August 27, 2012

TPG's Chemistry Class - Episode 5007 "Say My Name"

Somehow when you kill an innocent kid two episodes prior, the death of one of the main characters doesn't seem that tragic. Actually, yeah, seeing old man Mike sitting there by the river was pretty sad, but for reasons I'll get to, I thought this was one of the least satisfying episodes this season so far. So let's get our "go bag" and get into it.

Meaning of Title - An obvious reference Walt basking in praise from the other dealers at the opener, I think the reinforcement of Heisenberg!!!! in that scene also showed just how far Walt has come, so much to the point where he is cooking with Todd and killing his former partners.

Acting  - Jonathan Banks who plays Mike had a great run on the series and his final line about wanting to die in peace was perfect.

1. MIND MELT MEGA SANDWICH RIGHT OUT THE GATE YO - Earlier in the episode Walt taunted Jesse by saying they were both doomed for their sins, which to my memory is one of the first times the show has acknowledged spiritual punishment for their actions, so right away my "this is some spiritual shit yo" detectors were going crazy. Having seen Mike earlier getting deep at the river, and casting aside elements of his earthly life (ie a lot of guns), and preparing for his trip (getting his go-bag) it was clear that he soon he would be making some kind of journey. And when he died sitting at the river surrounded by symbolism, my head exploded. Check out this passage about the Greek Underworld river journey.
The five rivers of Hades are Acheron (the river of sorrow) Having a good thing with Gus go wrong Cocytus (the river of lamentation) Not getting to say goodbye to your granddaughterPhlegethon (the river of fire) See above imagery on waterLethe (the river of forgetfulness) tough but case could be made about using about the sloppy Lawyer and Styx (the river of hate) Mike hates Walter, which forms the boundary between upper and lower worlds.
2. To drive home this whole mythological quest when Walt confront Jesse on whole "you're damned to Burn" issue he was dressed in Red overalls and a black shirt. Fire and Brimstone! Forget Heisenberg, Walt is evil incarnate now.

3. Gotta love how many cell phones Saul has. Guess you could call them "saul phones?" Anybody? Anybody?

4. By invoking the "New York Yankees" and "Classic Coke" in his speech to the rival dealers/business partners, Walt has further proved that his story of a relentless quest for personal liberty and profit is an American tale just like those who came before him - Tony & Michael!

5. Sometimes we forget that Walter White was a teacher before he became a Meth Kingpin Ego-Maniacal Madman, but we got a reminder this episode in the way he interacted with young people. First he chastised Jesse for his lack of motivation and skills outside cooking. This scene cut deep and it had more of a teacher/student discipline vibe than is usually in their relationship at this point. Then he kept asking his new student Todd to apply himself when it came to his new studies (meth-studies yo!). He's a teacher through and through.

6. Again we get a dinner scene, with almost the same exact shot, but now Jesse isn't at the table. In fact Skylar doesn't even last long at the table before she leaves. This was a great visual hint about how all Walt's "allies" are abandoning him.

7. As sad as it was to see Mike go, I was bummed out by Walt's final actions, he should have blown Mike's brains all over that sun glazed river. Seeing him revert back to the bubbling, botched plan Walt was kind of depressing. If he's gonna be full on "say my name" evil then he needs to be all the way there by now. Having him realize he could have gotten the names from Lydia gave him a dash of fleeting humanity, and this point, there is no humanity left in him. I'm calling it now, if does have anything left, the thing that will snuff it out will be him killing Skylar.

8. Todd telling Walt he doesn't care about the money right now must be the most wonderful thing Walt has ever heard.

9. The impact of Walt's actions are huge because there is no way that Jesse wont' 100% know that Walt did it even if he tries to hide it. Even if he does admit to it, there is no way that Jesse will let that slide.

10. If Walt is keeping his meth supplies at the car wash, that's just sloppy and in fact everything Walt is doing now is sloppy. His killing of Mike, his cooking with a rookie like Todd, using the same sob routine to get the bug out, etc. Sloppy is the complete opposite of Gus Fring, the man who Walt wants to be. He wants to be in the empire business but he can't handle his own shit.

11. I miss Gus.

I'm going to be travelling next week so I won't have a blog up til Tuesday at the earliest, enjoy the finale!

August 20, 2012

TPG's Chemistry Class: 5006 Buyout

"Breaking Bad' continued it's hot streak of being a way to end your weekend on an incredibly stressful and dark note. Doesn't really matter if you were at the beach all day frolicking or winning a Monopoly game, this show will still rope you into a sea of darkness and meth. But looking past that, we had another strong episode, albeit, one that was not my favorite of the season. So let's grab our wine glasses and pour ourselves a generous amount.

Meaning of Title - The "buyout" of the title is obviously the one that Jesse and Mike thought would provide them a clean exit. Of course it also refers to the Gray Matter buyout which was pretty enlightening peak into Walter's true psyche.

Acting - Not one real standout here, but I gotta say, I think Anna Gunn is a great actress, but she just can't hang with Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston. I mean in that dinner scene, they seemed so natural, and while she was good, I knew she was acting. Maybe some of readers who are actors can enlighten us in the comments section.

1. The opening sequence of the methodical destruction of the bike was one of the most disturbing sequences the show has ever done. Judging by the increasing destruction of the relationships between the group, it was clear that the bike getting dismantled was a visual metaphor for the partnership. On some real deep level though, it was pretty much a dismantling of their humanity, I mean after you kill a kid and destroy the evidence, there isn't really anything to go back to.

2. Hearing Todd call Walter Mr. White really jumped out at me for two reasons. It's obvious Todd is becoming the new Jesse in his eyes, at least in a business sense, but also about as close to "The Don" as we're gonna get to show us that Walter White is a true criminal genius/warlord in the traditional sense. Maybe that's a little too Reservoir Dogs, but you know what I mean.

3. As Walter descends into the dark depths of humanity, his environment is as well. Gone are the glitzy well lit labs and car-washes, instead we have the stark mechanical bare bones of the office, his muffled earth tones of his home, and the washed out dull houses he cooks in.

4. I don't even know why they even bother giving the rival drug cartel people names. Sure this guy is named Declan and he's cool, but no way this dude lives longer than 3 episodes.

5. MINOR MIND MELT - They keep talking about Jesse James this season and I'm starting to wonder if this prophetic for what's come down the pipe. Looking at the story, an eager new recruit came into Jesse's gang with a desire to prove himself. This man was Robert Ford, this man killed Jesse James. Am I suggesting that Todd is ultimately going to kill Walt? Yes, yes I am.

6. We've always known that Walt harbored some serious grudges over Gray Matter, but him coming clean to Jesse about it was one of his most honest moments yet. Remember that Walt has been jazzed off the meth cooking since the beginning; in the pilot alone he beat Walter Jr.'s tormentor and had serious passionate sex with his wife, oh how far we've come. He's craves recognition, and the dark side of recognition is notoriety.

The Dinner Scene - This will probably go down as one of the most epic scenes in the history of the show so I'm going close out escalating readings of this scene.

1. Jesse represents normal people. Skylar and Walt are both completely off the rails for a variety of reasons, but I mean just look at what's happening here. Jesse is the only one not drinking alcohol. He's also the only one eating.

2.  Jesse represents everything that has divided Walter & Skylar. The dude is wearing a shirt with a jagged lightning bolt on it!!! None of the White family's complications would have happened if Jesse hadn't been there to introduce schoolteacher Walter to the meth game.

3. Jesse is the real Walter Jr. He's always been some kind of surrogate son to Walter, and now at this scene he makes it official, of course in true Heisenberg fashion it's all manipulative bullshit to further his agenda.

4. Jesse represents humanity. Both Walter and Jesse has shown horrible things, but while one can't even work after seeing the news report about the boy, one of them merrily whistles. Skylar on the other hand, essentially sold her family off for money? Jesse, he's the moral core in the middle with the extremes on either side. After all he's the only one with the light on him. He's protected yo.

5. Jesse has an empty space across from him representing Mike/Hank/A Way Out.  Walter is tied to Skylar in this scene whether he likes it or not. Jesse, across from him, is the great wide open, getting away. Cause that's what we want right?

August 17, 2012

Forget Action Films, All You Need Is Personality Films

Today "The Expendables 2" comes out and to answer your question, I already have my bro'd out pre-film extravaganza planned. It will involve some combination of slamming bud deez (that's bud normal for all y'all craft beer drinkers), eating steak, bicep curls, and lots of high fives and talk of potential fantasy football sleeper players. The film is the most "masculine" of all the summer movies, so I'm kind of surprised that once again there is some buzz in the press about the death of the "American Action Film." This bashing of American Explosion Cinema is a real "hip" journalistic trend with everyone from the ""The New York Times to Grantland bemoaning it's loss.

In The New York Times piece, writer Adam Sternbergh praises the action driven cinema of 80's (A time period where almost every Expendable thrived) and points to it as a signal of American dominance of the genre. But now he says thanks to a combination of CGI and lack of quality American stars, we have failed completely, or in his words:

Our great national product is now in laughable decline. As with many such problems, we, as a culture, throw money at it, and it eats that money, then spits back garbage.
Sternbergh is assuming that our great national product is the actual action film, and he's wrong. Our real export is the ultra-charismatic American Hero, which is has been a constant since the early days of American film. You take the heavy hitters of "The Expendables," Arnold, Sly, and Bruce Willis and see that more than any movie in their body of work, it's their massive charisma that has carried them. Sure I love seeing Arnold   kick ass as much as the next guy, but it's his perfect delivery of one liners that set him apart. Stallone is cool when he's popping out of mud walls and shooting bad guys with arrows, but it's the never give up "Rocky" spirit that makes him endure. And everyone who's seen "Die Hard" knows Bruce Willis's wise cracking cop John McClane really makes the film and to some extent his career.

And this export business of the American Hero is booming. We have The Rock, Vin Diesel, Channing Tatum, Mark Wahlberg, Will Smith, Jeremy Renner, Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, and Tom Cruise all continuing to prove that they can handle kick ass and rip off one liners with ease, and I'm not even including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans because they might be considered non qualifiers because they're in super-hero movies, which apparently doesn't count, see Stallone's quote below:

You have the superheroes today which are possessed with all extraordinary powers; they can blink and a fireball comes out of there. It's great. And then you have a bunch of us which is just your basic male-pattern badness. … Kind of like hands-on action."
Don't get me wrong, ya boy TPG loves his explosions, gun fights, car chases, battles, mayhem, and destruction, but really it ultimately comes down to the characters. The often praised "The Raid:Redemption" (which is incredible) is mainly just a 24/7 exhilarating brawl, with a very flat protagonist who barely even speaks. I mean this is a dude who blows up an army of henchmen by sticking a propane tank and grenade in a refrigerator, and doesn't even say "Stay cool." I need my dynamic stars ripping one liners man!

If you wanna get real deep with this whole thing, you can make a case that every generation of action stars contributes to the next. If younger stars grew up watching Stallone & Arnold, and in turn they grew up watching John Wayne & Clint Eastwood, who grew up watching James Cagney, who um, I don't know grew up watching real life strongmen fight at the OK Corral, then I'd say the American action star and his genre are far from dead and in fact are very healthy indeed.

August 13, 2012

TPG's Chemistry Class - Episode 5005 "Dead Freight"

Heyyyyy There Monday! Nothing has the power to start you week off in a strange way like seeing a kid get shot. In an episode that saw Walt with his Heisenberg rating off the scales, we were greeting with a brutal ending. Kudos to the show for cutting right after the moment, just so we have to process it for a whole week. So let's grab our hoses and dive in.

Meaning of Title - It's easy to see that "Dead Freight" probably relates to the death that took place post heist. But "freight" also means load or burden, so it's safe to say that the death of the child, is now a load and burden that all parties will have to bear, some more easily than others.

Acting - I've never seen Friday Night Lights so my mind wasn't shattered like the rest of you "Clear Eyes Full Hearts Go Watch The Wire" maniacs, but Jesse Plemons quick reaction in that final moment was chilling.

1. A boy in the desert riding his motorcycle aggressively. He hits the big jumps and then captures a dangerous spider and contains it. Twice in the opener did this young man escape death. This theme was everywhere in the episode. Lydia escapes execution by Hank making a phone call. The two railroad guys escape getting killed by Jesse's brilliance. Jesse narrowly avoids getting run over by a train. Yet, as the show tells us, for every careful move, you can't escape it. I'm not trying to get all Final Destination on you folks, but this was just very expertly designed episode leading to that final moment.

2. I'm at the point now where I trust everything that Heisenberg does and nothing that Walter White does. Every time Walt expresses some kind of kindness or emotion (buying Walter Jr. a car, playing with his kid, etc) I second guess it. No scene so far indicates just how extinct Walter is in the scope of Heisenberg then him crying to Hank and then promptly bugging his office. He may not be wearing the hat but Heisenberg has taken over.

3. The way the sky is shot in Breaking Bad makes me think it should get nominated for a best supporting actor Emmy. Nominations for Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, Dean Norris, and the sky.

4. Last week one of my readers called Mike..."Mike Da God" and I thought that title is fitting considering how much wisdom he drops. "There are two kinds of heists....." Yeah brah, he's like the criminal Obi Wan Kenobi. Old, white dude with grey hair who instructs padawans in the way of the force/crime/murder.

5. Everybody wants it to happen, can Skylar please just die already. They've been building to it forever, making us hate her more and more. That "I'm your hostage" line tonight, please, Heisenberg is gonna do you real quick and then go buy a new car for Walter Jr.

6. What you talking about TPG? #5? You kidding, have you become TPG Heisenberg? It's fascinating that in the scope of the whole show so far, we're still rooting for Walt/Jesse and want to see Skylar go. She's not innocent, but by no means is she deserving to be killed. Yet, the show is so brilliant at making us sympathize with the criminals, it's almost impossible to root for her.

7. Dave Porter is the composer of the bulk of the music on the show and I think his music during the heist is the finest work he's done so far. Building off the rhythm and sound of the train plowing down the track, the score evolved into an extremely tense pounding theme and then reverted back to silence for the final disturbing coda.

8. We have 3 episodes left and we haven't had the big epic earth shattering reveals that fans have been waiting for, but we're getting closer. Here's what everyone is fiending for:
  • Hank learning who Heisenberg really is - Walt's getting sloppy, it has to be coming. Skylar looks to be a breaking point as well
  • Jesse Learning Who Poisoned Brock - This potentially could disappear like Walter killing Jane, but I think it will be addressed by the end of the season.
  • Walt Killing Mike - This is def coming, but how is he gonna do it.
9. There is a new trend of demanded realism for highly acclaimed pieces of entertainment/art, it was everywhere when "The Dark Knight Rises" came out and now it's reared it's head again with this episode. Sure we want our stories to be consistent in their realism, but we have to allow them room to tell the story. Once we start questioning every decision in recaps and forums, then we lose our ability to enjoy the story. Tonight, sure, the setup involved a lot of coincidences (bridge position, truck dude being there, etc) but ultimately it was incredible television, so who cares. These realism fanatics would probably scorn Melville for having the whale be white (what are the chances there would be that whale did it get there...Ahab is so not convincing...)

10. Show is so dynamite man, I love it!

August 1, 2012

TPG's Chemistry Class: Episode 5003 Hazard Pay

One of my favorite Breaking Bad episodes ever. And yeah I do love the crazy head on turtle wheelchair bomb madness but episodes like this one, are the real reasons that Breaking Bad is the business. Just incredible storytelling on every level. And all great stories speak to larger themes so we're going to take a break from the usual and just talk about the metaphors in the episode. BREAKING METAPHORS yo...

1. Right out of the gate we get the lawyer with the headphones on while Mike does business. This is the warmup metaphor for all you low level metaphor maniacs. The legal system is both a key enabler part of the American Drug trade but also oblivious to how it works. Note at the end of this scene Mike assures the gentlemen that his "family is gonna be fine," taking us back to last week's emphasis on family.

2. The whole show could be seen as a metaphor for pure capitalism and this episode served as a guide for business. Sure it's tha drug game yo, but problems such as overhead, and taxes (which Walt apparently he in the tea party?) face everyone who runs a business. Notice that before they settled on the pest control plan we got a nice little tour of American businesses. Speaking of that, what's going on with the car wash?

3. As my pal Chicago Swift put it - "Who knew Skinny Pete could play keys like that." Skinny Pete is the ultimate metaphor for a "drug dealer." He looks shady as hell but deep down he's a talented musician individual/lost soul. Don't judge a book by it's cover, you don't know shit about anybody in the drug business, and Skinny Petes should be making sweet sweet soul music and needs to break free from the game/music store.

4. VAMANOS PEST - Genius! Ever since the real life war on drugs began, everyone has always feared "drugs in my home" or in simpler terms "you brought this under our roof," you can play it anyway you want, but the fact that Jesse and Walt are now producing drugs in ordinary citizen's homes is so brilliant and metaphorically awesome I feel like I'm on some blue magic myself. It's a metaphor for how drugs can invade our homes & lives, for how drugs both prescription and none are a central part of our culture/nation, and also in the case of the home owner how oblivious we are to what's really going on with the drug war.

5. Let's take a break from metaphor mania and talk about...couches! Multiple times during this episode we get family "units" watching TV on the couch. First we had the epic Jesse/Walt scene, this is basically a father/son conversation about trust and the value of family. Yes, at this point, Jesse so distraught about almost killing Mr. White last season is full on in "son" mode with Walt. Walt gives him the classic dad line "I know you'll make the right call." Then we get the line's impact with Jesse, Andrea, and Brock chilling on the couch playing video games (word), but Jesse can't process this anymore because of his earlier conversation, he ultimately chooses "family" over friends. Finally we get the MIND BONE scene where Walt and Walter Jr. are cackling watching Scarface. This is Walt's true family, not Jesse, and let's not forget that in the legendary film, Tony Montana kills his business partner in the drug game, has a last stand with a machine gun, and loses his family; shades of the opening of the season anyone? Walt like Tony Montana, will kill all the cock-a-roaches either with pesticide or a machine gun. Bad news for Jesse.

6. And finally we have the final shot of the closing door as Jesse looks at Walt after his creepy speech about Victor. Is this Mike's fate, about that and to send us off is our old pal The Spirit of the West 
'The Searchers' ends with an iconic shot that's been aped many, many times: John Wayne's silhouette framed in a doorway, literally halfway between "home" and the vast Monument Valley landscape beyond. All movie long he's wrestled with his WILD NATURE. He's killed. He's scalped. Can he even survive in a domestic setting? Last night we saw Jesse and Walt in exactly the same position -- in this case caught between their new meth lab (a fumigated house) and the ABQ sun outside. If we want to get real up our buttsabout it we could say that Team Baldie is "playing house" here, thematically holding onto whatever vestiges of normalcy (and family) still exist for them by cooking in someone's house. As with Wayne, we're not so convinced either of them -- poor, innocent Jesse included -- can ever really go home again. Have they Broken too Bad?