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.

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