September 30, 2013

TPG's Chemistry Class: Series Finale - Felina - Breaking Bad Recap

That was a good finale when it needed to be excellent. All in all it was a fantastic, well written, expertly directed episode. I just thought it was a little too neat and because of that it exposed some wonderful questions about the show, but also some flaws about the final season. But let's just get right into it and since this is the last time I get to do this, they're won't just be ten points.

1. The opening image of this episode was snowy car window. I like to call it a blank slate. Fitting because this episode was a redemption tour for Walter White.

2. Vince Gilligan really proved himself as a director this episode. I particularly enjoyed all the ways that Walt was framed. The first time I noticed it was when he broke into Gretchen and Eliot's house. His face, full of calm threats haunting the innocent couple. This device was used multiple times in the episode and I'll point it out as we go along.

3. The scene with Gretchen and Eliot was the first indicator that this finale was going not going to be as dark and intense as I hoped. Let me ask you, who were you rooting for in that scene? Were you fearing for the Schwartzs' life? Or were you all like "yeah Walt, make em do what you say, taunt them with a promise of future death in European cities." I imagine you were probably rooting for Walt. That's the problem, this is a dude who's done a ton of really bad shit over the course of the show and we really shouldn't be rooting for him. Remember just how creepy you felt when Walt went to visit Andrea and Brock? Thought so. How about when he gave up Jesse to be killed? Now you're rooting for him again which is a deft stroke by the writers but feels somewhat false in the scope of the entire show. Also why didn't he just knock on their door? Isn't he the one who....ok...lame joke.

4. I did love seeing Badger and Skinny Pete back in action. Hopefully they start a Star Trek inspired band with those earnings.

5. The ricin, something had to happen with it. Yet I'm not going to lie it's very convenient storytelling that he was able to sneak it into the sweetener packet. Keep in mind the last time the ricin was used, it involved a complicated swap with fast hands Huell and now we don't even see how he got it there. It's not nitpicking if they've already established these complex ricin rules in the show before. Just a little too convenient.

6. So in the end Marie ends up with a nice home as a lonely widow. Skyler ends up a chain smoking mess with bizarre plastic surgery lips. Rough ending for Skyler.

8. The best part of the finale and probably the entire final season was the "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive" line. Short, powerful, and perfect. Also a nice little shout-out to my persona liberty theory from yonder year.

9. We got another great framing shot of Walt the Father looking through the window at Flynn coming home. Heartbreaking.

10. Still find it hard to believe that the DEA wouldn't be able to spot Walt at the house. Also while I'm at it. Gus Fring had Walt cooking UNDERGROUND. This skin-head lab was out in the open at a time when one of the best agents was gunned down in a drug-related crime. How did the DEA not find that compound in the entire year Jesse was cooking? I guess once Steve Gomez died the entire DEA went to shit.

11. Nice to see Todd get his but I didn't really feel that much when Jesse did it. I always saw Jesse as a much more sympathetic character than Walt. I mean he was a mess after he killed Gale. Seeing him brutally murder Todd was satisfying, but also made me sad because the ultimately morally sound Jesse seemed to have finally disappeared.

12. Oh I didn't even mention that I thought the machine gun contraption was cool but a little too much. Walt was a chemist! He was not an an electrical and mechanical engineer. When has he ever made something that complex before? Every badass stunt he pulled involved some level of chemistry. Maybe the train robbery but he had help with that!  That was one serious contraption for him to make, not to mention all the intangibles involving parking logistics.

14. Loved how when Jesse was going to kill Walt it was the exact same imagery as when he killed Gale. Also was very into the fact that he didn't kill Walt.

15. Was Jesse yelling because he was released or because he had been through so much he was finally lost his mind once and for all. I prefer the second option. Also

16. MIND MELT In the end in that final brilliant shot while Walt is lying on the floor of the lab, did you catch how Walt's body was divided up the beams. A powerful final shot for the series. Walt was a man of many different parts. Father. Husband. Chemist. Meth Dealer. Genius. The list is endless. A powerful visual metaphor for all the things that make us who we are.

17. When it comes to finales, it's always hard to balance what you personally want with the judgement made by the people who actually make the show. I wanted Walt to answer for his sins in a more brutal way. But for me, this episode was WAYYY too much of a happy ending. Don't try to tell me it wasn't, here are the things that work out for Walt:

  • Establishes a fund for Flynn & Holly
  • Scares the shit out of his old nemesis and the woman that scorned him
  • Got to show some love for Badger and Skinny Pete
  • Make relative peace with Skyler and Holly
  • Killed Lydia
  • Killed all the nazis who killed his brother in law.
  • Specifically blew the head off the dude who specifically killed his brother in law.
  • Made relative peace with Jesse his true son.
  • Died in the only place that really made him feel alive - the lab.
Yeah I'd say that it was a happy ending for Walt the sociopathic drug lord. Not what I would prefer but I guess in the end he wasn't really a bad guy. Just a down on his luck cancer patient trying to provide for his family. Right?

18. Ultimately though I'm satisfied with it, I just wish that it took some more risks. Vince Gilligan said there is a much darker and rougher ending that they considered but opted to go for it. I just wished that they didn't feel that Walt needed his happily ever after.

It's  been a real  blast writing these recaps. Thanks for reading and be sure to stay tuned as Game of Thrones returns next year!

September 24, 2013

Breaking Bad Aims For It's Scarface Moment (And Drake Came Along As Well)

From Mr. Chips to Scarface - Vince Gilligan

As we near the final episode of Breaking Bad we must revisit the season's essential opening image. Yes I'm talking about that gigantic machine gun featured above. Now I've covered the machine gun before in my opening post on the season a year ago. There I get all excited about a Hank-Heisenberg showdown, and while I'm still excited for the finale, I'm feeling more than a little nervous as well. The reason has to do with the above quote from Vince Gilligan the show runner. If the show started with Mr. Chips then it's going to end with "Scarface" and based off the image above and the set-up last week, I'd say we're going to get Walter White's Tony Montana moment soon. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.

"Scarface" is a fantastic movie that has reached cult-status for a variety of reasons including Pacino's titanic performance, hip-hop culture latching onto it with a vice grip, and a pretty tight script written by Oliver Stone. Even now rap golden Boy is still referencing the film in his latest music video. Like many others Drake seems to latch onto the violence of the film.  The final iconic images of the film are Tony Montana with his gigantic machine fighting to the death versus his enemies/the world. I worry if Mr. Gilligan has latched onto that image as well. If he has we may be due for an ending that could disappoint us.

Maybe I wasn't clear enough in that last sentence. If at any point in this finale we get former teacher, cancer suffering, Walter White blasting people with that much firepower I will be disappointed. Sure I have no doubt it will be shot spectacularly, but I don't think it will resonate. The reason for that is that Heisenberg is almost purely built on the power of his mind, which is what makes him a unique anti-hero. The great Heisenberg moments have involved more careful planning and science that physical force. Sure the Gus Fring bomb was badass, but it was the set-up that was more brilliant. Dispatching all of his foes at once even while some in prison, cunning and smart, but not physically hard for Heisenberg. As a kingpin, Walt works well without having to do the dirty work himself. 
Now the times when Heisenberg himself, mainly the early days of killing low-level dealers, including the ones he so memorably ran over have all been born of out circumstance and need not careful planning. If you need more evidence that Walt isn't that good of assassin just look how he almost botched killing Mike last season. For this reason Walter White is much more Michael Corleone (that's the Godfather yo) than Tony Montana. Michael does get dirty himself, but it also much more calculating and deeply sinister than Tony Montana. Gilligan has said that he cribs from the Godfather for the show all the time and that's OK with me, because the parts of the Michael character he has put in Walter White are the best.

So if he's cribbing from "The Godfather" but referencing "Scarface" what are we going to get on Sunday? My hope is that by referencing "Scarface" in that legendary quote, Gilligan was just trying to pull in all the worshippers of that movie and we will actually get a finale where Heisenberg plans his attack with the careful precision of a scientist scorned. Leave the shootouts in Miami, give us the psychological showdown. That's the true Heisenberg.

September 15, 2013

TPG's Chemistry Class: Season 5, Episode 14 - Ozymandias (Breaking Bad Recap)

Whoah. Just got out of the shower. Why? Because that episode just made me feel completely dirty and filled with dark energy. This episode more than any other episode in the show just propels things completely forward. Where things go from here, who knows? Well actually, we kind of know because they involve a machine gun and some ricin. So now that the reaction has begun, let's just get right into it.

1. I loved the opening sequence of the happier times. Yet when Walt was taking the phone call with Skyler, did you catch how the shot was framed. Walt on one side, the RV in the middle, and Jesse on the other. Clever way to show just what had been connecting the goofy burnout talking to himself in the desert to the family man lying to his wife.

2. RIP Gomez, you had some great one liners. But seriously, how is Gomez going to bite it so brutally and Hank is going to get off (at first) with just a leg wound? What?

3. So far Walt has used the "fresh start" pitch on three people. First was Jesse. Second was Hank. And finally his family. Didn't work on anybody. Not only does Walt needs to get a new pitch, but he really needs to see how futile an offer it really is. Of course he'll learn this when he tries to go for a fresh start with the maroon van man and sees that it doesn't really work out.

4. Visual metaphors were abound in this episode. Here they are:

  • The boiling water that opened the episode. Shows how things will finally react.
  • Walt looks into the rear view mirror as he's pulling away. He knows that his past is the past but he's still going to have to deal with it.
  • Walt approaches the wise native american dude but a fence separates them. The fence signifies morality, this is evident by the skull hanging on the fence.
  • Marie is in black all episode, probably because whether she knows it or not Hank is toast.
  • The colors of the clothes Holly wears are the exact same as the famous pink teddy bear.
  • The car that Walt is in driving into the sunrise, not the sunset. This means he's off to a new life, although who knows how long it will last.
  • Half of Jesse's face is completely mangled and destroyed, this is evidence of how is half broken but still has fight in him left.
  • The dog seen at the end signifies Jesse who frequently associates with dogs (Problem Dogs, Rabid Dogs) on the show. The dog's path crosses with the car. Jesse and Walt will meet again.

5. "What's with all the greed here, it's unattractive," probably the most bizarrely zen thing ever said by a white supremecist on TV.

6. So the Jane death finally comes around full circle and I gotta say that was totally brutal. I guess since the reaction began at the pilot episode, Walt has been slipping further and further into darkness, and we didn't get a slip, we got a full plunge tonight. But still hearing him say it was so brutal.

7. Earlier I said RIP Gomez, guess I forgot to say RIP Hank. I knew he wasn't going to be around at the final episode, but I'm surprised he made it this far.

8. Yeesh, how terrifying is that lab set-up for Jesse. Chained to the ceiling, horribly beaten and disfigured, taunting by a threat to the only people he cares about, and of course locked in there with America's resident baby-faced psycho killer who "he has a history with!"

9. ULTIMATE MIND MELT FOR BREAKFAST -  One of the most striking things about this episode was how right until the end, the mega dramatic beats tended to occur offscreen. We were really only treated to the aftermath of Hank actually being shot, Jesse being tortured and giving up the information, and Flynn hearing the truth about his Dad. This is no doubt a decision by Vince Gilligan and co to prep us for the final satanic Walt monologue. It worked brilliantly.

10. DESSERT FOR MIND MELT - I was struck that that Walt snatched up the baby. His affection for Holly reminded me of another bald criminal who cared deeply for his family. That man would be Mike Ehrmantraut who like Walt left his daughter behind when the heat was closing in.

11. The real mystery of this show is who the hell is driving that maroon van?

September 9, 2013

TPG's Chemistry Class: Season 5, Episode 13 - To'hajiilee (Breaking Bad Recap)

And now the bullets are flying! Last night's peculiarly titled episode "To'hajiilee" saw the story rocketed forward in a major way. It will certainly be interesting to see where things go from here. But outside of the last 15 minutes, there was a boatload of visual metaphors, awesome call-backs, and more just brimming at the surface. So let's send some picture messages and get into it.

1. Todd as a character is completely fascinating. On one hand he is an earnest, hard-working all American boy next door. He wants to make people happy, do good work, and stay close with his family. Just like he was with Mr White, he was so eager to please Lydia during their little brief conversation, I think it made her uncomfortable. Of course it needs to be noted that he is a child-murdering drug dealing neo-nazi, so yeah he's not that much of an all American boy next door. This duality is the backbone of "Breaking Bad." Each character is a Jekyll & Hide situation with their normal self (teacher, cop, drug-dealer) and then their demented other side (kingpin, vigilante, kind hearted do-gooder). These world's can't stay separate forever and we saw that first hand tonight.

2. Why was the first point not about the shoot-out that closed out this episode? Good question because this was one of the best shootouts I've ever seen on television. Slow motion shot gun blasts, cars being torn to pieces, and of course stunning Western cinematography. That being said I'm shocked that Gomez and Hank are still alive 10 seconds into this thing, I mean those Neo-Nazis had some "Expendables" like weapons!

3. MIND BONE WITH EARLY SIDE OF BACON - Did you catch all the mentions of brands during tonight's episode? The show is as much as study in American Business as it is a character study. In the opening we saw Lydia complain the meth wasn't on brand because it wasn't blue. Later we saw Skyler explain the importance of reinforcing the car-wash brand. Just how important is a brand to these people. Well to Lydia it's important enough that those nazi's are damn sure not going to kill Walt in that cross-fire, him/his product is the essential brand. Everyone else? Not so much? And the car-wash? It's just a matter of keeping up the front, and considering Skyler didn't say it when Saul came in, it looks like the brand is tarnished.

4.Who knew that Huell was a stand-up comedian when he hasn't using his "fastest fingers in the west" hands? Just kidding, but props to Lavell Crawford who's acting in his one scene tonight was excellent!

5. It was no accident that Walt went to see Brock and Andrea before the shit went completely sour for him with the neo-nazi. The entire scene was chilling and based off the Brock was acting he either is still recovering from the poisoning or he is aware of what a monster Walt is. Watching this scene was a great way for the writers to remind us of just how demonic Walt has become. When he finally gets arrested by Hank, I actually felt pretty good. Justice served. Yeah! High Five! Oh, who's that on the horizon.

6. MIND BONE CONTINUED WITH MORE BACON - I never noticed before but Walt's white jacket has a blue lining. This is a great visual metaphor to show how the pull of the "blue magic" is, just like the cancer, is getting closer to consuming him. Later when he drives to the desert, he's wearing a blue shirt. I wonder if we'll see him in an even more blue (prison outfit, chemical suit) in the future? Also the influence of the blue goes beyond him, notice just how bluuueee Walter Jr. and Skyler were at the car-wash. Sign up to cook again and the blue evil just seeps right back in.

7. I'm still un-sure if it was being recorded, but a frantic Walt on the phone confessing to almost everyone of his crimes was beyond sloppy writing. If that recording surfaces again, I'll be disappointed. Just feels too easy for a masterful show like this.

8. Every time I see Todd's uncle Jack I get freaked out. There is something so terrifying about how methodical and business like they are with their jobs. What do you call that? Ahh, yes there it is again, being on BRAND. 

9. Again we got some HEAVY western tropes in this episode. Everything from the positing of Gomez, Jesse, Hank and Walt in the desert, to ye' olde time double cross, to of course a big shootout was Wester inspired. However beyond all the visual, I love how in the end, I love how finally it was a double cross by a partner/friend/and "son" that took Walt down. Betrayal's like the one Jesse did to Walt (if you want to call it that) are an essential part of western and crime narratives. So we'll have to see if Jesse can sit there and watch him die or if his moral compass will guide him to saving Walt?

10. CUFFS ON HEISENBERG - How did you feel when the protagonist/antagonist finally felt that cold steel on his bones? Were you sad, frustrated, elated, or something else? As I said above, because I had seen the chilling Walt-Andrea scene I felt pretty great about it. Here is a man that has killed a lot of people and generally truly deserves what's coming. On the other hand, because of the flash forward I knew he wasn't going to get locked up, so it wasn't that satisfying. 

Quick prediction go! Hank & Gomez are toast. Walt says he wont' cook if they kill Jesse, Walt cooks, kills everyone on some science tip and busts out. Final showdown will be him going to save Jesse from whoever is running things (more nazis or Lydia?)