The missus and I continue to persevere with the series but after last night’s two episodes (we are now late in Season Three) any comparison between Breaking Bad and The Wire is baffling. After what happens to Hank, for instance, in the parking lot with the slasher hit-men, do you think the writers would be pleased to know that my wife laughed when Netflix flipped (as it does) to the synopsis of the next episode and revealed that Hank survives? But that reaction is what the writers deserve since they seem to keep writing right up to the edge of having to conclude the series — a character’s death, discovery by the law, abandonment in the dessert — and then find a way to keep the characters in play and the production of meth active. It feels like a Warner Bros. cartoon where Wyle E. Coyote keeps falling off the cliff or blowing himself up, only to survive. What might have been really clever would have been to extend the chemistry theme throughout the story line so that Walt can (like Superman) disentangle himself from almost any dire situation by concocting some chemical combination. If he can do that by creating a battery to start the RV, why not also by creating some mist that will, while he and Jesse are hiding from Hank inside the RV, put Hank to sleep and allow them to escape and destroy the vehicle?
As it is, Breaking Bad does not reveal much about the layers of crystal meth production or even the characters themselves. In Traffic, for instance, what was happening on the Tijuanna border had reverberations in Mexico and in Washington D.C. And of course, what happened in The Wire with Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell wound up unwinding through the layers of Baltimore politics and society. And though some have faulted The Wire for not really developing its characters, Breaking Bad’s Walt and Schuyler seem to be persons who are whom they are mainly to fit what the cartoonish plot demands. Apologies to those who love the series. The wife and I will continue just to see what the writers concoct next. We are hooked in that sense and are glad to know something about the buzz the show has created. But a production akin to The Wire? Not!
Speaking of television series comparisons, over the holidays we watched the BBC production, The Hour (which features the star of The Wire, Dominic West). Some have compared it to Mad Men. It is so much better that it the comparison is actually damning. The Hour is a combination of Good Night and Good Luck and Broadcast News with a measure of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy thrown in. It makes Mad Men look like all style and no substance.
And while I’m in the mood of making recommendations, over the holidays we visited the theaters to see Anna Karenina, Hyde Park on Hudson, and Hitchcock. The latest was arguably the best of the lot, at least if you like behind the scenes portrayals of Hollywood. Performances by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren sure help. Hyde Park on the Hudson is worth seeing if only because of Bill Murray’s performance (which is good). But it’s also depressing to see (in a theme echoed in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) the formerly great British Empire having to depend on its political and cultural wayward son. Anna Karenina has its moments and anyone who enjoys the work of Tom Stoppard (I do, particularly his play, The Invention of Love) should see how his screenplay comes to life on the big screen. But the story itself, a case of marital and sexual infidelity, looks like just one more account of romantic love gone illegitimate — the Russian equivalent of Madame Bovary or An American Tragedy. Maybe Tolstoy deserves credit for writing about this theme before Dreiser (but after Flaubert). But on this side of 2012, Tolstoy’s narrative, even as rendered by Stoppard and company, does little to separate itself from the adulterous pack.