Breaking Bad’s ‘Open House’ and why I didn’t follow up on Torchwood…

Going into this episode I was sure I was going to end up writing about the recent trend of cable shows having something that I’ve started to call hyper-serialisation, because, well, while it’s explanatory it also sounds damn cool. I also hope it makes more sense to the average person than using The Wire as a adjective like I have done for the past few years.

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Breaking Bad’s ‘Open House’ continues the seasons focus on fleshing out the women of the cast. In fact, Marie arguably got more to do in the this episode than she has all series long. It’ reintroduce ideas that have laid dormant for a while and the show is slowly beginning to shape up the narrative for the rest of the season, or until Vince Gilligan gets bored again.

The pacing of all three episodes so far, including the intense-build of ‘Box Cutter’ is once again doing what all good books do, and as of late, most hyper-serialised shows do. It’s different to Mad Men, and it’s different to Boardwalk Empire. Those are shows about people, and almost every episode works as a small novella of their own. Breaking Bad can do fascinating stand-alone episodes like bottle episode of season three – The Fly – but it’s also a show that takes almost no time episode to episode, while also building up to an eventual shocking end. The plot, over both the series and the season, is as central to the show as individual episodes. Or chapters.  Functionally, shows like Breaking Bad and apparently Torchwood prefer to work their episodes like chapters in a book rather than entirely embracing the weeks in between each segment. I feel kind of awful putting Torchwood and Breaking Bad in the same sentence right now, but I think we will see over the course of the season that they are two attempts at doing the same thing.

Three episodes into Torchwood, I can’t even say its badness circles around to good again. It lacks the energy of 24, the Miracle Day itself has gotten severely boring and we’re constantly surrounded by nobody changing. It’s almost too ironic to say, but Torchwood: Miracle Day is completely lifeless. It’s not allowing us to see Gwen and Jack, the heart of the show, interact or even occupy much screentime. Breaking Bad is telling two opposite stories with Walt and Jesse, so although they aren’t always together, we’re invested in their lives. Well, I’m invested in them. Torchwood’s third episode, “Dead of Night”, attempts to crack it’s characters so we can throw some emotions into them for once, but all it does is make the overarching Miracle Day all the more obvious. I’ll go as far as saying giving individual Torchwood seasons a subtitle and making them so widespread is the worst possible thing a show can do for it’s characters.

To bring up the book narrative again; a chapter of characters working out their lives amidst a crisis can work. It’s only a chapter and it’s there’s always going to be forward momentum. Taking episodes out to celebrate moments of freedom for characters, as fun as they are, when there’s a mystery to be solved is incredibly awkward. If the show were just called ‘Torchwood’, like Fringe it may be able to tell stories that thematically fit into the larger narrative while digging deeper into the character. Then again, having the widespread phenomenon’s that the last two Torchwood seasons have done are almost asking for just a puzzle to be solved. They don’t allow character moments, or Russell T. Davies doesn’t know when to implement them, which may well be the case.

I begun this talking about this goofy hyper/super/awesome-serialisation thing, and all I really wanted to say is, in 140 characters or less: Why are shows like Sons of Anarchy and Torchwood doing seasons that work towards a future goal rather than enjoying their current journey.

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