Friday, December 27, 2013

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 multiple books about the same characters/stories. I enjoy Game of Thrones on TV well enough, but the books are atrociously written, and if I have to see Martin's laughably ridiculous, "I've always considered women to be people," quote one more time, I might bash my head open on a sharp rock. I believe the line you're looking for, Mr. Martin, is, "I've always considered women to be cleanly-stenciled, irritating archetypes."

I attempted to finish out Margaret Atwood's post-apocalyptic trilogy with MaddAddam and, sadly, just couldn't do it. She remains a favorite writer of mine, but I'm just not as into her science fiction as I am her other writing. My big project was Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I'm one volume in and loving it, just having trouble creating an atmosphere of little distraction in which to read and absorb it.

On the poetry side of things, I dug through a few collected works, the heaviest being John Ashbery's, though it was immensely fulfilling, both from a reader's and writer's standpoint. There are endless things to learn about the craft of poetry from reading and rereading Ashbery, as well as Louise Gluck and Seamus Heaney. I also discovered some great poets I'd never read before, like Andrea Cohen, Jim Daniels, Joshua Corey, and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, who wrote my favorite book of this year, Hello, The Roses. It isn't widely read, but I love that there continues to be an endless supply of great poetry in the world, and I look forward to discovering even more of it, next year.

Below is my "Read In 2013" list. It was a pretty sparse reading year, for me, compared, at least, to the previous year. Additionally, I'm not too happy about the lack of diversity in form, as I seem to have unintentionally stuck mostly to fiction and poetry. My 2014 goals include stirring more nonfiction into the pot, probably in the form of literary biographies. I've had Dostoyevsky's staring at me for a while, and I've recently acquired a few others that look promising, but, as my style is to read the author's work first, any of them would be a time-consuming project to take on. I fully intend to commit to finishing the Proust volumes (another time-eating monster - noticing a pattern, much?). I took a break from poetry towards the end of this year, and I need to get back into reading that regularly, especially as it tends to jump start my writing (and my writing progress/goals is a whole other entry I won't even go into). The only graphic novels I may make time for next year are The Walking Dead Compendiums (I've read the first one, but definitely need to reread it), and I really haven't been in the mood for plays or chapbooks, so we'll see if my interest in those picks up.

To a productive, stimulating, and literary 2014. B)

Fiction

The Abortion – Richard Brautigan
Revenge of the Lawn – Richard Brautigan
The Hawkline Monster – Richard Brautigan
Dreaming of Babylon – Richard Brautigan
Tenth of December – George Saunders
Chrome Yellow – Aldous Huxley
Good Bones and Simple Murders – Margaret Atwood
The Night Trilogy – Elie Wiesel
A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin
Ada – Vladimir Nabokov
Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust
The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood (unfinished)
Light Boxes – Shane Jones

Poetry

Wait – C.K. Williams
Collected Poems – Louise Gluck
Collected Poems 1956 – 1987 – John Ashbery
Notes From the Air: Selected Later Poems – John Asbery
Plainsphere – John Ashbery
Begging For It – Alex Dimitrov (twice)
Quick Question: New Poems – John Ashbery
A Crash of Rhinos – Paisley Rekdal
Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson
Red Doc > - Anne Carson
The Apple Trees at Olema – Robert Hass
Different Hours – Stephen Dunn
Long Division – Andrea Cohen
Kentucky Derby – Andrea Cohen
The Hundred Grasses – Leila Wilson
The Year of the Rooster – Noah Eli Gordon
Slow Lightning – Eduardo C. Corral
What Is Amazing – Heather Christie
In A Beautiful Country – Kevin Prufer
Life on Mars – Tracy K. Smith
Fragile Acts – Allan Peterson
Show and Tell – Jim Daniels
Having A Little Talk with Capital P Poetry – Jim Daniels
Severance Songs – Joshua Corey
Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 – Seamus Heaney
District Circle – Seamus Heaney
Hello, The Roses – Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
The Unknown University – Roberto Bolano

Non Fiction

Jubilee Hitchhiker – William Hjortsberg
Notes of a Native Son – James Baldwin
The Language Instinct – Steven Pinker
Proust’s Overcoat – Lorenza Foschini
The Reason I Jump
I Am Malala – Malala
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books – Nick Hornby

Graphic Novels

Building Stories – Chris Ware

Chapbooks

Then – David Greenspan (Turtleneck Press)
Americans, Guests, or Us – Caren Beilin (New Michigan Press)
The Flung You – Lucy Anderton (New Michigan Press)
No – Ocean Vuong (Yes Yes Books)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

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 second day after it's made. Horrible metaphor, but it more or less applies. Breaking Bad is a show that doesn't spoon-feed you. In a world of instant gratification entertainment, it often requires you to think beyond the dialogue on the page and the forty-two-minute viewing window and piece things together by re-watching, analyzing silences and facial expressions, and thinking as much about what's going on off-camera as what's going on in front of it. If you want to get the full impact of its episodes, anyway.

All that said, I spent a lot of time thinking about what happened in Felina (as with the previous few episodes, I haven't slept well the night after watching, thus, I have thinking time) and re-watched it, and I quickly saw that the drama and goodbyes and everything I'd wanted had been there all along, just not in the form I was craving emotionally. Which may suggest a tough ending to love. But I don't believe you have to be disappointed in an ending just because it made you uncomfortable. There were parts of Felina that just didn't, and may never, sit right with me, but I know that every time I watch it, I'll love it even more.

Walt's intentions for Gretchen and Elliot arguably serve as the only real twist in the last episode, and the whole scene was brilliant from start to finish. I went into the finale with a feeling Walt was going to kill them with the ricin, but the writers took a direction ten times better - don't kill enemies in powerful positions, use them to your advantage. Every detail was perfect, from the mundane rich-people chatter and the butter knife (seems like a weapon that pilot episode Walter White would use) to Walt's casual, unannounced stroll through their house and Elliot nudging Gretchen to shake Walt's hand. This was the last really tense moment of Breaking Bad, and it didn't disappoint.

I didn't think Walt would see Skyler one last time, simply because I didn't see a plausible way for him to make contact. But evidently, the cops watching her house are pretty bad at their jobs, because not only was Todd able to break into the old house in the previous episode, Walt gets past them in this scene, too (really, she might as well have Badger and Skinny Pete sitting out there guarding her). Their whole conversation, from start to finish, was quietly, un-theatrically emotional, with Walt leaving everything he has left to her, literally emptying his wallet and giving her the only thing inside that'll get her a deal with the prosecutors and aid Marie in her grief.

Maybe it's not much in the grand scheme of things, but it's really all Walt has to give Skyler, at this point. He's hijacked her life, her family, her house, her son's innocence, her children's father, none of which he can get back...all he can give her is something he hadn't given much of in the past two years, the truth. He owes it to her to reveal Hank's burial site, and as much as it may hurt, he owes her the truth about his criminal actions: "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really...I was alive." Such a perfect and devastating line, all at once, because even the most anti-Walt viewer can't deny it - he was damn good at running a meth empire. It's just so sad that the empire he chose to build was so destructive and illegal.

Full disclosure here, I kind of lost it when Walt went in to say goodbye to Holly. As unfortunate as it can be for a child to grow up never knowing their parents, it's obviously for the best that she won't have any recollection of the first two years of her life. One can only hope she'll grow up hearing more stories about the man he was before she was born than the man he was after. As for Walt, I felt a bit of sympathy for him here, that he won't get to watch his daughter grow up. His death is his own doing, but if not for the whole meth empire, he still would have died from cancer while she was young, and I can't imagine how much it hurts to know you won't be there, how hard it must be to say a final goodbye to your child.

On the first viewing, I was kind of aghast that Walt and Skyler didn't hug before he left. In fact, I don't know that they touched at all in the whole scene. Their marriage isn't really a marriage anymore, but for some reason, I still expected some affection between two people who had built a lot together (good and bad) and knew they were saying a last goodbye. Or, rather, I expected some sort of physical comfort from Walt as he knowingly leaves his wife to raise their two children on her own. I think what I have to accept (and have, after some thought) is that their love is irredeemable. The last time they saw each other, they got in a knife fight that their son had to break up - there really isn't any coming back from that. I also think that, as much as Skyler may need comforting, Walt doesn't deserve to be the one to provide that to her. He wasn't there for her for two years, and he's certainly lost his right to be there now. And he seems to accept that, which is probably another item on his to-do list.

As for where Skyler goes from here, I see her doing alright, provided she gets lots of therapy. She does tend to do drastic things when her life is going off the rails, but she's a strong woman with her priorities in the right order. She's got a good business background, and I can easily see her starting something out of nothing and achieving her own success. As much as she's been victimized, Skyler doesn't often play the victim card, and she's not going to rely on anyone but herself to raise and provide for her family.

A note about Lydia. The ricin was Chekhov's gun, and a predictable outcome was for it to be used on Lydia, so I didn't think that would end up being the case. But, the finale's job wasn't to throw us for a loop at every turn, and this was an instance in which the predictions held up. I'm okay with that, plot-wise; Walt knew Lydia wouldn't be at the Nazi compound for the big shootout, so he had to kill her some other way, and he probably figured it'd be wise to make it untraceable, since she's high profile in the corporate world. The thing I did take issue with was the double-showcase of the poisoning, first with the shot of it going into Lydia's mug and second with the phone conversation between her and Walt at the end. My husband suggested the latter may have been for Jesse's benefit, so he knew she was dead, which I guess could be fair. But other than that reasoning, it was overkill, especially by Breaking Bad standards.

Then we move to Walt's other weapon, the m60. It seems a lot of viewers took issue with the way it was used, calling it out as a deux ex machina. The whole damn show is practically a Greek tragedy, so, ironically, a duex ex machina would fit quite well in its finale. But I didn't see it that way, rather, I thought it was a brilliant way for a man who's no gun expert, but who knows a lot about science and engineering, to accomplish what was definitely not a one-man job. He's Walter White, for crying out loud, he has to use science! I was wracking my brain all season, wondering how on earth he was going to take out an entire Nazi crew by himself, and once again, the writers pulled through with an impressive and visually awesome solution. How crazy but fitting that a machine takes down the bad guys, swiveling like a finger pointing judgement and blame and mechanically, objectively killing everyone who deserved to die, including its builder who was seemingly out of the trajectory. Even if you're ducking out of the way, the duex ex machina spares NO GUILTY PARTIES!

Well, it spared Todd. But for a very delicious reason.

After the first viewing, I was left wanting so much more out of the scenes at the compound. Jesse and Walt have the oddest, most complex relationship out of any other duo on the show, and I was honestly anticipating a more lengthy dialogue between them. However, much like the scene with Walt and Skyler, this scene requires multiple viewings for dodos like me to realize everything they needed to say, give, and do to each other is all there.

In Walt and Jesse's relationship, there have been many things, or at least the potential for many things: father and son, teacher and student, mentor and apprentice, etc. The thing that's hurt so much over the course of five seasons is to see the man in the authority position (Walt) take advantage of a man with a history of drug problems, emotional neglect, and a general lack of stability and direction. It's such a god damn tragedy that Jesse has a lot of love to give, but he can't seem to get it in return from anybody around him, and I periodically wonder about the astounding influence Walt could have had on him, had they not united under these circumstances. Or, maybe that's wishful thinking on my part, maybe "what could have been" really never could have happened between these two. Maybe their chemistry with each other could only be born out of the chemistry they created in the lab.

Regardless, my point is that after two years of mentally imprisoning him, manipulating him, and hurting him, Walt finally stepped up and took on the role of father and teacher to Jesse, first by protecting him, then by dismissing him. A common hyperbole parents will say is, "I would take a bullet for my child." Walt does this literally, not just by shoving Jesse to the ground, out of the way, but by tackling him and staying on top of him until every last bullet is spent. It's so physical, which makes it so satisfying, at least to someone like me who can name several moments throughout the show when I've wanted a hug between them and didn't get it. This wasn't quite the hug that they had when Walt rescued Jesse from the drug house in season two, but it was every bit as fulfilling.

It doesn't matter to me that Walt went into the compound intending to kill Jesse, what matters is that he willingly changed his plan when he saw what the Nazis had done to him. For once, as he did for his family earlier in the episode, Walt decides to do something that serves someone other than himself. As with Skyler, Walt finally acknowledges that Jesse is in this state because of him, and the only thing he has left to give Jesse is to save him and let him go.

Jesse's reaction, naturally, is to point a gun at Walt, and Walt is willing to give him that as well. But for two reasons, Jesse can't do it: murder isn't really his style, and he doesn't for one more second of his life want to do anything Walt tells him to do. The dialogue between them is short, but powerful. Todd's abuse of Jesse is physical, so it's fitting that Jesse seeks a physical revenge against him. Walt's abuse, however, has largely been verbal, so Jesse's verbal retort to him ("Do it yourself") is his final step towards getting his free-thinking mind back. It's what he should have said to Walt in the very first episode, when Walt blackmailed him into cooking meth, but he wasn't strong enough then. Now, he is.

As I said, the lack of dialogue between the two bothered me, at first, but I've made my peace with it. Perhaps to serve my own emotions, I wanted Walt to tend to Jesse more. I'd never expect as much as a hug, but a pat on the shoulder, make sure he's uninjured, help him unlock the cuffs, maybe even help him kill Todd. An apology, for crying out loud. Something. But, as with Walt's lack of affection for Skyler in their scene, I've come to recognize that he doesn't deserve to be there for Jesse anymore. He gave up his right to be any comfort to Jesse, and the appropriate moment for that is long gone. Walt gave Jesse exactly what he needed (saved him and let him go) and nothing more. We've watched five seasons of Walt manipulating and hurting him with words, so the lack of dialogue was appropriate, just a nod that said, "You're free to go."

What happens to Jesse from here is probably a bigger mystery than it is for Skyler and Marie. People seem to be hopeful that he'll be some ambiguous definition of "okay," and I want more than anything else a decent outcome for him. We've seen him not do well with trauma in the past, but during his captivity, he was sober and adapted, endured. He's so much stronger now than he was, and you're proud of him for surviving, killing Todd, and not killing Walt. But the more I think about it, he could quickly lapse into his old ways. With no money, he won't get the help he likely needs, won't have anywhere to live, won't even be able to buy drugs...kind of a desperate situation. I can fully imagine a scene after the one where he drives away laughing, where he pulls over and just dissolves into sobs because what kind of life can you build with no money? Not a promising one. For my own sanity, I have to push this scenario out of my head, in favor of a happier outcome.

Overall, one of the best TV finales, ever, despite some of the issues I had with it. I was wrong to go into it expecting the intensity and action of 'Ozymandias' and 'Granite State', because that simply wasn't its purpose. Breaking Bad has spent five seasons wowing us with explosions, Pontiac Aztec bowling, so-heavy-it's-hard-to-watch drama, plot twists, and tighty-whities, therefore, the last episode didn't need all that. It needed simplicity and closure, and it achieved that. It needed to kill its anti-hero, but not before he freed those close to him from the prisons his actions put them in. They are all destroyed by the end, maybe irreparably. But they're alive and they'll never cross paths with Walter White again, and that's as unapologetic an ending as the rest of the series has been.

Other notable mentions:

- I'm not sure how I feel about Walt praying when he's sitting in the stolen car, but the lines, "Just get me home, I'll do the rest," were so god damn beautiful.

- SO, so happy we got to see Badger and Skinny Pete in the finale. I had a hunch Walt would enlist their help with some part of his to-do list, I just didn't know how (because, you know, they're not the brightest crayons in the box).

- Poor Marie. Mainly because she lost Hank, of course, but also because of how naive she still is at the end of it all. Another sad note is how much less purple there seems to be in her house. The kitchen counters used to have purple appliances everywhere, and they're mostly gone now.

- Very awesome reveal of Walt in Skyler's house. The whole scene was shot very artistically, because of the column placement in the kitchen, and I appreciate the show not skimping on that stuff just because they had a lot of story to wrap up.

- The reflection of Skyler's face on the toaster was so creepy! Very prominent, to the point where it felt like there were two Skylers watching Walt. And I love that it was done unintentionally. So much attention is paid to the details on this show, that I find it rather amusing when something like that happens accidentally.

- The most telling detail of where Skyler is, mentally, at the end of the show (and perhaps the long road to recovery she's heading towards) is her automated voicemail message. Throughout the series, we've regularly heard the personalized (and, in my opinion, highly annoying) White residence voicemail, and you can tell it's a small point of pride for Skyler, the stay-at-home mom who's always run the house like a well-oiled machine (someone correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't she even change the message to omit Walt during the period he doesn't live there?). Skyler's always been all about the details, whether it's voicemail messages or a fake gambling story about her husband, and it's heartbreaking to see that, for whatever reason, this new shell of who she was hasn't personalized the message in her new home.

- Jesse as Todd's "pet" kind of breaks my soul. His visual transformation is startling enough, but then to see him trotting obediently after Todd when Jack summons him and learning that he's left to cook unsupervised...he's literally being treated like a dog, trained well enough that you don't have to crate it when you're not home. Trained so well that even when he's free, he walks awkwardly to the getaway car like his legs are still shackled. Ugh.

- I could be wrong about this, but I think Jesse is wearing what looks like Todd's shirt (from 'Ozymandias', when he first brings Jesse to the meth lab...I poked around online and some suggest Todd wore it in 'Dead Freight'), which, if true, is yet another detail that speaks to the sociopath that is Todd ("Yeah, me and Jesse, we're BFFs, we share clothes!"). It's probably a matter of practicality more than anything else, and I'm sure Jesse's just grateful to have clean clothes, period, but I can't imagine it feels too great to share clothes with the guy who's been torturing you for several months. And, oddly enough, Todd is wearing a yellow hoodie, similar to what Jesse wore in the first season.

- Speaking of clothes, HOLY CRAP, Uncle Jack wearing purple! Team Marie, all the way!

Monday, September 23, 2013

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 hit a wall of defeat in the beginning of his journey - unable to contact his family, send them his money, follow the story that's being spun about him by the media, and unable to even deliver a "Heisenberg" line to Saul without his hacking cancer cough interrupting. Given his remaining goals and motivations (retrieve his money from Uncle Jack and the gang and get it to Skyler), the vacuum disappearance is looking like it was a bad idea. It serves him well as a temporary getaway from the urgency and madness of events unfolding back home, a getaway that'll allow him some quiet time to develop a plan of attack. But Walt quickly realizes he has to escape his seclusion if he wants to stay in control of his legacy and his money.

That's what it's always been about, the legacy and money for Walt's family, and it seems that when he's on the losing side of a battle with one, the other comes along to kick his ass back into gear. Which is what happens when he contacts Flynn. I've really loved the few scenes we've had with Flynn and Walt after Flynn learns the truth, and this was such a perfect conversation that stayed true to both characters. Flynn, since learning who his dad really is, has done "the right thing" every time, with no hesitation. He's done what every other character on this show was too cowardly or greedy to do themselves, and it's almost a breath of fresh air. The manipulations Walt has used on Skyler, Jesse, and others, therefore, don't work on his own son, and it's almost maddening to watch him try to move Flynn around like one of his chess pieces, without realizing that sometimes, people aren't just going to bend to your will. I don't honestly think it ever crossed his mind to put himself in his son's shoes and entertain the notion that Flynn wouldn't want his blood money, that perhaps he'd rather be poor and live a life completely disconnected from the man his father became.

It's a powerful scene and defeats Walt enough to call the D.E.A. and turn himself in. But as I mentioned, when family is looking to defeat him, the legacy swoops in and puts him back on his feet, and in a classic Breaking Bad-style coincidence, Walt stumbles onto a Charlie Rose interview with Gretchen and Elliot. I've been waiting for Grey Matter to come back into play, as it's arguably the machine that first stirred Heisenberg from hibernation all those years ago. While he started cooking meth to provide for his family, it clearly becomes more than that, over time, and that's largely because of his bitterness over how his partnership with Grey Matter went down. The Heisenberg brand of blue crystal is very much Walt's second shot at the empire business, and he's hell bent on preserving it.

The Charlie Rose interview gives him two things to be pissed about - Gretchen and Elliot denying his influence on the company and the revelation that the blue meth is back on the market. Regarding the latter...Walt doesn't overtly jump to conclusions, but the reappearance of blue meth should signal to him that Jesse is alive and cooking. It's been safe to assume (and I have, through this whole season) that Walt never gave Todd the exact recipe for Heisenberg-quality meth - another attempt to preserve his brand. Hence Todd's sub-par cooking. Jesse is the only other person who knows the formula for The Blue, thus, zomg, not only did the Nazis steal Walt's money, they didn't deliver on their deal to kill Jesse. More and more reason for him to buy that gun to take them down.

As for the ricin...Lydia seemed the primary candidate, up to this point (she's corporate, high profile, someone who may need to be killed without a trace), but I can't help wondering if it's for Gretchen and Elliot, now (also very high profile and would require an untraceable death). I can't imagine a plausible scenario in which that could happen, but it's a nice idea, Walt having two empires to take down using two separate kill methods (the duality, guys, THE DUALITY).

A note about Skyler. I really thought she was going to die in this episode (given that more main characters than Hank and Walt will very likely die, I actually was expecting a lot more fatalities than there were out of this episode, particularly Skyler's and/or Marie's). The scene with Todd and the boys in her house was terrifying and I was so sure we were saying goodbye to her right then. It'll be interesting to see what type of end she meets; if not death, it'll surely be prison, as she's proven loyal to Walt and likely won't flip on him, at this point. That said, she remains the smartest person on this show, other than Walt. She's the only one we've seen escape from sticky situations the way Walt has, so maybe there is some hope for freedom in her future.

From the smart, we go to the stupid. I'll probably get crap for saying this, so I'll preface it with this: the Jesse/Todd/Andrea scenario was completely devastating to watch, after which I had to pause the show and walk away from the TV. Nothing about this episode has sat with me more than imagining Brock waking up in the morning to find his mother dead on their porch, and it's always especially upsetting when someone innocent of the crimes in the show gets caught in the line of fire.

That said, there was a trio of really stupid moves committed by these three characters that led to this outcome. First, Todd overlooked the paperclip he supplied Jesse with, which aided Jesse's escape. Second, Jesse made a hasty escape, instead of plotting and waiting for perhaps a better chance (a very impressive acrobatic escape, however, given the injuries he's sustained via Todd's torture, but not totally implausible, as I suppose one can physically do almost anything with the right motivation). And third, Andrea turned into the dumb chick in a horror movie by opening the door to creepy Meth Damon.

The first two slip-ups were believable. Todd isn't the brightest crayon in the box, and given his delusions that he and Jesse can still be buddies through all this, he cares for him and lets the leash out a little too much. Jesse's botched escape was a result of too much acting and too little thought on his part, something he has a history of doing (see: extinguishing a fire by dumping out the drinking water when the RV breaks down in the desert). Imagine Walt in Jesse's situation. He would have taken his time with an escape plan, cased the joint for security cameras, had Todd leave the tarp off for several nights, maybe even waited until Todd decided not to keep him in a cell at all. Walt very likely could have escaped this scenario, but Jesse just isn't equipped with any ability to think his way out of it (though the irony is that he's very physically capable of escape, whereas Walt may not have been).

The third mistake was Andrea opening the door to Todd, and then stepping onto the porch, leaving him practically in the doorway of her unguarded house with her sleeping child inside. I take issue with how that played out, because Andrea has never struck me as dumb, and if you're a single parent home alone with a child and someone you don't know knocks on your door late at night, WHAT REASON ON EARTH do you have to answer it? Her actions didn't sit well with me. Would she have been killed if she hadn't answered? Yes. Todd broke into the White house unseen by the cops watching it, so he could easily break in and kill Andrea that way. I just...liked her, I guess? She wasn't a significant character, but I appreciated the writers showing the other side of drug addiction, where an addict turns her life around for the better. She seemed like a strong chick, and I really hated to see her go out with kind of a stupid move.

Though Jesse's been called the show's moral compass for a while, his morality badge has been eclipsed by his weakness and brokenness, this season. Understandably so, given what he's gone through. And I'm sure many people, myself included, felt that he should be punished for his crimes. Todd's punishments, however, arguably go far beyond what he deserves, and it's amazing that the writers have put the viewer in a spot where they may actually want him to die now, instead of continuing to live in hell. I can't say I'm one of those who feels that way. I've mostly believed Jesse will survive the series (despite his unfortunate last name and his more recent half-mutilated face mirroring that of Gus Fring), I'm just wondering if he's strong enough to come out of all this and someday (with lots of therapy) be okay.

On that note, the climax the show is leading up to in the finale is, in my mind, Walt and Jesse meeting once again (I could see a Walt/Skyler meeting, but other than that, I think Walt has made closure with all his other major relationships). This is the duo that needs more closure than any other on the show, and there's really no telling how it'll go down. Walt is coming after Jack and his boys and may end up saving Jesse by default, in the process (though he's likely going there knowing Jesse will be there, now that he knows the blue meth is back in circulation, so perhaps he'll have to choose beforehand whether to kill or save Jesse). Jesse now has more reason than ever to ally himself with Walt, as Todd has just killed Andrea, but maybe said alliance isn't a total given. After all, killing Andrea merely puts Todd on even footing with Walt in Jesse's eyes, because Walt also killed a woman Jesse loved. I want to say a small part of me thinks Walt will arrive at the Nazi base, see what they've done to Jesse and be shocked into a moment of compassion to save him (he's already "lost" his biological son, so maybe he'll be compelled to cling to his surrogate one?). But it's probably just some completely implausible outcome that I want to happen, because THE FEELS.

BULLET POINTS TO THE BACK OF THE HEAD:

- Of course, the vacuum place would be an actual place. Yet another devious man hiding in plain sight.

- Saul brushing his hair out of the way for his ID picture: hilarity. I hope this isn't the last we see of Saul, but his goodbye to Walt made it seem that way.

- I don't know that this is foreshadowing her own sort of death sentence, but Skyler hearing static when the police interviewed her mirrors what Walt heard when he received his cancer diagnosis in the first episode. Lovely detail.

- Barrels serve so many different uses in this show, that you kind of have to love that Walt had to ride all the way to New Hampshire in the barrel of a truck.

- I don't know that it's necessarily foreshadowing anything, but the mounted deer head serving as a resting place for the Heisenberg hat and the chemo bag is a nice touch.

- Americone Dream? Rubbing in the irony a little too much there with your ice cream choice, Todd.

- God damn, Aaron Paul. There aren't too many male actors who will commit to the raw, high-pitched, animalistic, "I Just Watched My Loved One Die" crying the way he does.

- Holly really needs to wear something other than pink...it's just not making things look good for her. Additionally, I'm pretty sure those were dogs on her pajamas, which is really the last animal you want to be compared to on this show. :/

- For all his completely evil, heartless acts, the writers definitely like to show the adorable side of Todd, more often than not (the sly grin when Jesse mentions him on the video, bringing Jesse ice cream and practically tucking him in for the night, dressing up for his date with Lydia).

- Jesse is Walt's weak "son", while Flynn has quickly proved to be the strong one. Rather than let himself be turned in to the D.E.A. in the first episode, Jesse gives in to Walt's blackmailing; by contrast, Flynn almost immediately turns his dad in to the police, knowingly shattering his whole family. Hence why Walt's always had a more involved relationship with Jesse than with his real son - he can control Jesse, but not Flynn. DUALITY, GUYS.

- Love, love, LOVE the use of the theme song in this episode.

One more hour of this fantastic show. Let the grieving process commence.

Monday, September 16, 2013

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. Rather, we get a cold open that's so good it's worth the wait to get back to the shootout. These last eight episodes are so packed with plot, I wasn't sure they'd have room for all the artistic and visual details, but the flashback alone delivered all that, ending with the fade out of Walt, Jesse, and the RV and the fade in of the current shootout scene. There's so much to be said about the fact that these two defining events take place in the same spot, that Hank dies exactly where Walt first cooked and is buried where Walt hid his money. Throughout the whole series, the ABQ backdrop has played a "character" that's stayed the same, while all the players move around it, and this opener displayed that perfectly.

As for the flashback itself, it's almost comical now to see Walt and Jesse when they first started cooking. No one had any idea how dark and awful things would become. It's a sad reminder how far gone everyone's become from just over a year ago, but also a brilliant reminder of the transformation this show has accomplished. We also see the beginnings of Walt's evolving lying and manipulation skills - he rehearses them...then flubs his line anyway. But Skyler isn't suspicious yet, so she buys it, even being sold on a weekend getaway (later in the show, by contrast, she isn't so easily convinced by Walt to pack her bags and leave home).

And we're finally back to the shootout. Gomez is dead, as many probably presumed he was the minute he decided to stop playing by the book and join Hank in his chase. And, of course, Hank goes out the only real way he could have gone out, accepting his loss and making no attempt to beg for his life. It's a very "Hank" thing to do, just as Walt, in true "Walt" fashion, tries desperately to talk the Nazi gang into sparing Hank. It doesn't work, just as none of Walt's talks work anymore, and Hank is killed, Walt unknowingly having dug his grave for him (talk about blood money).

This is a pivotal moment similar to the moment Walt let Jane die, because we see him change into someone darker than we imagined him to be. We knew he was a murderer in the very first episode, but we didn't realize the evil he was capable of until he watched a girl choke to death on her own vomit. In Ozymandias, we already know Walt is capable of watching those close to him die and even killing them (Mike), but Hank is the first family death, and it hits him hard because it's such a huge failure of his main goal with the meth empire from the get-go: make sure the family is taken care of. He hits the ground, grief-stricken. But then he gets up, and it's pure anger. It's no longer, "Give Jesse a quick and painless death," it's, "Shoot him in the head while I watch, but wait, go ahead and torture him first, and hold up, before you leave, let me twist the knife a little more with a tiny secret about his dead girlfriend."

I have to say, I was so hoping Jesse would have run off to the cow house to hide, but it never looked likely he'd have managed any kind of escape from the situation. Nevertheless, this scene hurt to watch, for many reasons. In the first place, the writers on this show are master manipulators. Over the past six episodes, the one thing I've been grieving most is the slow death of Walt and Jesse's relationship*. It should be clear, especially from this scene, that there is no friendship redeemable between them, and YET, the moment Walt knows Jesse is under his car and the Nazi gang gets ready to send Walt on his way, some deranged, emotional, irrational part of me starts yelling, "YES, Walt and Jesse can escape together, they have a CHANCE!" Whether this comes from the show's brilliantly manipulative writing and acting or from my own personal wish to see this mentor/student, father/son relationship be as amazing as it could/should/would have been, my hopes are obviously destined not to come true.

The Jane reveal was probably the show's biggest and longest running secret, and I'd long ago written off Jesse finding out the truth. The only way I saw it happening was in a passionate moment of anger on Walt's part, and even then, it didn't seem likely to happen. Couldn't have been more wrong. It blindsided me, and while I've always been one of those Team Walt fans, he completely lost me when he did this. It was cold and done purely out of cruelty - unlike past instances where Walt took great efforts to justify to others his criminal actions and make them realize it was done for their own good, this revelation made no mention of Walt keeping Jesse's best interest at heart. He watched her die. He could have saved her and didn't. Simple as that. And poor Jesse doesn't even have the strength to lose his mind over what he's hearing, his body merely going limp as he's carried away.

It was hard enough last week watching Hank make his victory phone call to Marie after arresting Walt because it screamed of finality, of his story arc coming to an end. But good god, it was harder watching Marie walk into the car wash gloating that Hank captured Walt, with no idea that her world was about to be shattered. Marie is a quirky character, annoying more often than not, but it's hard not to feel for her - not only did she have a strong marriage, but she has no kids. Hank was more or less everything to her, and now that her relationship with Skyler is crumbling, she's essentially set to become a very lonely widow. If she survives the ending, that is.

I'm not quite sure why Skyler relented to Marie's demands so easily (or why she even took Marie at her word, regarding the arrest). She certainly didn't cave when she met with Hank in the season opener. I was also expecting Walt to call her before anything too serious went down between her and Marie, but for whatever reason, he didn't call, and Skyler agreed to tell Walt Jr. about the drug empire his parents created. Little bit of a stretch for me - Skyler has proven in recent seasons to be pretty good at finagling her way out of situations, so I expected her to pull through this time. Then again, the last she saw of Walt was him running out of the car wash looking beyond worried, so maybe her own subsequent worry got the best of her and she faltered in this moment.

I don't have much to say about Walt Jr.'s finding out the truth about his parents, other than R.J. Mitte finally had his moment to shine and he more than delivered. It hurt so much watching his facial reactions that I almost forgot to listen to what he was saying. I think he reacted exactly the way he should have, most notably, when he became the first character in the history of this show to call the police on his own family with very little hesitation. Well done, Flynn, thanks for showing the rest of your screwed up family how a decent human being acts to an awful situation.

The fight between Walt and Skyler was intense enough, but there was a lot more going on in that scene. Flynn, having spent the whole series choosing sides between his parents now faces the notion of not really wanting to choose either of them. Walt is finally starting to not believe his own lies: We are a family. But even as he says it after the fight, his face says otherwise, as he can't possibly look at his wife and son cowering on the floor in fear of him as any kind of real family. Similarly, when he kidnaps Holly in some last ditch effort to preserve the most innocent, un-corrupted part of his family, she wakes him up to the ridiculousness of his idea working with one simple word: "Mama."

Walt's phone call to Skyler was very clearly an act to absolve her of blame for everything that's happened. I'm not quite sure why that went over so many viewers' heads, as Walt was very obviously not acting like himself, but rather an over-dramatic movie version of a bad guy. Maybe the result of people watching so much dumbed-down television is that they miss key parts of the story on a show that does very little hand-holding. But I digress, except to say, beyond impressive acting from Cranston and Gunn during the scene.

A note about Jesse, or rather, several notes, because while his character tends to get lost among discussions of the White and Schrader family dynamics, he remains the main character on the show I've loved unconditionally and will probably continue to love until the end (criminal and all - DON'T JUDGE ME). I hurt for practically every character in this episode (excepting Todd and his crew), but more than anyone else, I hurt for Jesse. One could argue it's because he's suffering worse than anyone right now - physically, at least. Personally, I have other reasons, as well. Over the course of the series, we've seen the rise, triumph, and fall of just about every character, good and bad. Gus and Tuco were reigning kings of their industries, the Whites and the Schraders lived happy, humble, normal lives. Jesse, by contrast, isn't in a great place when we first meet him. He's a junkie amateur drug dealer who never made anything of himself, but who also never had supportive, loving figures in his life (I've always wondered about his parents' decision to have another child so many years after they had him). Anyone who ever has loved him - his aunt, Jane - has been a temporary presence, confirming that at the end of the day, Jesse has nothing and nobody. And, to take someone with nothing and break them even further, as Walt and Todd do, is unfathomable. I certainly saw meth slavery as a possible outcome for Jesse, but that didn't make it any easier to watch, and I can't bear to think that the worst is yet to come for him.

Another thing worth noting is a "family man" comparison between Jesse and Walt that came to light in this episode. Walt's original motive for deciding to cook and sell meth is to ensure his family is financially taken care of after he dies, and he takes some extreme measures to shield them from the horrors and consequences of his crimes. The irony, of course, is that he's done nothing but hurt them and put them in danger, and even the fortune he earned for them isn't necessarily safe in their custody. Jesse creates very similar goals when he grows close to Andrea and Brock, but unlike Walt, he has so far accomplished those goals. To ensure their safety, and that Andrea didn't find out about his meth business, he quickly distanced himself from a close family relationship with her and her son by breaking up with her (it took Walt until this episode to break ties with his family and selflessly get Skyler off the hook for his crimes). Jesse then gives Andrea money to move into a better place (Skyler, as I said, has yet to really have Walt's fortune in her custody, let alone use it). It's an illustration of a very fundamental difference between Walt and Jesse - Jesse is selfless in his actions and Walt, until this episode, has not been. With a picture of Andrea and Brock as a constant reminder of what'll happen if he doesn't obey, things aren't looking great for Jesse - Walt is the one who would talk his way out of such a situation; Jesse will merely keep taking the hits to save those he loves.

Some more amazing visual stuff:

- The closeup on the pot of boiling water(?) in the flashback reminded us of the mass gunfire going on in the current shootout, which I thought was so god damn beautiful...until I thought of it as a foreshadowing of sorts. And then, to my own horror, wondered if Jesse's "Put me in a coma," line could also be foreshadowing. :(

- Perhaps another bit of foreshadowing - during Walt and Skyler's knife fight, there's a quick shot of them on the floor, knife raised in the foreground, with Flynn directly behind it in the background. It doesn't create a cohesive image of Flynn being stabbed, but it's enough of a visual shot to drive me to that connection.

- A very stark Walt/Jesse contrast - Jesse's "victory move" when Walt is arrested is to spit in his face, and Walt's reaction is to bulldoze Jesse into a truck, almost taking him down - an impressive feat, given Walt is handcuffed at the time. Fast forward to their positions being reversed when Walt gives Jesse to the Nazi gang, Walt's final punch (the Jane reveal) is so much more cruel and effective and causes such a devastatingly weak and broken reaction in Jesse. Jesse had it right all along - whatever you want to happen with Walt, the exact opposite will happen.

- When Jesse looks to the sky and sees the two birds before he's nearly killed...such a great shot, but my brain was mush by that point, so I'm not too clear on what it symbolized. Thoughts, anyone?

- The phone-or-knife shots were delicious. In the flashback, Skyler picks up the phone, so the second time around, we're already betting on her going for the knife.

Can we just hand this whole cast next year's Emmy awards now, please?

* The only thing that helps me through said grief is the actors' real life bromance. Google image search it. Trust me, you'll feel better.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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 first, I was labeling Todd as an alternative, soulless Jesse Pinkman type, but he's really a fascinating combination of Walt and Jesse - like Walt, he understands and accepts that lives need to be sacrificed, in order to benefit the business, and accompanies said sacrifices with emotionless rationalizations. But like Jesse, he's also very eager to please his mentor/boss and work hard for a pat on the head. When watching Todd and Lydia in this episode, I couldn't help but think of Jesse and Walt in their partnership days (uh, minus Todd's awkward touching and tea drinking), and Lydia even pulls a Walt-style manipulation, taking advantage of Todd's feelings for her to encourage improvement in his cooking skills. I was skeptical about the writers introducing these characters to us so late in the series, but their development has been compelling to watch.

So, Huell is a great pickpocket, but it's apparently not difficult to drum up some good old scare tactics and play him. Whether this trickery came off plausible or not really isn't the issue, for me, because the fact of the matter is, we don't know Huell that well and can therefore reasonably believe he'd be fooled by Hank's plan. I just liked the scene because we got to see Hank once again doing some great Cop Stuff like the good old days, and because their staged meat-for-brains photo (and Marie subsequently also referring to it as brains when she sees it in the trash) was hilarious. I've said it before and I'll say it again - as unimaginably dark as these last episodes are, it's a real measure of the writers' talents that they're still able to inject a little humor, here and there.

Walter Jr. working at the car wash crossed my mind at some point, I think while watching the first half of season five, and I immediately assumed Skyler would never let it happen, as she's been determined to keep her kids completely detached from her and Walt's illegal activity. So, I was definitely surprised to see her teaching him to cashier (also, I thought part of the money laundering involved Skyler running fake transactions through the register, and that would seem harder to pull off if she's putting others on the register). That aside, this was another brilliant comic relief scene of sorts played by them and Saul, likening back to the awkward Jesse/Walt/Skyler dinner from the first half of the season. I about died laughing just from the way Junior stared at Saul. R.J. Mitte has aged a good five to six years since the show began, but he continues to capture Junior's innocence/ignorance so well.

There isn't much to say about Walt's trip to see Andrea and Brock, other than how downright creepy it was. I don't know what it says about Walt that he can nonchalantly make small talk with a kid he poisoned, especially while said kid is sitting in a very "Walter Jr." setting - eating his breakfast. But it obviously doesn't say anything "Mr. Chips" about him.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to coherently talk about the second half of the episode, because, you know...FEELS! OVERDRIVE! And stuff. It's the kind of television you want to watch with a buddy, so you have someone to clutch desperately when your heart starts pounding for these characters. First, Walt's drive to the money site. Something felt off to me when watching/hearing the phone conversation between him and Jesse, and while I initially attributed it to the scene just not working for me, it wasn't until I thought about it some more later that I realized I was totally wrong. It's supposed to feel off. To the viewer, it's meant to feel like a weird exchange, because this is the first time we see Jesse outsmarting Walt. When you realize that, the whole scene is scary and awesome, all at once. THE STUDENT HAS BECOME THE TEACHER kind of stuff.

I love that Jesse has grown a pair and decided not to be pushed around by others, anymore, but seeing Walt get duped so easily was honestly uncomfortable to watch (especially after his own plan to flush out Jesse through Brock and Andrea fails). We know that the Walt from earlier seasons would never fall for such a poorly constructed trick, but this is what the writers have carefully been building since the end of season 5.1: a series of seemingly small slips on Walt's part (leaving the Whitman book out, for one) leading to the eventual fall of his whole empire. And while Walt going after Jesse's weakness failed (albeit, because Hank intercepted Andrea's call to Jesse), Jesse expertly nails Walt's weakness (his money), which allows him to outsmart his former partner into revealing everything he's done (though I'm assuming this phone call can't be used in court) and taking them straight to his money. It's hard to watch the tables get turned on a man who's always had the upper hand, because it's further evidence of the end being near, of the fact that there's no going back to the RV days or the taking down Gus days. But it's also a bit satisfying to see Jesse and Hank pull a Heisenberg of their own.

I can't forget to mention how brilliantly the scene was shot, either, forgoing the traditional pan back and forth between two characters on the phone and instead opting to just show Walt. Breaking Bad does this frequently, showing only one character during a two-person phone conversation, but in the past, we would only hear the dialogue from the person on screen - half the conversation. The difference here is hearing both characters' dialogue - Jesse's voice without seeing his face, instantly turning him into an ominous mastermind who has full control (for once!) over Walt (he actually calls him Walt as well, instead of Mr. White, and I wonder if that feels as weird for Aaron Paul to say as it does for us to hear). Combine that with the amazing driving shots and - gah. Even without the scene that followed, this episode owned me in that moment.

As if we're not yelling, "Walt, it's a trick, you're smarter than this!" at the TV during that scene, it's even more alarming how long it takes him to figure out he's been played. Even when he pulls up to the site and sees no one there, he's so shaken by the thought of his money being destroyed that it takes him a good minute of wandering around before he starts kicking himself. Damn, Walt, you be really far gone, yo. So, okay, next step, call Todd and his Nazi family out to kill Jesse. Except, once again, his plan fails when he finally finds out something everyone else has known all along - Jesse is with the D.E.A. (there's been a lot of that character ignorance throughout the show, mostly things that the audience knows that Jesse doesn't (Jane) or that Hank doesn't (Heisenberg), but we rarely see it happen to Walt). Bryan Cranston's silent acting from behind the rock made this scene. For a moment, you don't actually know which way he's going to go, if he'll go back on his "no killing family" promise and sacrifice Hank in order to off Jesse, or if he'll call off the hit. And honestly, I still can't decide what his real decision was. We know he told them not to come, but the way in which he said it made me wonder if he secretly did want them to come. If he really wanted to cancel the hit, he could have said something more believable, like, "Never mind, wrong guy, it's not Jesse," or, "Never mind, I lost him." I don't know. The way the dialogue played out made it seem like he just wasn't genuinely calling off the hit.

Walt's surrender is a great scene because, again, the audience knows something these characters don't - we've seen the flash forwards and know that Walt not only makes it to fifty two, he makes it as a free man. It allows us to have a different reaction to seeing him get arrested, because we know, essentially, he's going to get out of it somehow, so we instead start thinking, okay, how is he going to escape this? And this is where you start to see it all coming. Todd's clan showing up, the shootout, probable death for Hank and Gomez. I have such an immense appreciation for a show that meticulously utilizes color imagery and poetry and other literary techniques, but will then turn around and pay tribute to classic film with the equivalent of a modern-day western shootout. In any other show, this ending would have been tacky and cliched, but Breaking Bad combines the literary and the surreal and the theatrical so well that you're more than happy to be along for the ride.

Predictable as it was all meant to be (the arrest, Hank's victory speech and phone call to Marie that had very finite undertones, the shootout that inevitably kills Hank and Gomez), this is perhaps just another Vince Gilligan trick. Breaking Bad loves to make us think we're going in one direction before taking us in another, so it's entirely possible this obvious setup is meant to make us think Hank will die, when he really won't. Either way, I can't wait to find out. Personally, I think it's time for Hank and Gomez to die, but then, I haven't been as big a fan of Hank's more recent coldness and his manipulative, abuse treatment of Jesse (i.e. his Heisenberg phase). Furthermore, I'm in probably a minority group of fans who still wants to see Walt defeat Hank, even if/when the cancer eventually kills him. The cops getting killed would also make sense here, given Jesse's earlier warning to them that whatever they want to happen, the exact opposite would happen. The shootout certainly lives up to that prediction.

As for Jesse's fate, I've longed believed he wouldn't be killed off (or that he would at least make it to the last episode before dying), so I don't see him dying in the shootout. But I also don't see a feasible way for him to escape. If such is the case, and if his D.E.A. partners are killed, he's in for what I can only imagine is pure hell at the hands of Walt and/or Lydia and Todd's crew. I don't know why on earth they would choose to keep him alive, at this point, as his only strength to them is his cooking ability, which they've already got Walt for. I'm torn between desperately wanting a character I love to survive and knowing that if he does survive, it'll likely be as a captive to some pretty awful, violent people. But I don't think his time is up yet, so it'll be interesting to see how anyone will justify keeping him around.

Can I end this by talking about PINK? You can arguably predict a good portion of the death, tragedy, and violence on Breaking Bad by looking out for the color pink. The most notable instance of this was the pink teddy bear from the cold opens throughout season two. It was not only connected to the plane crash that killed a lot of passengers, but it ran tangent to Jane's death as well, showing up on a mural in her bedroom (Walt also wears a pink sweater in the season's last episode, in case it wasn't obvious who was to blame for ALL DEATH, EVERYWHERE). Holly is dressed almost exclusively in pink, and in one scene, it's almost horrifying to see her wearing a pink hoodie with bear ears, essentially turning her into a pink bear. I don't think that necessarily signifies she will die by the show's end, but maybe it foreshadows the deaths of those close to her - the White family. Also, not to counter my "Jesse will live" theory, but his last name is PINKman...though again, that could merely suggest that everyone around him dies while he lives. Anyway, I bring all this up because Saul shows up in a pink shirt in this episode, foreshadowing the shootout that we can be certain will have a body count. Props to the show for never forgetting those details.

Skyler is going to wonder where the hell Walt is, and I don't know that the Fugue State story would work a second time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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 was before. On the surface, his newest "adopted father" shares his ambition of wanting Walt to go down for his crimes, but what Jesse doesn't realize is Hank is probably even worse than Walt, as Hank suggested himself - Walt at least cares for Jesse. Hank at first acts like he cares (takes Jesse to his house, gives him food, a bed, etc....he even buckles his seat belt, which seemed kind of sweet, but was really just meant to show the transfer of Jesse's "captivity" from Walt to Hank), but he quickly reveals to Gomez that he doesn't care if Jesse dies, as long as he gets what he needs to go after Walt. Ugh, Jesse can't catch a break.

I would have loved to see more of Jesse's taped confession, though I understand it's not necessary for the viewer (and with so few episodes left, only absolutely necessary scenes will be included). There's so much weight behind such a simple line: "He was my teacher," and it obviously would have been fun to indulge in his telling of their whole story. Also very interesting to watch was Jesse describing Walt to Hank as the Devil (and Hank's facial reaction) - this is perhaps the first time we've gotten Jesse's perspective on Walt, and even when describing his evil side, Jesse puts him on a pedestal of sorts by calling him the Devil. Fair enough - Jesse, after all, is the only one who's seen Walt's full transformation and just about every bad thing he's done. But his warning to Hank and Gomez shows the real toll Walt's abuse has taken on Jesse and just how much Jesse fears him.

And on that note, Hank's "Heisenberg" transformation (Hanksenberg?) is really no less scary than Walt's transformation, because when a man of the law starts taking illegal measures to get his way, there's no telling what his limits are. Hank's actions since finding out Walt's secret have been careless and frazzled, but with Jesse, we finally see him acting firm and in control, because he has his pawn and can feel a step ahead of Walt, again. He even attempts to lie to Marie to get her out of their house, though he's apparently not as good a liar as Walt is, and Marie quickly gets the truth out of him. I think Hank's unlawful actions will be his downfall, though, just as Walt's crimes are catching up with him. It's really too bad Hank has chosen this route to catch Walt, though one could argue he didn't have many other choices.

The scenes in the Schrader house were both fun and hard to watch. Fun, because zomg, Jesse's in there, surrounded by purple, drinking from a DEA mug, and it's weird, and is Marie really making him lasagna, because maybe she can feed and hug him and he can be the son she never had?! Hard, because the "Here, let me feed you and help you sober up" situation quickly dissolves into coldness and coercion and control and manipulation on Hank's part. As many times as Jesse's been through this abuse, whether at the hands of Walt, Mike, or Hank, it never gets easier to watch, and as much as Jesse wants revenge on Walt, I really wished he'd have stood up to Hank's pushiness and walked away from the scene (though that probably isn't an option, at this point, without him being arrested).

A note about Marie, who has her own Heisenberg transformation in this episode (surely her "untraceable poison" Google searches won't come back to haunt her, will they?). It's interesting how much quicker she is to become Hank's ally than Skyler was to become Walt's. Both men are carrying out illegal activities, at this point, and risking their lives to do so, but Marie stands by her husband much more steadfastly. It speaks to the strength of their marriage; The Schraders have never appeared to be a particularly affectionate or physically close couple, compared to the Whites, and yet their relationship has always seemed more solid than Skyler and Walt's. Marie's loyalty to Hank trumps any loyalty to her own sister, and if and when Hank goes down, Marie will undoubtedly go with him.

Skyler haters got more fuel added to their fire in this episode, when she suggested putting a hit on Jesse. Her and Walt switching roles here would really be comical, you know, if they weren't talking about killing someone. Skyler even uses Walt's language, saying, "Deal with it." Her actions are completely understandable, of course. Her priority is to protect her family, and it only makes sense to her to eliminate a potential threat to her kids. It even seems like an easy fix, to her, because, like Hank, she doesn't know Jesse as anything more than a junkie drug dealer, so why should this be any different from the handful of others Walt's already killed? Walt's reply gives her a bit of a sobering glimpse into a different side of his criminal life - his fatherly affection for a "kid" who is not his son, as well as his assertion that he has enough control over Jesse to talk him out of seeking revenge. Which must leave Skyler horrified. I do feel for her - she did make the wrong choice in sticking by Walt's side through all this, but, much like Walt himself, she likely never saw the full magnitude of that decision at the time she made it, and now she's got no choice but to keep descending into this pit (grave, perhaps) with Walt.

One can only hope their kids aren't dragged in with them. I wonder if Walt Jr. will find out the truth about his parents, but even if he doesn't, I imagine him discovering Walt and Jesse's relationship would be devastating enough. Walt has never appeared to have a particularly close relationship with his son, and their hug by the pool didn't leave him as emotional as I wanted. It's a sad revelation and even more sad to consider that Walt's shown more affection for Jesse than for Walt Jr., spent more time with Jesse, taught him more (meanwhile, he can barely teach Walt Jr. how to drive), etc. Sure, Jesse arguably needs more guidance than Walt Jr., but Walt's presence in his son's formative years is still valuable. Everyone's goal on this show is to shield the kids from all this (and man, thank god Holly is too young to remember it all, should she survive), but part of me doesn't see that happening in the end.

Most of Walt's actions in this episode show his continued unraveling. We're used to seeing him get away with everything (as Jesse said to Hank), but we all knew that gasoline smell wasn't coming out of the carpet, no matter how much money he offered the cleaners. He then concocts probably his stupidest lie ever that both Skyler and Walt Jr. see through (for different reasons - and Walt Jr.'s lie ends up being better than his father's, go figure). Walt's always used money and lies to get out of his messes, and for the first time, neither of those work for him, thus making it look more probable that he's going down for his crimes.

I enjoy the continued ambiguity of Walt's feelings for Jesse. He's done a lot of things to save Jesse and a lot to hurt him, but it's always been in Jesse's best interest, and we're kept guessing on the extent of his love even when Walt tells Skyler he can't have Jesse killed. There doesn't appear to be much reason for Walt to spare Jesse, now, but he still insists on it, and I suppose we're to believe it's because Walt loves him. But maybe there's also a pride issue driving him - that killing his protege marks a failure for him. Or maybe Walt just can't bear to lose his pawn (he does, after all, think that Jesse's had a change of heart, since he didn't burn down the White house). Walt learns this isn't the case by the end of the episode, but we should probably keep in mind that we don't know exactly what he was asking Todd - we're led to believe he's putting a hit on Jesse, but maybe it's for Hank instead? Maybe he's just asking them to capture Jesse and not kill him, so Walt can swoop in and reason with him as he still believes he has the ability to do?

As for Jesse, he's very much the rabid dog Saul suggests he is, and he's ready to use his teeth (it's too bad he jumped to the wrong conclusion in the plaza - damn creepy man looking like a killer!). Who knows what on earth his alternate plan is, but I imagine it has something to do with either tracking down Skyler or bringing in Lydia to somehow threaten Walt's empire. Whatever it is, it's nice to see Jesse forming his own plan - not just because he's sort of figuratively coming back to life, but also because he's starting to stand on his own and refuse the manipulations of others.

BULLETS:

- I love the "flash forward, then backtrack" ordering of the first half of the episode; instead of picking up where the last one left off, with Jesse about to torch the White house, we see Walt arriving at the house and taking a suspenseful search of the place before realizing Jesse isn't even there. We're left to guess for a bit what happened to him, until the scene flashes back to where the last episode left off and we discover Hank beat Walt to the house and took Jesse away (there's a great little "cheap trick" here of Hank driving away literally seconds before Walt pulls up, but I'm just so along for the ride at this point that it totally worked for me).

- I don't know why Walt had to specifically list his genitals when telling Skyler where the gasoline spilled, but it was so god damn hilarious, and I love the writers for again managing to sneak some humor into all this darkness.

- Another tighty whities scene! I'll take every last one they want to give us in these last few episodes.

- Not even gonna lie, when Jesse started his confession video explaining that Walt was his teacher, I was holding my breath for a high school flashback of Jesse in his class. It's something I've wanted this whole damn series, but I know there's no reason for it at this point, other than to indulge viewers like me. :)

- There's been a lot of "jail bar" imagery in the more recent seasons, mostly on Walt using shadows from window blinds, so it was awesome to see the quick shot of Hank through the bars on the back of his kitchen chair. Perhaps a sign of what's to come of his character. Yet another detail I so appreciate this show for taking the time to include.

- So many pool scenes on this show (usually at the White house, but at the hotel in this episode), but no one ever gets in the water (Skyler being the exception). I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough to go into all the religious imagery/metaphor this show has, but one can clearly see there's always a lot of water and no one's getting cleansed.

- Um, was anyone else reminded of Mike and his granddaughter when they saw the little girl run up to the man in the plaza Jesse suspected was a hit man? Jesus, guys, we miss him enough, already!

Monday, August 26, 2013

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 are certainly enough confessions to warrant the title as well, though, whether forced or voluntary, true or false.

More than said confessions, however, I feel what will receive more scrutiny in this episode is the plausibility of paths/actions taken by Hank and Jesse. In Hank, we see a D.E.A. agent who's proven to be fairly good at his job (though he may not have always gotten credit for it) fumble the biggest discovery of his life (Walt = Heisenberg) so badly that he's now being implicated as the drug kingpin he was chasing for a year and therefore unable to move on turning Heisenberg in. Walt's video, on its own, is completely brilliant and plausible, and you marvel at how every piece of the story so far matches this Hank-as-Heisenberg alternate reality, just as much as it matches the Walt-as-Heisenberg one. What's in question is, how on earth could a smart guy like Hank screw up the investigation when it mattered most, essentially painting himself into a corner?

I know not everyone will buy Hank's shoddy approach to the case in this season, but I buy it. In the past three episodes, Hanks interactions (with Walt in the garage, with Skyler in the restaurant, with Jesse in the interrogation room, with the Whites at a guacamole-less table) have been frazzled, sometimes frenzied, and not well planned, opposite to the steady, in-control manner we're used to from him, especially when he's on the job. What's different now from before this season is that family's involved, and despite the amount of time he's had to let his discovery of Walt sink in, he's clearly beyond shaken by it (keep in mind, we've had five seasons to adjust to the Mr. Chips to Scarface transformation - Hank has not). It appears as though he's been put on "pause" for now, though we don't know where he went when he abruptly left work (my guess is to track down Jesse before he sets fire to the White house and find him a more willing informant).

The other plausibility issue at stake is whether or not we buy Jesse discovering the truth about the ricin on his own. The general argument against this plot point, I suppose, is that he's Just Not That Bright. Eh, fair enough. When you look at the history of the ricin story, though, it becomes plausible enough, at least for me. Some may not remember that Jesse initially did suspect Huell of lifting the ricin from his pocket; he was convinced otherwise by Walt, of course, and thus didn't end up shooting his badass chemistry teacher. Flash forward to now, when he realizes Huell stole his dope...it's natural for him to remember the other recent time he lost something and suspected Huell as the culprit. He grabs his cigarettes, and that visual combined with the brief memory of not knowing where the ricin went - like I said, not everyone will buy it, but I did. He was never completely sold on the Brock poisoning story, in the first place, and so it just took putting a few small pieces together for him to figure out the truth.

Something that a lot of BB viewers probably don't accept is that it tends to venture into elements of the surreal. Gus's death scene and the plane crash come to mind - they're not entirely impossible, but they are a little...out there on the feasibility scale. That's understandably not everyone's cup of tea, but I've always loved it - it's just one of the many creative choices that make the show great. And when plausibility issues like these come into question, I, as a viewer who's always accepted the surreal mixed in, have an easier time believing where the writers are taking us. There are shows that will introduce plot twists for the sake of convenience to the larger story, and I've never felt Breaking Bad does that. Every move they make is made with so much forethought and attention to detail that I'll likely continue to be nothing but impressed, no matter how it ends.

The scene where the three amigos meet in the desert is probably my favorite from this episode. I've found myself, at various points in the show, wondering if a very small part of Walt really does love Jesse, and while this scene squashes any notion of that (love is obviously a lost cause, when even Walt's hug is manipulative), I was still asking the question in my head. And maybe that's because I very desperately want to believe the love is there, somewhere. That just makes scenes like this all the more difficult to watch, as it's clear Walt has kept Jesse around all these seasons because as he's clashed with so many enemies and members of his family, Jesse remains the only person who's malleable enough to do what he's told. And hey, maybe that's also where the notion comes from - Jesse has, of course, saved Walt's life on occasion, so surely some love exists on Walt's part? Whether you believe or don't believe, THAT HUG, YOU GUYS, THAT GOD DAMN HUG.

The only possibly genuine part of Walt's speech was his jealousy-flavored, "You have your whole life ahead of you, you're so damn young," bit. I wouldn't go so far as to say Walt felt regret for ending his life with all this - he merely wishes, perhaps, that he could be around to start fresh and enjoy the money he made. Can't have it all, I guess?!

And now it's BULLET POINT TIME:

- The ending didn't give us too much more direction on where things are going, the way I see it - the flash forward we've seen shows the White house severely damaged, but it certainly doesn't look fire damaged. As I said earlier, I don't see Jesse setting it on fire. He probably gets some Heisenberg graffiti on the wall before Hank shows up and, this time successfully, convinces him to inform on Walt. OR MAYBE HANK DOES THE GRAFFITI. It remains lots of fun to speculate on the endless possibilities.

- The character movements were so well executed in this episode (like chess pieces, battleships, insert your game piece of choice here, because I'm not a game person and have no idea what I'm doing with those metaphors), and it's been really fun and interesting to watch them all start to shift on their own morality scales, around the show's anti-hero. In the first episode, Hank and Skyler were on the move, while Jesse was at a standstill. Skyler's locked in her position by the end of the second episode, while Marie and Hank move. In "Confessions", Hank and Marie are brought to an alarming halt (for the moment, anyway), and it's very much Jesse who makes his move, practically brought back to life from his catatonic state by a desire for vengeance (hurting children has become an obvious trigger for him, as someone who's always identified with and felt sympathy for their innocence). The writing has to be tight, in order for these movements to come across so flawlessly, and the writers more than deliver this.

- I have so much fangirl love for the throwbacks to season one in this episode, especially as the first two seasons remain my favorite to watch. As dark as the show has gotten, I love that a simple shot of Walt using makeup to cover his black eye equally as badly as Jesse did in season one can still make me grin like an idiot. Of course, Walt's taped confession also reminds us of his taped confession in the first episode - except the confessions themselves are vastly different from each other. In the first tape, he's every bit Walter White,  while the second one, aside from being completely fabricated, shows Heisenberg as Walt...Walt-as-Heisenberg-as-Walt, I guess. Jesus, Bryan Cranston is amazing.

- I was surprised by how hard it was to watch two scenes in particular - Saul getting beaten and Walt's manipulation of Walt Jr. to get him to stay at the house. As much as I love Saul, he was never a standout favorite character of mine (what sleazy lawyer would be?!), so I was taken aback when Jesse beat him and ALL MY FEELS happened. Maybe because we so rarely see Saul in the middle of the "battle", it's extremely jarring and hard to watch when it happens...but I was admittedly heartbroken to see it. The Walt Jr. scene is more understandably difficult to digest. All of Walt's abuse towards Jesse is, by far, worse than what he does to Walt Jr. in this scene, yet it really is more awful to see him manipulate his own son this way - a son more innocent than every other character on the show. Walt Jr. hasn't appeared much in this half of the season, but this scene hurt to watch and makes one hope he comes out of this unscathed (though even if he does, those close to him won't, and he will inevitably be traumatized from whatever end comes).

Monday, August 19, 2013

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 confrontations/interactions in this episode. In the first one, with Hank, she eventually finagles her way out of having to make a decision there and then to tell him everything (Hank, though I can understand why, came off uncomfortably pushy with her, and while I'm not trying to equate his behavior with Walt's, it did kind of echo Walt's past manipulations of Jesse and Skylar). Her second meeting is with Marie, and aside from being a great sort of one-way dialogue reveal (Skylar was silent through most of it), I didn't expect it to end with Marie reverting to her kleptomaniac ways and attempting to steal Skylar's baby (the resulting scene would have been more heart-wrenching and harder to watch, had the fake baby cries not been so overtly distracting). Marie's need to protect the kids is understandable, but it doesn't necessarily entitle her to kidnap them. Skylar's meetings with Hank and Marie lead us to believe her relationships with them are irreparably damaged, and yet I can't help but wonder if knowing all the gory details of Walt's crimes (Crazy 8, Jane, the 737 crash, etcetcetc.) would compel her to flip on Walt before the show ends. It would certainly give him a reason to kill her, as so many theorize he will do.

I liked Skylar's third interaction, with Walt, again, probably more than most people did. I'm not as skeptical about the state of their marriage, I guess...despite everything they put each other through and said to each other, I never saw the love being a hundred percent gone between them, and two decades and two kids together doesn't always just dissolve into nothing. I also knew that when she said she was waiting for the cancer to come back, she didn't mean it, and we see her true reaction playing out in this scene (she likely thought, even if only for a second, that Walt was dead when he hit the bathroom floor), as well as Walt's big confession that he's to blame for Hank's discovery of him and his insistence that Skylar keep the money at all costs, so all his work won't have been in vain. Lovely confessional stuff here.

Speaking of money, the coordinates/lottery numbers are a nice echo to the lotto numbers on Lost, but I'm glad the similarities between those plot points ends there. I was also thinking how ridiculously ironically hilarious it'd be if they ended up being winning numbers.

"Buried" is an interesting title, because oddly enough, a lot is being exposed in the episode (namely, information, by Hank and Marie), in addition to what's being buried (the money, Skylar's feelings/thoughts/actions/reactions). A somewhat new development now is that these four characters' actions could be completely turned on their heads by a character who didn't have a single line of dialogue in the whole episode, Jesse. Like probably everyone else, I was yelling at the TV when the episode ended where it did, but I'm halfway expecting whatever takes place in that room next week to begin with an apology from Hank for beating the crap out of Jesse. Or maybe a rematch. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Three Poems In Cricket Online Review

Check out Issue 9.1 of Cricket Online Review, which includes three poems by yours truly.

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 both characters have accepted the past and are willing to move on from it, and while that's not necessarily a new direction for Walt to take, it's a more full turn for Skylar. She's gone from being uncertain of how to proceed with the knowledge of her husband's transformation to practically being his partner in crime, or at least the aftermath of his crimes.

Other visual standouts - the slow reveal of the White house in the episode's flash forward opening, the top-of-the-car camera shot when Jesse makes it rain in the hood (one of my favorite shots), and the slightly awkward yet very effective placement of the bags of money in the middle of Walt and Jesse during their meeting. The blood money isn't necessarily severing their relationship, but it is a large product of their crimes that they disagree on (Walt sees it as earned income, Jesse feels he's the last person who deserves payment for what they've done).

Again, since there's so much story left to tell in such a small number of episodes, the premiere mostly laid out where the main characters' heads are. The scene at the car wash was so effective in doing this, because it called us back to another popular commercial business on the show, Los Pollos Hermanos. Walt was very "Gus" in his interaction with Lydia, and while there's always been a Walt/Gus comparison, it's even more present here, when Walt is seemingly out of the immediate line of fire and more in control of his life than he has been in the past year. Gus always managed the pull off the "cool, calm, collected" vibe, and we now see Walt able to more easily hide in plain sight and express himself with that same composure Gus did when handling business partners in public. Skylar, on the other hand, pulled more of a "Heisenberg" when giving Lydia the boot, and if this is a sign of her behavior going forward, I don't see her reaching the show's end unscathed...or reaching the show's end at all.

I'm on the fence about putting Jesse on suicide watch. It doesn't seem like something in line with what his character would do, as he has, over the course of the series, acquired a handful of newfound "reasons to live", whether they be in the form of a new girlfriend, a girlfriend's son, or....okay, never mind. I'm not able to explain why, but I just don't see him offing himself. That said, if one were to read differently his attempts to give his money away, suicide could feasibly appear on the horizon. It's possible he isn't trying to atone (he's no genius, but surely by now, he's realized it isn't possible), he's simply getting rid of his valuables because he isn't planning to be around much longer. The more I think about how desperate he was to unload his money in this episode, the more I can subscribe to this theory (and the more I want to adopt him and sign him up for therapy and rehab and art classes at a community college - it would solve everything BECAUSE I SAID SO).

I don't have much to say about the final scene that hasn't been said already. I fully approve of its timing - most viewers weren't expecting the Walt/Hank confrontation so soon, but it makes more sense to have it here than anywhere else in the story arc. There was no way Hank would have sat on his discovery for months, and Walt is too smart not to figure out Hank was on to him as soon as he did. It was well played by both actors and every bit as intense as it should have been. As crazy as Walt's argument is, he does have somewhat of a point - prosecuting him would wreck the entire family that is so dear to Hank, and it would likely all be in vain if Walt dies in six months and never gets properly punished the way Hank thinks he should be. It was clear the argument gave Hank pause, and he's got some choices to make that may be fairly easy from the viewer's perspective but obviously aren't, for the "family man" part of him. I don't see the gun in the flash forward being used on Hank, but if Hank decides not to take this fight lying down, I do foresee him bringing Jesse into the picture in some way - either using him to get Walt to be more cooperative or (a less likely scenario, imo) getting him to testify against Walt.

No slowing down from here, I presume.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

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 Atwood? She's not strictly a science fiction writer, but she's written a handful of novels set in dystopian societies. And, why on earth is it okay to get through high school and college English without even knowing who she is? She certainly doesn't lack material, having written novels, short stories, poetry, essays, children's books, nature pieces, etc., and in all these fields, her work excels. There are, of course, many good writers whose work is overlooked by the mainstream; with Atwood, the question inevitably has to be, "Is she excluded because she's a woman?" I can't fully answer that, myself, but I do think the more recent movement of more female writers into the science fiction and fantasy genres will bring more acceptance of all of them as credible writers in the genre. And maybe, The Handmaid's Tale, which has lately become a more realistic than fictional perspective of modern society, will eventually find its place in the mainstream, alongside Orwell and the like.

Patti Mayonnaise Recommends PLAYING ONE ON TV

I now have copies of PLAYING ONE ON TV in my hands and ready to sell you, along with some cool 90s swag. Hit me up on social media or elsewh...