Fargo is the Perfect Chaser to Breaking Bad

fargo-trailer

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.

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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.

Singing the Praises of Breaking Bad’s Michelle MacLaren

Bryan Cranston and Michelle MacLaren

FULL SPOILERS FOR ALL OF BREAKING BAD FOLLOW

It’s a very sad time for Breaking Bad. It’s not because there are only three (!) episodes left to air, or that nothing will never be the same again, but it’s because last night’s episode (titled “To’hajiilee”) was the last Breaking Bad episode to be directed by Michelle MacLaren.

MacLaren’s name might not be a main staple of Breaking Bad like Vince Gilligan or Bryan Cranston are, but she is just as important as those two. Directing many of the series’ finest episodes and moments, MacLaren has been responsible for much of the greatness that Breaking Bad is known for. She definitely ranks among Breaking Bad‘s best directors (the only two who come close are Rian Johnson and Gilligan himself), and she could make the bid for the greatest working director in television.

It’s MacLaren’s range as a director that makes her such a gifted artist. Her work conveys every emotion present in Breaking Bad, be it depravity, devastation, insanity, dread, or even glee. MacLaren can make a smaller staged scene work wonderfully, but her expertise really excel when the ante is upped. Shootouts, mass murders, car chases, MacLaren can really do it all, and do it excellently.

In some of the episodes she’s directed, MacLaren has really nailed Jesse’s most emotional moments. He’s a character who has been through arguably the most throughout the show’s run, and he has the moments to prove it. Take the time he sat in front of his mega-speakers, in “Thirty-Eight Snub.” The way MacLaren has our point of view move away from Jesse really illuminates who he has become. We don’t know him anymore, and his behavior proves it. Another moment that MacLaren stages similarly, is Jesse’s monologue from his hospital bed, in “One Minute.” MacLaren again changes our perspective of Jesse, this time zooming in on him in one of his most broken and emotionally depraved moments. Now, much of the credit is due to Aaron Paul’s wonderful performance, and Thomas Schnauz’s great writing, but the way in which MacLaren executes it really makes the scene.

MacLaren’s talent also lies in the craziness that is Breaking Bad. Her tense and taut direction of the show’s most thrilling moments are what she gets the most attention for, and it is for good reason. In the opening minutes of “Shotgun,” Walter White is in his most frayed state of mind, and MacLaren conveys this sense of feeling incredibly. Shooting from the front of his Aztec’s point of view, the viewer truly experiences what Walt is going through, dangerously weaving in and out of traffic. There really is no calm moment in the scene, a decision MacLaren made right to really embody the moment’s state of mind. This scene was almost mirrored in “To’hajiilee” and it was just as excellent (if not better) as the episode whipped into its crazy-intense gear.

Car chases aren’t the only crazy things Breaking Bad and MacLaren do well; gunfights, shootouts, and murders are among the show’s best moments. When watching the notorious, eponymous scene in “Salud,” the viewer can barely believe what is happening before their eyes. MacLaren shoots the action up close and from afar, for the viewer to see what is really happening. By doing this, the action works incredibly well, and the very fact that mass murder has occurred flies by.

Another great MacLaren directed action scene is the parking lot shootout. I think it’s safe to say that there will probably (emphasis of probably!) never be a better scene on Breaking Bad than this one. In “One Minute” MacLaren is able to make even the simplest things seem like the most tense things in the world. A digital clock changing minutes, random people walking through a parking lot, Hank’s bloodied hand reaching for a stray bullet… They’re all the most important things in our lives when watching that scene, all thanks to MacLaren. She can even make an offscreen shootout (in “Buried”) terribly tense!

Action scenes aren’t always the most tense scenes that MacLaren has directed. In “Buried,” Marie finally finds out that Skyler has been in on Walt’s criminal life, and it is gut-wrenchingly intense. From the beginning of the scene, the camera cautiously “walks in” on the two mid-discussion. The two speak in silence and in sadness, and the way the scene is staged, this sense of emotion is conveyed devastatingly. From the beginning, the conversation is shot so closely and personally, it is like we are almost there with the two sisters. This sense of closeness continues on, and makes the end result even more devastating than it already is. MacLaren stages and shoots the slap, argument, and fight over the baby so well, it makes the viewer feel like we don’t even want to be watching, but in the good way, of course.

As I mentioned above, MacLaren’s last episode was “To’hajiilee,” and boy, was that a way to go out. There were so many perfectly staged and shot moments I could write another post dedicated to the episode alone. What should be noted is the last twenty minutes (obviously). Those last twenty minutes were some of the finest twenty minutes the show has ever produced! There was a car chase except with much more emotional depth and fraught tension! There was an incredible gunfight! But the most notable thing about the episode, is the lead up to that explosive shootout.

What’s interesting is that there was silence. Silence, is something that Breaking Bad excels at, more than any other television show. The silence was totally unpredictable coming from MacLaren, but as usual, she knocked it out of the park. Instead of serving as necessary lead up to the gut-punch that followed, the moment was incredibly emotionally satisfying. It was beautifully shot, fabulously staged, and had so much to it. MacLaren made the silence the most important aspect of an already vitally important episode.

But, Breaking Bad isn’t all murder, mayhem, and melancholly. The show can be fun, especially in it’s wonderful montages. And it just happens that MacLaren has directed the show’s best montage. In the (unembeddable) montage from “Gliding Over All,” MacLaren radically changes what we about know Breaking Bad. The montage, set to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” glides through months and months of time, an unprecedented move in the universe of Breaking Bad. But, MacLaren’s direction of the montage makes it seem like a regular Breaking Bad montage, and even a necessary Breaking Bad montage. Everything about the montage is so fundamentally wrong, and goes against everything Breaking Bad stands for, but it turns out that it’s the best montage the show has ever produced. And it just so happens that MacLaren is nominated for an Emmy for her work in this episode, and there would be no greater send-off gift.

MacLaren might not seem like the key to Breaking Bad‘s greatness, but she really is. The scripts are almost always great, and the acting is often the best on television, but what makes Breaking Bad works is it’s execution. And boy, is MacLaren a great executor. Earlier I said that Michelle MacLaren could make a bid for the greatest working director on television, but I think that bid could be extended to any medium.

Here are some other highlights of MacLaren’s work on Breaking Bad:

  • “4 Days Out” was the first episode I really loved, and it just happens to be MacLaren’s first directed episode on Breaking Bad. Coincidence? I think not.
  • “I.F.T.” Enough Said…
  • The montage in “Shotgun” detailing Mike and Jesse’s car ride.
  • The montage of the prison killings may be sick, but it works incredibly well.
  • Skyler and Hank’s confrontation in the diner in “Buried” was again, almost too much to handle.
  • The shot of Kuby and Huell lying on the bed of money in “Buried”!
  • THAT SHOOTOUT IN THE DESERT IN THE END OF “To’hajiilee”!!!

Cousins, Critically: The Podcast – Breaking Bad Season 3

CC LOGO

It could only come to this… It’s time for the first ever Cousins, Critically: The Podcast! CC:TP will act as a podcast form of the column that runs at this blog known as “Cousins, Critically.”

Joining me in podcast form is frequent contributor to Aweful Writing and co-creator of Cousins, Critically, M. Liam Moore. In the first instalment of CC:TP, we discussed Breaking Bad‘s 3rd season (timely, we know). Moving at our established glacial pace, we talked for over forty-five minutes (the driving discussion really ends around the 38 minute mark, but we keep going), so if you make through the whole thing, good on you. The topics dissected and analyzed in this installment range from the greatness of season 3, Aaron Paul and Jesse, the episode “Fly,” sympathy for Walt, Walt and the other characters’ decay, the show’s portrayal of women, Skyler, our favorite episodes, the pizza on the roof, and many, many other topics. And in all that, we failed to compare ourselves to THE COUSINS of Breaking Bad, but it’s the first podcast, so give us a break.

Stay tuned to see if we make it to iTunes.

Here is the Soundcloud link (where you can download the mp3 format):

Cousins, Critically: Breaking Bad Season 2

Cousins, Critically

Again, I am joined by my cousin and frequent contributor to Aweful Writing, M. Liam Moore. We have been rewatching Breaking Bad in anticipation of its final season’s return on August 11. We hope to dissect each season in a thoughtful and critical manner in what we call “Cousins, Critically.” The piece on season 1 can be found here.

J.T. Moore: Season 2 of Breaking Bad is an incredibly interesting season of television. Where season 1 laid the groundwork and foundation for understanding the show, season 2 operates with full force, working to cement its place within the all-time TV greats. Season 2 works in a different way than season 1 did, because it tells its story while considering an essential emotional theme within the show’s framework: fear. Don’t get me wrong, M. Liam, I’m aware that season 1 took fear into account in season 1, but in season 2, it is embraced wholeheartedly.

Right from the start, in “Seven Thirty-Seven”‘s opening shots of confounding images, there is a provocation of fear. It is clear that something bad has happened, but what exactly is it? Have Tuco or other criminals gotten to Walter and his family? Was there a deadly accident at Walt’s home? What’s important is that we don’t know, because it’s the unknown that provokes an incredibly intense type of fear.

While there is some partial closure in “Grilled,” the season’s second episode, where Tuco meets his end in an incredibly thrilling fashion, fear for Walter and Jesse persists throughout the season and is not resolved. There is a certain sense of fear for Walter, and the chance that he will be found out by his family. We also fear for who Walter is becoming, and we don’t want to see him fall as hard as he does. We fear for how Jesse is treated by Walter, and what will become of this ill-mannered kid. So in the end, fear is not only something operating within the show’s own framework, but is something essential for the viewer. Fear drives many of these characters to do what they do, but it is also important when watching, whether its the audience’s fear for the characters’ fate (in episodes like “Grilled,” “Peekaboo,” or “4 Days Out”) or the fear of the internal emotions of characters (like what Walter experiences in “Phoenix” and where Jesse is in “ABQ”).

Coincidentally, the episodes I listed are season 2’s best episodes, and some rank among the best within the show’s entire run. This brings home the fact that fear works wonders for the show. Because season 2 embraces fear and a new emotional type of storytelling, the show feels different. Season 1 was much more plot driven (which is entirely necessary to lay the groundwork) and season 2 becomes more about emotion. Now, the season’s structure may make the case for a more plot driven type of storytelling, but I believe that this new sense of emotional storytelling is incredibly more important. M. Liam, what are your thoughts on season 2? Do you think there is a new type of emotional storytelling, or am I just overanalyzing?

M. Liam Moore: Are we not supposed to do that – to overanalyze – on Aweful Writing? Criticism, pshaw. What’s not to like? “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” Enough said. Shoot, we might even land a gig at one of the daily newspapers in town.

Season 2 gives us four fully realized, beautifully complicated Breaking Bad characters. It’s a credit to the acting, but also to the storytelling, which, I agree, diverts in style from Season 1. After a furious start, the pace becomes more contemplative. Storylines expand to lend supporting characters greater depth. Episodes begin in medias res with foreboding plot clues and frightful imagery.

Scary stuff, indeed. Fear affects Hank’s character most obviously this season, as he struggles with the paralyzing post-traumatic stress of his brief deployment to police the Mexican cartel. In a scene that illuminates the reversing fortunes of these two men, it’s Walt who delivers the FDR pep talk to Hank. “I have spent my whole life scared,” Walt says. “Ever since my diagnosis I sleep fine. Fear is the worst of it. That’s the real enemy.”

Ironically, fear is the very weapon Walt is exploiting to expand his drug business into enemy turf. It’s fear of Jesse, “the blowfish,” who has developed a mean, if mistaken, reputation on the streets after an ATM machine crushed the head of an addict who stole money from him. Here, fear collides with another important theme developed in Season 2: Truth.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Truth, J.T., but also the season’s structure – and maybe how it compares to other seasons, not only of Breaking Bad, but other great TV shows as well. You are my guru, after all.

JTM: Truth is definitely something all of the characters grapple with on Breaking Bad. Marie and Hank do not want it to come out in terms of their shoplifting and fear, respectively. Skyler strives to find it in the beginning of the season, but by the end of “ABQ” she’s afraid of it, and what it will do to her family. Truth is something Jesse has an especially hard time with, and something he mainly avoids. He’s afraid that the truth about who he really is will not only incriminate him, but ruin his budding relationship with Jane. Jesse wants to see himself as this tough guy man on the street, but in reality he’s the caring soul we see in “Peekaboo.”

But Jesse isn’t the only one who has a hard time dealing the truth. Ever since the beginning of the series, Walt has had to distance himself from the true nature of his life. By doing this, he becomes the Master of Lies who is able to get himself out of every tough situation we see. Walt doesn’t only lie to his family and friends, but lies to himself. In “4 Days Out,” Walt convinces himself that something is horribly wrong with his health, and he takes part in a marathon meth cooking session. By the end of it, he makes $600,000 worth of meth, which is the high point of his career. But when he gets back, Walt finds out that nothing is wrong with him, and that remission has set in, so he’s actually getting better. By the end of the episode, Walt becomes wildly disillusioned by himself and doesn’t want to be the “guy in good health.” He’s unable to deal with the truth of his life, and at that point decay ironically sets in. So yeah, truth is a pretty big deal.

The structure of the season is also incredibly important. I’m not crazy about the intensely plotted out nature of this season, because I feel like it gets too caught up in the plot of it all. Thankfully, the series embraced its newfound emotional drive, but sometimes it has had to take the back seat in order for the plot to progress. The plane crash mystery seems to gnaw away at the season itself, and feels like something needs to be resolved, rather than progress organically. But I hope I don’t sound too down on it. It’s incredibly ambitious, and while some poor aspects may result from it (like Jane’s quick switch to heroin, or other spots of lacking momentum), it’s quite interesting to watch progress.

Two other great shows come to mind when thinking of this season. Lost‘s fourth season came off the heels of a truly great finale, which reengineered everything we thought we knew about the show. Instead of focusing on flashbacks of the characters, it switched gears and told stories through flashforwards. While we watched the characters we knew and loved live their lives in the future and off the island, the only thing we wanted to know was, “Why do they want to go back so badly?”

Game of Thrones‘ second season also built up something of a mystery. All of the characters seemed to be plotting towards something, but those who didn’t read the books really did know what it was. Not until the season’s ninth episode did we see the epic, sprawling and awesome battle of Blackwater Bay, which gave us one of the best episodes of television in 2012, “Blackwater.” It should be noted that both of the examples are from mythology heavy sci-fi and fantasy shows, which shows the extreme ambition of season 2.

MLM: I got the feeling this season’s plot was written to resemble a string of chemical reactions. Go figure, right? Otherwise innocuous elements are introduced and agitated, yielding explosive and unexpected results. What appear to be spontaneous or random occurrences in these flash forwards are, in fact, a series of reactions set off by Walt’s decision to cook meth. Those planes don’t crash otherwise. Hank doesn’t get into a shootout with Tuco otherwise, and he probably doesn’t get that fateful promotion to El Paso either. The unique narrative structure spotlights the far-reaching consequences of Walt’s single-minded crusade to provide for his family.

There are moments where Walt reflects on these disastrous consequences. Faced with death in the desert, surrounded by evidence of his crimes, Walt comes to Jesus: “I had this coming. I deserve it,” he says. You mentioned the cruel irony of learning he would not die of cancer anytime soon – a turn that prompts Walt to attack his own reflection in a towel dispenser. Later, in Episode 10, Walt becomes fixated on repairing the foundation of his house. We’ve got rot, he tells Junior, and there’s only one way to deal with it: “Just cut it out and start fresh.”

Of course, Walt is too proud – and greedy – to take his own advice. I’m curious, J.T., if these moments of remorse are enough to make you root for, care about or even empathize with our antihero? It’s a question that cuts to the heart of why, although I think Breaking Bad is brilliant, it’s a struggle to watch sometimes. In Episode 5, a smiling clerk at the radiologist’s office hands Walt a “HOPE” button with his six-page-long medical bill. Walt drops the button into the trash. There are times, for me, where this show just feels like a depressing allegory for everything that’s wrong with our society.

JTM: What’s genius about Breaking Bad is that people still watch it. It is indeed a struggle to watch all of these characters indulge in their own bad behavior, but this is what makes it so fascinating to watch. Having relatively known who Walt was before his cancer and drug life set in, makes it all the more incredible when he tells two competitors menacingly to stay out of his territory.

Walt becomes a new man when his own personal decay sets in, and that man is far from understandable. I care for him in a sense, because I want the “old Walt” to prevail. What I don’t want is for him to ruin his family life, which unsurprisingly happens in the 11th episode “Mandala” where Walt misses the birth of his own daughter.

Another definite decay point is in “Phoenix” where Walt does nothing to prevent the death of Jane. Now, this isn’t totally out of Walt’s ordinary, because he has let people be killed, and even killed someone himself before. I was able to not be incredibly disgusted with Walt at this point, because Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan and the rest of the writers let us know that deep down inside, there was still something left of Walt. When he witnesses Jane die, Walt sheds a tear, showing the viewer that he still feels something.

There are points when I am outright angry with Walt, and those mostly entail him interacting with Jesse. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the series before, or maybe it’s because I enjoy some great grunge, but in the end I feel a lot for Jesse. It kills me to see Walt jerk him around again and again, because I just want what’s right for this kid. As the series progresses Walt and Jesse experience a growing relationship, one that seems to suggest Walt has paternal feelings towards Jesse. Jesse is a figure whose parents are jerks (who he once dubbed “greedy kleptomaniac douchebags”) so it seems natural for wanting him and Walt to have a more developed relationship. But whenever it seems like some growth is going to happen, Walt calls him a “dumb druggie idiot” or insults his way of life. Is it so hard for Walt and Jesse to get along?

But enough about men behaving badly. Something tells me that you have more to say about the societal allegory of it all. Being more well versed in the 24 hour news cycle than I am, is there anything in particular you’d like to take a stab at?

MLM: Poor Jane. How could you not shed a tear? If not for her, then for Jesse. Yes, Jane is a flimsy character – the Daddy Issues, the quick descent into heroin. But in a show mining the depths of what it means to be a man, who this woman is takes a back seat to what she represents. Jane is Jesse’s Daisy Buchanan, the bright green light at the end of the dock. She’s the hope Walt snuffs out.

In the moment of his decision to let Jane die, of course, Walt has no way of knowing he just shared a beer with her dad, an air-traffic controller who, overcome by his grief for Jane, will make a mistake (or was it?) that leads to a deadly plane crash over Albuquerque. Is Walt acting out of concern for Jesse’s well being here? Or is he playing God, reestablishing control over Jesse, who will be much easier to manipulate with Jane out of the picture? One thing is certain: Walt is ignoring his own chemistry lesson about the connectivity of everything and everyone. “Chemical bonds are what hold the physical world together, what hold us together.”

Breaking Bad is steeped in this very American tension between collective versus personal responsibility – a conflict central to our current political discourse. Are we better off if everyone goes it on his or her own, or do we have a basic responsibility to care for each other?

The show debuted at the height of debate around health care reform, and if Walt’s decision to “break bad” is justified, it’s because he lives in a society that considers health care (and college) a commodity available to those who can afford it. What we’re watching, then, is a sort of libertarian, survival-of-the-fittest fantasy. (Libertarianism, not coincidentally, holds a great appeal among white males.) Sure, people watch it, but I suspect a lot of fans look at Walt and, where I see a compelling narrative to support universal health care, they pull off their Ron Paul hoodies to expose one of those T-shirts I’ve seen you wearing, J.T., with the Heisenberg silhouette.

I realize I’m sucking the fun out of an entertaining TV show, but I can’t shake the disturbing notion that people root for this guy, they relate to this guy. The whole thing can be tough to stomach.

JTM: I wear the shirt because I love the show, not Heisenberg himself. What Vince Gilligan and his writers have done over the course of 62 (!) episodes just simply astounds me. I love the character study of it all and where the character has been taken, and not just the scheming, nasty character himself. But every day I wear the shirt, the vision becomes more and more construed in a weird manner. There is an increasing number of fans who love the badass, american male version of walt Walt, and hate his “bitch wife” and how she always ruins his plans. I don’t consider myself to be one of those fans, even if I continue to wear the shirt.

All of the political stuff is interesting, considering some of the comments Gilligan has made. More recently, he appeared on the new Sundance Channel series The Writers’ Room, where he said that he thinks politics are not to be mixed with television, and that he actively tries to keep it out of his work. But all of it is so readily apparent within Breaking Bad which ultimately shows how smart and layered a TV show and its viewers can be.

I may seem down on season 2, but it is really just one smart season of an incredibly intelligent series. I may look at it as one of the weaker seasons, but that’s like saying it’s one of the weaker seasons of the best of what television has to offer. The moral complexity, thematic storytelling, incredible character work… It’s all there, and it all works wonderfully.

Cousins, Critically: Breaking Bad Season 1

Today I am joined by my cousin M. Liam Moore who is another amateur television enthusiast. We have been rewatching Breaking Bad in anticipation of its final season’s return on August 11. We hope to dissect each season in a thoughtful and critical manner in new feature we call “Cousins, Critically.”

J.T. Moore: Let me start by saying that I think that Breaking Bad is one of the greatest television shows of all time. Walter White’s journey into badness is one of the most compelling tales to ever grace the medium, and I think it will stand the test of time. The writing, direction, and acting of the show (among many, many other things) all combine to make something so entirely great I am sometimes unable to fathom it. But the question I always seem to ask myself is if the first season is as good as Breaking Bad is able to be. The pilot is a very good pilot. It catches the viewer’s interest, establishes what needs to be established, and ultimately serves as a window into the show’s quirks and rhythms, which are entirely necessary to understand the show itself. Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, (the show’s creator and showrunner) the pilot effectively shows who Walter White is, and what his intentions are. Bryan Cranston also gives a very good performance in the pilot as Mr. White (which he won an Emmy for) and there are also some good spots of Aaron Paul’s Jesse.

The biggest problem I found with the pilot, and with most of the first season is the rest of the supporting characters, because they aren’t incredibly well defined. Dean Norris’ Hank rubs off as a douchey, meathead brother-in-law. Betsy Brandt’s Marie is the standard, passive aggressive sister. Anna Gunn’s Skyler seems like a fairly weak and oblivious housewife. I know this is a pilot, and it is very hard to create great and convincing characters (which most of Breaking Bad‘s supporting characters have turned into) right off the bat, but something about them seems off… Maybe this is essential for Walt’s story, and he has to stand up to his brother-in-law, and sneak around his oblivious wife, but throughout the season they didn’t seem like the characters I know and love.

Otherwise, I didn’t find that much wrong with the first season. There are some standout episodes (“…And the Bags in the River,” “Crazy Handful of Nothin,” “A No-Rough-Stuff Type Deal”) in the abbreviated 7 episode season. I don’t think it’s Breaking Bad at its best, but it is still very, very good television. I remember when I first watched the season, I expected greatness because Breaking Bad was BREAKING FUCKING BAD, and this may be why I think so highly of the season. Or maybe it’s just great television… M. Liam, what are your thoughts of the season as a whole? Did you like it as much as I did, or just feel bad afterwards?

M. Liam Moore: It feels awfully good to be guest blogging on Aweful Writing. Thanks for including me, J.T. I’m already enjoying our Breaking Bad binge, and I’m excited to swap reactions with someone else who doesn’t mind sucking all the fun out of TV by overanalyzing, deconstructing and contextualizing it episode by episode. TV rots your brain only if you let it, right? Or if you watch The Big Bang Theory.

Speaking of science, am I the only one who thought the season we just watched got a little too MacGyver-ish? Twice, by my count, our man Walt gets himself out of impossible situations by throwing around chemicals. I was half expecting Crazy 8 to get loose in Jesse’s basement so we could watch Walt kill him using nothing but an empty beer can, his nausea meds and the uneaten crusts of a bologna sandwich. “Yeah, science!” as Jesse would say.

This season strikes me as a very BREAKING FUCKING BAD season of Breaking Bad. It doesn’t drag or mope. It’s jam packed with violence, drug use and action. And how many times to we hear testicles referenced? On the surface this is fist-pumping, engine-revving, loogie-hocking TV that – let’s call a spade a spade – is probably only on TV in the first place because it appeals most obviously to men 18-49. (You’ll get there soon enough, kid.)

Of course, it’s also jam-packed with thematic material, most of which Vince Gilligan offers up with all the subtlety of a one-liner from Hank. (My favorite so far: “Does the Pope shit in his hat?”) This is the reason you’ll get no argument from me when you say Breaking Bad is among of the greatest TV series of all time. It’s clear from the pilot onward that this show has something to say, and the writers are skilled enough at their craft to say it and tell a compelling story at the same time. Breaking Bad is standing on the shoulders of those weighty, Big Picture cable dramas – like The Sopranos and The Wire – that deal in themes and ideas, mythology and morality. This show has depth. I’m anxious to hear what you think about how the first season sets up that Big Picture stuff.

JTM: There is definitely a lot of big picture stuff set up in the pilot. One of my favorite lines from the pilot is when Walt is teaching in his chemistry class. When introducing the topic of chemistry he states that, “Chemistry is the study of change. It’s growth, then decay, then transformation.” I think this line sums up perfectly what Breaking Bad is going to be, as it serves as an introduction to where Walt’s character is headed. 

From what we have seen so far there is certainly a lot of growth which has occurred in the first season. Walt started out as this pathetic, middle-aged and sad man who could barely keep up with his life. Then everything changed when he found out he had cancer. Now, the cancer itself may technically be “decay,” but I think it is actually the catalyst needed to start Walt’s growth. A lot of this growth happens in the season’s 6th episode “Crazy Handful of Nothin” which is a seminal episode of not only the season, but the series as a whole. Walt gains more confidence by shaving his head, and going out on the street to strike a masterfully handled deal with Tuco. After he does this in a very exciting fashion, Walt celebrates and there is obvious growth. There are also other signs of growth throughout the season, such as a strengthened relationship with Skyler, and more confidence when interacting with Hank.

I think this precise and set out character journey will be very interesting to follow. Having previously watched the entire series, I know the definitive point where “transformation” sets in, but am nervous to see where decay really starts. M. Liam, do you think I am overanalyzing a simple line from the pilot, or do you think this is true? Does any of this really constitute as growth?

MLM: If Mr. White offers a chemistry lesson, I bank on it being a metaphor for something. The second episode’s lesson in chirality – two molecules looking the same but acting as mirror opposites – illuminates the duality that defines Walt’s character. He’s Mr. Chips and Scarface in the same body. I also loved the flashback that opens Episode 3, with Walt and Gretchen flirtatiously putting together the puzzle of elements that make up the human body, that are essential to human life. The scene is echoed so brilliantly when Walt, putting together the pieces of Crazy 8’s broken plate, realizes an “element” is missing and he’s going to have to take a human life. (Random question: Do houses in Albuquerque even have basements?)

Your theory that “growth-decay-transformation” is the big, beautiful, overarching path for Walt’s character is spot on. I’m definitely going to keep that in mind as the series unfolds. Here’s where I disagree with you: While I see some growth from Walt in the first season, I see much more character decay. You say Walt gains confidence; I’m not sure Walt ever lacked confidence. I think what he lacked before the cancer was control. When it’s finally his turn to hold the talking pillow – and that was, for me, the best scene of the season – Walt says, “My entire life, it just seems like I never really had a say.” Walt’s growth in Season 1 (beyond the cancer that is killing him) comes in seizing control of his life, whatever is left of it.

What he does with that control, however, does not constitute growth. You say Walt’s character is pathetic and sad at the start of the series. I see a guy living up to his responsibilities within the legal and societal confines of his community, a guy trying to set a positive example for his son, a guy living in an equal and honest partnership with his spouse. Boring, sure. But pathetic? (Please don’t tell me what you think of my life, J.T.!) I’m equally clueless as to how Walt’s relationship with Skyler – beyond some lustful sex scenes – could be growing stronger during Season 1. If I were going to start cooking meth, my wife would expect to be consulted … and rightfully so.

No, Walt’s decision to take control of his own destiny begins the process of character decay. It turns him into a compulsive liar, a murderer, a thief and a drug dealer. What’s worse, Walt fully understands the devastating societal impact of his actions. “I don’t want to see them,” he says to Jesse of the addicts who will buy his meth. But Walt can’t avoid watching as Hugo, hoisting the American flag, is arrested on suspicion of the crime Walt committed. Even when confronted with the wake of destruction his new path is leaving – the “chemical reaction,” so to speak – Walt fails to change course. I suppose that’s what makes our protagonist an anti-hero?

JTM: Walt’s decay has definitely helped streamline the process of becoming an anti-hero. What makes him one is that, like you said, he knows what he’s doing and what the impacts of his actions will be, and doesn’t stop them. Yet, we can’t help but feel for him in a sense because he’s acting from a somewhat relatable point in his life. As Walt takes control (through both of his meetings with Tuco) he knowingly descends into darkness and decay. On top of all of this he has to live a “normal” family life at home, which forces him to deal with his wife and kid. I said that Walt’s relationship with Skyler had been strengthened by the end of the season because of the fact that they started out distant from each other. Now that Walt is forced to come in contact with her, their relationship might not be “strengthened,” but something is clearly different (even if it comes from him lying to her face).

As Walt becomes badder throughout the season, his story becomes all the more compelling. To see a man who was previously being bossed around by a jerk manager working at a car wash transform into a ruthless figure who can go face to face with an even more ruthless drug lord is incredible. What is even more incredible is that this happens over the course of seven episodes. Compared to most serialized cable dramas, the amount of ground that is covered in this first season is unbelievable.

MLM: Indeed, I’m imagining some very difficult decisions in the writers’ room. Someone must have insisted on letting us see Walt telling Skyler he has cancer, right? But we never do. Better to be concise and impactful than lengthy and exhaustive.

I know we’ll have plenty to say about Skyler and Walt’s relationship in coming seasons, but it’s important to note the shifting balance of power. Walt, by making unilateral (criminal) decisions, has seized all the control – a point driven home by his newfound sexual aggressiveness. Gender is so key to a critical viewing of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan’s protagonist is becoming a “man” in the most regressive, American sense of the word. He’s John Fucking Wayne. “I just tried my best to be a man,” Darondo sings as Episode 4 ends. “Grow some fucking balls,” Walt sneers at Jesse in Episode 6. This show is very much about the archetypal American male, and it’s not a flattering portrait. (That goofy black hat doesn’t help.)

I also think Breaking Bad might be the most politically subversive show on TV, but health care reform is a kettle of fish perhaps best left for another season’s review.

I’ll leave you with this: Have you seen Goodfellas? Because the season-ending scene in which Tuco kills his bodyguard struck me as an awesome homage to Joe Pesci’s “funny like a clown” scene from the classic gangster flick. Never break a wise guy’s balls, yo.

JTM: Ah, yes the gangster movie influence. It’s something essential to Breaking Bad‘s DNA, and will become much, much clearer in the coming seasons.

But all in all, this is a great start to a great show. You have found so many things to latch on to that I never would have thought of. The show has so much built into it, only in its first seven episodes! On many occasions Vince Gilligan has stated that he’s glad The Writers Strike cut the season short because the writers didn’t think they had a handle on the show. But I can’t imagine a bad episode of Breaking Bad. I’m very glad this show exists, and that we can talk so much about. I’m even gladder to start rewatching the second season, because if memory serves it’s really damn good. As Tuco himself would say, this show is tight, tight, tight!