Breaking Bad keeps topping itself

This meth we're in
By RYAN STEWART  |  October 5, 2011

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MAGIC ACTS Series creator Vince Gilligan has a brilliant flare for plot twists, and a lead actor — Bryan Cranston — whose flawed yet sympathetic character can believe in.

In this age of Hollywood business dealings breathlessly tweeted within minutes of their consummation, passersby cell phone set photos that reveal major plot points, leaked scripts and leaked episodes, Vince Gilligan has accomplished something rare indeed: he has created a show, Breaking Bad, which concludes its stellar fourth season this Sunday (10 pm, AMC), that is genuinely unpredictable. And he's done so, in part, by embracing predictability.

Breaking Bad comes to us almost pre-spoiled: we know that Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the chemistry teacher turned cancer patient/meth producer at the show's center, will likely die from lung cancer or an assassination during the show's run. Yet this has played to the show's benefit: we know Walt is not going to die, not this season, at least. AMC recently renewed Breaking Bad for its final 16 episodes, giving Gilligan the opportunity to finish his story properly without having to resort to contrivances. This has given him the opportunity to use his audience's knowledge to his advantage.

Truly, Walter should have died several times by now. Gilligan has taken great delight in finding increasingly intense and ridiculous situations for Walt to flail his way out of. He's survived confrontations with local drug heavies, being stranded in the middle of the New Mexico desert in an RV with a dead battery, being trapped in that same RV while a DEA agent (who also happens to be his brother-in-law) stood outside. And in last season's stunning finale, he dodged a professional hit by sending his thuggish, ex-junkie partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) to kill the chemist who would have taken his place in the drug-dealing organization.

And yes, his incurable cancer — which inspired him to undertake this whole thing in the first place — has been in remission for some time. In "End Times," this past week's episode, Walt talked his way out of having a gun pressed to his forehead — a gun wielded by Jesse — and likely placed himself in further danger once his plan to use homemade explosives to take out his former boss, drug lord/chicken magnate Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), went awry. (To give you an idea of Esposito's Fring, think back to The Wire: Stringer Bell's legitimate business savvy crossed with Marlo Stanfield's ruthlessness.)

So now Gilligan has another opportunity to show off. It's like a writer's version of a Houdini trick: he puts his main character into increasingly horrifying situations, then proceeds to amaze us all by helping him escape. It helps, of course, that he has Cranston, someone who can play all sides of Walt — his tenderness and monstrousness, his arrogance and vulnerability — with equal believability. The rest of the cast matches Cranston in the depth of their performances, particularly Paul, who seems to get more intense in each episode.

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  Topics: Television , Breaking Bad
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