December 13, 2011

The Bottle Episode

This weekend I went on a Breaking Bad season 3 marathon. The last episode I watched was episode 10 entitled "Fly"; one of the most blatant bottle episodes in television history. The concept of a bottle episode was not new to me, but rarely is it so obvious as it was in this case. Usually I only realize in retrospect what was going on. This time I knew it from the very beginning, and I found it very off-putting.

Even though it was technically well made as all episodes of BB are, it might be the worst episode of Breaking Bad I've seen in the series thus far. That is an opionion, not a fact. Some people loved "Fly". I did not.

For those of you who don't know what a bottle episode is here is what Wikipedia has to say...

Bottle episodes are always cheap, usually sidesteps from the main plot line, and almost always character driven. They also tend to be polarizing, meaning fans either love them or hate them. Almost every television show uses some extent of a bottle episode. Even though the setup is fairly obvious I usually don't catch on right away.  Season 2 of Breaking Bad had the bottle episode where Walt and Jessie got stuck in the desert when the RV battery died. I didn't even think about that episode as a bottle episode until after watching "Fly".  That episode from season 2 seemed to ingrate a lot better into the story line. I can't think of any other good examples of bottle episodes from other shows. Community did one last year, but they did it as more of a spoof. Anytime the primary cast (or a portion thereof) gets trapped somewhere and can't get out... then that is a good sign it is a bottle episode.

When our beloved characters are stuck somewhere there usually isn't much action. There is typically lots of dialog that allows the characters to step away from the normal plot of the show and reflect. I like the idea of it, but "Fly" drove me insane. It started with the setup.  The entire premise of the "contamination" seemed so bizarre and idiotic. Walt seemed totally out of character acting they way he did. Maybe I just missed it, but they never explained his actions. When they get "stuck" together most of the interactions were like listening to nails on a chalkboard.  Don't even get me started on the shots where the camera is supposedly connected to the buzzing fly, or the brush Jessie is using to scrub with.  It felt extremely tacky for an otherwise wonderful show.  I was going to keep rolling to the end of season 3 but "Fly" forced me to turn it off and get away for awhile.
Time to be fair. I had just gone on a streak of watching the 3 episodes before it and some crazy stuff happened.  The parking lot sequence with Hank was intense.  We were coming down from that adrenaline rush into the lull before things got really crazy in the last couple episodes. I was ready for mayhem, and I got "Fly". Sure there was a lot of sybolism and themes of trust and honesty, blah blah blah. I wasn't in the mood for it.

I really hate to say anything negative about Breaking Bad. It is just one episode. "Fly" was directed by Rian Johnson and I was really looking forward to watching it. I was surprised by how much I disliked it. I had a weird feeling about the start of season 3 also. It is incredible that a show that started off with such sorrow like we saw in season 1 would have you by season 3 longing for those carefree times when they were just cooking meth and having a good time.  The problem set totally changed for Walt in season 3 and the tone of the show shifted as well. I wasn't into it at first, but the middle of the season roped me back in and made me excited to watch it again. I'm hoping for a big finish here in the next couple episodes, and I am charging right on into season 4, which is waiting on my dvr.  I hear the end of season 4 is pretty great. I can't wait to find out what happens.

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