Monday, 20 October 2008

BREAKING BAD 1.4 – "Cancer Man"

Writer: Vince Gilligan
Director: Jim McKay

Walt, Jr
Hey, I want a beer.

Hank
Yeah? I want Shania Twain to give me a tuggy.
Guess what? That ain't happening either.

After a three-episode run focusing on Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse's (Aaron Paul) uneasy partnership as meth dealers and accidental killers, "Cancer Man" is a welcome breather as Breaking Bad shifts gears. Walter finally tells his family about his terminal lung cancer, and we're given much-needed background to junkie Jesse as a flawed, tragic person in his own right...

"Cancer Man" is another fine piece of television drama. While not as eventful and startling as previous episodes, it's a significant step forward in terms of character development. Walter now has to deal with everyone's reactions to his illness; which ranges from well-meaning but disheartening solidarity from brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), outrage from son Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) over his quiet pragmatism, sympathy from sister-in-law Marie (Betsy Schrader), and reluctance to accept the reality of the situation from wife Skyler (Anna Gunn).

Elsewhere, it was an eye-opener to discover Jesse's the estranged son of a wealthy family, whose younger brother Jake (Ben Petry) is an academic whiz with a bedroom full of trophies and medals to his credit. Clearly Jesse (ironically the "favourite son") lost his way at some point and tumbled into a life of drugs and crime – perhaps as a teenage reaction to the weight of pressure and expectation, although it's not made clear. In this episode, Jesse returns to the family home after hallucinating two angry-looking bikers outside his own house, and tries to prove to his parents (Michael Bofshever and Tess Harper) that he can be trusted. Only, they've heard it all before…

Once again, it's hardly a dense plot, but it's so well acted and constructed that it's a joy to be immersed in events. Echoes of Falling Down also return for the first time since the "Pilot", as Walter's tolerance for bullies is lowered as a result of his mortality, and he seeks revenge on a businessman driving a sports car registered "KEN WINS" and talking loudly on a bluetooth earpiece. These scenes are particularly funny; acting like a pressure release valve against the thorny character studies they're surrounded by. I can't imagine anyone not grinning when Walter orchestrates his fiery revenge at a gas station.

Overall, while it was slightly obvious to juxtapose meth-head Jesse with a privileged family background, the idea worked very well and there was a neat twist in the tail. I'm also quite glad Walter has told everyone about his illness, as it allows the other characters to really start participating in the show. Anna Gunn and Dean Norris are particularly good here, and it's easy to understand why Walter didn't want to involve them… and why he'll soon return to cooking crystal meth as way to make a quick buck…


19 October 2008
FX, 10pm

Cast: Bryan Cranston (Walter White), Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman), Anna Gunn (Skyler White), Dean Norris (Hank Schrader), RJ Mitte (Walter White Jr.), Betsy Brandt (Marie Schrader), Kyle Bornheimer (Phoning Costumer), Michael Bofshever (Mr. Pinkman), Tess Harper (Mrs. Pinkman), Rodney Rush (Chubby Stoner), Charles Baker (Skinny Pete), Tish Miller (Bank Teller), Jon Kristian Moore (DEA Agent), David House (Dr. Delcavoli), Ben Petry (Jake Pinkman) & Steven Michael Quezada (Gomez)
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