Aug 19, 2013

Breaking Bad: “Buried”

By Josh Oakley

I. The Construction Of Narrative

We convince ourselves of certain truths, attempting to conform the unruliness of life to an understandable story, taking our days as piecemeal and slotting them into a more complete whole, a puzzle with no gaping holes to distract from the vital matters of self-preservation and loved ones. When the individuals fail to feed the larger scheme, we lose balance; we see the darkness we previously successfully shut out. We convince ourselves of many things, some of which come to fruition. But other truths falter, and we falter, kicked downward with every unveiling.

I can only see what is right in front of me, as I gather logs for the fire where I will cook the meal I have grown and captured, retreat to the log cabin I built with my two hands, bathe in the loneliness I desired.

Or: I can make coffee, measuring beans in handfuls rather than marked cups, wait for a train that arrives at varying intervals, yearn for a body beside mine at night.

In the former I have mastered every element. There may be a storm, but I have limited the variables as much as reasonable, coated my actions with certainty. In the latter, I lose myself amidst the uncertain, allowing urges and estimation to drive my nature.

Walter White has always been at odds with the two extremes presented here. He aims to pull the strings of every soul around him, stripping others of their innate humanity, growing from the consumption of the agency of others. In “Buried”, these strings disengage, as the world begins to swirl around the man, until he collapses. The variable of cancer, of Hank, of Jesse’s emotional state. Some of these were designed by Walt’s own faults, the cancer a work of god, or fate, or preemptive karma. But this is the world that Walter has worked to build with his hands. He believed himself in the first scenario, free of the entanglement of human nature. His hubris dragged him to the level of mortals, stripping the gears of his year-long operation, for Hank to plainly see.

II. Marie

Marie is a fascinating character, played by Betsy Brandt, who turns in the best performance in “Buried”, a significant feat. Marie was never portrayed as angelic; her shoplifting, while petty compared to the crimes of other characters, was introduced in the show’s first season. Her relationship with Skyler, her sister, has always been textured. We see their past in the present: bickering, but, ultimately, respect and love. It is this established norm that is horrifically deviated from in “Buried”, culminating in a fight for the life of the one remaining character with innocence, the baby with no choice but to be pure. The melodrama of this scene and the one preceding it, while beautifully played, feels unnatural no matter how realistic the heightened emotions. It’s a fairly major misstep that thankfully only lasts a matter of minutes. And, thanks to Brandt, Anna Gunn and Dean Norris, is still felt in the heart, if overbearingly so.

As Marie steps further towards the truth Skyler holds, her face sinks, the horror of reality concaving her constructed truths. She did not choose to fall for deceit, her only fault in this matter is trusting the people she loves. Rather, the Whites inflicted their falsehoods upon her (and Hank). Some of us choose the lies we buy into, while others are force-fed. The natural state mutates whether by our actions or the actions of those we trust. It is dangerous to trust. The opposite of trust, though, leads to a man such as Walter White, a man who only depends on himself, or those he has properly manipulated. Marie has done nothing wrong, but by virtue of this innocence, has become entangled by the designs of others.

III. The Playground Carousel

Jesse lies between the extremes of Walter and Marie. He sits close to Skyler on this spectrum, though his catatonic state stems from a more deep-rooted undoing than she has yet felt. He spins, unmoved by punishment, unafraid of anything but an attempt to rise from the latest bottom he has found himself in.

There has been speculation that Walt may kill Jesse in this final chapter, but those spouting such claims fail to see that this action has already been taken. Walt has baited Jesse into this world, the world of Mr. White, where lies are freely traded for stacks of money. Barrels of money, even. But Jesse has seen through that and found not a light at the other end, but a sort of purgatory to marinate in. He cares little of what happens to himself, and all those he cared deeply about have separated themselves from him through death or a decayed trust. Walter White didn’t kill Jesse, perhaps. But he created a Rube Goldberg machine to play out the boy’s suicide. The gun fired at Gale killed both the victim and the murderer. Since then, Jesse has removed himself from the world surrounding him, retreating into shells that were nearly broken before being reformed again and again and again. The carousel continues to spin.

IV. The Construction of Narrative, Pt. II

Walter White does not see himself as a bad man. This is not to say that he thinks every action he has taken to be good and just. But as he confesses, weak and dying and pathetic on his bathroom floor, it could be worth the pain. The protection of family is the most vital lie Walter ever told, and it was himself he convinced.

I believe in the person who loves me forever, or at least for the night. I believe in the life fulfilled by passion, absent of drudgery. I believe in the hope of eventual children, a new generation aided by my offspring. I believe in a timely death, a quiet passing.

We create plans; god scoffs. We attempt to predict, foolish as we are, the ways in which time will pass. We do more than this. We grow certain of anything, of our present self, our past failings, and our future successes. We are so blind as to have faith in anything.

The characters of Breaking Bad have afforded themselves far too much in the way of faith. Not the faith of a religion, or the stuff that precedes and comes after our lives. Believing that she loves you is faith. Believing that your partner is not a villain is faith. This is not a unique fault of these characters, but rather the flaw at the center of all human beings. Without this flaw, though, we are empty, devoid of purpose and passion. Without the belief in anything, even the tangible materials that sit before our eyes, we are simply spinning in a circle, unable to break from patterns that were set into motion by men far crueler than ourselves.

Grade: B+

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