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Breaking Bad: Phoenix (2009)

I’ve been happily working my way through Breaking Bad — I’m close to the end of the second season, and I’m not even halfway through, which is a good thing — and I just saw perhaps the best-written episode of the season so far. “Phoenix,” written by John Shiban (a familiar name to you X-Files fans, but Shiban’s been all over the place), is exceptionally, tightly written — less about the criminal aspects of Breaking Bad, and more a thematic exploration of fatherhood, of fathers and sons, of fathers and daughters. The episode is a good, solid reminder that at its core, the television series is about family.

There are a couple of coincidences that arguably take away from the episode’s strengths. A chance encounter in a bar between two fathers is a bit much, but it nicely brings to the surface Walt’s relationship with Jesse. And the shocker of the ending is both convenient and perhaps tonally unbelievable, but we’ll have to see how it works in the next episode (the season finale).

But it’s really the little, quiet details and scenes make the episode: an expertly filmed scene when Walt holds his daughter for the first time and the camera slowly pivots to reveal an out-of-focus Ted standing in the corner. (And how Walt’s eyes look up briefly, suspiciously, as Ted kisses Skyler goodbye.) Or a quick shot of Jane’s father’s hand, on an empty chair, as he waits for Jane at her rehab meeting. Or best of all, Walt pulling open the baby-pink asbestos insulation for his baby daughter as she starts to sleep in her drug-dealing father’s arms: scary, funny, touching, eloquent.

[Image from Breaking Bad Wiki]

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