Here it is. The episode that made me stop watching the show.
Season 2, Episode 13 “ABQ”
Summary: The flash-forwards are back (noooooooooooo), and this time they show two huge, ominous plumes of smoke coming from Walter’s house. So naturally, we assume that these in media res flashes are actually leading somewhere interesting, like a gunfight, or maybe even a bombing. Unfortunately, it’s leading somewhere even more melodramatic, and somehow much more boring.
First, Hank discovers that the blue meth is being sold all over the tri-state area, and figures out that Heisenberg isn’t in prison, but still in New Mexico. He’s closing in, but is still relatively clueless, especially since Gus comes into the station to help organize a community outreach “fun run.” While at the station, Gus sees a picture of Walt and finds out that he’s Hank’s brother-in-law. Whoops.
Jesse wakes up to find Jane dead, and his first call is Walt (aw). Walt calls Saul, who sends a scary goon (Mike!) to clean up the mess. Later, Walt finds Jesse in a terrifying crack house and takes him to rehab. Walt starts laundering money through Walter Jr.’s not-Kickstarter. The local news does a story about it, Walter Jr. goes on and on about how his dad is his hero, and Walt looks super guilty (um, a little late for that!). Then he goes into surgery, and while he’s all doped up, he lets it slip to Skyler that he has a second cell phone. Whoops again.
The surgery goes well, and Walt grows a creepy ginger goatee, just in case you didn’t know that he’s Bad now. Skyler waits until he’s well, and then finally, finally kicks him out. Yay, Skyler! Right after she leaves with the baby, Jane’s father, who has just gone back to work an as airline traffic controller, accidentally causes a plane crash that JUST SO HAPPENS to occur right above Walt’s house and JUST SO HAPPENS to send that damn pink teddy bear careening into his pool. Nothing actually happens to Walt–his house isn’t even damaged. It’s all a metaphor, see?? Walt destroys everything he touches! The exploding plane is his exploding marriage! The teddy bear’s eye is the loss of innocence and/or eye of God judging him! GAHH.
Mike! Jonathan Banks always plays the same character (even in shows as lighthearted as Parks and Rec), but you’re so happy to see him you don’t care.
Aaron Paul’s acting. He regresses to child state, can’t stop crying, it’s all so sad. He really does look like a child when he wants to.
Jane’s dad’s acting, especially when he arrives at Jane’s place and sees the ambulance. Everyone is bringing their A-game, even the guest stars.
Skyler’s confrontation with Walt. It starts off with the second cell phone, and then she gradually reveals that she’s unraveled all of his lies, down to his fake visit to his mother. It’s super satisfying. I don’t like how they’ve handled Skyler in general, but I’ll give the writers this: they never give us any reason to think she’s an idiot.
What happened to Hank’s PTSD? Did it just magically disappear when he stopped working at the border?
Walt being a little whiny baby about Junior’s donation website. You’d think that now that he’s killed a couple people, he could get a few boners and stop complaining so much.
I’m going to talk about the plane crash/flash-forwards in this section, even though I think it’s just straight-up bad, because judging from recaps and comment sections, people inexplicably loved it. First of all, if you’re going to show these insanely pretentious flash-forwards not once, not twice, but four fucking times (plus a webisode and a super symbolic cameo on Jane’s mural), then the payoff had better be GOOD. And a bunch of people dying that we don’t know in a way that’s tangentially connected to Walt is, let’s say, not good.
That being said, I could make my peace with a slight anticlimax if it made any sort of sense. But I’m really supposed to believe that Jane’s father causes a plane crash as a direct result of Walt’s actions, and that plane crash coincidentally happens right above Walt’s house?? NO. NOT A CHANCE. SO DUMB.
Yes, yes, I know, the writers have some incredibly pretentious justifications for this contrivance. Vince Gilligan said in an interview that the teddy bear eyeball is “symbolic. It’s very, very symbolic.” (Um… YEAH NO SHIT YOU ONLY SHOWED IT TO US A THOUSAND TIMES WE GET IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT’S A SYMBOL WE GET IT.) Then he goes on to say that he’s “not 100% certain what it represents,” but that they conceived the eyeball as the eye of God, or the “universe,” or “morality.” Look, death of the author and all, but seriously, THIS IS NONSENSE.
In all seriousness, just because something is clearly intended to be symbolism doesn’t make it a successful example of symbolism. Watchful eyes tend to symbolize guilt, sure. Teddy bears tend to signify innocence, sure. But if you’re going for something as lofty as the eye of “God, the universe, or morality” (three very different things, yo), then you should A) not have to rely on ridiculously convenient plot twists, and B) have enough respect for your viewer that you don’t feel the need to beat them to death with your silly metaphor. We could have had one flash forward at the beginning of this episode, and that would have more than sufficed. It still would have been pretentious, the show would still be thinking way too much of itself, but it would have been a little better.
Just to be clear, though, I didn’t stop watching the show because I thought this ending was terrible. It is, laughably so, but to be fair, even the best shows are capable of missteps. The second season finale of The Americans, which I think is the best show of the last decade, maybe of all time, had a pretty contrived denouement where the surprise culprit of a whodunnit took time to explain his entire evil plan while bleeding out of his neck. That was a little silly, and reviewers rightly pointed out that it was a little silly. I stopped watching Breaking Bad because of the reaction to this extremely silly misstep: people loved it. They lavished just as much praise on it as they did for legitimately good episodes, maybe even more. That made me realize that in the eyes of (mostly male) TV critics, this show could literally do no wrong. It made me stop trusting the hype, the “you need to watch this” of it all. It was like when I watched Mad Men, and I wondered whether I was imagining that it was a little overrated, until I saw that stupid episode where Don goes to California and meets a hot 20-year-old named Joy who–you guessed it–symbolizes the joy he’s missing in his life, and critics ate it up. That’s when I realized that, whether Mad Men was ultimately great or terrible (I landed on sometimes-great), I couldn’t trust anything anyone said on the matter. Macho fantasies about straight white male antiheroes can get away with absolutely anything, even cringeworthy dialogue or half-baked and pretentious symbolism, things that would be mercilessly mocked in a show starring a woman, POC, LGBTQ person, you get the picture.
Anyway, I will keep watching this time, because blogging about this show is more fun than watching it. And in the end, there’s still a chance that I will consider this show to be sometimes-great. But I think at this point in the rewatch, I can safely say that the “greatest show of all time,” this is not.