Marie and Hank are not fans of twerking…

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BREAKING BAD 511: CONFESSIONS

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I’ll get to this review, just as soon as I answer my Hello Kitty phone…

So far, CJ has been handling the Breaking Bad reviews for this final season.  This is in part because I haven’t been able to coherently articulate my thoughts on the subject.  I find myself overcome each Sunday with a mixture of intense excitement for the new episode and intense despair over the ever-nearing end of this beloved show.  Nevertheless, I will attempt to put some words down on “paper,” as it is probably the best way to pay tribute to the masterpiece which is Breaking Bad.

By now you have probably read several reviews of this week’s episode, so I will spare you the play-by-play and will instead focus on some take-aways from Confessions.

1.  Walt’s “confession” – For me, this was the most surprising part of the episode and one that I certainly did not see coming.  I was not completely convinced when Walt started taping his confession that he would actually be confessing to his crimes, but I also was not prepared for him to pin much of his crimes on Hank, especially with such intricate details.  Now, CJ and I disagree about whether Walt pinning everything on Hank was a true Heinsberg move.  I believe that it was.  Walt continues to believe that he is smarter than everyone and continues to want to demonstrate his intellectual dominance, and to me, that is precisely what he was doing with his confession video.  It was his way to say to Hank:  “Look you think that you can just take me down, well you have severely underestimated me and let me explain to you exactly how screwed you actually are.”  I do not think that until Hank and Marie watch that video are they fully able to realize what kind of monster Walt actually is.

2.  Can we please just give Aaron Paul the Emmy? – Anyone who is watching Breaking Bad cannot doubt Aaron Paul’s acting ability.  If they do, then they certainly need a good punch in the face like Saul.  But, Aaron Paul was simply spectacular in this week’s episode.  Over the past two weeks, Mr. Paul has proven that he can be dynamic whether he is screaming at the top of his lungs or not making a sound.  In my mind, the scenes in the desert were simply mind-blowing as Jesse finally voiced what he has known all along about Mr. White.

3.  Any table-side guacamole? – What I love about Breaking Bad is it’s ability to be an incredibly dramatic and gut-wrenching show, but one that does not take itself too seriously. The writers do an excellent job mixing in some light-heartedness into what has become an increasingly dark dark story.  Last week, we had a Scrooge McDuck moment; this week we had some much needed humor from a waiter who was just dying to mix up some table-side guacamole.  Pure excellence.

4. Skyler and the ray of light – One of the most interesting moments from this week’s episode (in my opinion) was the scene with Walt and Skyler in the carwash.  After seemingly jumping on team Walt last week (or at least sticking with team money train), Skyler again appears overcome by the events of her life.  When Walt comes into her office to let her know he is heading to chemo, she appears greatly detached from the world, very reminiscent of the Skyler from season 4.  Now whether this is simply a temporary consequence of Skyler realizing what she may be losing as she stands by Walt, it is hard to say.  But, the dramatic brightness of Skyler contrasting with the dark shadows surrounding Walt, can hardly be ignored.  To me, the lighting seemed similar to that of an angel (and thereby possibly foreshadowing her death??).

Thoughts?

-LJ

Breaking Bad 510: Buried

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On a week to week, episdoe to episode basis, I don’t think there is any doubt that Breaking Bad is a show about men. The decisions they make and the consequences of those decisions. Think about all the things that have happened to these characters over the last 16 months or so. Think about how many times Walt has been in danger of losing his life. How many times Jesse has almost been arrested. What happened in the parking lot to Hank. Jane. Brock. Jane’s father and the passengers on Wayfarer 515. All because Walter White decided to start cooking meth.

I put that forward because of what we were presented with this week. This week the episode was about the women in the world of Breaking Bad (Hank still played a fairly large part of the episode). Buried was about how the women in Walt’s world react to the actions of Walter. What is Skyler going to do now that Hank knows (even if she is unclear what Hank actually knows)? How is Marie going to react when she figures out the involvement of her sister (it really seems like Marie knows a lot more than her DEA ASAC husband, doesn’t it)? And how is Lydia going to handle her Heisenberg retirement problem?

I’d actually like to start with Lydia and her beautiful black Louboutin’s. We were introduced to Lydia in a strange place in her life. When we meet her in season 5A, Gus Fring has just been killed, and the flow of meth and money has stopped, leaving Lydia to figure out “what’s next?” And while her reaction isn’t pleasing to Mike, is it the only reaction she could have had? But here, many months later, we see a more in charge Lydia. She’s still a little antsy and always on edge, but she has much more control now. She has a new problem, a purity problem, and after trying to get Walt back in the game, she knows her next best bet is to get a pupil of Walt cooking. She even attempts to play nice, asking Declan to bring Todd back in to cook with Walt’s recipe. But when Declan refuses, she has no choice but to let the sands of New Mexico match the bottom of her Louboutin’s.

This scene tells us a few interesting things in my mind. It first tells us that we were all incorrect in our assumpition from episode 509 that Todd was the one cooking the low quality meth. And looking forward, I think this situation might also tell us that at some point in the near future, Walt is going to be very sorry he didn’t listen to Mike and let him send her to Belize.

Hank’s desparation also led to one of the best and most intense diner scenes in all of TV (mirrored with the hilarious diner scene in season 5A between Mike and Lydia).  Hank is grasping at straws and hoping to confuse Skyler into giving him all the info he doesn’t have, but he doesn’t know Skyler. He doesn’t see how smart she is, and he obviously doesn’t know how deeply she is invovled with Walt’s business. And unless and until Skyler knows exactly what Hank knows, she is not going to talk, and causes a scene to get herself out of a no-win situation (was anyone else reminded of the “shut up” scene with Skyler’s “am I under arrest”).

Then, back at the White house, Hank pulls a smart move and sends in Marie to appeal to her sister and try to get her to rat out Walt for his misdeeds. This again, doesn’t go as Hank had to have hoped or planned, but for interesting reasons. Marie, in those 5 minutes, puts together more of the timeline and Skyler’s involvment (and Walt’s) than Hank has to date.

Marie knows that it is because of Walt that Hank has been through what he’s been through (shooting Tuco, PTSD, the cousins), even if Hank doesn’t. They both realize that as soon as Hank tells Gomie, his career is over (just as ASAC Merkert’s was with Gus). But I’m not sure either has realized that there could be more problems ahead for them if Hank turns in Walt. It was the ill gotten gains of Heisenberg’s criminal enterprise that paid for Hank’s physical therapy after he was shot by the cousins (I’m not positive if Hank knows that, but Marie does), and I find it hard to believe that would sit too well with the DEA. So if Hank does what he is trying to do, is there any chance that Hank could wind up in a cell right next to Walt? Just a thought.

Ah Jesse…These are dark times indeed for Pinkman. We got absolutely no sound from Jesse this week, but we were still told everything we need to know about his state of mind. This is a man living with guilt that he can’t bear the burden of. Think about all the things Jesse has seen, and Jesse has done, then consider there are things that have concerned him, through Mr. White, that he doesn’t even know about (Jane and Brock). Just as Walt should have listened to Mike about Lydia, he was also the voice of reason for Jesse, who should have listened to Mike, and gotten as far away, as fast as possible, from Mr. White. Instead, he’s at the bottom, with no regard for himself, and certainly non for Mr. White, so who knows where Jesse goes from here…

Couple more quick thoughts–

  • Marie’s love for petty theft almost worked out for the best for baby Holly. But Hank was right to tell her she couldn’t take the baby, even if it’s for the best.
  • After we got a Godfather reference last week, looks like maybe we got a LOST reference this week, with Walt muttering those numbers to himself, much like Hurley used to.
  • There has been much discussion about the diner scene with Hank and Skyler and how she could have talked if she wanted to, and right there in that diner, she could have. But, and my memory from Family Law and the bar exam is a little hazy, she couldn’t actually testify against Walt unless Walt waived the marital privilege, correct?

-CJ

The Killing Hannibal on the Bridge over Broadchurch’s Low Winter Sun

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Last night LJ and I sat down to give a look to Low Winter Sun, AMC’s new show that followed Breaking Bad Sunday night. Right as the episode started, LJ turned to me and said, “is this a cop show?” My response, “it’s a show on television, right?” My response was obviously in jest, but, was it? Think about television right now, particularly this summer. Old shows, new shows, everything is a cop show. And more specifically, cop shows that are unapologetically dark, many of which include the golden age of TV stalwart, the “anti-hero.”

Consider this list of dark, depressing, humorless cop shows that have already aired this year (an incomplete list to be sure): Top of the Lake, The Following, Hannibal, The Killing, Broadchurch, Luther, Low Winter Sun, The Bridge, The Fall, etc, etc, etc. How many fictional young girls have to fall subject to a fictional serial killer to satisfy TV audiences?

I don’t write this post to say there is no value in these shows, because I think there is great value in them (some more than others). Some of these shows I am a very big fan of. Hannibal has been one of my favorite shows of the year so far. I’m always looking forward to more episodes of Luther (I’ll take Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson any day). This season of The Killing was surprisingly strong (especially considering season 1 was so bad, I didn’t even watch season 2). But some of the others on this list were terrible (looking at you The Following).

So what separates the shows in this genre that are worth watching from the one’s that make you want to stab yourself in the eye (once again, looking at you The Following)? Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any one thing that distinguishes these shows. TV is a writers medium though, so we can start right there. Our issues with the first season of The Killing were never Mirielle Enos and Joel Kinnaman, the problem was always the writing of Veena Sud and her staff (how many red herrings and fake outs do we really have to be subjected to?). Similarly, the first season of The Following had promise for most of us, because who doesn’t love Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy and Natalie Zea? The problem comes in when you try to present your show as intellectually thoughtful and curious, when in fact, you have a script that feels like it is written by a 10th grader who just read “The Tell Tale Heart” for the first time.

What made The Following look even worse by comparison though, is that Hannibal premiered right around the same time, and was an example of what we all thought The Following was going to be. Everywhere The Following failed, Hannibal succeeded. Hannibal presented complex characters with complicated motivations. Sometimes the show was without a doubt hard to watch, but it was always worth it because of the intellectual process it took getting there (not to mention, Hannibal is the best looking show of the year, including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Justified).

While I would definitely say writing is the biggest reason some of these shows fail while others succeed, I don’t think you can ignore the talent in front of the camera either. I don’t necessarily love The Bridge, but I do love what Demian Bichir and Diane Kruger are doing. I know there are many out there who aren’t enjoying what Kruger is doing, but I honestly love it. I find enough of a difference between her performance and what Hugh Dancy is doing on Hannibal that there is enough room for both performances (Dancy is also doing amazing work, as is everyone on Hannibal).

All of this blabbing is just to say, I come to a cop show for the performers, but I think we should only stay if the writing justifies it. That leaves us with Hannibal clearly on the top of this list, and The Following far down at the bottom. And the fact of the matter is, this genre isn’t going anywhere. The only hope we have is that more people go off of the Justified template and mix in lots of humor and fun with the dark drama. The problem is, that’s really, really hard to do well, for me, the list pretty much starts and stops with Justified.

In this age of the “anti-hero” (Vic Mackey, McNulty, Walter White, Don Draper and Tony Soprano), it’s not hard to figure out why these showrunners are coming up with these dark depressing shows. Despite the fact that the golden age of TV ends next June when Mad Men ends, I suspect we are stuck with fictional serial killers torturing fictional young women for a good, long while yet.

-CJ

The Walking ‘Terriers’?

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On Monday afternoon, Donal Logue did an AMA on reddit where he was as he always is. Funny, charming, self-depricating and incredibly gracious to his fans and the people he has worked with over the years. Obviously, redditors being the clever beings they are, mostly peppered Mr. Logue with the same questions over and over again, namely, “is Terriers ever going to come back?” His response gave hope to many of us who so adore this critically beloved, but short lived show:

“chance of terriers movie (we talk about it) ted griffin dreams of netflix or someone picking it back up (better as series than a film)”

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a Terriers freak. I know a few people who have watched it in the years since it aired on FX, but I was an early adopter. I watched it live and tried to convince people of how amazing this little show was, but no one would listen. I went so far as to even name my 2010 best of TV list the “Terriers Memorial List,” (one of the various times I happened to be irregularly blogging).

Terriers is without a doubt my favorite one season wonder show (even more than Firefly, which is second on that list), and further, it’s simply one of my favorite shows of all time. It doesn’t get the discussion and recognition it deserves because it is only one season (13 episodes), but if we were to just discuss best seasons of television, instead of best series, season 1 of Terriers would be in the same discussion as season 1 of the Sopranos, season 2 of The West Wing, season 4 of The Wire, season 1 of LOST, season 4 or 5 of Mad Men, or season 4 of Breaking Bad (among others I’m sure).

It’s story telling in it’s most beautiful form. There’s nothing necessarily special about it, except that it’s executed better than most shows or showrunners can dream of doing. It’s not showy, it’s not particuarly exciting or tense. It’s just a well told story about people who you actually care about, and, isn’t that what we should want out of long form story telling anyway?

-CJ

The Newsroom: “News Night with Will McAvoy”

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One tequila, two tequila, three tequila…Maggie’s coping mechanism is revealed.

I cannot say that I will be reviewing every week’s episode of The Newsroom; in fact, I would say that the likelihood of such an occurrence is slim to none.  But, given that we have yet to discuss The Newsroom at all (granted, this blog has been up and running for a mere three days), I find that it is appropriate to comment on this week’s episode.

I want to like The Newsroom; I really, really do.  I am and have been for quite some time an Aaron Sorkin fan.  I say without reservation that The American President is my favorite movie.  I watched and loved Sports Night.  And, I just spent the last 5 weeks watching every episode of West Wing like it was my job.  Here is my problem though:  The Newsroom is never as good as any of these aforementioned shows and, thus, I continuously do not have my expectations met.  This has left me weary.

Take this week’s episode for instance.  Will spends the entire episode on the air of News Night, which is usually a highlight (admittedly, I am a sucker for a Sorkin monologue).  But, instead of letting Will shine in this environment, the plot is bogged down by two story lines that do nothing for me–Will’s father dying and Will’s twitter-gate.  Part of the reason I cannot bring myself to care about such things is that because Will has been portrayed as such a ego-maniac, it is hard for me to feel sorry for him.  And, given everything we know about him so far, I do not find it hard to believe that he was rude to some random woman (actually, I find it more difficult to believe that Will is ever nice to anyone).  So, Mr. McAvoy, I cannot find it in my heart to feel bad for the fact that someone is calling you out on some d-bag-i-ness that more than likely occurred.  Now, as far as your father is concerned, it sucks.  I can understand that.  But, again, I just can’t bring myself to feel any emotion for you given the unsympathetic nature of the way your character is repeatedly written.

My second issue with this week’s episode is the portrayal of Sloane.  Now, Sloane is by far my favorite character on this show  I say that without reservation.  I love her kick-ass, take-charge, straight-shooting attitude mixed-in with an awkwardness that another admittedly awkward person (namely, myself) can enjoy.  And, I seriously cheered out-loud when she punched that d-bag in the face.  But, when is the show going to stop having their female leads screw-up?  Can we not have an episode where one of the female characters is not bumbling through their love life?  I know that the story line of Sloane’s mistake is a good bridge for her and Don to further their relationship, and maybe (although doubtful) I will forget that the entire first season of the show wasn’t jamming down our throats that Don is a “bad guy,” but it sure would be nice to see none of the female characters having a monumental screw-up each episode so that a knight in shining armor can come save her.  That’s all I am saying.

I think that is enough of my soapbox for a night.  And, I do not mean to seem over-critical of this show (a show that I watch every week).  But, all of this comes from a place of love.  I simply want this show to be as good as it could be.  With all that is good on television right now, I do not think that is too much to ask.

Other musings:

  • I know this has been discussed ad nauseam on the inter-webz today, but I spent a good portion of the episode trying to figure out why Maggie’s hair was long and blonde again.  I have my question answered (see http://www.avclub.com/articles/news-night-with-will-mcavoy,101017/ for example), but here is another:  Should the show be concerned that this many individuals were confused about the timeline of the episodes and spent this much time worried about when Maggie gets a haircut?
  • Despite the hair conundrum, I thought Maggie’s story line this week was much better than it has been.  I think the fact that she is drinking to hide her pain is much more believable and less silly than her sudden decision to cut off her hair, which up until now, was the only effect of the Africa trip that we had seen.  I also did enjoy Maggie’s tirade on “what’s wrong with being a slut,” but again I am a sucker for a good monologue.
  • Does it really take that long for a download?

-LJ

Breaking Bad 509: “Blood Money”

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Are we about to be given additional proof that oranges are never a good sign?

Late in last night’s second half of season 5 premeire episode of Breaking Bad, there is an exchange between brothers-in-law Hank and Walt in which Hank, fresh off finally figuring out the true identity of Heisenberg, tells Walt that he doesn’t even know who Walt is any more. Walt’s response is simple and direct: “Then maybe your best course is to tread lightly” (the stand off between Walt and Hank made me think about the Friends episode where Phoebe and Rachel are playing a game of chicken with Monica and Chandler, trying to get them to admit they are sleeping together, and you have the classic lines including, “they don’t know that we know they know we know”).

We learned much in this 1 hour of television. Much about Walt, and his future. Much about Hank and his reaction to learning his Heisenberg monster was quite literally right under his nose the entire time (much as Gus Fring was under the nose of ASAC Merkert). We again saw the impact of the last year and few months on Jesse Pinkman’s psyche. But let’s go back to the beginning (in this case, the future).

For the premeire of season 5, we saw got a glimpse of Walt in the future, presumably on his 52nd birthday, alone in a Denny’s, full head of hair and a beautiful beard, coughing and taking meds, and buying an automatic machine gun off Jim Beaver. We finally got another look at future Walt after Denny’s and the guns, and his behavior, at least for me, was sort of strange. Why is Walt so casually returning to the White house? I understand that he wants to retrieve his ricin (for what purpose, who knows?), but his actions in doing so were so casual. He just drives and parks in front of the driveway, and walks right in, presumably without a care in the world. When he exits, he even hilariously says hello to his neighbor, who is obviously mortified of Walt and drops her groceries, namely, her oranges (if you don’t know the history of oranges and their meaning in film and TV, I suggest you Google it now).

The mental state of Jesse is another fascinating part of this hour. Walt does his best to convince Jesse that all is well in the world, especially now that he is out too (Walt says that he’s been out for about a month, combine that with the 3 month montage of meth making in “Gliding Over All,” we are about 4 months passed his 51st birthday, and 8 months from the events of the teaser). But Jesse isn’t buying what he’s selling, particularly Walt’s attempts to convince him that Mike is alive and well (we always talk about how great of a liar Walter White is, but surely no one expects Jesse to believe the stories with the performance of Walt in that scene?), to the point that Jesse has to get rid of this money, and if Walt and Saul won’t let him give it away to Mike’s grandaughter and Todd’s murder victim’s family, he’s going to drive to the ghetto of ABQ and play Robin Hood.

Gilligan and Co. could have let many of these things linger on for weeks and weeks, but that’s not the way they operate this tale. Gilligan has his story, a limited amount of time to finish it, and wastes no time getting right to it. So much is answered here, but many questions remain. What happened to cause the White house to be in the state we see it in the teaser? Where are Skyler and the kids? How close is Walt to death? Where is Jesse? And most importantly, how does it all end? Hopefully it ends with the coming to life of Badger’s Star Trek script (his heavy inclusion of Chekhov must have meaning, as much as Gilligan and those who discuss and dissect this show talk about Chekhov’s TV tropes).

Breaking Bad is a show looking into the very nature of humanity, of good and evil and our notions of morality. When we met all of these people roughly 16 months ago in their lives, Walter White was a normal, if not weak and boring, family man, father and husband. Jesse Pinkman was a petty criminal and addict. Over the course of the months we’ve seen in these people’s lives, we’ve seen what becomes of them, and just how quickly pride and ego can turn a man who has been stepped on his entire life into a man so dark, dangerous and deceptive that his own brother-in-law can hope for a cancer striken death.

Walt is out on an island, with his own brother-in-law hunting him down and his former partner disillusioned with him (Jesse has a strong hatred for Walt and still doesn’t even know about so much, including Jane’s death and Brock’s poisoning). Walt’s world is going to continue closing in on him, and we are all going to be the beneficiaries of it. These last days are so conflicting. While I can’t wait to see these last 7 episodes, we have to try to savor every second of this all time great television series.

-CJ