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2013 Book Roundup

Started off the year doing something I don't know that I've done before, reading through an author's body of work, then reading their biography. Richard Brautigan isn't someone I've ever had a particular interest in, but William Hjortsberg's biography of him intrigued me, and I'm not inclined to read a literary biography without first being familiar with the author's work. Brautigan certainly didn't become one of my favorites, and the biography came from a questionable angle (given that Hjortsberg was a friend of Brautigan's, he inevitably shows up in the narrative and refers to himself in third person), but the whole thing overall was a fun ride. There's always a greater sense of completion when you read not just the author's work, but their life story and how their famous projects came together.
Elsewhere in my fiction pursuits, I attempted a lot of "series" type things, which seems like a bad idea, given my aversion to mult…

Breaking Bad 516: Felina

Full spoilers follow, for those who haven't seen the finale.

I'm going to put this on the table, first and foremost: I was craving an irrational amount of drama and emotion from this finale. As a result, I felt a little meh when I first watched it. After all, it didn't have the dramatic impact that the previous two episodes had, and it was a bow on five seasons tied very neatly (bad guys die, good guys live, everything goes according to Walt's final plans). I felt very much along for the ride through the finale, as I came to it convinced I would love whatever unapologetic events took place, so when everything felt into place so perfectly, alongside some very subdued goodbyes between Walt and Skyler and Walt and Jesse, I was at a loss when faced with the possibility that the ending let me down.
But, in my hyped-up state over the best show on television ending, I'd forgotten one of the more important things about Breaking Bad. Oftentimes, stew tastes better the seco…

Breaking Bad 515: Granite State

One of the many, many recurring themes I love on Breaking Bad is how it plays with dichotomy, duality, pairs, parallels, etc. For every situation, character, visual, whatever, there is a similar element to contrast it. As with past episodes, there was a lot of that in Granite State: the seclusion of both Walt and Jesse, the 180 contrast between ABQ and Walt's new (temporary) home in New Hampshire, Todd's visits to both Walt's wife and Jesse's ex-girlfriend, Walt's two sons, Jesse and Flynn. This show has always been about the connectivity of everything that occurs, particularly every choice that Walt makes, and these dichotomies serve as brilliant devices to increase the sense that every circumstance is indeed a product of the actions that preceded it.

We went into this episode knowing the big transformation Walt was going to make, over a period of months, but that didn't prevent the writers from dragging us back and forth with him and his thoughts. He seems to…

Breaking Bad 514: Ozymandias

This is the kind of show in which even the baby deserves an Emmy for her performance.

I think a lot of television relies heavily on elements of shock and surprise, these days, scoffing at the notion that an audience can be so overcome with emotion over a story whose endings are predictable (The Red Wedding is a recent example that comes to mind). So, it's all the more powerful when a show like Breaking Bad comes along and absolutely traumatizes its viewers with an episode of events they mostly could have seen coming. We knew Hank and/or Gomez would die in the shootout, we knew Walt and/or Jesse would be captured and forced to cook for Todd and the gang, and we knew there'd be a confrontation of sorts between Marie and Skyler that would somehow lead to their discovery that the news Marie had just learned over the phone from Hank had basically been undone...and then some.
In true Breaking Bad fashion, we're not taken back to the cliffhanger from the last episode, right away.…

Breaking Bad 513: To'hajiilee

Let's see, how to talk about the first half of the episode first, without jumping straight to THAT ENDING.

Todd (I believe we call him "Creepy, Less Attractive Matt Damon" at our house) is a character the writers have quietly built over the last season, from an almost unassuming worker bee who takes initiative and does what he's told, but speaks up or takes action when he feels it's necessary to the job at hand, to a major player in the Heisenberg empire. I won't lie, I kind of liked him from the beginning. Yes, he's absolutely one of the scariest characters in Breaking Bad history, but if you're looking to get away with the biggest meth business in America at all costs, he does what needs doing, no questions asked. Was it awful the kid on the bike was killed? Of course. But he knew the task was to get away with the train heist, and that kid potentially stood in the way - what other choice was there that wasn't an equally as awful solution?

At fir…

Breaking Bad 512: Rabid Dog

The cancer metaphor that has formed an arc over this entire show is in full swing in this episode. We all know Walt has cancer, but we figured out long ago that he himself is a cancer to those around him, and Rabid Dog made such an excellent display of that as it methodically had every character other than Walt proceed to break bad. This episode is such a brilliant and ironic turn for the show, in that for once, it's got everyone else selfishly willing to kill for their own benefit, while Walt is actually the one trying to save the rabid dog.

It's so fun, to me, that even in the very last episodes of the series, we're gifted with a new character pairing that brings a whole other dynamic to the show. Who knew Hank and Jesse's relationship could be so multi-layered?! Jesse has had a pretty good track record of choosing awful father/mentor figures - they either die (yes, I still miss Mike) and/or they horribly manipulate and abuse him, leaving Jesse even worse off than he…

Breaking Bad 511: Confessions

Part of me wished, after seeing this episode, that it'd been divided into two episodes. A lot of big things happen, causing a lot of movement in the plot and characters, and of course, there's some selfishness on my part in wanting the lengthy conclusion of this series told in more than just eight episodes. After thinking about it a bit, though, I'm completely satisfied with the pacing and realize that it seemed like a lot (and will in every episode following this, I expect) because there's absolutely no filler - every scene is not only very critical to the story, but also incredibly intense. And I wouldn't have it any other way; 511 was nothing short of amazing.

I wondered if "Confessions" should have been titled "Manipulations", instead, as there's a lot of the latter going on, this week. Hank tries (and fails) to convince Jesse to be an informant, Walt working Walt Jr., Walt working Jesse, Whites vs. Schraders...SO MUCH TOMFOOLERY. There …

Breaking Bad 510: Buried

Also known as The Sky-senberg Triptych Episode?! I've never quite understood the intense fan hatred of Skylar, and I'm wondering how said fans feel about her becoming the central figure in this episode. People may see her as a flat/irrelevant/annoying/unlikable character, but the fact is, she provides the family connection between criminal Walt and D.E.A. agent Hank, she becomes a smart accomplice to Walt's activities, and maybe she nags so much because (like many housewives) she's the one running the household and therefore has to be on top of everything, from paying the bills to the kids' schedules to writing a believable gambling addiction script. This isn't to say I love her all the time - she has quirks that will occasionally irritate me. But, in much the way Walt has transformed over the course of the show, the writers have taken Skylar through her own transformation in a believable way.

I digress. The triptych comes in the form of Skylar's three conf…

Breaking Bad 509: Blood Money

This should go without saying, but this contains spoilers for those who aren't caught up on the show.

I was particularly pleased to see that, with the huge amounts of story left to tell, the season premiere still didn't skimp on the visual brilliance and attention to detail it's become so known for (this is, perhaps, because in addition to binge watching the entire series leading up to the premiere, I've also been binge watching the DVD commentaries, which highlight a lot of the details I didn't notice before, thus giving me a greater appreciation for the cinematography and production). There are the ever-noticeable character color palates, namely Saul Goodman's bold green shirt and Walt and Skylar's matching neutral outfits at the car wash, suggesting an effort on both their parts to assimilate back into the normalcy of calmer life (whether or not they're successfully blending in is up for debate). By symbolizing this effort, the beige tones also imply…

The Writer's Tale

I recently landed in two separate discussions with two separate groups of people (all college educated) who had no idea who Margaret Atwood was. Literally, not one of them had any idea. I'm not about to suggest she's an underrated writer; she's certainly celebrated for her numerous contributions to literature. But it continues to bother me, or at least sit on the edge of my consciousness, that 1984 is read and recognized widely in schools and universities across this country, but The Handmaid's Tale is not. Namely, because I start to wonder if the "female writer syndrome" is at work, here.

To be fair, most of the people involved in said discussions recognized Atwood when I mentioned she wrote The Handmaid's Tale, as they'd heard of that book, but only two had actually read it. Dystopian fiction is pretty timeless in its popularity, but why does dystopia always invoke discussions on Huxley and Orwell and Orson Scott Card and Philip K. Dick, but not Atw…