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!

PLAYING ONE ON TV is "Best Dressed!"

This week, PLAYING ONE ON TV was featured by Sundress on The Wardrobe's Best Dressed. Much excite! Head over to their  blog  to read som...