In our recurring feature STALE POPCORN REVIVAL SHOW, Deadshirt contributor Max Robinson goes to midnight movies, outdoor screenings, and wherever else they show classic
films television shows in and around New York City.
In anticipation of Breaking Bad‘s (final) return to television on August 11th, The Film Society of Lincoln Center held “The Perfect Batch: Breaking Bad Cast Favorites”, a series of panels at the Walter Reade Theater August 1st through 2nd showcasing selected episodes of the series that included live question and answer sessions with members of the cast. I was able to attend the third panel, which screened the episodes “One Minute” and “Hazard Pay” and featured Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris, the actors who play Marie and Hank Schrader.
First off, these were really excellent choices as far as Breaking Bad episodes that highlight how absolutely terrific Norris and Brandt are on this show.
Season 3’s “One Minute”(aka the episode where Hank is nearly killed by The Cousins) is one of Breaking Bad‘s finest hours and some of the most tense television I’ve ever seen. It’s no surprise that they chose it given that it’s the most Hank-centric episode of the show to date and it really spells out Hank and Marie’s relationship as husband and wife.
Re-watching the episode, it’s pretty ingenious how “One Minute” resolves a major plot thread in the series: Hank’s growing instability as a DEA agent. When he comes to Jesse Pinkman’s house and brutally assaults him, the semi-illegal shortcuts and casual abuses of power finally catch up with him in a big way. Watching Hank finally accept, with tears in his eyes, that he “isn’t the man [he] thought [he] was” is such a powerful moment for not just that character but the entire show.
“One Minute” largely follows Hank and Marie as Hank is forced to deal with the consequences of, well, fucking up, and while there’s still humor in the episode (Hank crying on Marie’s shoulder only when the elevator doors are closed, regaining his composure as soon as they’re open again), I thought this episode really humanized two characters that are often a source of comic relief. Even though Hank is kind of a boisterous “guy’s guy” who can’t see what’s right in front of him and Marie’s…Marie, “One Minute” shows them as a loving couple who completely and utterly support each other in times of crisis. At the end of the day, Hank and Marie are DECENT people in a show largely about the evil men do.
But what’s really clever about this episode is how it absolutely convinces you that Hank is going to die when he’s attacked in the parking lot. I mean, he gets a moment of self-realization, he does something appropriately heroic when he refuses to lie in his statement to his DEA superiors about assaulting Jesse, and nobody on Breaking Bad gets a happy ending, right? Not only that, but the skin crawlingly creepy Salamanca Cousins have been built up all season as unkillable murder machines. That Hank, barely, is able to survive the encounter and kill/maim his would-be assassins is a testament to how hard to predict Breaking Bad is; this show takes you places with a blindfold on and only lets you see the road signs on their terms, not yours.
The second episode, Season 5’s (5.1? Season 5 part 1? What are we calling this thing?) “Hazard Pay” is a sort of unusual choice given that Hank’s role is pretty minimal and most of the episode centers on Walt, Jesse, and Mike. The reason it was chosen, I’m sure, was because of the incredible scenes between Marie and Skyler and, subsequently, Marie and Walter. What’s interesting about this episode is the focus it places on the dynamic Skyler and Marie share as sisters: Marie faces the brunt of Skyler’s mental breakdown and genuinely steps up to bat for her when she flat out asks Walter what’s doing this to her. Marie is often an obnoxious character, especially given how badly she often treats Skyler, so seeing her in this moment where she demands the truth from Walt was so powerful (even if he, as always, is able to lie his way out of it).
The thing that was really remarkable about watching these episodes at the Walter Reade Theater was that the sound was incredible. When Hank punches Jesse, you practically FEEL each hit. The transition in “Hazard Pay” from the gunshots emanating from Scarface to the sound of a cash sorting machine really shined. I was also impressed by how well the show plays on a movie theater quality screen, really speaking to how the line between the visual language of TV and film is blurring.
Following the episodes, The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum took to the stage with Brandt and Norris to discuss the show and their characters. I thought Nussbaum asked some very good questions and generally kept the Q&A moving at a nice clip. This was the first time either actor had seen each other since filming on the show had wrapped and they were both obviously exhausted. Watching the Norris and Brandt together, it was really kind of sweet to see the natural affection/chemistry between them. Breaking Bad is a rare television show that’s always given me the sense the people involved genuinely like each other.
They talked about how when they were both waiting to audition for their roles, they thought for sure Breaking Bad was a network comedy. Brandt talked about her characters’ sort of bizarre relationship with the color purple by saying that Marie is the kind of character who has to go all the way with something, hence the purple outfits, coffeemaker, flashlight, etc. When Nussbaum asked her to explain the background she and Anna Gunn (who plays Skyler) developed for their characters, she explained that “Their parents were crazy” and that they have a in-the-trenches bond as siblings from a broken home.
One of the more interesting tidbits that came out of the talk was that Norris originally lobbied (Breaking Bad creator) Vince Gilligan to kill off Hank for the mid-season finale (AMC’s decision to lengthen season 5, then split it in two without telling the cast interfered with his ability to take on other projects). When asked about Hank’s “Leaves Of Grass while sitting on the toilet” revelation, Norris told the audience that he was glad Hank didn’t finally piece it together at his desk rubbing his chin, that it was while he was “taking a crap”. He was also quick to clarify it was in the master bathroom (Hank is a gentleman, after all). When Brandt saw the (originally blacked out) pages, she assumed that Hank died some horrible Elvis-on-the-toilet death.
The Film Society at Lincoln Center really outdid themselves with this series of live programming and I’d love to see them do something similar in preparation for, say, Mad Men‘s final season. If you’d like to see this panel or any of the other ones (Panel 1 included Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, RJ Mittte; Panel 2, Brian Cranston; Panel 4, Vince Gilligan), The Film Society will be posting their originally live-streamed recordings of each panel in their Youtube channel sometime later this week.
This live event took place at the Walter Reade Theater on August 2nd, 2013