This review contains spoilers.
4.11 Crawl Space
It’s a real privilege being able to write these Breaking Bad reviews each week – a series of this quality doesn’t come along very often, after all, so it’s great to be covering it and experiencing it all with the rest of you.
There is a bit of a problem, though, in that it’s hard to maintain any critical faculties or any sense of objectivity when you invariably find yourself at the end of each episode with your heart racing and your hair clutched in your hands, while you pace around your living room hyperventilating. At this point, it’s pretty clear that the writers are trying to top each other each week, with an ending even more white-knuckle exhilarating than the last, marching inexorably towards a finale which, at this rate, will blow the minds of everyone who watches it so thoroughly, they’ll be left grinning, catatonic and bleeding like Jonathan Pryce at the end of Brazil.
This is my problem with these reviews: turning the same singular thought at the end of every episode of Breaking Bad – “Shiiiiiiiiit” – into a thousand words of analysis. It isn’t easy. Let’s give it a go-around though, since you’re here.
First off, where are all the people who said the fourth series was boring compared to previous ones now? Feeling pretty silly somewhere, I’ll wager. It’s exactly because of the deliberate build up in the first half of the season that we’re able to have these exquisite payoffs, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see in action.
The reason Breaking Bad should be taught as some kind of definitive ur-text in television screenwriting classes from now on is down to how expertly it manages to raise the stakes each week. The most important thing in any kind of dramatic writing (besides characters you can invest in) is making the audience buy into the stakes – why do they need to see this story is resolved? The way to do it is to raise the stakes – make the adversity the characters encounter feel as real and as palpable as possible.
As I alluded to in an earlier review, there has never been a show as good at continually upping the ante as Breaking Bad, and everything builds exponentially on what has come before it. Each week it seems that things can’t get any worse or more dangerous for Walt, but somehow the writers keep finding a way to turn the screw.
There were two instances of game-changing escalation in Crawl Space – the first came when Gus made his first direct threat to Walt’s family, culminating in his chillingly whispered, “I will kill your infant daughter.” While Walt’s family being in danger has certainly been a possibility throughout the series, the threat has never been as clear as it was here.
Then there’s the ending, which had an intensity about it that frankly feels unprecendented on this kind of television programme. There was something very Lynchian about it – Skyler’s face contorted in horror, framed through the crawl space; Walt’s primal screaming transforming into maniacal laughter; the industrial ambient throb of the soundtrack; the shadowy lighting of the panicked Marie on the phone, topped off by the slow aerial zoom out from Walt entombed in his filthy crawl space.All of these elements combined for an astonishingly dread-filled last few minutes (it seemed to go on forever, in the best possible way) which evoked a feeling of pure terror that I haven’t experienced in many films, let alone on television before.
It brought to the fore what Breaking Bad is really all about – at this point, it’s probably best labelled as a psychological horror about crime. Think about it – the gore, the tension, and the suspense over the course of the series put it up there with most horror films you’d care to name. Vince Gilligan is well acquainted with horror, of course, having been responsible for some of the more overtly horrific X-Files episodes during his tenure as writer and producer on that show.
Walt’s laughter was one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in a long time – what it signifies remains to be seen. Has Walt finally crossed the border from having a couple of seriously damaging personality flaws into raw, unfiltered insanity? Possibly. This might be the only thing that will allow him to tap into his inner Heisenberg and stand up to Gus, because he desperately needs to make a stand at this point. It seems impossible that this cast of characters will all make it to the end of the series, and once more it’s a testament to the skill of the writers that the idea of any of them dying is almost unthinkable, as they all seem so vital to this storyline.
We did get one character death this week though, with Ted’s unfortunate demise (or did we? It’s never explicitly stated that Ted is dead, and Vince Gilligan refused to confirm his death on the Breaking Bad Insider podcast…) thanks to a loose rug and an inappropriately placed kitchen table. While David Lynch is one filmmaker indebted to by Breaking Bad, the other filmmakers that are very clearly an influence on the show are the Coen brothers, with their crime/noir/psychological horror hybrids Blood Simple, Fargo, and No Country For Old Men possessing the same mix of violence, tension and black humour that Breaking Bad has mined so well.
Ted’s farcical accident was very Coen-esque – it’s very similar to the scene in Fargo where Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare watch dispassionately as the woman they are attempting to kidnap panics, entangles herself in a shower curtain then falls down the stairs. It’s not the first time Breaking Bad has referenced Fargo – a season one episode was called A No Rough Stuff Type Of Deal after a line from the film – and if you’re going to steal, then you may as well steal from one of the best films ever made.
It’s at this point that I could talk about the performances, but I’m sure you’re all tired of me banging on about how great they are every week at this point. I could talk about how brilliantly funny the episode was, despite the savagery of the plot developments – the wisecracking double act between the ‘A team’ being a highlight, along with Saul’s premature goodbye to Walt (“I can’t say it’s been a pleasure”). I could talk about how much I hate the fact that there’s only two episodes left. I could indulge in some speculation as to where the hell the show is going next; how Walt can possibly extricate himself from the horrendous vice he’s fastened himself into. But all of this would be pointless, not least because predicting Breaking Bad has proved to be a thankless pursuit over the years.
Sometimes, you have to put the analysis aside, indulge your inner fanboy, and marvel at how perfectly constructed it all is. How you’re completely, totally invested in the story. How you’ll be banging on about this show to anyone who’ll listen for years.