411 Fact or Fiction 10.04.13: The Breaking Bad Edition
Posted by Ben Piper on 10.04.2013
Was the finale of Breaking Bad one to love? Was Gus Walt's biggest adversary? Was "Ozymandias" the show's greatest episode? 411's Chad Webb and Dustin James weigh in a Breaking Bad-themed Fact or Fiction: Movies/TV!
This past Sunday saw the end of one of the greatest dramatic TV shows of all time, Breaking Bad. What was it that made the show so great? The acting, the writing, the directing, the cinematography, the twists and the turns and all that came with it. It will go down as a cultural touchstone and landmark, that much is for certain.
So with that in mind, we are going to have a super-sized Breaking Bad themed Fact or Fiction this week, covering the shows entire run, and yes, the finale. So if you haven't seen it yet spoilers potentially lie ahead. Before we get into it I would like to thank my fellow staffer John Dotson for consulting with me on the questions, which was a huge help.
Chad Webb and Dustin James are in the hot seat. Let's see what they have to say.
1. Skyler (Anna Gunn) didn't deserve all the hate the show's fans threw her way.
Chad Webb: Fact. I can certainly understand where the hate started, but I have trouble grasping why it continued and even increased as the show continued on. Skyler began as the regular nagging wife and that got under people's skin. What fueled this fire was Walt asking her to "climb down out of my ass." Keep in mind he was manufacturing drugs, murdering, and holding a hostage, but hey, she was still a pain right? And it didn't help that she cheated on Walt before she really knew what he was doing. Walt was being distant and all that for obvious reasons, but this was not a character decision that won her many fans. But Skyler grew into a different woman, a more complicated character and yet the hatred only got worse and I think it was unfair and misguided. Was she a bit hypocritical in that she criticized Walt's meth business and yet profited from it? Should she have just exited the marriage once the problems started? Maybe, but what makes her such a fabulous character and the show so great is that these are not easy choices. I didn't agree with everything she did throughout the show's run, but I didn't agree with everything Walt did either. To sit and judge so harshly is odd to me. Anna Gunn wrote about this hatred and said it was because Skyler was not the "comfortable archetypal wife." I think there is some truth to this. She was not a powerless female. She took stands, was blunt, and perhaps did not do what many thought the wife should do. People will have their reasons why they dislike her, but she never bothered me that much. She was annoying at times, but she was far from the most irritating female character/wife on TV.
Dustin James: Fact. Skylar was a problem for Walt from the start and that's why most fans couldn't stand her as a character. In the second episode of the series, she confronts Jesse Pinkman at his house as Jesse is dragging one of the dead drug dealers from the RV and into his house (where we all know what happens next...) and she almost blows the whole thing by catching him in the act, just so she can tell him to stop "selling weed" to Walt. That's the first time I can remember thinking that she was definitely going to be the most irritating character of the series and my thoughts were confirmed when she did ridiculous things like cheat on Walt with that piece of crap Ted Beneke. However, all that hatred that I originally had boiled up inside for her kind of left over time and went to other places (Marie especially...). I also ended up feeling kind of sorry for the actress who played her. I still can't believe that there were actually people who hated Skylar White's character enough that they sent threatening letters to the actress who played her. Really? People DO know that she's playing a character on television right? Enough with the hatred of Skylar White already. Use that hatred on someone who actually needs it. Someone like her sister.
Score: 1 for 1
2. Gus Fring was Walt's greatest adversary over the course of the show, much more so than Hank, Tuco, The Twins, the Neo-Nazis, Jesse, or even Walt himself.
Chad Webb: Fact. I would definitely place Gus as Walt's greatest adversary. Their battle was legendary and some of the best TV you could ask for. One could make the argument that Jesse or Hank became a great adversary, and they were, but Gus is still at the top. As intense as Walt's confrontations with Hank and Jesse were, they were not enemies for nearly as long as Gus. When you think of the various people Walt went up against, Gus will immediately spring to mind ahead of Tuco, The Twins, etc. What made Gus such a formidable opponent was that he could match wits with Walt pretty well and even outsmarted him on certain occasions. Gus was the ideal competitor because Walt had the mental upper hand against everyone else. Seeing Walt as almost an underdog was fascinating, but Gus became increasingly threatening because we were aware of his backstory and witnessed how ruthless he could be during the Don Eladio sequences. As far as saying Walt was his own worst enemy, I don't think that applies. The mistakes Walt made were few and far between and he was fully cognizant of his actions and what the potential consequences might be. Giancarlo Esposito has been a terrific actor for many years, but when I see him now I will think of Gus. That's the sign of a great villain.
Dustin James: Fact. First of all, I love me some Gus Fring. He's the whole reason I started watching the show in the first place. I kept hearing people talking about this guy named "Gus" on Breaking Bad and how he was the best villain on TV, so I finally headed over to Netflix to watch the show and it instantly became one of my favorite shows of all-time. With all that said, Gus was really the only one who could compete with Walt on an intelligence level during the entire series. Hank was a smart guy, but he had his limitations. Tuco was dumb, but powerful. The Twins were scary, but they were puppets on a string. The Nazis were, well.....they were Nazis. Jesse was a smart kid, but he was just never on the same level as Walt who was always one step ahead of him. The one guy who really put the fear of death into Walter White's eyes during the whole series was Gus. Gus was the one guy who's next moves Walt couldn't predict, and Gus also had no fear himself, which made him even scarier. The way that Walt finally disposed of Gus is my all-time favorite moment in the series and was a real testament as to just how difficult it was for Walt to finally defeat "the chicken man". Walter White vs. Gus Fring in season 4 of Breaking Bad could very well be my all-time favorite season of any TV show (sorry LOST season one...).
Score: 2 for 2
3. You never stopped rooting for Walt to get away with it.
Chad Webb: Fiction. Walt was a classic anti-hero, but if you ask me there was a point where he just became pure evil. That was, after all, what creator Vince Gilligan was trying to portray: from "Mr. Chips to Scarface." I was rooting for Walt throughout the first 3 seasons and even to a smaller degree in season 4, but a series of moments caused my cheering for him to fade away and it all involves Jesse (watching Jane die, ordering Gale's death, poisoning Brock to name a few). As Walt went deeper into Heisenberg and just continued to do awful things, Jesse kept getting crapped on and so I was rooting for him to finally catch a break whereas my attitude to Walt was "He made his bed and now he has to lie in it." I get and don't get why people would want him to get away with it. It wouldn't have made sense for him to escape after everything that went down. On the other hand we still remember the awkward, good-guy teacher who wanted what was best for his family after being diagnosed with cancer. But that Walt evaporated folks. This isn't a suave thriller like The Thomas Crown Affair. What I wanted for Walt was not for him to "get away with it," but for him die on his own terms. And that's what happened.
Dustin James: Fact. You really have to know me to know why I say "Fact" here. I'm that guy who always likes the bad guys. I was a big pro wrestling fan growing up and I always cheered for the bad guys when I was a little tyke. Tony Soprano (a guy who is much worse of a person than Walter White was) is my all-time favorite television character and like I said earlier, I started watching Breaking Bad because the villains intrigued me. However, the main reason I don't think I ever stopped rooting for Walt is because I don't think Walt ever did anything (here we go....) THAT bad. Sure, he watched Jesse's girlfriend choke on her own puke, but she was a drug-addicted manipulator and it's not like Walt killed her in cold blood. He just decided not to help her. And sure, he had Gale murdered in cold blood, but Gale had horrible taste in music and likely would have ended up getting killed by Gus at some point, so what's the big deal? And SURRRRREEE, Walt may have poisoned a kid, but the kid ended up being completely fine in the end and let's be honest here....who hasn't wanted to temporarily poison a kid at one point in our lives? I'm going to go see my therapist now.
Score: 2 for 3
4. Of all the great scenes during the show's run, your favorite is "I am the one who knocks".
Chad Webb: Fiction. This is so tough to answer and the scene mentioned above is easily in my top 3. I was discussing favorite scenes with friends over at my house. If I could pick favorite lines, that would be #1 easily, or rather that speech would be. But the scene that made the most impact on me, the one I have never forgotten and is permanently imprinted on my mind, is Gale's death. Perhaps that sounds morbid to some, but that was one of the most powerful television scenes in history. David Costabile played Gale Boetticher brilliantly and even though he has been in other stuff (Suits, Lincoln, Low Winter Sun) since then, I doubt he will ever top that small, yet monumental role. Breaking Bad was filled with turning point scenes, but this was my favorite. The direction, the acting, everything was great and heartwrenching. I loved the crawl space sequence, Gus' demise, and many more, but that's my #1 for sure.
Dustin James: Fiction. I mentioned earlier that my all-time favorite moment in the series was the moment when Gus met his demise and I stand by my statement. That scene was just too perfect and absolutely put an exclamation point on the "Walter White vs. Gus Fring" feud. Watching Walt and Gus battle during season four, you actually wondered how it was all going to end and no one could have predicted what actually happened. Not only was Walt's decision to wire Hector Salamanca's wheelchair with a bomb knowing that Hector had nothing to live for and would gladly be a pawn in Walt's game so they could jointly kill Gus a masterful move, but Gus's reaction to getting blown up was AWESOME! Watching him walk out of a blown up room and appear to be unscathed from the bomb, only to have him turn around looking like Two-Face from Batman and adjust his tie one last time before he drops dead, was one of the greatest moments in television history. I feel like going back and watching it again just talking about it here.
Score: 3 for 4
5. In the finale, Marie dismissed Walt as not a criminal mastermind. You would argue that what he accomplished over the course of the finale would state otherwise.
Chad Webb: Fact. Even if he didn't accomplish what he had during the final episode, I would still consider him a criminal mastermind. He slipped up a few times in the final season, but that's to be expected. No one's perfect. Thinking about this from Marie's perspective, not only was she trying to be the supportive sister, but she was married to a DEA agent. Of course she is going to assume that law & order will prevail and Walt's will get what he deserves. Marie is smart, but she has always been a bit of rash, dismissive thinker. It made sense for her to make that comment, but she was wrong. Perhaps she was even trying to convince herself that Walt would be caught, her way of coping after Hank died, but deep down maybe she had doubts. How could you not? What Walt pulled off in that final episode was nothing sort of extraordinary, but what I loved about it was that it was believable for someone like him. I did not think for a second that "Oh, Walt could never have done this." We knew how intelligent he was and even if Marie thought otherwise, he fit the definition of a criminal mastermind.
Dustin James: Fact. You bet your ass Walter White was a criminal mastermind. He went from being a high school chemistry teacher to one of (if not, THE) most powerful meth maker in his field. He made a bunch of money and rarely slipped up and gave the authorities any kind of clues (he was right under his brother-in-law's nose the entire time for crying out loud). The definition of a criminal mastermind is "someone who if taken out of the loop, the operation would fail". Well, when Walter White stopped making his blue meth, what happened? Neo-nazi's were forced to kidnap his protege in order to keep the business rolling, and it all ultimately failed. Yep, Walter White sure sounds like a criminal mastermind to this guy.
Score: 4 for 5
6. Ozymandias was the best episode of the show's run, just as Vince Gilligan promised.
Dustin James: Fact. I tend to hate statements like this mainly because I hate ranking episodes of a series that I truly loved. I thoroughly enjoyed almost every single one of Breaking Bad's episodes and honestly couldn't single out one that I loved way more than the others. However, "Ozymandias" was a pretty amazing episode all-around and I wouldn't kill someone if they said it was their personal favorite episode. There was a lot of stuff going on in "Ozymandias" and I remember sitting in my living room in absolute quiet with members of my family while it all went down. Everything from the shoot-out in the desert to Walt giving up Jesse's location to Walter Jr. finally learning the truth and the blow-up at the White household. It was all just done so perfectly and really set up the end of the show nicely. "Ozymandias" the best Breaking Bad episode? Sure, let's make it official.
Chad Webb: Fact. First let me say that at this point, ranking these episodes seems pointless. I mean, the list could be for fun, but to rank almost says that you would watch that particular episode before the others. For me, I won't be able to watch one episode of Breaking Bad without going through the rest. However, I can agree that this was a brilliantly made episode and if the masses declared it the best of the entire run, I wouldn't object. One could argue that the pilot is the best since that's what lures us in, but hey, whatever. Why is "Ozymandias" the best? Because it takes 5+ seasons of storytelling, continuity, and character building and has most of it come to a head. A lot happens, but it's not just because the episode has a more action than usual. It's because all of that action is weaved and executed flawlessly. For the record, I loved what came after this episode as well, but my mind was blown while watching this one. Plus, it is directed by Rian Johnson, a superb filmmaker and if Vince Gilligan said it was the best, why argue?
Score: 5 for 6
7. For you, the moment Walt truly "broke bad" was when he allowed Jane to choke to death.
Dustin James: Fiction. That moment is probably the first time I ever remember thinking to myself "Wow, Walt sure is a dangerous man". However, the first time I remember thinking to myself "Holy crap, this is a bad dude!" was in season one when Walt had a run-in with the "KENWINS" guy. Remember that douchebag who was driving around in his BMW talking loudly on his Bluetooth? Well, when Walt decided to take that squeegee out of the gas station window washer and put it between the guy's battery terminals to blow up his car....I knew Walt was officially a "bad man" and there was no turning back. It takes a special kind of man to have that kind of reaction to an everyday douchebag and Walt had officially reached that line.
Chad Webb: Fiction. This is an interesting question because I've seen interviews with Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston who have differing opinions on when Walt broke bad. As far as Jane's death goes, that was one of many escalating moments where I saw Walt as becoming genuinely evil. He had already "broke bad" for good though. His decision to watch Jane die was merely one more act of cruelty on top of many. To me there is a difference between becoming a bad person and becoming an evil one. I'm more in the Vince Gilligan camp that the moment Walt truly crossed over to the dark side was episode 5 of the 1st season (Gray Matter) when Elliot offers to help him and Walt declines. At the end of the episode, Walt goes to Jesse's house and says "Let's cook." At that moment, Walt had decided that he was in this for the long haul; it was not a one-time deal. To me, that's when he broke bad. Bryan Cranston also has a valid opinion that it was episode 1, when he first made the step to cook meth. Both are valid, but I agree with the creator.
Score: 6 for 7
8. Badger and Skinny Pete deserved more screen time.
Dustin James: Fact. A million times Fact! I absolutely loved me some Skinny Pete and Badger. Hell, I even tweeted during the finale that I would have preferred a spin-off featuring Pete & Badger rather than Saul Goodman. Those two were very interesting (and hilarious) side characters and something tells me their back stories would have been a fun thing to dive into. I'm not a Star Trek fan by any means, but I would watch a show with just Badger telling Trek stories, that's how interesting I find these guys. It's time to give Badger and Pete the glory they deserve.
Chad Webb: Fiction. I love Badger and Skinny Pete, but I love them as supporting characters. I thought they were employed adequately throughout the series. They added some comic relief to the series and they were great, but the writers knew they were better in small doses. Had they appeared more often they might have been annoying. It was hilarious how they were used in the finale, but as far as how much screen time they had throughout the series, I wouldn't have changed anything. There is the saying "too much of a good thing." I agree that they are interesting characters, but I'm not sure they would work with their own spin-off series. They provided a necessary humor to the proceedings and that was balanced perfectly with everything else. Anything more would be excessive.
Score: 6 for 8
9. Of all the secondary characters the show introduced, your favorite is Mike Ehrmantraut.
Dustin James: Fact. I thought this would be a close call between a variety of characters, but looking back at it now, there was no one who could hold a candle to the mysterious Mike Ehrmantraut. The guy who started out as Gus's "clean up guy" quickly turned into one of my favorite characters from pretty much the first time I set eyes on him. When Walt finally disposed of Gus, I thought that could potentially be the end of Mike as a character on the show, but I was wrong. Mike's character evolved even more once Gus was gone and it still upsets me to this day that Walt decided to jump the gun and take Mike's life. Breaking Bad will always be known as Walt's story, but one of the most underrated parts of the show was the supporting characters that were introduced. None particularly cooler or more mysterious than Mike in my eyes.
Chad Webb: Fiction. This is difficult too and it depends on how you define secondary I guess. Mike would be in my top 3 most likely, but there are two others that surpass him in my eyes. I agree that Mike was extremely cool and mysterious, but his character became more fascinating once those enigmatic qualities began to flake away after the demise of Gus. Before then he was outstanding as this mystery clean-up guy, but only because the man whom he was cleaning up for was a bit more intriguing. That would be Gus Fring. Some might say he wasn't necessarily secondary, but I'm thinking along the lines that anyone other than the main cast members (those who were there from start-finish) are secondary. I know a lot of people who got into Breaking Bad late and Gus' true identity was spoiled for them due to how crazy and talked about his death was. Not knowing who the drug kingpin was and then to have it revealed as the owner of a fast food restaurant was insane. Gus is better than Mike here because we had episodes almost entirely devoted to his backstory alone. Had the show skewed off into a tangent about Gus and Don Eladio completely, it would still have rocked. Gus would be #1, with Gale Boetticher as a strong 2nd. The entrance of Gale, a partner who was intelligent, organized, and easy to work with was so engrossing and suspenseful. He was a character unlike any I would have expected in that world, and it was so heartbreaking when he was killed off. Mike is terrific, but I would rate Gus and Gale just a bit higher. All three were highlights, but the first two had more moments that stuck in my head.
10. You absolutely loved the finale.
Dustin James: Fact. Look, I'm a Breaking Bad fan boy and have loved every episode of the show since it's inception and that didn't change with the finale. I'm not one of those people who expects a finale to be "THE GREATEST THING EVER" like the majority of the public are. That way I don't set myself up for huge disappointment and I can sit back and enjoy the ending much like I enjoyed the rest of the show. I wasn't to worried about the finale not being good because even if it would have sucked, it still wouldn't have changed my opinion that Breaking Bad is one of the greatest television shows of all-time. Two of my all-time favorite shows are LOST and The Sopranos and both of those shows had endings that the majority of the public dumped on. That didn't change my opinion on either one of those shows as I still hold both of them in high regard (The Sopranos is my all-time favorite show). When I first started watching Breaking Bad, I knew Walt had to die at the end and that was the only satisfying ending that the public would accept. Well, we all know what happened and people seem to be satisfied with what they saw. Breaking Bad started with a bang and that's exactly what it ended with. I will sure miss it as Sunday nights will never be the same.....
Chad Webb: Fact. Honestly I thought it was a masterpiece. I would not have changed a thing. Series finales are hard to pull off and it's impossible to please everyone, but this had just the right amount of closure and the right amount of ambiguity. We don't know exactly what happened to Jesse, or the rest of the Whites. We can assume, but I appreciate that Vince Gilligan wrapped events up completely that needed to be and left others open to a bit of interpretation. I've heard people carp on a few scenes in the final episode. One of the main ones is whether or not Jack would have been so offended that he brought Jesse out as proof that he wasn't a partner. I don't think it's a stretch that Jack was put off by Walt's comment and decided he would show off the fact that Jesse has been held prisoner and tortured, especially to the man who wanted him dead up until that point. There are other parts I've seen people nitpick about, but again I thought it was sensational from start to finish. It emphasized in one episode why the show is (in my mind) the greatest ever. Gilligan balanced the perfect amount of drama, comedy, action, and suspense. The last conversation between Skyler and Walt was such an amazing moment. The closing scene, with Badfinger's now crazy popular song "Baby Blue" was great as well. I could go on and on dissecting each moment. This was a finale that truly met our expectations, perhaps even exceeded them. And yes, Sundays without this show will be weird from now on.
Final Score: 7 for 10
And there you have it, Chad and Dustin Agree more often than not. Thanks to them both for playing, and see you all again next week.