The Look Back: The Wire’s “Middle Ground”

wire-middleground

In The Look Back I will be looking at movies and television series/episodes with fairly recent anniversaries and writing about why I love them so. Basically it’s a desperate attempt to write about things that would normally have very little relevance at all.

Nine years ago today the nominations for the 57th Primetime Emmy Awards were announced. 2005 was a simpler time; Everybody Loves Raymond led the pack with 10 nominations, Angela Lansbury received her 18th nomination, and Desperate Housewives became the second series ever to earn 3 nominations in a lead acting category (the other series? Golden Girls, of course). But not every nomination announced was as standard as expected. A small HBO drama well into its third year earned its first Emmy nomination ever in the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category. The series was The Wire, and the episode was “Middle Ground.”

For some reason, “Middle Ground” was The Wire‘s first Emmy nomination ever. (The show would only come to earn one more nomination, for its series finale “–30–” again in Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.) How is it that the most talked about series of its time took 3 years to earn an Emmy nomination? Well, because the voters who decide the Emmy nominations are a group of asinine dumbfucks. Regardless, “Middle Ground” has good reason for being The Wire‘s first Emmy nomination. It’s a brilliant hour of storytelling (as most episodes of The Wire are) and stands out from every other episode of The Wires 5 year run. This is because “Middle Ground” is something all other episodes of The Wire are not: a stand-alone episode of television.

What makes “Middle Ground” a stand-alone episode is that all of the major stories of Season 3 start to come to a head. McNulty and co. have successfully sold the Barksdale crew tapped phones and are thisclose to catching Stringer Bell. Bunny has given a presentation revealing the existence of Hamsterdam and Rawls and Mayor Royce are scrambling in how to explain it before the story breaks. Cutty is nearing his redemptive end. And there’s Stinger and Avon, whose relationship is the heart of this episode. All of these stories are reaching their ends because “Middle Ground” is the penultimate episode of The Wire‘s 3rd season, but there’s something about the narrative propulsion that brings a unique energy to the episode.

Take “Middle Ground”‘s opening scene, for example, which is one of the greatest scenes in television history.

The scene is impeccably shot by episode director Joe Chappelle, whose blocking of the scene hearkens back to Sergio Leone westerns. But the scene works as well as it does not because of its incredible visual style, but because of the palpable energy that stems from a simple conversation between two characters, Omar and Brother Mouzone. (I’d love to show every Breaking Bad fan who thinks Gus Fring is the best television villain ever Brother Mouzone, who puts Fring to shame.) Every line crackles, and when watching the scene it feels like it’s the most thrilling thing you’ll ever see, even though it’s just two men talking to each other. Immediately, “Middle Ground” finds energy and propulsion by simply trusting its characters, which is something that carries on throughout the entire episode.

Another benchmark sequence in “Middle Ground” is the collection of scenes where Bunny shows off his precinct to Carcetti. The scenes are made up of, again, two men talking to each other, this time about the simplicities of daily life in Baltimore. Bunny’s precinct has turned into a “normal” neighborhood, something its residents haven’t been used to, and the sequence relishes in the beauty that comes from this newfound normalcy. One scene that particularly comes to mind is when Bunny and Carcetti attend a community meeting.

It’s a short scene that just features people talking, but the scene strikes a deeply emotional chord. It’s a meditation on human connection. The collection of these scenes between Bunny and Carcetti feel like if Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy was set in Baltimore, but that feeling comes to a crushing end once Carcetti reaches Hamsterdam. The close up of Carcetti’s face realizing what Hamsterdam is is a shattering moment in a series full of them, but that devastation could not be achieved without the beauty of the scenes that preceded it.

And speaking of devastation: Stringer and Avon. As mentioned before, Stringer and Avon’s relationship is the heart of “Middle Ground.” It’s been crumbling slowly, but in “Middle Ground” it reaches its breaking point. The last scene the two men share together is another hallmark one, as it is just Stringer and Avon reminiscing about where they’ve come from and where they stand now.

The scene is, again, filled with incredible dialogue, every line more loaded as the next. There’s “We ain’t gotta dream no more, man” the episode’s epigraph, and the ending line of “Us, motherfucker.” It’s one of the most rich and textured scenes of television I’ve ever seen in my life, and it’s only made possible by The Wire trusting its characters and believing in the small moments they’re able to produce.

And it’s made even more devastating by Stringer’s death. The act of killing off Stringer Bell is an incredibly shocking, ambitious, and devastating one (I’d also love to show every Game of Thrones fan who thinks that the show’s killing off of characters are the most ambitious in television history what The Wire did in 2004), but the most crushing thing about it is that it’s just a small moment in The Wire‘s gigantic universe. Sure, Stringer’s death causes serious complications for the Major Crimes Unit, but after the season finale The Wire just moves on.

Handling Stringer’s death in this way brings perspective and gravity to the episode and series as a whole in a way that is, in the macro, uncommon for The Wire. The series has been lauded continuously for its tactfulness in understanding why institutions fail us, and its sweeping weightiness when exhausting the subject. But for my money, The Wire is not recognized enough for its smaller moments and perspective. The most striking thing about the series is how it’s able to craft a gigantic and complex universe while still being able to deliver small and intimate character moments that feel just as weighty as its big picture ideas. This is readily apparent in “Middle Ground,” as the episode is built on small and unique character moments which bring perspective, and is ultimately why the episode works on its own. It’s what I love about The Wire, and it’s why “Middle Ground” is the series’ best episode.

Fargo is the Perfect Chaser to Breaking Bad

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Last night, FX’s Fargo wrapped up its 10 episode run in a wholly satisfying way. The stakes were set against the show from the very beginning, being that it is “inspired by” one of the greatest movies of all time, but somehow, someway Fargo stuck the landing. In all actuality, Fargo really shouldn’t have been this good. Not just because it was working off the unassailable legacy of the Coen Brothers’ classic, but also because it has become increasingly difficult to end cable dramas of the antihero persuasion in ways that are actually good. A prime example of this is Breaking Bad (though I’m also looking at you, True Detective). AMC’s juggernaut drama wrapped up its final run last fall, and looking back at the finale, it feels largely unnecessary. (For those keeping track: my feelings on “Felina” have gone from “perfectly fine while somewhat masturbatory” to “full on masturbatory.”) After years of being badass, Walter White never faced his true punishment and got the last say in his own endgame, riding things out in a storm of bullets. Fargo, on the other hand, managed to craft an ending that wasn’t only satisfying, but also true to its world and characters. In the shadow of Breaking Bad, Fargo shows what a morally satisfying ending should look like, and just how far the antihero genre can be taken in 10 episodes.

The differences between Breaking Bad and Fargo extend further than their Southwest vs. Midwest settings. The main difference between the two shows is how they treat their characters, most importantly the ones who make bad decisions. Obviously, both shows have very complex and differing depictions of the distinction between good and evil. In Breaking Bad, there is no black or white, just gray. In Fargo, the universe is deeply rooted in mythology, spirituality, folklore, and legends that help us learn more about good and evil. But, the most significant difference between Fargo and Breaking Bad’s moral compasses is Fargo’s fundamental understanding of one thing: bad people who make bad decisions are idiots.

From the moment Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) kills his ball-busting wife with a hammer to her head, Fargo makes it clear that this is a very, very bad decision for Lester to make. Lester was introduced as a simple and mild-mannered man (like someone else we knew), but at the moment he decides to break bad, it’s clear that he’s an idiot. Lester calls for help from the ambiguous Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) but ends up with a bigger problem than what he started with. Instead of helping Lester with his wife’s dead body, Malvo shoots and kills the Bemidji chief of police (who has already called for backup) and flees the scene. This leaves Lester to act on his own wits—which he has none of—so logically, he decides to run headfirst into a brick wall, leaving him unconscious for when the backup unit comes.

Instances like these became frequent throughout Fargo’s 10 episode run. Instead of depicting Lester as one step ahead of everyone else, Fargo showed him only making one bad decision after the next. Each lie that Lester told only made us hate him more, and nothing was left up to ambiguity. Where Breaking Bad showed us Walter White consistently getting away scot-free in that “Yeah science! Yeah Mr. White!” kind of way, Fargo made a point of always showing us Lester at peak horribleness. What feeds into this even more is the violence at the forefront of Fargo. While the excessive amount of violence that occurred throughout the show’s run might be a misread of the Coen Brothers’ film on creator Noah Hawley’s part, the violence at least served some purpose in showing us the countless innocent casualties of one man’s idiocy.

Fargo also helped make the case against Lester by making him one of the only living assholes in a world full of saints. What made Fargo bearable was how Hawley took the term “Minnesota Nice” to heart and filled his world with an overwhelmingly amount of goodness. There was Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), the Bemidji cop who was determined to serve justice, Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a good cop, even better father to his daughter Greta, and soon to be Molly’s husband, and Molly’s father Lou, a preserver of good throughout the ages. These characters put the good in good guys, and helped keep hope and justice alive in wasteland of Minnesota winters.

So, when Fargo came to close, justice was indeed served. While Lester didn’t suffer legal punishment or anything of the sort, he did suffer a horrible death only fit for the idiotic monster he had become. The show even hinted at Lester riding his fugitive status out, à la Walter White, but in the end consequences awaited him, and he drowned in a frozen lake. And even better, the good guys won! From what I’ve read, there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with Fargo’s finale. While recognizing that “Morton’s Fork” was at least satisfying, many have noted that it lacked payoff for Molly’s arc in the story. While I at least somewhat understand that dissatisfaction, I think it’s necessary to realize that Fargo was not Molly’s story. People seem to be confusing FX’s Fargo with the Coens’ Fargo, which truly is Marge Gunderson’s story. Since it was a 10 episode miniseries, I don’t think Fargo could just be one character’s story, because it instead built a rich tapestry of distinctive characters and unforgettable mysteries that created the general idea of Fargo.

I don’t want anyone who reads this to think that I am not a fan of Breaking Bad. Even though it suffered from having its weakest episode ever be its last, the whole of Breaking Bad is remarkable television that will undoubtably rank among my favorite shows of all time, (I’ve written nearly 7,000 words about it, for god’s sake!) I do, however, want anyone who reads this to think about what Fargo says about the antihero genre, and the radical changes it made to the genre in 10 episodes. The show was about good guys who prevailed until the very end and bad guys who made idiotic decisions, and it remained utterly compelling throughout. Fargo did the impossible: separated itself and became its own distinct entity from the Coen Brothers’ film, stuck the landing, and, most remarkably, found a new place to take television’s most tired genre.

Cousins, Critically: 2013 In Television

Cousins, Critically started as a vehicle for M. Liam Moore and myself to rewatch Breaking Bad and “dissect each season in a thoughtful and critical manner.” After a while we realized that Cousins, Critically didn’t just have to be about Breaking Bad, and decided to bring in another cousin, which resulted in the best post to ever appear on this blog. With different voices on Aweful Writing, the content became decidedly better, and Cousins, Critically became a qualitative success (page views be damned!). So, in the spirit of the feature’s peak, Aweful Writing presents Cousins, Critically: The Best of Series. In part 1 of a 2 part series, a host of critical cousins has assembled to discuss their favorite television of 2013. Stay tuned for part 2!

J.T. and M. Liam Moore Discuss At Length Their Thoughts on Television In 2013

J.T. Moore: I’m thrilled to be creating a best (and worst) of list through Cousins, Critically. The series of posts that we have done in 2013 would top my list of favorite blogs in 2013, but I guess I’m biased. Then again, best of lists are kind of stupid in general. To say that one work of art is better than the other and rank them against each other is entirely subjective. But what’s more fun than a best of list?

To say that television in 2013 was great would be a massive understatement. There are 2 different posts and counting running at Aweful Writing on my favorites of the year that just have to do with TV, so I’d say that the medium had a good year.

One of the most remarkable things about television in 2013 is the number of fantastic new shows that came from what seemed like nowhere. Once you found you favorite show of 2013, the next week there would be a new one that you loved even more! A specific channel that had a particularly great year in 2013 is the Sundance Channel. They were for 3 for 3 in terms of outstanding new shows with Top of the Lake, Rectify, and Les Revenants (known in the states as The Returned). Instead of lingering on about how great these three shows were (as they all place within my Top 10 for the year) I’d like to talk about what this means for Sundance.

With these three premieres, Sundance experienced what might be one of the greatest calendar years for any network ever. In truth, 2 of the 3 series are foreign imports (Top of the Lake is from the UK, and Les Revenants is from France, obviously), but the selection of them is what matters most. These three shows gave Sundance an incredible year and one that is comparable to AMC’s humble beginnings with the premieres of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. However, I’d hope that Sundance doesn’t go down the dark path that AMC has taken, filled with Small Town Securitys and Low Winter Suns, and that the channel’s programing only gets better. But it’s hard to imagine a better year for the channel than 2013.

How about you, M. Liam? What was some of you favorite television of 2013?

M. Liam Moore: Funny you should mention new series, J.T. Like you, I devoted myself to a new show in 2013, one I began watching at the recommendation of my most trusted TV critic. That show was The Bridge (known in the States as The Bridge), and the critic who touted it as TV’s best new show was … well, there’s nothing to be gained in naming names. Let’s just say that despite an interesting premise, this Scandinavian import stunk like lutefisk.

While The Bridge may not have worked, it did strive to push the envelope. Even if it came up short, the network, FX, deserves credit for giving airtime to such an ambitious show, and allowing the show (which has since been renewed? REALLY?) time to develop its characters, explore its setting and, inevitably, either sink or swim.

FX gets a lot of love from me this year. I understand that, as a white male aged 18 to 49, I am nestled right into the network’s audience-bosom. But just as it sounds like Sundance (which I no longer get – thanks, unborn child! – though I am four episodes into its bewitching Top of the Lake) is willing to go “all in” on shows that could hardly be considered safe, FX has been doing the same thing for years, albeit with a Y-chromosome litmus test.

I love ducking into FX’s comedies: The League, It’s Always Sunny and, of course, the sublime Louie. I rank Justified fourth best among shows I watched in 2013, and The Americans was the best new series I watched this year. A mash-up of Mad Men and Homeland that keeps Mags Bennett alive AND expands Keri Russell’s wardrobe beyond flannel and slip dresses? Yes, please! I’ve got it fifth in my rankings, although only the top four are firm.

This should be lots of fun, J.T. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of Cousins, Critically: The Best of Series! And kudos to you for not including The Killing amongst the litter strewn about AMC’s recent “dark path.” (You know I like to enforce the watch-it-before-you-trash-it rule.) Still, I have to imagine there were some shows on the network that made your Best Of list for 2013, right?

JTM: Yes, it’s true both Mad Men and Breaking Bad placed within my top 10. (Though I stayed strong and didn’t let Breaking Bad take the top spot.) Both series had an excellent 2013 putting in some of their best work ever. Even though the shows are the same age, in 2013 they found themselves in very, very different places. Mad Men (which I found myself the anomaly this year in loving it) seemed like it would be taking it slow for the year, but at episode six titled “For Immediate Release” the surprises started coming, and Mad Men continued to provide some of the most dramatically rich television of 2013. But if I’m saying Mad Men was surprising, then I don’t know what to call Breaking Bad. What’s most surprising is that I’m still able talk about it after were spilled thousands of digital pixels on it throughout the year. So I’ll just say this: one of the shows ended, and the other is getting ready for the end, and all the while they produced some of the best television I have ever seen. I hope this becomes a new rule for shows in their final years.

Another returning show that I loved at one point in time (but is nowhere near it’s final years; I wish it was!!!) that had an interesting 2013 is Homeland. I have to call Homeland interesting because I don’t know if it’s bad or not. I feels bad, hell it feels terrible, but that could be because I was ready to bail after season 2 ended. What was once one of the most thrilling, ingenious, and genuine shows on television has now become the show that I dread most on Sunday nights. The writers don’t have a handle on any of the characters, the plot has become repetitive and convoluted, and the show has even tried (and failed) to put in a few absurd twists here or there. This has resulted in the creation of a show that has no idea what it is anymore (A character study? A show about the CIA? Anything???) and something that is just sad to look at now. But Homeland has accomplished one thing which it deserves credit for: making me want to watch Homeland even less than I did before.

But I’m tired of negative criticism. M. Liam, what other shows that didn’t air on FX made you happy you were watching them?

MLM: I was happy watching AMC’s old reliables as well. Mad Men was what you folks in the industry refer to as a VIEWING EVENT in my house last year. I poured martinis, stacked appetizers and welcomed Roger Sterling into my living room. But let me be clear, J.T.: I smoked no blue meth in tracking Walter White’s decay. (Or was it transformation?)

Had you been suspicious of some drug use this fall, given my positivity toward the show, it would have been understandable after all the whining I did about Lydia, the Nazis, Skyler, YOUR T-SHIRT, etc. But I really did make my peace with Breaking Bad in 2013, and I got there by giving up on perfection and simply enjoying the show’s finale throes. So much happened – so many things we’d been anticipating for so long – and it was handled so deftly, from the writing to the directing to the acting. I had a blast.

Rank Breaking Bad third among shows I watched in 2013, two spots behind a show I haven’t given up on when it comes to perfection. The increasingly dark, crisply beautiful Mad Men was the best TV I watched last year. It offered whip-smart dialogue, fully realized characters and, of course, a totally righteous wardrobe collection. It’s not always subtle – the advertising-agency-as-whorehouse analogy is wearing thin – but what makes Mad Men so much more provocative than anything else on TV is that the show speaks to power and privilege, opportunity and success, capitalism and consumerism – without being didactic. And yes, there is CHANGE, that constant, driving force propelling Mad Men forward, and IDENTITY, the show’s ultimate ace in the hole. Don Draper is an anti-hero; Dick Whitman is his shot at redemption.

My second-favorite show of 2013 was HBO’s half-hour dramedy Girls. It’s a deep dive into the subculture of overeducated, underemployed 20-somethings from privileged backgrounds, drawn to the energy, opportunity and cachet that comes with a New York City address. I thought the show found its legs in 2013, ranging from funny to poignant, coming off emotive but not sappy, with characters at once self-absorbed (Marnie’s Kanye scene) and fiercely, tenderly devoted to each other (the Oasis bathtub scene). It surprised me, J.T., to see you didn’t have Lena Dunham and the gang in your top 10 for 2013. What gives, cuz? I thought we were a couple guys who liked Girls, no?

JTM: You’ll be happy to know that Girls places within my next 10 best series of 2013 list. I thought the show fell short in its second season, but still held my interest. Long story short I liked the short stories that Girls had to offer (“One Man’s Trash” and “It’s A Shame About Ray” were standouts to me) rather than the long story that forced itself in by the end of the season (this is explained more in the next 10). But nevertheless, Lena Dunham has amazing and thought-provoking stories to tell, and even in an off season the show was some very enjoyable television.

M. Liam, if you’ve got nothing more to say on the state of television in 2013, then why don’t we open it up to the trenches of our other critical cousins who have plenty to say about the year in television?

Andy Stermer Exudes Life and Love for House of Cards

When Kevin Spacey talks, I listen. As congressman Frank Underwood in the Netflix original series House of Cards, Spacey talks a lot, sometimes even taking time out of his busy day as a dirty-dealing, revenge-seeking House Majority Whip to speak directly to me. Being a newcomer to the world of high-level television, I suppose it’s possible that I’m swept off my feet too easily, viewing these frequent destructions of the fourth wall as personal acknowledgements instead of trite storytelling devices. In any case, the web of dark political intrigue Spacey weaves with a cadre of well-developed cohorts is at least as addicting as it is over-dramatic. As the feisty young journalist Zoe Barnes, Kate Mara proves as intriguingly salacious as sister Rooney in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but without the weird hair and piercings. Robin Wright is smashing as Claire Underwood, Frank’s cool, calculated wife whose clever power-grabbing schemes at times rival his own. But best of all is Spacey himself, whose southern drawl and psychopathic lack of remorse carry the show even through its more tired moments. In the end, J.T.’s damning accusation of “good, not great” may be rather appropriate for House of Cards. But the rich blend of raw humanity and fantastic malice it’s characters exhibit gives their political adventures a breath of life that’s worth checking out, even if only as a stop gap between (re-watching) seasons of Breaking Bad.

L. James M. Delves Deep into One of the Year’s Best: Top of the Lake

First off, the cinematography in Top of the Lake is incredible. This is immediately apparent in the haunting opening sequence in which, after stunning shots of New Zealand landscape, a 12-year-old girl is found attempting to drown herself. We soon find out that the girl, Tui, is pregnant and that there are a number of shady goings-on in the picturesque town of Lake Top.

Another striking feature of the show is the acting, and for the most part this holds up throughout the series. The lead role, Detective Robin Griffin, is fantastic and played so perfectly by Elisabeth Moss (who you might recognize from Mad Men). In a world of sleezeballs she is one of the only ones trying to make a positive difference. I hear that Anna Paquin was originally offered the role, which could possibly have ruined the whole show. As it is, the casting, acting and directing are all superb. I thought for a while that I wasn’t sold on the character GJ, the faux-guru leader of a group of women looking for answers. Maybe it’s her air of supremacy (“she’s on another plane” says one of her followers) or her dickishness. In any case, she grew on me.

Despite the show’s disturbing content, it really draws you in. The writing is solid and the plot takes you on some nice turns. Also, since it is a miniseries, each episode is packed with development and minimizes the fluff that you might find with your usual drama. The only issues I might have are with the climactic pacing of the last couple episodes, and occasional moments of awkward dialogue.

The music and sound design are great as well. The soundtrack at times can evoke desolate, open spaces, and at other times a claustrophobic intensity… and there’s some normal junk too.

All in all, if you are wanting a looker and a thinker, take a swim in Top of the Lake. Zing!

L. James M.’s other recommendations for 2013 shows from BBC and the Brits

The Fall – another excellent crime drama… starring Gillian Anderson of The X-Files! Who gets more and more beautiful with age! I watched it on Netflix, along with Top of the Lake.

The Wrong Mans – goofy comedy about a couple of dudes who get in way over their heads. On Hulu.

Misfits – wildly inappropriate sci-fi comedy about hooligans on community service who acquire superhuman abilities from an electrical storm. Actually this started in 2009 but they just had their final season this month! I watched this on Hulu+.

Also I hear Orphan Black is good, and Black Mirror looks amazing (though this began in 2011). If the titles tell us anything, they should be inspirational and uplifting.

And on the American front I have to add, in response to J.T.’s remarks regarding AMC’s crappy new shows, at least The Walking Dead had a great first half of season 4 this year.

Molly Moore Is Disappointed by How I Met Your Mother

This scene sucked.

How I Met Your Mother used to be great. I really enjoyed most of the past seasons, but recently it has gone downhill. Season 9 I believe, has hit rock bottom and has been quite a disappointment thus far. All episodes that have aired this season and that will continue to air take place within a 55 hour time period of Robin and Barney’s wedding. I guess the writers really had nothing to write about. Sure, it is nice of them to tie up loose ends and all but at the same time it would be nice to see how life works out for Ted and his future wife, as we have seen Ted fail time after time with relationships. “Bedtime Stories” an episode this season was all in rhyme, in order to get Marvin to fall asleep on a long bus ride that he and Marshall were taking to Long Island. It was creative and all, but it also was incredibly annoying to watch and listen to. (The lack of metre didn’t help either.) Speaking of Marshall, it would be nice to see more of him in current times at the wedding with the rest of the crew, rather than in a car cross-country road trippin’ from Minnesota to New York. I guess we can only hope that the remainder of the season will improve in 2014.

Tony Moore Presents The Legend of Korra

Some of you might be thinking to yourself “What the hell is Legend of Korra?” I am here to answer that very question.  LoK is the second incarnation of the Avatar television show, the first incarnation being The Last Airbender, NOT to be confused with the absolute travesty of a film remake produced by M. Night Shyamalan a few years ago. A little background for those who do not know anything about the show, there are four nations: the Air Nomads, the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Fire Nation, each able to control their respective elements (known as bending). In The Last Airbender we are introduced to Aang, the titular character is the last of his kind, but also the Avatar, a powerful individual who is capable of harnessing power over all four elements. He was frozen in ice for one hundred years and missed the Fire Nation declaring war against everybody and Fire Lord Ozai attempting to take control of the entire world. Over the course of The Last Airbender’s three seasons, we follow Aang and his companions as they help him learn how to manipulate the remaining three elements so he can prevent the end of the world as they know it.

The Last Airbender series was phenomenal. It aired on Nickelodeon so it had the fun, kid-friendly atmosphere but it also got deep into issues of spirituality, moral conduct, and an ever changing world. Along with content that appeals to a variety of age groups, we get displays of bending that are extremely fun to watch. The Last Airbender had all kinds of awesome fight scenes but The Legend of Korra takes the visuals to a whole new level. The first season of The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the events of the first series. Korra is the new Avatar, reborn after Avatar Aang passed away. While The Last Airbender took a good deal of time emphasizing the learning process Aang must go through to learn how to use each element, The Legend of Korra starts out with a nearly fully realized Avatar, able to bend Water (her natural element), Fire, and Earth. Season one of LoK focuses on Korra’s lack of spirituality, a necessity for learning Airbending. We also have the AMAZING addition of Pro Bending, a three-on-three, fast-paced, action-packed spectacle. After that description, I’ll need to throw on this link so you all can see what I mean:

So while The Last Airbender established what bending is, The Legend of Korra displays what you can do with it.

At long last we have come to my review of the second season of The Legend of Korra, airing from September through November of this year. This season has the most adult themes running through its veins than any of the other seasons of Avatar. This time we’re dealing with a civil war, brother fighting against brother, and a whole mess of evil spirits that have come to disrupt the land of the living. This latter theme opens up all kinds of possibilities for the animators and they certainly had fun with it. One of my favorite episodes of the season is one that spans two episodes that tells the story of how the first Avatar came to be, titled “Beginnings, Part 1 and 2”. Studio Mir animated both of these episodes, as well as certain episodes from The Last Airbender and all of LoK first season. I don’t expect all of you to take another nine minutes to watch another clip, but at least open it up and click on certain parts of the video so you can see some of the beautiful imagery produced by these amazing animators:

The writing isn’t always stellar for this show, but the good writing far outweighs the bad so it doesn’t take too much away from the season overall. And don’t take that the wrong way because you can still get very invested in the characters and the story in season two gets surprisingly heavy for a show on a children’s network. I know a cartoon can be a tough sell in this sea of Breaking Bads and Mad Mens but if you are looking for a show that has action, comedy, and real-world situations thrown into a beautiful fantasy world, look no further than The Legend of Korra.

The Top 10 Television Shows of 2013

Rectify

Rectify

This is a bad list. Its badness isn’t necessarily the list’s own fault, but it is still pretty bad. For example, sitcoms and half hour shows in general are poorly represented. There is only one of them, and even if its episodes were 30 minutes, it is practically a half hour drama program. I wanted to illustrate how great television was in 2013, but really all this list does is show how great hour-long programs were. Also, none of the shows that appear on this list aired on broadcast television. There are many, many great shows that air on CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC, but there just wasn’t enough room, and because of this, the list implies that cable television is the best kind of television. But all of this is simply because this list is just a list.

Lists have always been designed to make people angry and cause uproar. Their very foundation is so contrived and so stupid, and in the end they hold no meaning whatsoever. But for some reason they are just so fun to make, so here it goes.

The ten shows that make up  this list truly represent the greatness of television in 2013, but there are at least 10 more shows that could do the same. Any one of the 10 shows (and some of the next 10) could make the bid for “the best show of 2013.” This really speaks to how great of a time it is for television. It seems that in 2013 in particular each and every week a new, great show popped up and became the best show on TV. So don’t say that the golden age is ending because Mad Men and Breaking Bad are over, because right now television is ready to prove that will always be golden.

10. Orphan Black

Orphan-Black-BBC

With Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany rocketed from actress with a cool sounding name to actress giving the best performance on television. In Orphan Black‘s first season, Maslany proved herself a star, giving the performance of a lifetime. Playing not just six, but seven different characters who eventually become acquainted with each other as clones, Maslany bested the Cranstons, Hamms, and Danes of the televerse in 2013’s best performance. But it’s not just Maslany’s sublime starring role that makes Orphan Black so great. The series’ whip-smart writing and twisty and speedy pace helped Orphan Black position itself as one of the best new shows of 2013. At its best Orphan Black was fast, funny, thrilling, and all around fantastic, and it helped that it remained remarkably consistent throughout all 10 episodes.

9. Les Revenants (The Returned)

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When any type of art tries to cover the subject of death it’s bound to be tricky, and when it’s bad it’s really badLes Revenants, however, showed how good death can be portrayed when it’s executed right. Even if most of Les Revenant‘s main characters are the living dead who have returned to life, they aren’t the flesh-eating kind who have no brains. And even if the living characters freak out about their family/friends/acquaintances who have returned to life, they don’t respond with guns or katanas. Yes, it’s the thinking that connects these characters and what makes their journeys so compelling. (And being impeccably scored by Mogwai doesn’t hurt either.) Les Revenants doesn’t dwell in death, but rather flourishes in it. There is thought, reaction, connection, and experience through death, contrary to what its genre might suggest. The best thing about Les Revenants is that it never manages to get caught up in its concept, or the abundance of questions it doesn’t answer. Les Revenants was supernatural, moody, and even beautiful at times, and managed to reprioritize not only how we think about death, but how we watch television.

8. Orange is the New Black

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At first, Orange is the New Black seemed like a mistake. In 2013 Netflix had been 0-3 for original programming (in terms of qualitative success) leading up to Orange‘s release date, and it’s not like the world needed what looked like an inessential perspective of prison told from an upperclass white woman’s point of view. But it eventually turned out that Orange is the New Black was one of the most surprisingly great series of 2013. As the series expanded its point of view and told stories that had nothing to do with Piper Kerman (the show’s main character) Orange is the New Black proved that it was one of the most powerful shows on television. Whether it was the story of Tricia, the tragically fated addict, or Sophia, who seems to be television’s first real and complex transsexual character, Orange is the New Black made it clear that it had stories worth telling. Even if by episode 7 you had no idea what the track star’s name was, you knew that her story was affecting and important television, and that Orange is the New Black had multitudes more to tell.

7. Rectify

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By all counts Rectify was the best new series of 2013. It’s impossible to watch Rectify and not be taken aback by the show and everything it embodied. Rectify is practically 100% different from everything else on television. It’s an intimate look into one man’s new life after spending 19 years on death row, and it manages to find beauty in everything. It’s the little things that count in Rectify. In “Plato’s Cave” Daniel Holden, the show’s main character, spends a substantial part of the episode in a Walmart, mesmerized by everything around him. In “Drip, Drip”, Daniel finds a random man and ends up wrestling him in front of a statue of a crossbred goat-woman. Even if it is the slowest moving and most bizarre show on television, everything about Rectify is meditative, entrancing, and rewarding. Aden Young is magnetic as the series’ leading man, and supporting performances from Abigail Spencer and Adelaide Clemens round out one of the best acted shows of 2013. There is beauty and resonance everywhere in life, and Rectify makes that simple fact known.

6. Mad Men

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It pains me very much to have Mad Men stand so low on this list. The sixth season of this veteran AMC Drama was dismissed by fans and Emmy voters alike, which may be the worst crime any television viewer committed in 2013. Mad Men wasn’t boring, repetitive, or unnecessary in 2013, because it turns it was absolutely essential to what the show is becoming now. The entire arc of season 6 didn’t really click until the last episodes of the season, but once it finished its run, Mad Men clocked in with one of the most fully realized seasons of television since when The Wire was on TV. Somehow Matt Weiner managed to bring more depth, profundity, and grandeur to one of the best shows of the 2000’s, and really showed what we’ll be missing come 2016.

5. Justified

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In 2013, Justified flew by at what seemed like the pace of a speeding bullet, and the most entertaining show on television became even more entertaining. After a slight misstep in 2012 (due to following the impeccable season 2), Justified managed to successfully reboot its format by introducing an intriguing season long mystery. And it worked spectacularly! The mystery managed to stay interesting throughout the entire season, even more supporting characters were added and fleshed out, and the show continued on as slick as ever. And even in its own reinvention, Justified still remained to be what it once was. None of the charm, thrill, emotional affection, or simple fun was lost in the process, as Justified somehow managed to accomplish what seemed impossible: make itself even better than what it already was.

4. Breaking Bad

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If Justified flew by at what seemed like the pace of a speeding bullet, then the final episodes of Breaking Bad flew by at the speed of a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. (Sorry.) But seriously, to say that those last eight episodes were fast paced would be the year’s biggest understatement. In its final days, Breaking Bad delivered some of its strongest individual episodes anyone had ever seen, which make up one of the strongest final seasons of all time. The episodes weren’t just mechanically fast, but they were thrilling, affecting, and often times emotionally defeating. The writing was smart, the direction awe-inspiring, and the performances better than ever. There were intense standoffs and interrogations, hypnotic dream-like sequences, heartfelt character moments, breathtaking action sequences, and above all, desolate beauty. Even if I wasn’t too happy about its endingBreaking Bad left us with one of the most incredible runs of episodes ever, and a great final arc to one of the best dramas of all time.

3. Game of Thrones

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Throughout the entire run of Game of Thrones‘ third season, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss demonstrated how great their trademark sustained storytelling could be. By ditching the 1 book per season rule that was established in the first two seasons, Game of Thrones got to relish in the details, and elevated from the best fantasy show on television to the best drama on television period. Each episode wasn’t as sporadic as previous ones were, even though the season covered about as much ground as every other series on TV did combined. There were also significant improvements from book to screen (which is quite remarkable considering A Storm of Swords is the best book of the series to date), the most notable being the development of Margarey Tyrell as an actual character. Game of Thrones has always been (and will always be) a thrill to watch, and with season 3 it showed that it could be truly astounding television.

2. Top of The Lake

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Top of the Lake didn’t really feel like a television show, but rather a 6 hour movie. Nothing that aired in 2013 was more atmospheric or more engrossing than Top of the Lake. (And that’s not just because it was visually stunning.) Top of the Lake was structured around one upsetting case of a pregnant and missing 12-year-old in a small New Zealand town. Heading the investigation was Robin, a former native of the town (played rivetingly by Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss), and as she reacquainted herself with the town, Robin and viewers realized why she left the godforsaken place. In the end, Top of the Lake was bold, disturbing, saddening, yet completely absorbing, and left us with some of the best television we’ll never see again.

1. Enlightened

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The best kind of television is the kind that makes you feel something. And in 2013, no show was more emotionally affecting than Enlightened. The experience of watching Enlightened had always been different from most television throughout its 2 year run, and in 2013 it might have been the most powerful viewing experience of the year. Enlightened told the story of Amy Jellicoe (played magnificently by Laura Dern), a woman who saw herself as an “agent of change.” Amy had far-reaching aspirations (season 2 centered around the takedown of an entire corporation), but it didn’t matter if she achieved them or not, because it was the trying that really mattered in the end. In 2013, everyone who watched Enlightened had the pleasure of seeing of seeing Amy and others try to make a difference in their lives, and understand the essence of change. Enlightened could be funny, tragic, poignant, and inspirational in any given episode, and demonstrated how brilliantly constructed a half hour of television could be.

In just 4 hours, Enlightened told the best story of 2013. Each of the 8 episodes deemed themselves as necessary viewing, ranging from universe expanding perspectives (“Higher Power”, “The Ghost is Seen”) to brutal and honest conversations (“All I Ever Wanted”, “Agent of Change”). But in the end, HBO cancelled Enlightened. Even if it is gone now, Enlightened will always stay with those who watched it. There was no story more moving than Amy Jellicoe’s, no examination of humanity more beautiful than Enlightened‘s, and no more profound viewing experience than this 8 episode 2nd season. I won’t ever forget Enlightened, and chances are if you watched you won’t forget it either. Enlightened was the best show of 2013.

2 Angry Men: The Postmodern Realities of Mad Men and Breaking Bad

What you call love was invented by guys like me… To sell nylons.

We hate to say it, but postmodernism is everywhere. It’s been in our books, plays, movies, criticism, and plainly put, art for decades, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. More recently, postmodernism has found itself in American scripted television. It’s been extremely apparent in the meta, fourth wall breaking sitcoms like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Arrested Developmentand Community, but postmodernism has been much more important in what’s been called our most recent “golden age of TV.”

Starting with The Sopranos in 1999 and ending with Mad Men in what will be the spring of 2015, this so-called golden age has been strung together by one thing: control (or the lack thereof). Whether it’s the crazed showrunners who work behind the scenes, or (to use a term coined by Brett Martin) the difficult men who find themselves as protagonists, control is an essential theme that embodies these shows and concerns their postmodernism. Some of the easiest examples of this lie within the last two shows of the golden age: Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

In Mad Men, nothing is really defined. Everything in Don Draper’s world continues on without question, even if Don  asks one himself. When the series started in 2007, the primary question it asked was “Who is Don Draper?” Mad Men answered that question at face value early on, and what’s important is that it responded with a simple “Who cares?” As the series went on, it went against the natural instincts of a television show and asked more questions than answering them. As viewers struggled to figure out what Don Draper was and what kind of world he was living in, he himself showed that he had no control of his life and even asked those questions too.

Throughout the years, viewers learned more about the world Don Draper was living in, but somehow it still remained indistinguishable. Don Draper and the eponymous Mad Men were seen to be manipulating everyone around them through their work. Happiness, love (see quote above), safety, and above all, life in Don Draper’s world were all proven to be fake, and even if the Mad Men themselves were creating these lies, it was evident that none of them had control over their own lives. Mad Men showed that there were no fixed rules, values, or meaning in its world, making it the ultimate postmodern reality. As Don Draper said himself, “The universe is indifferent.”

Like Don Draper, Walter White might be under the impression he has control in his life, but he really doesn’t. Walter White made the choices that brought him from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to meth manufacturing kingpin, but that doesn’t mean he has any control over what happens to him. It’s not Walt’s choices that advance him in his life, but the reality of Breaking Bad that jerks at and propels the man into the wild and intense situations he finds himself in so often.

Throughout the entire run of Breaking Bad, Walt never figures out that it’s the postmodern reality he’s living in which leads his life. The man has no control over any decision in his life, and every instance that he finds himself in flies right by before his eyes. Breaking Bad flies by so fast that Walt (or any of the given characters) are never given a moment to breathe. There is no definition or meaning to Walt’s life, as he finds himself without any control in any given situation, ultimately living a life directed by postmodernism. One moment, Walt might be having breakfast with his wife and child, and the next speeding through the roadway with gun in hand.

Both Don Draper and Walter White live in postmodern realities. There are no rules, values, and no one has control. Yet, no one does anything about this. In both Mad Men and Breaking Bad the realities keep on advancing, without any of the characters’ say. Perhaps it’s this acute sense of postmodernism that makes these shows so golden.

Cousins, Critically: The Final Season of Breaking Bad

Goodbye.

Again, I am joined by my cousin and frequent contributor to Aweful Writing, M. Liam Moore. This post will be our last on the fantastic series known as Breaking Bad. We hope to dissect each season in a thoughtful and critical manner in what we call “Cousins, Critically.” We have written about seasons 1, 2, and 4, and podcasted about 3 and 5

J.T. Moore: The Final Season” of Breaking Bad is one for the record books. This isn’t because it’s ridiculously good, but it’s because it held nothing back. These last eight episodes ran like one, 300 MPH kick to the throat. It was fast, it was fun to watch, it started to hurt, it turned devastating, and it was like nothing we’d ever felt before. They almost killed us.

Where Breaking Bad pandered in its “Fifth Season” when trying to make eight episodes into a compelling, cohesive narrative, the “Final Season” knew exactly what it was doing and where it was going. Each episode was intensely calculated, knowing where to make the viewer think it would end, and pushing miles past that. Every scene made up a breathtakingly high-speed and amazing story, even when some episodes slowed down. When episodes like “Rabid Dog” took a step back and took a moment to stew in its characters, it measured up to the insanely great standard Breaking Bad set for itself in its last eight episodes.

But even though these eight episodes are truly fantastic, they don’t make up the best season of Breaking Bad, or even the best show of 2013. The season was closely calculated to perfection, and the series finale tied literally everything up perfectly, but it was just perfectly fine. It’s not like it was bad or anything, but the show’s last two “seasons” were constructed in a way where it was necessary for them to fulfill the plot. As I alluded to in Season 5’s podcast, I wasn’t too crazy about both of the seasons’ flashforwards (being Mr. Lambert and his machine gun, and Mr. Lambert retrieving his ricin). In its prime, Breaking Bad was never a show about fulfilling plot, but a show about a character’s story. The Final Season just happened to end the character’s story earlier than the show’s plot was wrapped up.

M. Liam, should I be allowed to use so many superlatives on top of finding “Felina” disappointing, or should I be put in some sort of crazy superfan facility?

M. Liam Moore: We should chain you up to a dog trolley and make you watch all six seasons over and over again until you come to your senses – that’s what we should do, J.T.

The final season left me completely satisfied, which is odd for a show that seemed at times to be hell-bent on disturbing its viewers, or at least making them uncomfortable. It tied everything up neatly plot-wise (not a minute of wasted air time!), it meted out an acceptable amount of justice and – most gratifying from my perspective – it allowed the characters to simmer in their own juices a little bit, to reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve become. Walt’s character has made a grand transformation over the course of six seasons, and so has the show itself, evolving, as you’ve pointed out, into an action-packed thriller built solidly on the foundation of characters it took the time to develop early on. And just as we glimpsed flashes of the “old Walt” in The Final Season, I think we similarly glimpsed flashes of that old, quiet Breaking Bad, so intensely focused on character and ideas.

But yes, it was a wild ride too! I think the enduring image from this season, for me, will be Jesse, wild-eyed and free, screaming as he crashes through the Nazi compound’s gate, making his escape not just from the Nazis, of course, but from Walt as well.

And how about those Nazis? In previous seasons, I found myself frustrated that there was so little contrast to illuminate Walt’s “bad-ness.” Every character around him of consequence was either impotent or, like Walt, bad. How do you know something is dark if there is no light? Bring in something darker – like Nazis, I guess. This gets a little cartoonish – much like the zombie cartel twins did in previous seasons, I suppose – but it works to cast Walt’s crusade in a sympathetic light. I’m curious, J.T., does Walt achieve redemption in your eyes? And what can a show with so little good tell us about morality, good versus evil, right versus wrong?

JTM: What irked me about this final season (besides those nazis) was how it hinted at redemption but never fully got there. Walter White is a terrible human being, and one of the worst persons ever to grace our television sets, so why should he be given the opportunity to even ponder the thought of redemption? Every time I think about the finale, a read it in a different way. Was Walt redeemed? Probably not, but he did get the last say. Instead of dying in strife and desperation (like if he were to die in “Ozymandias” or in a slightly altered “Granite State”), Walt got to die in his happy place, having solved all his problems that had solutions. But one could argue that Walter White had died long ago, and The Great Heisenberg perished with his money, so was that Walt who died, or just a sad and empty bag of bones?

It’s not like Walt was totally redeemed though. Instead of living the happy life, making snow angels in New Hampshire with his wife and kids, Walt died alone, with his tarnished legacy living long after him. So, I dunno, I guess he got what he deserved. But still, he died in happiness, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to shake that. I guess that’s the consequences of having the writers live with this character for so long. Instead of viewing Walt from a morally weighted outsider’s perspective, the writers (and even some viewers) eventually entered his headspace (probably around the beginning season 5) and fully embraced him as their hero.

As for morality, that’s a pretty loaded question. Do we as viewers have the right to judge where these characters should end up? I’d say yes, but the argument could be made otherwise. Because I’m unable to see past Walt’s slightly redemptive end, I don’ think I have the in-depth, philosophical answer we’re looking for. So do you, M. Liam, think Breaking Bad says anything about morality? Obviously throughout the entire series there is a moral focus, but what does “Felina” in particular have say as an ending point?

MLM:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Walt may not gain happiness in the end, but he does gain serenity. After seeking to control everything in his world at all costs for so long, Walt becomes at peace with his fate as a consequence of the decisions he’s made. This acceptance is hastened, no doubt, by his deteriorating health. Combined, they make him more sympathetic – like a death-row inmate reflecting on his crimes. I’m OK with that character growth. “I liked it,” as Walt might say.

It echoes nicely the unforgettable scene in which Jesse rejects Wynn Duffy his AA group leader for making peace with his mistakes, for forgiving himself or, as Jesse sees it, for excusing the bad things he’d done in his past in order to carry on in the present. Jesse is, as you’ve pointed out, never really comfortable in the gray area between right and wrong. But that’s where Breaking Bad lives (unless you’re a Nazi or a Mexican druglord, of course). All of us, Jesse learns, make moral compromises – and excuses – in order to advance our own interests, no matter what side of the law we occupy. If right and wrong are malleable things, then where do we draw the line? Is Marie’s thievery, as a coping mechanism for an unfulfilling home life, more excusable than Walt cooking meth in the face of a terminal illness? If Hank cuts corners to get ahead at the DEA, is that more excusable than Skyler using drug money to start her own car wash? It’s telling that Walt re-engages in his quest after seeing Gretchen and Elliott tout their “good works” on TV. It’s pride, yes, but in his jaundiced eyes, those two are just as tainted as the rest of us.

“Felina” also serves to strip Walt’s motives bare. He’s forced to admit his decision to “break bad” was less about providing for his family than about his own ego. There was no better scene (or episode), for my money, than the one in which Walter Jr. hugs his father poolside. (Perhaps I’m going soft in my impending fatherhood.) It captures the disconnect between Walt’s stated motives and what his family, in fact, really wants out of Walt – honesty, love, emotional availability. But what Junior gets are more manly platitudes from his clueless, almost indignant father.

I said in the first installment of these rambling back-and-forths that I thought gender was key to any critical viewing of Breaking Bad. I’m curious, J.T., since we’re both men now (happy birthday, BT-dubs), what you think of that claim now that it’s all said and done. Also, you’ve told me Vince Gilligan has expressed disdain for anything political in TV series. I’m wondering, especially in light of the final season, if you think the creator has since modified his views?

JTM: For my money, Breaking Bad, was always, and will always be a man’s show. This doesn’t mean that it’s a show built for male viewers (though the bros do love it) but that its core will always be relating to manhood. Even until the very last minutes of the show’s run, it was the most masculine thing on TV. “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself,” Hank said as he accepted his death sentence. When Walt visited his old pals Gretchen and Elliot, he flexed his power and brooding masculinity, and without Gilligan’s finessed direction of the scene, it would have just seemed masturbatory. Walt and Jesse’s last moment together was a sturdy nod, seeming to connote that “It’s been fun, dude” feeling in the simple, man to man setting. Gus Fring described the narrative’s core best in his “a man provides” speech in season 3.

But like you said in our first post, there’s so much more to the show than its “fist-pumping, engine-revving, loogie-hocking” surface. There will always be the profound silence that the show is built on, or the deep and focused character moments that we love so much. Even in “Felina” there is that tremendous scene between Walt and Skyler that you already mentioned, or the extremely beautiful sequence of Jesse building his box that he described in season 3. And this is why we love the show. It can be so many things at the same time, and we constantly have to step back and think on it.

Yet the politics of the show still seem peculiar. I’ve always thought that the show is an argument for raising teachers’ salaries, rather than affordable health care. Walt’s problems come from the fact that isn’t making enough money, even though he’s a Ph.D certified genius. This stems into the Libertarian, survival of the fittest situation that we described before, and that stays true until the end. Walt has to take care of things himself, without any help from anyone. The government is out to get him, and even worse, they cornered his innocent wife into a new and terrible life.

This is all really nothing new to Breaking Bad. Gilligan’s statements that I brought up before were made after everything was said and done, so I think he’ll still remain by them (or at least remain coy). M. Liam, do you think that the final season takes us to any interesting or new places in the context of gender, politics, narrative, or really anything else? Do those places change anything about the show now that it’s over?

MLM: J.T, if “Cousins, Critically” empowers you to deliver the term “masturbatory” in a semi-respectable setting, then as far as I’m concerned, this whole experiment has been a triumph. Page views be damned.

At the risk of … spouting? … a masturbatory rant myself, I will say the search for allegory in Breaking Bad, particularly as a meditation on America’s spirit of rugged individualism and its social costs, has been a rewarding way to approach the show. The final season is littered with references to libertarian ideology. “Who washes a rental car?” is classic ownership-society rhetoric, and when Jesse pulled Reagan’s biography, Dutch, off Hank’s shelf — well, I’m not sure there’s any mistaking the symbolism there.

Whether the show espouses or critiques the Gipper’s worldview is a tougher nut to crack, and it goes to your question of whether the final season takes us to any new places, J.T. At the start of the series, I was convinced Breaking Bad was subversively anti-capitalist, with a little Occupy populism mixed in. (Remember the scene where Walt torches the rich guy’s car?) It’s a credit to the thoughtfulness of the writers and complexity of the show that, while watching the final season cast Walt in a more sympathetic light, I began to suspect I may have been wrong about everything.

When Walt asks Ed what he will do with Walt’s millions upon inevitably finding him dead in New Hampshire (State motto: “Live Free or Die”), Ed’s answer, in short, is that Walt should know better at this point than to trust anyone but himself. Except the Nazis and Mexican drug lords, everyone in Breaking Bad‘s world is good — until being bad suits his or her interest more. Even when characters do good — charitable donations by Gray Matter and Gus Fring are obvious examples here — it out of self-interest, self-preservation or other nefarious motives. In a world like this, maybe we are better off on our own. And certainly it’s better to recognize the truth than to end up like Jesse.

The 65th Primetime Emmys Ask the Question: “Why Do You Care?”

“What the fuck???”

After I finished watching the (DVR-ed) telecast of the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards last night, I was struck with one very distinct and predominant thought: “That was a very interesting episode of Breaking Bad.” It’s kind of amazing how “Granite State,” an episode that had to follow the juggernaut that is “Ozymandias” somehow managed to outshine television’s biggest night of the year. The Emmys were bad this year. Very, very bad.

It’s not just the results that were bad. The actual telecast, which usually manages to be better than The Oscars, Golden Globes, and Grammys was terrible in every way possible. The jokes were not funny, the musical numbers unnecessary and uninspired, and the whole thing felt like it was in a funeral home, where one long three-plus hour eulogy was being given. It shouldn’t be this hard to make an actually entertaining awards show, but somehow it still is. And, oh, those results.

After the first awards were given out, it seemed like the results were actually going to be interesting. Merritt Wever deservedly won the first statue of night, and gave the second best speech of the ceremony. Tony Hale also deservedly won, and it actually seemed like things were going to change. Modern Family‘s stranglehold on the Emmys was going to be over, and it would be the best night ever. But then, the predictable happened. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won the second year in a row for her role in Veep, which is pretty great, but also pretty boring. Other than her awesome speech (with Tony Hale) it seemed like the night would just get more boring and more pointless. And it did.

Some of the big winners of the night included Jim Parsons (who is doing solid work, but come on!), Laura Linney(?), David Fincher (his win over Michelle MacLaren was predictable, but still devastating), and Claire Danes (who is giving the best performance on television). But it wasn’t all boring, because there was a point when the results became just crazy. Bobby Cannavale somehow managed to win Best Supporting Actor for his role in Boardwalk Empire, beating the likes of Jonathan Banks, Aaron Paul, Mandy Patinkin, and Peter Dinklage. Why did that happen? No one really knows. On top of Cannavale’s win was Jeff Daniels for his lead role in The Newsroom. It’s obvious that Daniels won because he’s been portraying Aaron Sorkin’s wet dream vision of what Hollywood would like to see Republicans act like. But still, he beat Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Damian Lewis and Kevin Spacey. Jeff Daniels did. For The Newsroom. Just think about that for a bit…

But the night wasn’t all bad. Anna Gunn finally got her Emmy, having the final say over the vitriolic, disgusting Breaking Bad fanbase. Stephen Colbert somehow managed to beat The Daily Show‘s ten year winning streak. Henry Bromell was recognized for his fantastic Homeland script, “Q&A.” But that’s about it. Three things I was legitimately happy about. THREE THINGS in the entire Emmys.

The telecast seemed like it would never be over, but it finally was. It wasn’t rewarding, though. All of the momentum built up (supporting actor/actress wins, 30 Rock winning writing) culminated in Modern Family winning their fourth consecutive Outstanding Comedy award. It seems like the Academy are the only ones who still find Modern Family funny/still watch Modern Family. The voters showed that change really isn’t possible, and the bad guys always win. And then another bad man won, when Breaking Bad won their first(!) Outstanding Drama award. BB showed us that all you really need is hype to win, and the show was hyped, hyped, hyped!  But, I wasn’t really happy that it won. This may seem surprising, because I am one part of a two-headed beast which has spilled over 10,000 digital words over Breaking Bad, but as I have said before, Season 5A was not Breaking Bad‘s finest. I would’ve been happier seeing the award go to Game of Thrones or Mad Men, but it’s fine. It’s the Emmys!

And the Emmys are stupid. The voters showed us that they really don’t care about quality, and that voting seems to be just a random clusterfuck of madness. Laura Dern didn’t win for what may have been the finest performance of the year, drama or comedy. Louis C.K. only won one out of nine awards. Top of the Lake, one of the year’s best works of art in any medium only managed to win a Cinematography award. But then again, we sometimes fail to realize who these voters are. They’ve never given Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, or television’s greatest show of all time The Wire (among many, many others) any recognition, because that’s just what they do.

So why do we care? It’s just the Emmys, and year after year we see how stupid they are. There’s no point in tuning in and the end it isn’t satisfying at all. It’s a sickness, a plague, something worse than Walter White’s soul. But we keep watching. Not because it’s interesting, or because it’s good, but for unknown reasons. The only thing I really know is that “Granite State” was a really interesting episode of Breaking Bad.