Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"My entire life, it just seemed I never had a real say about any of it" (Walter White, in "Breaking Bad," Season 1)


Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston has won the Best Actor Emmy for all three seasons of the show to date.

by Ken

Apropos of nothing exactly, I've been meaning to call attention to this remarkable scene from AMC's breakaway hit series Breaking Bad.

I came into the show late -- before Season 3, as I recall, and was able to catch up with some of the more recently shown episodes via repeats and "On Demand," as I recall, and was able to catch up on most of Season 2 via repeats and "On Demand." Still, I hadn't seen the earlier episodes, and even though I knew more or less what had happened in Season 1, and even got to see a few high points in a compilation episode, that's not the same as actually seeing them.

Suddenly, awhile back, thanks to the miracle of DVR automatic programming, episodes started turning up on my "recorded shows" list, having been slotted into AMC's schedule at some unexpected late-night hour. It's been fun, of course, but also stimulating and illuminating catching up, not least for the opportunity to see how carefully the complex personality of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was established: the highly trained and agile scientific mind, for example, and also the prickliness and headstrongness, the middlingly-well-repressed frustration and rage -- all of which clearly predates the late-stage lung cancer that was diagnosed shortly after his 50th birthday.

Walter is a man who's clearly wildly overqualified for his job as a high school chemistry teacher, but then applies his chemistry expertise to the cooking of crystal meth as a way of providing for the family he expects to soon leave behind: his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), high-school-age, cerebral-palsy-afflicted son Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), and then-unborn daughter. At the time of the episode I've just watched, "Gray Matter," Skyler is ten weeks from her due date.

In this episode Skyler's sister Marie (Betsy Brandt) has persuaded her that they need to have a"family meeting" to persuade Walt to accept money from his old Cal Tech classmates and onetime partners, who have had all the financial success Walt hasn't, for the extremely expensive and debilitating treatments, which hold out a small chance of arresting his cancer. It starts out as a fairly droll scene, this family meeting, complete with a "talking pillow" Skyler has provided to give each speaker the floor.

Skyler's idea is that she and Walter Jr. and Marie and her DEA-agent husband Hank (Dean Norris) will browbeat Walt into making the right choice about treatment. The amusement level grows as the thing degenerates into a verbal free-for-all, until finally Walt claims a chance to speak, to explain the "thought process" Skyler says she wants to understand -- his thinking in resisting the treatments. He even makes a show of grabbing hold of the "talking pillow.

What follows is pretty extraordinary, especially as played by this outstanding cast.
WALTER: Sometimes I feel like I never, actually, make any of my own. Choices, I mean. [Pauses, sighs.] My entire life, it just seemed I never . . . you know, ever had a real say about any of it. Now this last one, cancer . . . all I have left is how I choose to approach this.
SKYLER: Then make the right choice, Walt. You're not the only one it affects. What about your son? Don't you want to see your daughter grow up? I just . . .
WALTER: Of course I do. Skyler, you've read the statistics. You know . . . These doctors talking about [with air quotes] "surviving." One year, two years. Like it's the only thing that matters. But what good is it to just survive if I am too weak to work, to enjoy a meal, to make love? For what time I have left, I want to live in my own house. I want to sleep in my own bed. I don't want to choke down 30 or 40 pills every day and lose my hair and lie around too tired to get up, and so nauseated that i can't even move my head. And you cleaning up after me. [Shakes head.] And me with a . . . some dead man, some artificially alive . . . just marking time? No. No. [Pause. Then to all the family:] And that's how you would remember me. [Pause.] That's the worst part. So that is my "thought process," Skyler. I'm sorry. [Pause.] I choose not to do it.

Among the large roster of memorable characters created for Breaking Bad, there's hardly any more memorable than sleazebag lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk).



At 8:29 PM, Anonymous mediabob said...

You're a better man than I Gunga Ken. The show is so well written, acted, produced, and directed I was almost able to finish the first season. The show draws the empathy from you and dares you to watch more. I couldn't get through it.

At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Bruce said...

This show is my favorite show. Dark, truly brilliant, funny and sad all at the same time. That takes great talent.


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