The first three seasons of Breaking Bad established it as a spring time show. After the third season concluded though, the writers said they would need a little extra time working on the scripts, deciphering the direction the story should go. This meant season 4 wouldn’t premier until July, instead of the usual March timeframe. While a little annoying to wait considering the amazing cliffhanger, it was well worth it.
Breaking Bad is all about the slow burn. Sure, there are bombastic moments, particularly in this season, but overwhelmingly there’s more quiet ones. I’m sure everyone’s heard the “I am the one who knocks” speech, it was a powerful one. This would have been completely undercut if it wasn’t earned. Remembering this meek man in season one, working two jobs while people stepped on him, that’s what made that scene work. He wasn’t always that person, he became him.
There’s no better example of this than in “Crawl Space”, where many different plot threads come to a head. Desperate to save his family, Walt searches for what little money he has left to relocate and save them from a murderous Gus. Finding it gone, spent by Skylar to payoff her old employer, Walt loses his mind. The final shot of him, laying there as the camera zooms out, laughing, is a compelling one. One that wouldn’t have worked at all if it came any sooner.
While there have been many slow burns, building to emotionally intense scenes, there have been plenty of explosive ones too. Particularly in this season. The last few episodes, starting with “Salud”, is an increasing sprint to the end. “Salud” has one of the biggest scenes of the series (save for the meh plan crash in two). For the entire episode, as Gus keeps his stone face and false smile while dealing with the Mexican cartel, I knew something was coming, and it completely caught me off guard when it did.
As for the finale, “Face Off”, it speaks for itself. I’ve heard quibbles from reviewers when talking about a story as solidly constructed as this, that you run out of positive things to say. Now I understand what they’re talking about. I don’t need to tell you anything about this episode. Everyone who’s seen it can’t ignore the unabashed superior quality here; from the tight scripting, superb acting, tension building score, etc. Everything culminates wonderfully. I’ve witnessed a few people experience the finale, and I found it interesting that we all shared similar reactions in that moment, until the camera pans around. “No way!” Until the very end, the show plays with your expectations.
Two interesting notes about “Face Off.” The effects people from The Walking Dead supplied the imagery here. It took them 3 months to complete. As far as the ending, where the camera zooms in, writer/creator Vince Gilligan has said some interesting things about the presentation. He chose to provide viewers with a sense of satisfaction. Regardless of what I’m doing, I always feel more accomplished when completing the task on my own, rather than having the answer handed to me. Gilligan believes in this school of thought, opting to give the audience 2 and 2, so they can come up with 4. This idea is something that has stuck with me, informing my writing today.
What I loved about season 4 was the solid conclusion it provided. Endings unease people a little, as they’re very hard to pull off. With one more season to go, who knows what direction they would take. The creators have completely earned my trust by now, but there’s still that bit of apprehension. With this, I can choose to end the series here if what comes after doesn’t live up to expectations (spoilers – it does). The only dangling thread I hope they address is who Gus was as mentioned by Don Eladio.
What was your favorite payoff in this season? Which was better, “Salud” or “Face Off”? Comment below, on Facebook, or Twitter! You can now see my Saturday Morning Cartoon posts at The Two-Headed Nerd!