My husband and I don’t really watch a lot of movies, but we do love our TV shows. I realize that we sound 90 years old. Of course, most of the shows we love, we Netflix, so we’re probably seasons behind the most current episode. That’s fine with us… We care so little that we don’t even have cable and haven’t for three years.
The newest little gem of a TV show we’ve been screening is Breaking Bad. At first, I was resistant because I thought, “Oh, here we go with a new Weeds ripoff.” I eat my words.
Created and produced by Vince Gilligan (The X-Files… one of my favorite shows of all time), Breaking Bad premiered in 2008 and airs on AMC. Currently in its fourth season, my husband and I have only watched four episodes. I knew I liked the show, but I didn’t LOVE IT until I saw S04 E04: “Cancer Man.”
Bryan Cranston plays Walter “Walt” White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer after he learns he has terminal cancer. In “Cancer Man,” which, by the way, is a throwback to the famous X-Files character (!!!!), we finally see Walt admit to his family that he has lung cancer. I watched in awe as the reactions from his family members so perfectly sum up Walt’s insecurities: his meddlesome, pregnant wife wants him to begin $100,000 designer cancer treatment that they cannot afford, and his brother-in-law tells Walt he’ll always take care of the family. While these are normal reactions to a terminal cancer confession, both are Walt’s greatest fears. He turns to dealing meth in the first place because he didn’t want to die and leave his family in debt and struggling to survive. The look on Walt’s face when Hank, brother-in-law and DEA agent, promises, “I’ll always take care of your family” grabbed my heart and ripped it out of my chest. Until Episode Four, I’d not seen such a haunting, elegant performance from Cranston.
On the other hand, we see Walt’s former failure of a student, Jesse Pinkman, illuminated for the first time. Walt and Jesse make a batch of meth together, and have all sorts of dramatic, black-comedy hijinks in the first three episodes. My preconceived notions of Jesse, however, were turned on their head in “Cancer Man.” When Jesse has a bad drug trip, he runs home to his parents. That’s right; Jesse has parents. Super rich, straight-laced, nerdy parents. Jesse also has a younger sibling: an academic and musical genius-slash-star athlete little brother. Again, I was absolutely blown away by the scene with Jesse and his parents at the dining room table… and then the follow-up scene with his little brother.
These two moments alone were two of the best scenes for character development that I’ve seen on a television show in my entire life. Walt and Jesse are as human as anyone I’ve ever met in real life.
Have you seen Breaking Bad? Am I in for more amazing episodes, or was “Cancer Man” as good as it gets?