For the last few months, we’ve heard plenty about why Breaking Bad might be the best TV show of all time. The show has unfolded as a brilliantly acted and sharply written epic over the last five years, probing deeply into issues of morality, sickness, and family.
But just as the public is tuning in ravenously for an epic finale on par with TV’s other huge event this year, Game of Thrones’ “Red Wedding,” Breaking Bad appears to be sputtering to the finish line. Its latest episode, “Rabid Dog,” is largely an exercise in tedium and melodramatic close-ups, where the characters are always on the verge of action but never quite get there. At best, “Rabid Dog” is a mediocre midseries stumble in a legendary final season. At worst, it’s a jumping of the shark, and the start of one of the most disappointing television collapses of all time.
At the end of the previous episode, Jesse Pinkman stormed angrily into the White house, dousing the carpet and furniture with gasoline, while an armed Walt rushed over for a climactic confrontation. But no such showdown occurs: When Walt arrives at the house at the beginning of “Rabid Dog,” Jesse has fled the scene. We instead stay with Walt for a good 10 minutes, while he cleans up and he decides what garbage bin to put the gasoline inside of.
The rest of the episode features a whole lot of nothing — actually, a whole lot of yelling, drinking, and crying. While Anna Gunn (Skyler) and RJ Mitte (Walt Jr.) have been nothing short of spectacular over the course of the series — and Gunn deserves the Emmy in a couple weeks' time — the pair are at their worst here. Skyler, in a drunken, livid stupor, commands Walt to dispose of Jesse — “We’ve come too far,” she snarls. But while the moment should be a pivotal tipping point in Skyler’s descent into crime, it feels forced and unconvincing. Moreover, the fact that she speaks evil rather than doing evil makes the scene quite anticlimactic.
Meanwhile, Walt Jr. gets broken up over his dad’s supposed cancer developments, to the point of overacted sobbing. The father-son relationship has been crucial to Walt’s evolution, but Mitte has little new to offer. On the other hand, the character with the most to offer, a revenge-seeking Hank, gets mostly relegated to bossing around Jesse and wiretapping.
In fact, with the exception of Skyler, “Rabid Dog” shows each character simply proving his or her own lazy stereotypes. Lawyer Saul Goodman is flustered and obnoxious, with yet another bad metaphor up his sleeve, Jesse is impulsive and emotionally drained, Marie is petty, and Walt continues his horrific descent into destruction. The episode lacks any forward motion. This would be acceptable for another show or for another season, but given how close we are to the end, it’s disappointing to see Breaking Bad dragging its feet.