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Category Archives: The last 8 episodes

A better ending?

I just posted the following on Nick CR’s excellent BB blog, Tucker’s Hole (tuckershole.wordpress.com):

Vince Gilligan, a cool guy from what I can tell, and indisputably a great writer, did what he set out to do: tell the story of Walter White going from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Ending “Felina” with the “Special Love” song and Walt dying with a smile on his face was perfectly in tone with the arc of the series as a whole, and — along with Jesse getting away and Flynn probably going to get $10 million soon — gave us as happy an ending as possible. If you think about it outside the context of the show, however, it’s a bit ridiculous — and very sad — that Walt loved the blue meth and his ability to make it more than anything else in life. Especially since so many people died and suffered for that self-involved, egoistic love.

I can think of a much better ending. When Gilligan and company saw what good actors Dean Norris and — especially — Aaron Paul were, they expanded the characters of Hank and Jesse. I think they should have gone even further in this direction, especially in Jesse’s case, in the last season. I would have liked very much to have seen Jesse take the maturity and agency he was developing under Gus and Mike’s tutelage and apply it to his relationship with Walt and meth-making. We could have seen him decide to work with Hank rather than come to it accidentally in the midst of an unreasoning, drug-assisted tantrum. It would have been interesting to have seen the two of them develop a relationship and come to respect each other.

I would have had Hank die much as he did, and then Jesse carry on alone as the “good guy,” perhaps still being being taken prisoner by the Nazis, but not having to be rescued by Walt — maybe even taking Walt — as well as the Nazis — down in the end. Todd, Lydia, and the Nazis were pretty boring villains to go on so long, so another possibility would have been for Jesse to have escaped from the desert shootout and then gone to the DEA.

As you can probably tell, I cared much more about Jesse than I did about Walt, who I saw as pitifully limited, essentially cowardly, and not deserving to tie up all his loose ends and die a good death. Aaron Paul has said he thinks Jesse may have deserved everything that happened to him, but I disagree. He’s young and redeemable and could have had a good life with Brock and Andrea, leaving at least one happy young family at the end. That’s all Jesse truly wanted — connection and family, and I wanted to see him get it, not through luck, but through his own efforts. I thought Andrea’s death was completely gratuitous, Jesse’s suffering excessive, and his lack of character development disappointing.

I still voted that I was satisfied with the ending, because it was good in its way, but I think a better ending was possible.

 

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The finale

Oh. My. God. Isn’t Vince Gilligan a genius? In “Felina,” the final episode of “Breaking Bad,” he managed to tie up all the important loose ends and make as much of the bad stuff of preceding episodes right. Heisenberg, the bad fairy, came back to town and, as a chastened Walt, waved his magic wand, breaking good in the end.

Walt’s being able to possibly get his money to his family by scaring those smug yuppie Schwartzes with Skinny Pete and Badger holding laser pointers in the dark was priceless. But, for me, the best was seeing Jesse come to life, kill Todd (callback to Walt’s killing of Krazy 8, but with joy), and be given a choice of how to deal with Walt. Do the opposite of what he says he wants and make a mad dash for freedom!! Scars notwithstanding, Jesse can now become the man he was meant to be — engage in woodworking instead of meth-making art, and maybe help care for Brock.

Was it a bit unrealistic that Walt could steal a car and go back to the cabin to get the rest of his money right under the noses of the New Hampshire police, then drive all the way to New Mexico and tick off all the items on his to-do list in 24 hours? Sure. But who cares?

I rooted like hell for the good-fairy Walt, and cried happy tears when he died among his beloved tools, having admitted and righted many wrongs. Much better than being locked up or dying of cancer. I thought the “Special Love” song playing at the end was for Jesse until I read or heard somewhere that “baby blue” is actually supposed to be the blue meth. I don’t care — it’ll always be Jesse for me. Walt did care about him and for his family to the best of his ability.

I was also glad to see some reconnection between Skyler and Marie. We may not always be able to do it, or do it right, but love really does make the world go ’round.

 

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Take part in a survey about “Breaking Bad”

Breaking Bad fans: You are invited to participate in a research study about fans’ reactions to the end of Breaking Bad.  The purpose of this voluntary and confidential research study is to better understand fans reactions’ to the ends of popular TV series.

A team of researchers at the University of Missouri is interested in conducting interviews with Breaking Bad fans about their experiences of the last season of Breaking Bad.  You must be at least 18 years old and consider yourself to be a fan of Breaking Bad.  One-on-one interviews will be conducted via phone or online audio communication program (such as Skype) and will last 15-30 minutes, depending on what you have to say. If you would like to participate, please click the below link to enter our Qualtrics survey.  Here we will collect demographic information, basic information about your fan activities, and contact information so we can schedule an interview:  Fan Reaction to the End of AMC’s Breaking Bad.

 

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A few more thoughts before the finale

I may eat these words after seeing “Felina,” but at the moment I’m pretty disappointed with the way “Breaking Bad” seems to be ending.

Characters are more important to me than plot, and character development’s at the top of my list. I like to see a hero or heroine learning about themselves, their relationships, and life in general, and I like to see relationships change and develop.

As things appear to stand now, the only character with a complete and satisfying character arc on “Breaking Bad” is Skyler, perhaps to be joined by Marie. The main character, Walter White, however, is well on his way to going out much more two-dimensionally than he had to. Early on in the series, thanks to a cancer diagnosis, Walt unearthed his inner Hulk, a seemingly endless reservoir of ego, pride, resentment, and anger. He’s had human, if compartmentalized, moments along the way that elicited our sympathy though, and that’s made him interesting. A third element that I think would have made Walt even more dimensional – belated self-recognition and understanding of what he’s done – doesn’t seem to be within his powers.

Heisenberg has, at least symbolically, been left behind in the snow-surrounded cabin – the black porkpie hat abandoned on a dead deer’s antler. We don’t know exactly what’s motivating Walt to return to Albuquerque, but we can guess. Confidence in his ability to sway others verbally has always been strong, and he’s stubborn, so he may try to contact his family and get them to accept the Ensure package of money – or at least leave it on their doorstep. Some fans have speculated that Walt will try to do something to wreck Gray Matter, but that somehow doesn’t square with the M-60 we saw in the flash forward at the beginning of the season. Most think Walt’s headed straight for the Nazi compound to get back the bulk of his money, take revenge on Jack and his crew, and/or kill (or rescue) Jesse.

The fact that it was watching the Charlie Rose interview with Gretchen and Eliot that seemed to change Walt’s mind about giving himself up makes it seem that his motivations still revolve around anger, pride, and ego. And only so much can happen in an hour. The self-realization, contrition, and trying to make amends I’d hoped to see from Walt seem unlikely.

The Jesse story, though subordinate, is much more interesting to me, because I care infinitely more about this vulnerable young guy. I’d hoped to see Jesse mature more than he has, and I definitely wanted to see a happier ending for him than what seems to be in store.

Jesse was a boy in need of a mentor, though he didn’t realize it till after Walt started criticizing the shallowness of his life. Walt seemed to be that mentor and had father-ish feelings for Jesse, but wasn’t even capable of parenting his own children, so obsessed was he with his own needs. In practice, he was an abuser whose need to control and use Jesse always trumped any positive feelings he may have had for his partner. Mike and Gus also used Jesse, but seemed to care more about him, and he was making progress under their tutelage – gaining in confidence and able to perform feats of craftsmanship (cooking high-quality meth on his own) and courage (killing Joaquin and getting Gus and Mike to safety). After Mike’s death, however, Jesse regressed to a still largely unconscious version of his former self. He passed up a chance to get out of Dodge because he felt manipulated into doing so and because he finally realized what a monster Walt was. This was Jesse’s chance to mature and man up. As we saw in “Problem Dog,” he’s long had an inner need for justice: for wrongdoing, even his own, to be punished. As written, however, Jesse’s extreme emotion prevented him from thinking rationally. He returned to Saul’s office, beat him up, stole his car, and completely reverting to two-dimensional type, got high on Saul’s cocaine before breaking into the White house. Presumably, he would have burned the house down – a petty sort of revenge with the potential for harming innocents – if Hank hadn’t intervened. Again, Jesse needed a father-figure-mentor to get anything done. Apparently, Gilligan and company want to keep him in the lost loser role till the end.

Hank, in the throes of his own emotions and frozen in the type of perp-hating cop, cared nothing for Jesse and used him to try to get Walt. It was all too little too late, given the involvement of the Aryan Brotherhood. Hank dies like a man and Jesse, still a boy, is dragged kicking and screaming into meth-cook bondage.

I’m aware, having read Alan Sepinwall’s review of “Granite State,” that wanting a happier ending makes me unrealistic – what A.Ron Hubbard of the Breaking Good podcast calls “a whiney bitch.” But some balance of bleakness and non-bleakness, some allowance for hope and character development, is what makes a drama more interesting, gives it more dimension, and allows for more viewer involvement. And I thought this is what this supremely well-written heretofore series was promising. If everyone’s going to just go down in flames, having learned nothing, what are we left with? The simplistic moral lesson that profiting from illegal drug sales is bad and you’ll be punished for it, whether you’re ego-driven like Walt or weak like Jesse? That isn’t enough for me after five years of great drama and harrowing emotion.

One last point of reality: drug organizations like the Mexican cartel and the California Declan bunch don’t vanish forever when you kill their leaders and top lieutenants. More than enough time has gone by for either or both of these entities to regroup and say, “Hey – who do these rogue Nazis in Albuquerque think they are?” If this doesn’t come into play in the last episode – and it doesn’t seem like it will – foul called. It would be nice to have something about Gus’s back story be resolved as well.

If the fifth season had had 13 episodes last year and there had been a sixth season of 13 episodes now, all of these things could have been worked out in a much richer and more satisfying way. Apparently, AMC shortened everything up, stupidly constraining Gilligan and company – this is a very popular series! The writers claim to be happy with the ending they wrote, however.

Again, I’ll be glad to be proven wrong. I may also feel differently after having a chance to re-watch the final eight and hear what others have to say about the ending.

 

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More on “Granite State”

I want to copy the post I just sent to the TVCritic.org here. Guess I hadn’t plumbed all the emotional depths the first time around.

Like a lot of folks, I have a heavy emotional investment in “Breaking Bad.” The characters and their stories are very real to me, and things have gotten so tense in these last episodes I sleep poorly before and after each new one. It’s been worth it up till now, but “Granite State” has taken away my sadness that the show is ending, and replaced it with eagerness to get back to my version of normal life.

Though the episode had the usual high level of writing, acting, and production, it left me feeling sad and disappointed. Things have just gotten too grim, especially for Jesse, my favorite character. Aaron Paul, the wonderful young actor who plays the role, has said that maybe Jesse doesn’t deserve a happy ending. In my heart, I feel he does, but it not only doesn’t look like he’s going to get it, endless pain is heaped upon him in every new episode. It’s too much — this kid had suffered enough by the end of the first eight episodes of this season. He’s being tortured more than any other character, and he’s one of the least responsible for the evil! The moral point that everybody pays swings too much his way, and, I’m beginning to feel, is being overemphasized.

I was excited to see Jesse get out of his underground cell, disappointed at his recapture, and angry at the killing of Andrea. Andrea didn’t have to be killed for Todd and his gang to make their point. Her death was gratuitous and way too quick. Why does everyone Jesse loves have to die? Also, just in general, the Uncles of Anarchy, as the Baldmovers call them, are looking way too powerful — almost superhuman.

I’m afraid there isn’t time now for everything — or much of anything that I wanted to see happen. It’s all just too grim and gray.

I hope the last episode proves me wrong.

 

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“Granite State”

Questions answered in this episode: Marie calls the DEA for protection, but the seemingly all-powerful Aryan Uncles have swept her house and gotten Jesse’s DVD confession and presumably whatever else they wanted. So, she’s probably living somewhere else, and we don’t know how she’s handling her grief or whether she’s in touch with Skyler.

Skyler, left holding the bag, is not only penniless and up on charges, she and Holly are threatened by Todd and the Uncles in scary black balaclavas. She promises not to reveal anything about Lydia, Todd’s nail-biting lady love (what does she really know anyway?) This was an incredibly tense and effective scene — the only unrealistic element was that any normal baby probably would have screamed its head off throughout, possibly tripping an itchy trigger finger. We find out later that Skyler and the kids have moved and that she’s working part-time as a cab driver under her maiden name. The old White house has been fenced off from curiosity seekers and graffiti artists.

Saul’s flipping burgers or the equivalent in Omaha after realizing he can stand up to Walt and sever their connection.

Walt wanted to be safe from the law so he’d be able to get things the way he wants them before he dies of cancer, but, stuck in a remote cabin in New Hampshire with no car or connection to the outside world, he can do nothing. Determined to get some money to his family, he walks eight miles to the nearest hamlet and calls Junior at school to try to explain himself a bit and get the boy to pick up the package of money Walt plans to send to Flynn’s friend Lewis’s house. Junior emotionally, but wisely, refuses. Broken and crying, Walt then calls the Albuquerque DEA to turn himself in. He quickly changes his mind, but leaves the phone hanging, virtually guaranteeing that the call will be traced. What’s up with that? Then he orders a drink, and on the bar TV sees Charlie Rose interviewing Eliot and Gretchen Schwartz about their charitable donation to drug treatment throughout the Southwest. The Schwartzes tell Rose that the Walt they knew is dead, and that, anyway, the only thing he contributed to Gray Matter was the idea for the name. I believe Walt’s also aware that the blue meth is back on the street, either from the TV or from newspapers the disappearerer’s brought him and/or remarks he’s made.

By the time the New Hampshire state police make it to the bar, Walt’s gone, and we’ll have to wait till the next (and final) episode to see how he got away. All he has with him is a box of money ($100,000). The rest is still in the cabin. It’s unclear how he’s going to make it back to New Mexico undisguised and probably nauseous from the dose of chemo administered by the d-man the day before. How much time has gone by? Two months?

Jesse, to his credit as a man, manages to escape from his underground cell, but doesn’t make it out of the Uncles’ compound. Even if he had gotten away, he’s underestimated their speed, power, and thirst for retribution. They take him to Andrea’s house and kill her while he watches, trussed up and gasping, in their vehicle. Now he’ll cook for them, to keep Brock alive (though how the Uncles would know where the kid would go to live — with his grandmother or great-grandmother probably — is unclear).

There’s not much hope left that anything good will happen, and the possibility is strong that more bad things will. Walt and Jesse each in their own ways have wanted to make things right and only made them worse. It’s as if what they set in motion is a big mass of spreading, sticky goo no one can escape. I wanted things to be made right — or righter — too, but have lost hope for that, which is making me like the show less, at least at this moment.

The scenes with Walt and Skyler were good though. It’s amazing how the writers can wring out yet more sympathy for Walt, even as the destruction he’s set in motion spreads.

 

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Before I watch “Granite State”

A few thoughts before I watch “Granite State” (I watch first thing Monday morning on Amazon instant video)…

Congratulations to Vince Gilligan and everyone involved with “Breaking Bad” for winning the Best Drama Emmy, and to Anna Gunn for winning Best Supporting Actress in a drama series. Of course, I think Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul should have won their fourth and third Emmys, too, but Bryan was satisfied with the way things went (Aaron probably was too). I don’t watch the shows that won in those categories, so I can’t compare…I’m just going on the assumption that that they and their actors must inferior!

I’m losing sleep both before I watch BB (wondering what will happen) and afterward (when I’ve seen more horrifying and tragic consequences of Walt’s “empire-building”). So, here are my pre-“Granite State” predictions (if I’m right, applause, please; if I’m wrong, forget I ever said this)…The Villigan, as the Baldmovers call him, has said that the end will be “polarizing,” and it occurred to me last night that that might mean that Walt sees the error of his ways before the end and tries to make what amends he can. That would be polarizing, because, while it’s what I want to see, some fans just want Walt to be as bad as he can possibly be and get away with it. Here’s what I think will happen: Walt will read about the blue meth re-hitting the streets and realize that Jesse’s still alive and cooking for the Aryan Uncles of Anarchy. At first, he’ll be mad that, once again (Gray Matter), someone’s stealing his thunder. Adding this to his considerable grievances against Jesse and the Uncles, he’ll want to storm back to Albuquerque and assert his “rights.” But some thing or things, probably including shock and grief over Hank’s death and the loss of his family, will make him think again. In the last episode, Walt will return to Albuquerque — as we’ve already seen — and try to rescue Jesse, as many have predicted.

Jesse, however, has been way to badly hurt by Walt to ever forgive him, and he’s too scarred (perhaps literally) to have anything to live for. So, even though Walt’s there asking for his forgiveness, he creates a chemical suicide bomb that takes everybody — Walt, Todd, Lydia, the Uncles, and himself out. End of story. The Big Bang theory.

The next two episodes also have to show us what happens to Skyler, Junior, Holly, Marie, and Saul. Some have predicted witness protection and relocation for Skyler, Junior, and Holly, which would probably involve open charges against Walt. But how much do the police know? Maybe Marie will agree to letting Skyler stay in Albuquerque, running the car wash. Maybe they’ll band together and head a two-woman household. Walt’s car will be found in the desert, and if Marie calls in the cops, they might get to Hank’s video and audio evidence before the Uncles do. The old Indian man might tell what he knows as well, and evidence of Walt and Skyler’s efforts to incriminate Hank could remain. Still, I’d like to see the innocent and comparatively innocent (Skyler) get out of this as intact as possible, without having their lives disrupted any more than they already have been. I want that for Jesse, too, including reunion with Angela and Brock — I just don’t know if our lost, broken boy can make it. He’d have to finally become a man. Maybe then he could forgive Walt, or at least say “Whatever…”

What about the ricin? I guess, according to my theory, it wouldn’t get used, or its use would be moot. And Saul? Can there be a spinoff series, even it takes place before all this, if Saul’s dead or doing time?

Finally, what about next year’s Emmys? Since the last two shows weren’t seen in time for 2013, will “Breaking Bad,” Bryan, and Aaron be eligible for more Emmys next year? I guess, on all counts, we’ll have to wait and see.

Stay tuned for my “Granite State” reactions…

 

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