‘Breaking Bad’: Lab Rats

Breaking_bad_001_0601Turning an old prisoner plot on its ear by making the guy you’re rooting for the captor instead of the captive, the second episode of “Breaking Bad” didn’t disappoint after a promising pilot.

The show is unafraid to get dark and gruesome — not for gratuitous purposes, but rather in service of a larger story examining our morals in challenging times. Good guys doing bad things and all that. Credit for this starts with showrunner Vince Gilligan, but Gilligan could not have done better in finding someone to anchor the show than Bryan Cranston, rocking the house in the role of chem teacher/meth maker/cancer sufferer Walter White. 

White is equal parts hero and weakling — it’s as if we’re catching him amid an aborted transformation, and it’s kinda fascinating. His Odd Couple interplay with Jesse (Aaron Paul) crackles without seeming contrived.

There are still a couple of quirks with the show. Scenes in which White uses his chemistry knowledge in hardcore, real-life situations work much better than the scenes in White’s classroom, where his attempts to make chemistry seem meaningful feel on the nose (and where signs of an impending collapse seem all too obvious).

Also, Walter’s relationship with his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn, working awfully hard to seem interesting) is strained creatively. There have been some headscratching scenes between the two. Marriages can run hot and cold, but the hot and cold in the White marriage doesn’t always seem connected — there needs to be more of a thruline that relates the mood swings. Nevertheless, we’re only in the second episode, leaving plenty of time for this to be ironed out.

AMC producing two quality drama series feels a bit like the Pittsburgh Pirates making the NBA (that’s not a typo, that’s the joke) finals.  But with “Mad Men” and the less fantastic but still worthwhile “Breaking Bad,” AMC continues to score big with its transformation.

— Jon Weisman