One of the remarkable things about Breaking Bad during these final eight episodes of the series is the number of layers built in to many of the scenes and the amount of mental processing the show is asking of its viewers. A perfect example of this is the scene in the episode entitled “Ozymandias” when Walt calls Skyler at home after abducting their baby. We’ve never seen Walt speak so terribly to his wife, and on one level he is venting actual feelings to her that have been bottled up for months (months in his time, years in ours). On another, he’s protecting her by giving the police reason to go after him alone and leave her out of this mess. On yet another, he’s finally recognizing that he’s completely destroyed his family, his love for which was what initially motivated him to do the terrible things he’s done. The effect of Walt’s actual emotional breakdown in the climactic moments of the scene as he struggles to remain the character he’s playing for this phone call is incredible acting, brilliant writing, and totally lost to anyone who has not seen just about all the episodes that have come before. The complexity of these layers is something I think most people would agree we’ve not seen before in television, and is a big part of why many claim Breaking Bad represents a pinnacle in the artistry of the medium.
The question is, when intelligent, critical, engaged viewers have to discuss episodes with each other, or read what others are saying online, in order to fully appreciate the complexity, is it too complex for its own good?
Television has been accused of many things, but rarely if ever of making viewers work too hard.
I’ve often said that if a film was not worth watching twice, it wasn’t worth watching once. Assuming we can make it through this last season without suffering a heart attack, it will be worth watching many times.