue to build within her (the culmination of which in the season finale is wickedly satisfying).  Walt’s DEA Agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) acquires his own demons to be battling in Season 2 due to some serious (and seriously understandable) PTSD.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to note the brilliant opening sequences that begin each episode.  They instantly hook you and pique your curiosity, as they very often provide hints about the conclusion of an episode (or in some cases, of the entire season)…we just have to watch to see WHAT it all means and HOW we’re going to get there, giving the television term “teaser” its quintessential meaning.  It’s all quite genius.  ***Partial spoiler alert!!  Although I don’t come anywhere near giving away the final reveal, I do share some bits of information, so if you prefer to remain entirely “in the dark”, then skip the remainder of this paragraph and rest assured it is safe to read the final paragraph.***  In a particularly clever move, the first episode of the season begins with a teaser (right out of a procedural drama, à la CSI) that, bit by bit, drops little clues as to our surroundings, eventually leading us to an eyeball floating in a swimming pool…the dread of which is somewhat alleviated when it is revealed that the lone eyeball belongs to a charred, drowning hot pink teddy bear (made all the more dramatic due to the entire sequence being shot in black and white, save for the shocking pink of the stuffed animal).  But what does it mean?  And why are there sirens blaring in the background?  This teaser is revisited throughout the entire season, each time revealing new information, which only serves to heighten the tension and mystery till you’re practically begging for an explanation!  I realize that a one-eyed stuffed animal floating in a pool may not exactly sound like fodder for mystery that would have you pleading for answers, but when it is eventually revealed that this pink teddy bear is being collected as evidence by men in Hazmat suits for an investigation being conducted at Walt’s house, it certainly adds a good deal of interest!

Finally, I must admit that the ultimate reveal behind all of those tempting teasers was at first a bit of a let-down for me…until I started discussing it with a friend (and fellow BB fan) who is all caught up.  He helped me to see that the reveal was actually a chilling example of the domino effect that Walt’s choices and actions have on everyone around him, however far removed they are from one another, whether they know each other or not.  And on a larger scale, it is a statement on the horrible repercussions of the vile and damaging world of drugs.  So in retrospect, I can fully appreciate the conclusion after all, just as I appreciate the whole of Season 2.  I can only imagine what Season 3 has in store for me…

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