Lost in the Movies: Breaking Bad - "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" (season 1, episode 7)

Breaking Bad - "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" (season 1, episode 7)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on March 9, 2008/written by Peter Gould; directed by Tim Hunter): Although producing the two pounds he promised Tuco last episode (let alone the two additional pounds he promises this episode) is definitely a big challenge, the big turning point and climax in Walter's first season journey occurred last week. At least as far as meth is concerned, anyway; his battle with cancer was emphasized in the episode before that. This leaves us with a finale that consolidates the accomplishments of the season and offers a peek into season two. Walter...er, Heisenberg, finally dons the pork pie hat that completes his iconic look (if I remember correctly, though I recall seeing about as many images of him bareheaded), and - after orchestrating a quasi-comical robbery of much-needed supplies and cooking meth while Jesse absentmindedly permits an open house in his previously "for sale" home - the last scene solidifies his lucrative business deal with Tuco. Walter's cathartic release and easement of his anxiety finds release in, as Skyler herself puts it, an open "friskiness" with his wife. In case we miss the connection, the pre-credits teaser concludes with Skyler asking why their parking lot sex (following an uptight drug scare meeting at the school) feels so good and Walter responds, as much to himself as to her, "Because it's illegal." From the earliest episode, Breaking Bad has hinted at a psychosexual charge to the protagonist's titular turn to the dark side and "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" confirms that the milquetoast man's criminal path affirms his potency as much as pays the bills.

My Response:
This reminds us that Breaking Bad, despite its Prestige TV bona fides, is also a kind of escapist entertainment, a fantasy for viewers who wish they could could ascend from Walter's all-too-relatable frustration and disappointment to his thrill-seeking mastery. This element has always been embedded in the DNA of the "Golden Age" cable paradigm with its larger-than-life masculine crises, but while Tony Soprano's and Don Draper's shows are often credited with subverting and problematizing those antiheroes, Walter White's case appears not to be so clear. For all Breaking Bad's acclaim, I've encountered a lot of criticisms of the show - ranging from the hostile to the affectionate - which peg it as a riveting thriller that doesn't bear the thematic weight of its reputation. We'll see about that. For now, the first season has provided a marvelously engrossing story with plenty of compelling threads. I look forward to finding out how well it follows these; either way, I'm enjoying the experience so far. This season finale has a special significance in this viewing diary, because it's the first Breaking Bad episode I haven't seen before (as will be the case with all the upcoming entries). I suspected this last week, remembering Walter's confrontation with Tuco and sensing that this was where I'd left off way back in 2014. Sure enough, this is new ground for me, and I really look forward to fully discovering the series in the process of writing about. This is also the second episode to be helmed by a Twin Peaks alum (after Tricia Brock's episode); Tim Hunter directed several memorable hours of that earlier show, including the one that wound up the Laura Palmer mystery. Here he is able to close off a memorable season with a deft mixture of intrigue, comedy, and suspense (although I can't help but feel the open house situation wasn't milked for all it could have been, relieved as I was to see it end). Breaking Bad season one finds a logical end point that offers closure while still teasing what's to come without a whiff of a cliffhanger. Good as these episodes were, I suspect the show's strongest material lies ahead.

Next (probably late in 2018): (season 2) "Seven Thirty-Seven" • Previous: "Crazy Handful of Nothin'"

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