I am now halfway through Season 2 on Breaking Bad. I have watched thirteen episodes and am fifteen minutes into my fourteenth. I had to stop watching it temporarily because there was this scene, where Jesse was talking to Walt about “handling the business,” and the whole situation was so ludicrous (as was his explanation of what happened), that I ended up laughing myself into hysterics. Like, you guys, I can’t emphasize enough: legit hysteria. I could not stop laughing. And I know it was legit hysteria because I didn’t know why I was laughing, or what I was laughing at.
To be honest, there was a brief moment where I was afraid there may have been a possibility where I could cross that magical line from ‘laughing hysterics’ to ‘crying hysterics,’ but I was able to dial it back in time before I began bawling onto my laptop. If I had passed into ‘crying hysterics,’ I would at least be able to explain it away through work-stress, exhaustion, whatever — it wouldn’t have been Breaking Bad‘s fault, and this post wouldn’t have been written, and all would be right with the world.
But as it stands, I had legitimate laughing hysteria over nothing for three minutes. It was not brought on by stress, I am not exhausted, and I have no idea why I continue to watch Breaking Bad.
A few nights ago, I had this twitter conversation with Sarah (you know Sarah – she was the one who so wonderfully recommended that I watch Hobo With a Shotgun that one time. But no, seriously, she’s one of my best friends, and for all the bitching, I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Look at all the bitching I’m able to do now because of it!):
@Me: Just spent 2 hrs watching #BreakingBad instead of sleeping. Why do I think I’m going to end up getting caught up before the final ssn? #Help
@Sarah: So, should I go back and try #BreakingBad again?
Oh, right — Sarah’s tried, what, at least a couple of times? To ‘get into’ Breaking Bad. Friends told her to watch it because it’s supposedly awesome and the best show ever, and … she hated it. Or she just wasn’t interested in it. I can’t attest to whether hatred was involved. But whatever; she gave up before the end of the first season, because she didn’t see any reason to continue. And that is totally and completely okay.
Anyway, I responded to her question about whether she should try it again:
@Me: No, I just think I’m incapable of not watching a show. & I’m not obsessed with it; just curious to see how it ends up.
@Sarah: Ah, I see. And I’m so glad you can maintain objectivity in the face of everyone going ‘BEST SHOW EVAH!!’ hahaha
And that last tweet of Sarah’s got me thinking. Unfortunately for me, the thinking was at 5:30 a.m. and I had to work that day, so, hooray for insomnia! But I scrawled out a page of notes so I could remember them and finally was able to crash for about four hours.
So my thoughts all came back to the same concept that is confusing me (boiled down to the “objectivity” that Sarah mentioned, which was the catalyst for this whole damn thing): I am not in love with this show, and yet I keep watching it. WHY?
Why don’t I love the show? What is keeping me from loving this? Is there something wrong with me? Why am I still watching it if I’m not one hundred percent loving it? (oh wow i just found a super-long arm hair and that’s all i can concentrate on right now, has that happened to anyone else? OH LOOK I’M ALMOST DEMONSTRATING MY POINT brb)
I would like to say before I really dig into this, that I want to apologize in advance: six a.m. notes be damned, I do not have an outline for this, I suppose you’d call it an essay. I’m really trying to figure some things out, so this may get rambly and incomprehensible. Preemptive apologies all around.
I guess it comes down to two things: curiosity, and how I interact with media. Because to answer the question about why I keep watching Breaking Bad, I guess I have to first answer why I started watching it in the first place.
I think I’ve mentioned before: I consider myself a pop culture glutton. Despite the apparently huge amount of things I haven’t seen, there are still a lot of TV and movies that I have. And even the ones I haven’t seen, I still know a lot about them, or can connect other movies with them, or some such nonsense. But I am … not driven, I guess, but at least determined to ‘catch up’ on a lot of critically acclaimed or popular titles.
And Breaking Bad has been on my list of Things To Catch Up On. Along with Firefly, Sports Night, Freaks & Geeks, Doctor Who, Torchwood, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Big Love, The Wire … and there are more. Mad Men had been on that list for a very long time. But two years ago I got the series on Netflix and blew threw the first four seasons in a month. I had been keeping up with True Blood until things got crazy last year, but as soon as I finish Firefly off, the last two seasons on DVD of that campy vampire show will be coming and I’ll get caught up.
I guess we should all be very thankful that I don’t have a blog called TV Alaina’s Never Seen; you’d never shut me up.
Regardless: I knew Breaking Bad was entering its final season, and it was on my list. It was on my list because it had been so critically acclaimed – how many magazines or webzines or blogs had put it in its Top Ten list of TV Shows Ever Produced in the History of Ever? So I considered it had this… clout, this aura of importance, and if I didn’t watch it, then I’d be missing out.
So I started watching it from the beginning (THANKS,
DODGE NETFLIX!). And I didn’t fall in love with it immediately. And look, sometimes that happens. I have given a lot of shows the benefit of the Three Episode Rule: I’m going to watch you for three episodes, and if I am not completely in love with you, then I’m turning you off. It happened to Beauty and the Beast this year; poor Revolution didn’t even have that long. The Vampire Diaries almost fell victim to that rule, but luckily Damon Salvatore swanned into Mystic Falls and started with the ~feels, and that was my latest obsession (before Hannibal, of course).
What surprised me about Breaking Bad was that I recognized that I wasn’t in love with it, and I kept watching it anyway. Why? Why am I still watching it?
And the answer is: curiosity. I am curious to see how everything ends up. And the worst part? Is that I know how everything ends up, which just adds to my confusion.
Everything I’ve read about Breaking Bad details the fact that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t start out as a drug dealer. He is a humdrum, boring, mild-mannered chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and a son. He is diagnosed with cancer, and then he turns to a life of cooking meth to make money to support his family. Somewhere along the way, he becomes this uncontrollable villain, and the interesting thing that the articles and the actors and creators and everyone who has ever talked about this show is that the audience finds itself rooting for Walter – we are made to sympathize with the villain and hope that he is able to continue to build his drug empire.
So I shouldn’t be curious at all – I know what’s going to happen. Unlike when I started watching The X-Files after the Season 4 finale, when it appeared that Mulder had killed himself. (And I still have a sense memory of that night, watching the finale in my dark attic room, watching Scully stand up at the desk and report that Fox Mulder had shot himself with his service pistol, then watching blood drip from her nose. I don’t remember a lot of shit, but that I remember?) Or when I started watching Buffy from season 1, but in 2003, so I knew about “The Gift” and “Once More, With Feeling.” Is it just plot that is making me continue to watch this show?
Because here’s the other thing: I don’t have any empathy for any of the characters. None. You will not see me photoshopping flower crowns onto Walt’s bald head. I will not be able to defend Skyler (although I almost want to). I want to punch Marie right in her whiny, shoplifty face (although her rant about El Paso was hilarious, but only because the aforementioned Sarah lives in El Paso, and I have reason to believe that Vince Gilligan may have plagiarized my friend). The only characters that I even kind of like are Jesse and Hank, and that is because they are clearly meant to be comic relief. (Although I did find myself gasping when it looked like Hank may be getting shot, because he is my favorite and I don’t want him to get hurt. ALTHOUGH I KNOW HE DOES EVENTUALLY because I can read, and also, it’s because I can’t have nice things because SOMEBODY SHOOTS THEM.)
So if I don’t like the majority of the characters, and I know what happens, why am I still curious? Why do I care? Why am I still watching? I’m not watching it because I feel I have to; regardless of My List, I don’t feel that critics and friends and whoever are forcing me to watch it. I don’t feel like I have one opportunity to watch it — unlike Lost, where I felt a crippling need to rewatch the first five seasons before the final season started, I’m not tuning in to Breaking Bad now because I feel I have to. I’m not emotionally connected to any of the characters, so unlike with Hannibal or even Vampire Diaries (or Lost, or Alias, or whatever), I am not compelled (heh – that’s funny because I mentioned vampires) to follow the arc of a character because I need to know s/he will be okay at the end. I’m just …
I had to sit back and really, actually, think for a few minutes. And I think I keep watching because I’m waiting for the a-ha moment. That moment where it will suck me in, where the show will grab me, where I will start to connect with someone, where I will start rooting for someone, where I will start caring about what’s going to happen. The moment where Xander goes to save Jesse because he’s his friend, even though he’s a vampire, and then he gets sad because Jesse, Man tries to kill him. The moment where Hannibal serves Will people!sausage and I laugh because Will thinks it’s delicious. The moment where a spark of Damon’s humanity shows through, and I think, deep down, he wants to be saved from himself.
The moment where Walt’s success at drug lord-ia becomes more important than keeping his family safe.
The moment where all the acclaim and frothing at the mouth about how great this show is is given credibility and value.
So I guess my curiosity doesn’t stem from the plot or the characters of the show; it’s curiosity about how I interact with the show, and how I find an emotional connection with it.
I hope I end up liking it. And I want to be very clear here, because after nearly two thousand words, I’m afraid I may not have been as crystal (heh again) as I could be: I don’t hate the show. I really don’t. If I hated the show, it wouldn’t have survived the Three Episode Rule. You’d be reading an entirely different essay if I hated it. Giving credit where credit is due: the writing is very strong. The acting – especially Bryan Cranston’s — is superb. If I ever complained about him winning awards, I take it all back. He is fabulous in this role and deserved every shiny thing he has ever won. Aaron Paul, too (although you don’t have to over-enunciate all the time. Sometimes your pronunciation is weird, but I’m going to overlook it, you crazy bastard). I don’t hate Skyler — in fact (and some people may hate me for saying this), but as of Season 2, Episode 7, I’ve actually sided with her on a couple of things in her fight with Walt. (Smoking while pregnant is NOT one of the things I’ve sided with her on, however; fear not. Some things are Just Not Done.)
The direction, the cinematography – everything about the show is well-done. I am not deriding the quality of the show in any way.
I don’t hate it. I just don’t love it.
So. That’s that, I guess. And now that it’s three a.m., I’ll hit post, finish watching this episode, and maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to post an addendum that THIS was the episode that grabbed me, and everything will be coming up flower crowns from now on.
But I doubt it.