Tuned In

Breaking Bad Watch: Male Pattern Baldness

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If you haven’t yet gotten into AMC’s Breaking Bad, you don’t have much time left; the strike-foreshortened season is down to one episode remaining. And if you haven’t yet gotten into Breaking Bad, it’s hard to blame you; between the drugs, the gore and the protagonist dying of cancer, it’s not exactly a rollicking evening of entertainment. But six episodes into its season, it’s showing signs of fulfilling its promise.

The shorthand pitch for the show is that it’s about how Walter White (Bryan Cranston)–dying of lung cancer and cooking crystal meth with an ex-student of his to raise money for his family–finally comes alive in the face of his terminal illness. And there are elements of that, but the show is not that pat. Really, it’s about the theme that Walt discussed in a flashback a few episodes ago, when he did a chemical breakdown of the elements in the human body. When you take away the physical constituent parts that make up a man, what do you have left? Now under chemotherapy–losing weight, losing his hair, peeing a bright chemical orange–Walt is literally shedding his physical form. What he finds is not necessarily good (he’s still capable of making horrible mistakes) but he is coming to know his core and his abilities better than when he was cosseted by good health and routine.

Meanwhile, the relationship betwen Walt and his partner Jesse is starting to pay off, with Jesse becoming more than just comic relief. As hostile and disgusted as Walt is with Jesse, he’s developing a kind of hard-assed paternalistic relationship to him. In a way–as when he hectors Jesse to find a connection to sell their meth in bulk–he’s perversely asking his slacker former student to make something of himself. Conversely, when Jesse discovers that Walt has cancer, he shows something like empathy: “Next time put an ice pack on your head during chemo. My aunt said it helped with the hair loss.”

I haven’t blogged more on the show because I haven’t had the sense a lot of Tuned Inlanders are following it, but you’re missing out if not. For those of you still on board with Walt, I’ll try to hit the season finale when it comes around.