The DNC starts tonight, but first, the last episode of The Orange Couch’s video recapping and analysis of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan seems to have unnerved a lot of recappers; they expect seasons to close with a big bang, but this one ended with a man on the toilet. (Where someone died in the season opener, it’s worth noting. Lots of different things happen on toilets.) In a sense, though, he delivered the most startling surprise of all. The universal expectation was that, one way or another, this episode would end in a bloody shootout or something of that nature. Up through the second to last scene, I kept expecting evil drug dealers to kill the baby or something like that. Instead, Hank on a toilet. By the way, credit to Dean Norris. Acting out a silent revelation by yourself while sitting on the toilet is not an easy job for an actor, and he nailed it to the floor. I’m still laughing thinking about it.
As you can tell, I liked that ending more than most. Obviously, the justification for it was that it’s really a mid-season episode that just happens to fall before a huge hiatus until the rest of the season plays out. But everyone knows that’s just a cheap rationalization and that this should be considered as big a benchmark as a season finale.
My feeling is that the episode works because it’s got a fascinating meta quality to it, which we point out in the video is right on the surface with the repeated references to prior seasons. One thing Breaking Bad is known for is being such a tense show; a lot of viewers are watching through their fingers, afraid of what kind of horrors are about the erupt from every corner of the screen. But this episode had a veneer of boredom. Even the murders of the 10 associates were intercut with images of Walt watching his watch, creating not a sense of tension so much as a sense of clock-watching or clocking in. What it means for Walt to be bored in such a way is discussed heavily in the video, but I just want to add that it read like a commentary on the nature of narrative itself. We tune in every week with fascination to see if Walt will finally reach his goals, and part of us roots for him even as we hate him. Why? Because Walt’s striving creates the narrative. It’s the same reason villains in general are beloved, because without them, there is no story. But, as this episode points out, what we’re rooting for is essentially the end of the story. Once characters achieve their goals or are defeated, the fun is over. This entire season has had a lot more incidents of the narrative pointing to itself in this way, probably because Walt as a full-blown villain requires the writers to struggle more with how narrative momentum matters more than actual affection for a protagonist.
I also liked Hank figuring it out in the most mundane way possible because, all tedious discussions of realism aside, it’s just a great moment of comic irony. The very facade that Walt erected—mild-mannered cancer survivor and former schoolteacher—is what brings him down. Any other ending would feel less important, even one where Hank figured it out in some other way that didn’t feel as intimate.
Thoughts? Where do you think next half-season will go?
Also: watch the video all the way to the end, where we announce the next show to be covered by the Orange Couch, and our new co-host. Let me know what you think of that idea in comments!