Monday, December 30, 2013

Meth Monday

Hello, Readers Mine! Yeah, yeah, I'm a lousy blogger. I've accepted this fact, urge you to rely on Dale for your regular blogging needs over on Unfettered Brilliance. Me, I'll do my best to post here regularly, but - hey - you can count on me keeping up with all sorts of posts on the social media you see to the right, so there's that. So let me catch up a bit here. The big news is that the complete manuscript for Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad  is finished, line- and copy-edited, and we are currently working through the last part of the publication process, the reading of the proof. Let me tell you, the book looks fabulous! The good folks at ECW Press have done an outstanding job in designing and laying out all of our words, and I can't wait to hold a copy in my greedy little hands, and for you to be able to get one into yours!

Twinkie Me, Bitch! by Brendan Tobin, one of my absolute favorite pieces of fan-art inspired by Breaking Bad, combining as it does Walt, Jesse, and the Hostess comic book ads from the 1970s and '80s.

So here's the deal for the new year: Wanna Cook? will be released on 1 May 2014 (which, by happy coincidence, is also the co-authors' wedding anniversary!). Meanwhile, you can pre-order your copies from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or Powell's Books (the latter of which's brick-and-mortar location in Portland, OR happens to be Bryan Cranston's favorite place to go and lose a day with a book), and in an unexpected development, you can even pre-order it from Wal-Mart!! And of course, your local independent bookseller will be able to get it for you as well. We'll start doing some promotional stuff as we get closer to May, including, hopefully, some ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) give-aways on Goodreads as well as through our blogs and social media accounts, about which I will most definitely keep you informed. Believe it or not, we actually have two publicists, one for traditional media, and another for new media! (Yes, that's right, we actually have "People" now. Weird, right?) And we're gonna have a full-on book-launch. The details haven't been completely nailed down yet, but I can tell you that it will take place in our hometown of Shelby, NC, and involve as many local businesses as we can rope in. I can also promise that a good time will be had by all. Again, we'll get the word out in plenty of time and as soon as we get things lined up.

So now we are at the very end of this project, and it hasn't quite sunk in yet that we've written a book. For me this is the realization of a dream that I've had since I was eight years-old, and that's the kind of thing that just takes a while to feel real, I guess. Let's also not forget that I wrote this with my wife, and discovered that among all the other insanely wonderful things about being in a relationship with this woman is that we write together remarkably well, and have complementary "voices." I'm not sure how many people ever truly find a full-fledged partner to build a life with, but I suspect, sadly, that not everyone does. To find that I am one of the truly lucky ones is... breathtaking. And humbling as all hell.

So that's it for this go-round. If I keep writing, I'll get all mushy - and who wants that. So, Readers Mine, thank to you for all of your support, patience, and excitement. Until next time, be well.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Academic Freedom and Social Media

So this decision by the Kansas Board of Regents has been making the academical news today: Basically, it's a policy outlining under what circumstances a faculty member could be penalized, even fired, for remarks made via social media. It is also very vaguely and broadly worded in parts, giving the Board of Regents and university administrators wide discretionary powers when it comes to enforcing the policy. I urge you to read the linked article for a much more detailed breakdown of the policy and the associated debate.

I have to admit, that I am of two minds about this, and it's very interesting that this hits at the same time as the A&E/Phil Robertson news.

Academic freedom is a vital component to higher education, and allows instructors to introduce new ideas and information, challenge existing theories, and develop critical thinking in students. From my own experience I know that part of being a good historian is reading works by scholars whose views you may radically disagree with, not merely to understand the whole of a particular historical debate, but to refine and hone your own thinking on a given subject. It is also important for students to be exposed to differing interpretations, or even to idea which are almost universally considered abhorrent (for example, a class on Nazi Germany might include Mein Kampf  or excerpts from the diaries of Joseph Goebbels in the students' reading assignments. Not because the instructor agrees with Hitler and Goebbels' ideology, but because these are important primary sources for understanding the history of the time and men who made it. Without academic freedom, however, there is a possibility of the instructor being accused of Nazism and of spreading fascist ideology, and being fired because of baseless allegations.) All of that being said, academic freedom has its limits, just as the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Just as inciting people to violence is not protected speech, neither does academic freedom allow instructors to endanger the physical safety of their students or others. Both are examples of common-sensical limits to freedom of action in the public square.

No one is suggesting that academic freedom as currently understood be further limited in the classroom (at least, not in this particular case. That's what the larger push to eliminate tenure in universities is all about). The question is to what extent instructors can be held responsible vocationally for their comments, postings, etc on personal social media accounts. I think most would agree that an employer has every right to set policies on how electronic media provided by and directly connected with that employer are, and are not used. You don't write your state legislatures using your state-provided university e-mail. That's why God gave us personal gmail accounts. You also don't use the University of Wherever's Twitter account to raise hell about the president. Again, you save those gems for your personal account. What the Kansas Board of Regents are doing, however, is to set policy for people's personal, public social media accounts, and honestly, I think maybe they can, and might even ought to.

In response to the push-back against A&E's dismissal of Phil Robertson from future episodes of Duck Dynasty, which is largely (and erroneously) being portrayed as a freedom of speech issue (it's protection from the government, not from private sector employers like cable networks), is that Mr. Robertson freely spoke his mind publicly, many people publicly decried his comments, and the network responded to pressure from its viewers and advertisers (i.e. where their money comes from) and decided to put Mr. Robertson on an indefinite hiatus. Okay, I can agree with all of that. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences. Yet, if this is true for Phil Robertson, should it not also hold true for academics?

Social media like Facebook and Twitter are inherently public spaces, no matter how savvy you are with your privacy settings, or how discriminating you may be in accepting friend requests or allowing followers. I know way too many people with lots of workplace friends who unhesitatingly rant about work some days, and do so very specifically, rather than just "Whew. Rough day today!" These people should not be surprised if their remarks have some ramifications for them at work the next day. They might have pissed off one of their friends who was involved in the same situation, or their boss, or co-worker, or whoever. Self-editing is a vital social skill, folks, and there's a reason they're called social networks. So if an instructor goes off on some hateful rant on social media and (surprise, surprise) that rant goes a bit viral (don't forget all of those friends of friends of friends who can see your posts and may vehemently disagree with you), then maybe s/he should get pulled up short by his/her employer - just like Phil Robertson was.

When posting on social media, even when using our personal accounts, we are speaking in a public space, where everything we share becomes at least semi-permanent, and we should always be aware of that fact. That doesn't mean that we're not free to say what we wish, it just means that we must always be aware that our speech carries consequences, intended and otherwise. Violentacrez is a despicable human being whose trolling and pornographic postings on Reddit cost him his job, even though his postings took place outside of work, on his own time, and on his own personal accounts. He paid the price for being a sleazeball, and very few folks will weep any tears on his behalf, but just as he had every right to be a sleazeball, society retains the right to react to his nastiness, even in ways which he doesn't approve of. It's not a violation of his rights, its just the consequences of his actions.

The equation works both ways. Mr. Robertson should face consequences for his public statement about homosexuals and African-Americans under Jim Crow, but David W. Guth has to accept the same kind of responsibility for publicly wishing that the next people to die in a mass shooting be the sons and daughters of NRA members. The left (where I usually hang my political philosophic hat) can be as guilty of despicable hate-speech as the right, and deserves to be called upon it just as strongly. Scholars too, are human beings with opinions, emotions, knee-jerk reactions, and prejudices, and when those things become hate-speech, libel, or outrageous vitriol in public forums like social media - then, yeah, they deserved to get called on it, and to face the consequences.

By the way, even if you are right, if your speech has every ethical and moral precept known to history backing it up, you are still open to the consequences of that speech - good and bad. Better people than us have spoken truth publicly and paid terrible prices for doing so, even when we today find their positions self-evident and proper. No one is exempt - ever. It behooves all of us to think before we speak, and when we do speak to be prepared to face the consequences that arise from our words.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Meth Monday: Catching Up

Hello, Readers Mine! Yes, yes, I know, I kind of fell off of the grid these last few weeks, but between finishing the final drafting of Wanna Cook? and then turning my attention to some stuff that had been on my back burner (like, you know,, days have just been kind of flying by. So let me give you several updates.

First, my author pages at Amazon and Goodreads are up and running and pretty darned cool, if I do say so myself. Next, Wanna Cook? itself is entering the final stages. After almost two years, we have turned in the last drafts, gone completely through line-edits and are awaiting the last batch of copy edits in the next week or two, after which - hopefully before the middle of November - we will be done!!! At that point the last parts go to be translated into German, the rest is assembled, and on May 1, 2014 Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad hits the shelves. You can even go ahead and pre-order it at Amazon, Powell's Books, Books-A-Million, and now Barnes & Noble, and right now, some of those places have some really nice prices!

Starting May 1 next year, of course, Wanna Cook? will also be available in fine bookstores everywhere, and I can tell you that it will be available as an e-book, though I do not yet know in what format(s) or from what companies. As it gets closer to the release date, Dale and I will be doing some promotional stuff, probably some giveaways here and over on Unfettered Brilliance and pretty much anything else we can think of to get the word out, so keep up with me on the social-type media, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ in the coming months for info on all that good stuff, as well as all the Breaking Bad stuff that comes across my screen. Just search under #WannaCook at all four places and you'll find us!

Speaking of which, did you see Walt's funeral?

This turned out to be a very successful charity event, raising $17,000.00 for Albuquerque's Healthcare for the Homeless charity, which also helps people recover from addiction. This is a nice cap to the fan activism that has grown out of the show, particularly in its last, two-year season, although it was also a bit weird, as it took place at a real cemetery, which caused Walt's tombstone to be moved, lest the tourists block access to the families of the people who are actually buried there.

In other news, there was a really fascinating interview and article with Breaking Bad creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan in the Hollywood Reporter  which id definitely worth a read, as Gilligan confronts life after what has been called the greatest show in television history.

Otherwise, things have been quiet, save for the soft clatter of fingers on keyboards as Dale and I finish off the book and I turn my attention to those pesky papers and a thesis that have to get taken care of. Keeping that in mind, I can;t promise that there won't be another hiatus to my posts here, but I will honestly try to post on this blog at least once a week, even if not on Mondays, and I hope to keep Meth Monday as an ongoing feature, even if it becomes bi-weekly. Dale, on the other hand, is much better about this blogging stuff than I am, so be sure to keep reading her Walter White Wednesday posts every week.

That's it for today, Readers Mine. I'll see you soon, and in the meantime, remember: if it ain't blue, it ain't the true!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Meth Monday 5.16: "Felina"

Hello, Readers Mine! Before diving into the series finale of Breaking Bad, can we talk a minute about Canadians? Yeah, that's right: Canadians. Look, I know that parts of Canada endure months of the midnight sun and that in such places it can become difficult to realize just what time it actually is, but that's way, way north of places like the Province of Ontario, so there's really no reason for Canadians who live in the south of the country to get up and start typing as early as they obviously do. Seriously, I was just settling in to my first cup of coffee and idly doing a sweep of the interwebs, only to find an e-mail from the Felonious Mr. Watts (note to self: my new jazz name will be Felonious Watts)  threatening to go to TWOP for his Breaking Bad critique if I didn't post something soon. Then I toddle on over to Nik at Night, and find that That Stafford Woman has already posted some long, trenchant analysis about "Felina." Oh - and now there's a e-mail from her in my inbox. Jesus Jumped-Up Christ On a Pogo-Stick! See, this is what comes of befriending foreigners with their Protestant Work Ethic-type ways instead of good, evangelical, wholesome, fat, lazy, pre-diabetic-and-proud 'Muricans who have the basic human decency to wait until a guy has has his first cuppa joe before asking him what the hell he thinks about something. I mean, is it nice to find out that extraordinarily talented people whose books I regularly pre-order and squee over read this piece and actually seem to care what I think about one of the major pop culture touchstones of our time? And ego-stoking to be able to name-drop them in this post? Yes, of course it is, but still - Canadians: settle down!

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to "Felina." Spoilers after the break!!!

So Breaking Bad is no more. Six years of passionate debate, conjecture, and sometimes demented fandom have lead to "Felina," and I have to say, I'm kinda disappointed. (Go ahead and rant and rave and threaten to show up at my house with a trunk-mounted M60. I'll wait until you're done. Better? Good.)

I'm with it when Walt takes revenge on Elliott and Gretchen. It's right in line with his petty pride. And for everyone celebrating his revenge out there, remember that it was Walt who threw a hissy-fit way back when and who asked to be bought out of the fledgling company. Gretchen and Elliott didn't con Walt out of anything. It was his stupid pride, even then. Check out the conversation between he and Gretchen in 2.06 "Peekaboo" if you don't believe me. So yeah, his scam on them is right in line with the Walt we've come to know and loathe.

Now, a big chunk of my problem with "Felina" is my own desire to see Walt punished, I know that, and that it's my own weird fan-boy thing. Fine. But I really, really don't like the fact that Walt wins in the end. He ties up every single loose end in one final multiple murder, and chooses the time of his own death, leaving the world with a fond smile. "Felina" is anticlimactic to say the least, and it just doesn't satisfy. At least he finally admitted that he did all of this for himself, to feed his ego and pride, and he goes on feeding them until the very end. Still, this episode was like topping of the finest, gourmet, multi-course meal in history with a dessert of Pop Rocks. Breaking Bad really should have ended with "Ozymandias," but it couldn't, because of the previous appearances of Walt52. It wasn't a rushed ending, and that may have been the problem. I think maybe Gilligan & Co. had a little too much time to think about this one. In trying for perfection, they achieved a mundane episode of Breaking Bad, which still makes it the best thing on TV in the past week.

So much for my personal irks with the show. Take 'em or leave 'em, but there were some real problems with the episode as well. First and foremost: the Nazis didn't check the trunk of Walt's car? Seriously?!? Kenny checks the interior, they search Walt thoroughly, even taking his wallet and keys but they conveniently forget to check the enormous trunk of that land-yacht he was driving? Also, every Nazi in the compound was in that one room, and only Todd managed to get low enough to avoid getting shot, so that he could be killed by a righteously vengeful Jesse? Sure it was proper, but it was also a bit too contrived. Finally, the appearances of Marie, Badger, and Skinny Pete were forced, coming off like cameos rather than being intrinsic elements of the story.

I did like the cold open showing the young Jesse crafting the exquisite wooden box he mentioned in 4.07 "Problem Dog." This was the one truly perfect moment of the episode: the transition between an act of loving creation at a time in Jesse's life when so many possibilities were open to him, to an act of forced creation by a scarred and enslaved man who's every possibility has been ripped away, was just brilliant - and heartbreaking. That scene aside, though, I think this was my least favorite episode of the series, and I kinda hate that.

So that's it for this week's Meth Monday, and for the last ever look at a new episode of Breaking Bad. Despite my problems with the finale, I am going to miss this show, and its absence will create something of a hole in my life. Television, particularly good television, requires making a commitment of five, six, ten, or more years as you go on a journey into an unfolding story. Television like Breaking Bad is every bit as satisfying as the most brilliant of novels, but novels take time, man, and when you finish a great one, there's a period of casting about as you pick up this and that and then discard them because they pale in comparison to what you just read. I suspect it will be the same with Breaking Bad for me. I keep a list of TV series recommended (not to say pushed on) to me, but I don't know - this will take some time. Breaking Bad really was the best show that's ever aired, Readers Mine, and how do you follow that?

Yet this will not be the end of Meth Monday. We're now officially on the last push on the final parts of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Guide to Breaking Bad,  so look for updates on that, as well as info on book signings, tours, etc. in the future. (I might even be persuaded to go to Ontario Provence. Maybe.) In the meantime, give me a follow on the various social networks linked to at the top right of this page for all the Breaking Bad stuff that crosses my screen, and be sure to head over to Dale's blog later in the week for Walter White Wednesday. It'll be worth it: her opinion of "Felina" diverges from mine. Until next time, Readers Mine, be well.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Meth Monday: 5.15 "Granite State"

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another Meth Monday as we approach the end of Breaking Bad. There's lots to talk about today, but before I get to last night's episode, lets not forget BrBa's big night at the Emmy's! Anna Gunn took home the best supporting actress award, and not only did she deserve it on her merits as one of the great contemporary actors out there, but it was also nice to see her get some positive recognition in light of all of the despicable, hateful, and misogynistic abuse from so-called "fans" whose greatest joy seems to be in hating Skyler. Unfortunately, they didn't stop there, and Anna Gunn the actual person has been the target of some truly frightening abuse, to the point where she finally had to address it directly with a brief editorial in the New York Times. We all know that the Internet has some really dark corners, and that a wide vein of misogyny can be found in even the most brightly lit spaces,  but the public vitriol aimed at Ms. Gunn has been deeply disturbing. Nor is she the first woman on TV to have suffered from this muck, as A.J. Wiley has pointed out. So I think it's a fantastic win for her, and a tremendous "fuck you" to the needle-dicked fanboys who hate/deeply fear women.

Breaking Bad also took home the big one last night, winning the Emmy for best dramatic series, which I for one think is pretty much impossible to argue with. It really is the best show on TV - no, that's damning it with faint praise - it is perhaps the best show that has ever been on TV, and I won't lie to you, there'll be a bit of a hole in my life when it wraps up next Sunday. Speaking of, let's talk about "Granite State." Be warned: SPOILERS!!!!

The cast of Breaking Bad at the 2013 Emmy awards. From left to right: R.J. Mitte, Anna Gunn (holding her Emmy for best supporting actress), Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul (with the Emmy for best drama), Bob Odenkirk, and Jonathan Banks.
So "Granite State" was a much needed breather after last week's "Ozymandias." It also filled in the backstory of Walt's sojourn in New Hampshire, as well as making completely clear just how evil Todd, Jack, Kenny, and their crew actually are. Of course, they're Nazis so that wasn't that big of a shock. I have to admit that I was concerned that Gilligan & Co. were painting the Nazis black enough that Walt would appear to be at least off-white by contrast, but I should have known to trust the show. Because Walt doesn't go back to save Skyler or the kids, or rescue Jesse, or for any noble purpose whatsoever.

What goes back because he's the same selfish, self-centered, egotistical bastard he's always been and he just can't stand the thoughts of a.) Gretchen and Elliot downplaying his role in founding Gray Matter (though we have only Walt's own inflated opinion on how much he actually contributed), and b.) someone is still making Blue Magic and thereby stealing his reputation as a Drug Kingpin. Walt can't abide the thought that he might be remembered as a little man, or not at all. He's petty, spiteful, and driven by overweening pride, and he's damned if anyone will take credit for what he sees as his work. Asshole.

So who's the M60 for? Gretchen and Elliot? The Gray Matter headquarters? Todd and the Nazis? And what about the ricin? I have a theory that the poison just might be for him. He's been told that if he leaves his cabin in New Hampshire, he will be caught, and ricin takes 48 to 72 hours to kick in, so he could take it, do his "business" and check out on his own terms, even if he's captured. Assuming he's on a calculated death ride when he gets back to ABQ. If not for himself, then who? Again, maybe Gretchen and/or Elliott, but those are the only two I can think of who he might want to kill - but not immediately.

I've also been seeing a lot of chatter on the web about Walt going out on top, or in a blaze of glory. I could be wrong here, but I think you folks are going to be disappointed. We might, just might, get a No Country for Old Men-type ending where evil survives to continue roaming the earth, but I'm not sure that evil will be Walt. In fact, my money is on Walt being killed, and not in his own time, and not in any way he - or we - expect. As usual, however, who knows? We'll all find out next Sunday.

Until then, be well, and don't forget to swing by my co-author K. Dale Koontz's blog later this week for Walter White Wednesday. And while you;re tooling around the interwebs, check out my nifty new author pages at Amazon and Goodreads, and pre-order Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad at Amazon or Powell's Books.

See you next week!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tweaker Tuesday: 5.14 "Ozymandias"

Hello, Readers Mine! Sorry for the day's delay in posting here, but Monday kind of got away from me, and, honestly, I needed an extra day to try and wrap my head around Sunday night's episode. After the jump, I'll be talking about "Ozymandias," and take heed, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!!

Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walter Jr. (R.J. Mitte) in Breaking Bad 5.14: "Ozymandias."
So. That happened.

Ever since I calmed down Sunday night, I have been trying to remember if I have ever seen an hour of fictional television as gut-wrenching, emotionally exhausting, insanely powerful, and perfect as "Ozymandias," and I can honestly say that I don't think I have - ever. And my TV watching history goes way, way back. I can't really say that the previous five episodes have been slow, and Breaking Bad is rightly known for breakneck pacing towards the end of a season, but there has never been anything quite like "Ozymandias."

The opening shot of the cold open is an extreme close up of a flask of water just coming to a boil, a pretty direct metaphor for what's coming. Yet Gilligan & Co. don't immediately take us back to the howling gunfight that ended "To'hajiilee." Instead, we are transported back to the Pilot episode, only about a year and a half ago in show-time (remember, Walt turned 50 in the pilot, and at the time of the shootout last episode he was still just 51)! And see how much Walt has changed, see how much he has lost. I can't even remember the last time Walt and Skyler exchanged "I love yous." In that simple phone conversation, we see love, trust, and even Joy at the prospect of a future with Holly in it. Walt has a loving wife, a son who adores him, and you know what, times are tight, but the White family is getting by. It's a really, really good life, but Walt has already started down the road to its destruction. After all, he had to get his lie straight before he called.

Fade out on the RV and the boy who was Jesse, and fade in on the fading sounds of automatic weapons.

"My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself."

For the past five episodes, Walt has been vainly struggling to find the right combination of words, the right way to say them, that will make everyone see things his way, that will explain everything - everything - to every one's satisfaction, and they'll all say, "well, when you look at it that way, yeah, it makes sense. Thanks, Walt." But there is no such magical conjugation.

"You're the smartest guy I ever met, and you're too stupid to see... he made up his mind ten minutes ago."

Hank is dead. And in an act of supremely petty revenge, Walt condemns Jesse to slavery, though, to be fair, he thinks he's just having him killed - after telling him about watching Jane die. Throughout the series, many fans have continued to root for Walt in one way or another, and to justify his actions. But as Walt himself reminds us, he became irredeemable in season 2's "Phoenix," when he sat by and let a beautiful, troubled young girl choke to death on her own vomit, while knowing exactly how to save her, just so things would go the way he wanted them too. Jesse is right, he has become the Devil, and never in the history of television has any character so well earned his eternal damnation.

Yet, there was a before, and we see that in a terrifying final showdown between Walt and Skyler. Because Junior, despite his cerebral palsy, despite being almost certainly weaker and less capable in a fight than his father, leaps onto Walt's back, pulls him off Skyler, and interposes his own body between his knife-welding, enraged father and his mother in the most heart-breakingly noble and radiantly good act in the entire series. Flynn (he's better than the name Walt) is the quintessential good son, a fact that Walt has unhesitatingly and repeatedly used again and again to his own advantage, but in "Ozymandias," he reveals that he is the bravest of them all, and what is more, a good man. In that moment, I loved Flynn more than I have ever loved a TV character, and if you want a bright spot in this mess, that's it. And RJ Mitte pulls it off beautifully, bringing some incredible acting chops to the table. This young man has just had his entire world blown to pieces, his surrogate father has been killed, his biological father has become a deadly danger to his mother and to himself, and the guy steps the fuck up. I'll say one thing for Walter White: he raised a good son. Too bad he's not even a tenth of one percent the man that Flynn is.

But wait, what about how Walt saved Skyler by knowingly confessing and taking all the blame for his actions by spewing hate while knowing the cops were likely recording? And he gave Holly back! Yeah, Walter White's a real prince. Too little too late, and there was as much truth in Walt's ravings as there was self-immolation. Sure he'll confess, so long as he thinks he can get away with it all. There is a part of me that wants the last scene of the series to be Walt dropping his empty M60, having killed everyone, last man standing, only to turn around and have Marie blow his head off. That, or be slowly disemboweled by ravens while remaining conscious the whole time. In any event, Walt has to die. He doesn't get to live.

So Jesse's now slave labor (something Nazis have historically been known for, after all), one of the disappeared (who's gonna come looking for him? Well, maybe Andrea - yikes!!), Walt's in the wind, and I predict that the last two episodes are mostly the tale of Walt52. I even have a sneaking suspicion that the ricin he retrieved in "Blood Money" is for him. After all, it'll take 48 hours to kick in, and I really believe that Walt52 is on a death ride.

I know, I know, this is a much more emotional, fan-boy perspective than I usually offer here, but I just can't get the distance I need from "Ozymandias" to be as detached as I'd like. Remember, Readers Mine, Wanna Cook will provide a critical perspective on the show, but it's also been written by two very hardcore fans, and we are not immune to the spell cast by the finest TV show in history. Two episodes left, and between you and me, I may need a sedative before it's all over!

That's it for this week. I'll see you next Monday, and don't forget to head over to Dale's blog for Walter White Wednesday tomorrow (she's better at keeping a schedule than I am!). And do yourself a favor and go ahead and pre-order your copy of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Guide to Breaking Bad at Amazon or Powell's Books. You're not gonna want to miss it!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Official Cover for Wanna Cook?

UPDATE: Wanna Cook?  is now available for pre-order from Amazon! Beat the rush and order yours today!

Here it is at long last, Readers Mine! The official cover for Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad:

It's getting real now! We'll be in bookstores in the spring of 2014!!!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Meth Monday 5:13 - "To'hajiilee"

Thirteen down and three to go now, Readers Mine. Below the pic, I'll be talking about last night's new episode, "To'hajiilee"(which, by the way, is the name of a Navajo Nation reservation spread across several New Mexico counties west of Albuquerque), so be warned: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Before that, however, there are a couple bits of cool Breaking Bad news you might have missed. First Breaking Bad will be listed in the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records as the highest rated TV show of all time. To break that down a bit,'s ratings are calculated as "weighted" averages of all reviews to arrive at a total score between 0 and 100. Breaking Bad's calculated score of 99 puts it at the top of all the shows Metacritic has scores for. However, that list only goes back so far and a search on for M*A*S*H under "TV Shows," for example, will return no results whatsoever (though Metacritic gives the film M*A*S*H a score of 69). For more information on how determines its scores, check out the Guardian interview with Marc Doyle, Metacritic's Games Editor. Finally, and in lieu of the normal still-shot, is this beautiful mash-up by Citizen Schwartz:

So Gilligan & Co. gave us a real frelling cliff-hanger this week, but man were there some beau-ti-fool bits in "To'hajiilee!" I was almost snarling at Walt as he brought Andrea and Brock back into the line of fire with his little visit. Did you notice that Brock, who we've seen as a friendly, outgoing kid, really just doesn't like Walt? Now, we still don't know exactly how Walt got the lily-of-the-valley poison to Brock, so it may be that Brock is operating under threat, but I don't think so. It doesn't seem like Brock is afraid of Walt, its just that the kid instinctively knows that Walt isn't a good person. Out of the mouths of babes, as it were, and remember that children have often been the smartest people in Breaking Bad, going all the way back to "Peekaboo" (2.06) and the little redhead who knew what he had to do to survive, and that Jesse was a good guy.

To flip my emotions over, I was literally laughing and saying "Yeah, bitch!" at my TV when Jesse had Walt on the phone, goading him into revealing where the cash was hidden, and Walt was completely suckered. Walt is smart, but he's not nearly as smart and savvy as he thinks he is, because he has such a high opinion of himself that he can't imagine that anyone might be able to outsmart him, so Hank and Jesse's plan works, and Walt swallows it all, hook, line, and sinker. Plus, you know that confession he screamed at Jesse on the phone was recorded, right? And, we got to see the real, naked face of Walter White: "Don't you touch my money!!!!!" Yeah. That's him right there.

Of course, we know Walt gets away with it again in one sense. After all, the cold openings to "Live Free or Die" (5.01) and "Blood Money" (5.09) have shown us Walt walking around free, if not happy, some time in the near future. I have to admit that I saw the ending coming, too. First, Todd and Uncle Jack weren't going to let things go that easily, especially since Walt didn't bother to tell them that the DEA was there. Mostly though, it was Hank's phone call to Marie. The "it may be a while before I get home," and the deep heartfelt "I love you" goodbyes. The scene recalls "One Minute" (3.07) when Hank is on the phone with Marie, having made his peace with the end of his career for beating the hell out of Jesse, and tells her that he thinks they'll be all right and that he loves her. Right before the Salamanca twins show up to try and gun him down.

Only this time, I don't think Hank gets to survive.

For what it's worth, my prediction is that Jesse manages to get away during the confusion of the firefight, and Walt, Todd, Jack, Kenny, etc. bug out when they realize that they've killed two federal agents, while Walt is freaking out about Hank's death. But yeah, I think Hank and Gomez get killed next week. We saw how the Nazi boys were fully stocked with weapons and ammo as they got ready to go get Walt, and there is just no way that Hank and Gomez have the ammunition to hold out until help gets there. I'm around 90% confident in this call, but be aware that a big chunk of that remaining 10% is my love for Hank and really, REALLY not wanting to see him, the true good guy of the show, get killed. 

In real life, however, being the good guy doesn't often save you, and Breaking Bad is one of the more realistic shows when it comes to violence that's ever been filmed. Seriously, Readers Mine, during Hank and Marie's good-bye phone call I said "Goodbye, Hank" out loud to my TV set. 

I guess we'll see next week. In the meantime, give me a follow on Twitter or Facebook for all the Breaking Bad news and fun stuff that crosses my computer screen, and now you can follow me and my "Wanna Cook? Breaking Bad" board over on Pinterest too! Be sure to check out my co-author's "Walter White Wednesday" post later this week too, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook too. See you next week!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Meth Monday: 5.12 - "Rabid Dog"

Hello once again, Reader's Mine! Well, after last night's episode, we're halfway through the final eight with only four more episodes to go. It's going to be really weird to live in a world without any more new episodes of Breaking Bad, but then again, I always knew Walt and Jesse would break my heart. As usual, I'll be discussing last night's episode, "Rabid Dog," after the pic, so if you haven't watched it yet, take heed: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) in 5.12 "Rabid Dog"

So I think I called it last week when I said I thought Walt wouldn't be the person to walk in on Jesse before he could set fire to the White house. Hank was my first choice, but I have to admit, I really wasn't too confident, because this show so rarely goes where I expect it to. Still, score 1 for me (which makes a total of 2 for those who're interested).

For me, the two biggest character moments last night belong to Skyler and Hank. Both moments are profoundly disturbing, and more than a little terrifying in terms of the final episodes. First, Skyler has undergone a profound change of perspective from the desperate woman of 5.04 "Fifty-One" when she informed Walt in no uncertain terms that "I will not have my children living in a house where dealing drugs, and hurting people, and killing people is shrugged off as ‘shit happens’," to the woman who last night urged Walt to kill Jesse with a weary "What's one more?" The effect of Walt's falsified confession, which Skyler helped him produce, has been enormous. For Skyler, that DVD marked the inescapable betrayal of everything she ever thought was true about herself. She knows that her relationship with Marie, the only blood-family she has in her life (besides her kids), is utterly destroyed, and unlike Marie's steely determination to see Walt ended, Skyler has no one she can blame, no one she can hate for what she;s done but herself. Be aware that right now Skyler may be the most dangerous person on the show, because, in a way, she has nothing left to lose.

Speaking of Marie, I admit to pumping my fist in the air and hooting aloud when the following went down:

Marie: "Will this hurt Walt?"

Hank: "Yes."

Marie: "Good." [Turns and begins to walk away] "I'm staying." [Jesse's phone rings] "Phone's ringing."  

God I love that woman! And she's almost as dangerous as Skyler at this point.

Which brings me to Hank's equally chilling change. Throughout the series, all the way back to the pilot episode when he made damn sure the school bus was out of the way before ordering his men to take down the meth house, Hank's concern has always been with the safety of others, particularly the innocent. Notice how, when he puts Jesse in his car at Walt's house, he very gently takes the time to make sure he's buckled in. Yet after Jesse's confession (and it appears that Jesse told ALL), when Gomez raises the possibility of there being a real danger to Jesse's life in Hank's plan to send him to talk to Walt while wearing a wire, Hank reacts with disdainful and sarcastic unconcern: "You mean that junkie murder that's dribbling all over my guest bathroom floor?" Gomez's eyes say it all - this isn't the Hank he knows. Hank's bone-deep fury and drive to bring Walt down has pushed him beyond his usual morality, and that's not only scary, but deeply sad.

As for Jesse himself, his sudden confidence at the end of the episode is strange, and I have absolutely no idea what his plan may be, or how he intends to "hit [Walt] where it hurts." Jesse's angry, but he's not quite truly dangerous yet. If, however, Walt's episode-ending call to Todd is truly to put a hit on Jesse, Things may be about to get truly ugly. After all, I doubt Walt has told Todd or uncle Jack that Hank is DEA, and if they track Jesse to Hank's house, then Hank and Marie may well become "collateral" damage.

And that, Reader's Mine, is when Skyler will snap. We'll see.

So I hope everyone here in the US had a happy, lazy Labor Day, and I'll see all of you next week. In the meantime, fell free to follow me here, there, and everywhere - the links are above and to the right. Until next week --

Be well!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Meth Monday: 5.11 - "Confessions"

Hello, Readers Mine! Sorry to be posting this so late, but I've spent most of the day either on the road, settling back in to my grad. student digs, or, well, napping, so it got kinda late on me. Fair warning, I'm going to be talking a bit about last night's new episode of Breaking Bad, "Confessions," so if you haven't see in yet: SPOILER ALERT!!!

Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walt (Bryan Cranston), waiting for hank and Marie in 5.11 "Confessions"
Okay, my co-author, K. Dale Koontz, has already totaled up the number of confessions in this episode and been looking into them, so I'll leave it to her to talk about them in this week's Walter White Wednesday. What I'd like to focus on are the three people who don't make a confession of some type in this episode: Hank, Walt, and Jesse.

First off, Hank went into the DEA office towards the end of last week's episode, "Buried," fully prepared to tell his superior and Gomey about Walt, and by so doing, end his career. Unfortunately for him, Gomey told him about Jesse's little redistribution of wealth scheme, so instead Hank unsuccessfully tried to get Jesse to roll on Walt, and wound up telling no one anything. Which left him vulnerable to being framed by Walt via the false confession DVD.

And yeah, it's a "confession," even if a false one, but I don't think it counts. Neither, for that matter, does Walt telling Junior about his cancer, because both instances are nothing more than manipulations which demonstrate the true depths of Walt's moral bankruptcy. He doesn't care about Junior, only about keeping Hank and Marie from telling him about Walt's crimes, and he uses his son's deep and abiding love for him as a handle to get him to do what he want's him too. This is a betrayal every bit as viscous, calculated, and despicable as the fake confession. Walt has one real opportunity to confess in this episode, to actually be honest, and that's when Jesse confronts him in the desert. Because Jesse is right, Walt is playing him. Walt is always playing him, but despite Jesse's agonized plea for just one single moment of honest from him, Walt stays silent, never admitting that getting Jesse out of town is all for Walter White's own good. The hug is just another play. 

Finally, there is Jesse, who doesn't say anything to the APD, or to Hank or the DEA. Over the course of the series, Jesse, despite his failings, and his very serious crimes, has become the moral center of Breaking Bad and, at this point, he is the most honest character on the show. He is also the one who could offer the most damning confession of all. After all, Walt is the mastermind. Jesse could likely get into WitSec pretty easily if he rolls, but Jesse is also intensely, perhaps stupidly, loyal. Until he finally figures out the connection between Huell, Saul, Walt, and the near fatal poisoning of Brock. For this first time since season 5B cranked up three weekends ago, Jesse is awake - and furious.

Here's the thing: In 5.09 "Blood Money," as Walt52 wanders through his abandoned house, there is absolutely no evidence of fire damage int he living room area where Jesse was last seen splashing gasoline. So we know he is interrupted before he can light his intended fire, and we appear to be supposed to think that it is Walt, frozen thirty-eight snub in hand, who will do the interrupting. But what if it's someone else? What if it's Junior? Or Hank. Yeah, what if it's Hank? After all, we last saw him suddenly leaving the DEA office for who knows where. Maybe he thought he'd search Walt's house? Or maybe both Walt and Hank show up at roughly the same time.

Or maybe Gilligan and Co. will stun the world and have Walt shoot Jesse dead.

It's Breaking Bad. Anything can happen.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Meth Monday: 5.10 - "Buried"

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to another Meth Monday. After the jump, I'll be talking about Breaking Bad episode 5.10 "Buried" which aired last night on AMC, so if you haven't watched it yet, beware: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!!!!! On another note, despite the final 16 episodes of Breaking Bad being broken up to air, season-like, over the course of two years, AMC and IMDb both continue to number the episodes as part of a single, long season 5, and I am choosing to go with their system.

Kuby (Bill Burr) and Huell (Lavell Crawford) in 5.10 "Buried."
Okay, first things first. Both "Buried" and last week's "Blood Money" are doing some really interesting things with eyes/vision/seeing/not-seeing. Note the shot of Walt in the cold open to 5.09 "Blood Money" in the cracked bedroom mirror in the abandoned White house. The cracks in the glass make Walt appear eye-less, though the rest of his face, and the frames of his glasses, are mostly visible. Later in the same episode, Jesse refuses to look at Walt except briefly, and his eyes close when Walt reminds him that he has "earned" the blood money. Lydia's eyes are also almost always hidden under Jackie-O sunglasses, except when she is trying to convince Walt to come back and cook.

Cut to "Buried" and the motif continues. Hank talks about his career being over when he goes in and tells his pals at the DEA that the guy he has been looking for was his brother-in-law. Hank's been looking hard, but has been blind to the truth. Lydia shows up literally blindfolded, and ends her scene with eyes tightly shut so she won't see the results of her actions against Declan and his gang. Meanwhile, the core of Jesse's problem is that he can't "un-see" the things that he has seen and done, while Walt is a master at seeing things the way he wants to, as necessary, unavoidable, or done in service of a higher purpose. In these two episodes, at least, what people see or don't see, what they will and won't see is vitally important. If Lydia doesn't see the result of her calling down Todd and his Neo-Nazi relatives down upon Declan, then she doesn't have to live with the consequences of her action. If Hank can make up for his blindness towards Walt/Heisenberg by being the guy to bring him in, then he can redeem himself in his own "eyes." And, as always, if Walt can just get everyone to see things the way he does, then all will be well. Keep an eye (pun intended) out for this theme going forward. I think we'll see more of it.

Now then. "Buried" is all about relationships and family. Skyler and Walt are big here, as Sky apparently has decided to stand by her man either out of love, fear that if he goes down she will too, or because she's become used to having a three-foot high pallet of money to spend. Skyler and Marie's relationship may well be irrevocably damaged. Anna Gunn and Betsy Brant have said that their characters are the only family they have left, come from a not too wonderful family, and have no contact with their parents. Skyler's betrayal of Marie, and Marie's roundhouse smack therefore represent a truly tragic break between them. Yet both have chosen to draw their lines with their husbands. One gets the sense that Marie's fury comes from the thought that, somehow, Walt had something to do with Hank being shot (an accurate conclusion, and one that Skyler herself reached in season 3), and if there is one thing we've learned is that Marie and Hank are totally loyal to and fiercely protective of, each other.

Hank's relationships with Walt and Sky have radically shifted, but the most interesting relationship that may be about to change is the one the episode ends on: Hank and Jesse. For Jesse is the weak link in the Heisenberg case, the one person who can give Hank the evidence he needs to put Walt away. Though Jesse has a true hate-on for Hank, what might happen if Hank apologizes to him, tells him he knows now that it was Walt, not Jesse who called and told him Marie was in the hospital, that he knows Walt is the bad guy? I don't think it'll happen so quickly, but with Breaking Bad, you never know. One thing I'm sure of: if Jesse ever finds out about Brock, or - worse - Jane, then Walt is well and truly done for. We'll see next week.

That's it for today, but you can keep up with all the latest BrBa news and info that comes across my screen by following #WannaCook or me on Twitter or Facebook. Also don't miss my co-author's weekly "Walter White Wednesday" posts over on her blog, Unfettered Brilliance, and follow her too. See you next week!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meth Monday: My Interview with Michael Slovis & 5.09: "Blood money"

Hello, Readers Mine! Well, as of last night, Season 5B of Breaking Bad  is off to a hell of a start, and things are just beginning. I'll get into my thoughts on "Blood Money" in a bit (and SPOILER ALERT, btw), but first I want to talk about something else I did this weekend: interview Breaking Bad's director of photography, Michael Slovis!

Michael Slovis, ASC. Director of photography on Breaking Bad.

To be clear, you won't be getting the interview here, but you will find it in it's entirety in Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad when the book is released next spring. Mr. Slovis was kind enough to take some time out of his Saturday to chat with me over the phone about Breaking Bad, cinematography, directing, and his influences. This was the first time I have ever had the opportunity to interview someone for this kind of project, and Mr. Slovis was very generous with his time, and allowed our conversation to wander pretty broadly.

Slovis has said that his palette for shooting Season 5B will be very dark, with lots of blacks, and he expanded on this to me, framing it as an over all mood for the season, which was very clear in last night's episode, particularly in the cold open as Walt walks through his house. This was one of Slovis's favorite places to shoot, and except for exteriors, I learned that the White house is a set. Jesse's living room is also a set, and one that would not have been built if Slovis hadn't insisted on it. Working with Mark Freeman, Breaking Bad's production designer (whom Slovis raves about), Slovis helped create a set designed to allow for all of the incredible sequences in seasons 3, 4, and 5A as Jesse descends into darkness, emerges, and begins to descend again. I also learned that while Breaking Bad  has always been shot using film stock, Slovis made the switch to Kodak stock which added more texture to the show.

Above all, Slovis is focused on story. While Breaking Bad  is known for several trademark shots, particular the use of point-of-view shots, Slovis is adamant that every shot serve the story, and admits that there are plenty of shots which wound up in the cutting room floor because they just didn't work. He also noted that, as Breaking Bad began filming in 2007/08, TVs were changing. Screens were becoming larger, and HD was beginning to fully penetrate the market. This allowed Slovis and his predecessor in Season 1, Renaldo Villalobos to take full advantage of wide shots, and to pull back from traditional TV close-ups because the viewing technology was  finally sharp enough to allow those kinds of shots to show up clearly. Indeed, Slovis told me that whereas usually in TV, photographers shooting in the the field are told to come back with "coverage" (i.e. plenty of close shots to be sure to clearly catch what's going on), that "Vince [Gilligan] said, 'I don't care about the coverage,  don't come back without the wide shots'." As Slovis described it, Breaking Bad is a "perfect storm," where network, production company, technology, and talent all hit at the right place, and at just the right time.

As to what we can expect in Season 6, Slovis was, of course, tight lipped, and I knew better than to ask, but he did let fall a few tantalizing bits here and there:

  • I mentioned how impressed I had been with Dean Norris in Seasons 1 - 5A, at the depth and subtly he brings to Hank, and Mr. Slovis gleefully noted that I was going to be blown away by Norris this season.
  • He noted that we'd be seeing a lot of "found locations" (the house where Tuco takes Walt & Jesse in "Grilled," the abandoned motel where Walt makes his first delivery for Gus in "Phonenix," etc.), in Season 5B. Which means more abandoned places and scary spaces!
  • Mr. Slovis also intimated that the changes in Jesse's house aren't over yet.

 Talking to Mr. Slovis was a great way to spend a part of my Saturday morning, and I think I only squeed like a fanboy once or twice. In all seriousness, it was wonderful to find someone whose work I admire so much to be such a generous, kind, funny, and passionate person. Thanks Mr. Slovis!

Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Hank (Dean Norris) get down to it in 5.09: "Blood Money"
I may be wrong, but I don't think any Breaking Bad fan was disappointed in last night's season premiere. For the first time since the cold open of Season 5, we see 52 year old Walt again, going back to his home, now an abandoned, graffitoed place used by local skaters as a hang out. "Heisenberg" is spray-painted across the wall of what used to be Walt's living-room, and his next door neighbor is totally shocked and terrified to see Walt again. So somewhere, somewhen, it's all come crashing down for Walt, and I got the sense (again) that he's on some sort of final death-ride, complete with M60 machine-gun and that little vial of ricin he's kept hidden for so long.

Meanwhile, Jesse's in another downward spiral, and it all about the episode's title, the $5 million in blood money that Walt laid on him in "Gliding Over All." Jesse only sees death and blood and horror when he sees the money, particularly when it comes to kids - always Jesse's softest spot. By the end of the episode he's turned into a kind of demented paper-boy, flinging out stacks of cash into the yards of a bad section of ABQ as he drives slowly by, almost weeping.

And then there's Hank. Lovely, lovely Hank, and Dean Norris is already chewing the scenery as he wraps his head around the fact that Walt is Heisenberg, and then proceeds to make a case to prove it. The last five minutes of the episode are just incredible, and Hank is true to character. Confronting Walt, he doesn't make any noise about how Walt's action have hurt him, but focuses, as hank always does, on others. Walt turned his car into traffic, bombed a nursing home, let Jesse be brutally beaten all to save his own ass. And when Walt tries to play the "family" card, Hank slaps him down: "Like you give a shit about family!" Walt's BS won't work with Hank. As to Walt warning Hank to "tread lightly," I for one think that Walt should take his own advice. He's always, always underestimated Hank, and I don't think Walt knows yet just what kind of Hell-hound he now has on his tail.

Man, this is gonna be good!

That's it for this week, Readers Mine. Check back next Monday for my take on 5.10 "Buried." Meanwhile, don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and be sure and check out "Walter White Wednesday" this week over at my co-author, K. Dale Koontz's blog, Unfettered Brilliance, as well as her own Twitter and Facebook accounts. We'll keep you up to date with all the Breaking Bad goodies that come across our screens, and plenty of other fun stuff as well.

See ya next week!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Meth Monday: Breaking Bad at San Diego Comic Con

Hello again Readers Mine! Okay, here we are THIRTEEN DAYS until the premiere of the final season of Breaking Bad on 11 August at 10pm on AMC! Which means a couple of things for Solomon Mao's and "Meth Monday." First, I'll be posting every Monday again, and once the show is actually airing, I'll be putting up my thoughts and speculations on the previous nights episodes, as well as updates on the progress of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad. We'll be moving into the final push to complete the book as the final 8 begin to air, because everything has to be done and turned in to ECW Press by 23 October, so the whole shebang can be translated into German (yeah, bitch!) for simultaneous publication in the spring of next year. So, busy times ahead, but oh man what a fun way to be busy!

Meanwhile, one of the most interesting and fun interviews in the run up to Season 5B took place in the (in)famous Hall H of San Diego Comic Con last weekend. You can watch the full panel below, and it's worth it. AMC bleeped some words here and there, but this version is the best for close ups of the panelists. So enjoy, and I'll see you here next Monday!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Meth Monday: Final Season Teasers That Reveal Nothing, But Are Made of Awesome Sauce

Hello, Readers Mine! Things are finally starting to settle down around here (after which they will again get progressively crazier, of course), so I thought I'd give these little gems some extra web-space:

Okay, how intense was that? So, some questions: Jesse is looking up through the glass-topped coffee-table in his living room, and the tabletop is littered with food detritus, a beer-bottle, a small mirror like one might use for coke or meth, and what looks like a bong. Jesse's using again, and his house is again showing outward evidence of his inner turmoil. We saw that Jesse had picked up the booze and pot again in 5.08 "Gliding Over All," but it looks like his descent is accelerating. Will he pull out of it? Also note the reversal of the trademark Breaking Bad camera shot. Instead of a view up-and-through something, we now have a view down-and-through. Is this indicative of other reversals coming in the last 8 episodes? With Hank, the questions are simpler: where is he going and/or who is he chasing? And what will he do when he gets there. The last time we saw Hank this furious and driving was in 3.07 "One Minute," and at the end of that particular drive, Hank put Jesse in the hospital.

For my money, the teasers focus on Jesse and Hank because these two will be the central characters for the final 8 episodes, and it will be on these two that the story will turn. Am I right? Who the hell knows. We'll find out starting in just 28 days.

One more thing: the title for 5.09 is "The Decision." Nothing foreboding about that, huh?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Meth Monday: The Baldlands

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of Meth Monday. Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad proceeds apace, with Dale and I finishing the drafts of the book's "long extras" this month.

Basically, between each season (and before S1 and after S5), you'll find a 1500 - 2000 word piece providing a critical look at some aspect of the show. We'll be looking at stuff like the psychological effects of a sudden life-trauma like, oh I dunno, being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer! Or the role that the realistic portrayal of violence and the progression of violent behaviors plays in making Breaking Bad so powerful and emotionally "real." Then there are the ethics of everyone's favorite shyster, Saul Goodman: sure, he's a criminal lawyer, but you can count on him to do an excellent job for his clients, and not to mess with their money. Outside the narrative world, we'll be looking at the odd and often disturbing misogyny directed at the characters of Skyler White and Marie Schrader, and the two wonderful actors who play them, Anna Gunn and Betsy Brant. We'll also be looking at the importance of place to Breaking Bad, from the "Crystal Ship," to the Superlab, to Jesse and Walt's houses, to the vast emptiness of the New Mexico scrub desert, where the land has no memory. Each is a fascinating element of the show, and each deserves a closer look. Indeed, truth be told, Readers Mine, I've been doing pretty well at recent conferences with looking at some of this stuff through a full-blown academic lens, footnotes and all! No worries though, Wanna Cook will retain the critical edge while getting rid of the jargon!

So that's what we're working on this month for the book, but it's really a light load until the final episodes begin airing in August. In the meantime, I ran across this BrBa meme the other day and it sparked some musings:

Funny, but this also pretty starkly reveals something I began really noticing in Season 4, especially when Jesse started hanging out with Mike so much. They started to look alike. And then you notice that preponderance of male characters on the show are bald, or keep their hair buzz-cut. it's not just bad guys, either (Hank's been tanning his noggin from the get-go, after all), and I can't quite shrug it off as being merely coincidence.

With Walt and Jesse, head-shaving has come as the result of dramatic personal change, the cancer and descent into Hisenberg for Walt, and the loss of Jane and increasing self-assurance for Jesse. Poor Ted also goes bald after a traumatic experience at the hands of Huell and Kuby, but as for the rest, who knows? If we are to take male pattern baldness as symbolic for having passed through some kind of psycho-spiritual gauntlet, then each of these men, from Hank to Gus to the Cousins to Heull has been shaped in a hard school one way or another. It's an interesting phenomenon, and one I've just started thinking on. Any of you folks have any thoughts about Breaking Bald?

That's it for this week's Meth Monday, Readers Mine, short and sweet, I know, but stay tuned, as we get closer to the last eight episodes, I'll be going back to a weekly posting schedule, so we can all be wound up as tightly as possible for the rollercoaster end promised by Vince Gilligan.

As always, for all the Breaking Bad news and gossip that comes cross my screen, follow me on various social media through the links in the upper right sidebar here, and be sure to also follow my co-conspirator, K. Dale Koontz on her wonderful blog, Unfettered Brilliance, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. And I'll see you back here in two weeks, on July 1st, for the next Meth Monday!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

D-Day + 69 Years

Today is 6 June 2013. Sixty-nine years ago today, American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish forces joined in the largest amphibious assault in human history, coming ashore along the Normandy coast of France. Here in the US, we tend to view the Normandy landings as a primarily American affair, and to sound solemn tones of national triumph and unity. In tooling around social media today, I've seen lots of pictures of Higgins boats disgorging American soldiers who rush bravely into the water, and a few old propaganda films celebrating the invasion as the turning point of the war. What strikes me about these memorials is their bloodlessness. I think, perhaps, that while we celebrate the heroism of the young men who went ashore 69 years ago, we should also remember the cost behind those sanitized images:

Wounded American soldiers at "Omaha Beach" on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Over 45,000 Allied soldiers died that day, and over 173,000 were listed as "wounded or missing in action." The survivors would move inland, and into almost another full year of war which would see replacement rates in some front line American regiments top 1000%.

The sacrifice of these men (often terribly young - Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in US history, was all of 19 years old when Germany surrendered in May of 1945) is almost incomprehensible. Despite our romanticized memories of World War II, the vast majority of American soldiers were draftees, and their memoirs reveal little or no mention of the flag, nationalism, or the Four Freedoms, but a tremendous emphasis on their comrades in arms, on day-to-day survival, and on a heartbreaking longing just to make it back home alive and mostly whole. Even when physically whole, many were deeply wounded with 3 million American veterans coming home from World War II with some form of neuropsychological disorder, which all too often went unrecognized and untreated.

The thing to remember about these men is that they were not supermen, not even necessarily "the Greatest Generation" of Americans. They were just people, men and women from all across the country, from all economic backgrounds, from all levels of education. African-Americans fought for democracy abroad while Jim Crow ruled at home. The Japanese-Americans of the 442 Regimental Combat Team made their unit the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the US Army while their families were imprisoned in concentration camps in the California desert. Navajo code-talkers risked everything for a nation that had forced their people onto reservations. Tens of thousands more regular American kids left their lives and homes for the most horrific conflict in the entirety of human history and fought and suffered and died with astonishing bravery and courage in spite of their all too human fear. Not because they were imbued with some kind of super-patriotism, but often simply because the shortest way home was through the enemy.

These young folks were us, and a few of their descendants carry on their tradition today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I suspect these modern men and women also think more about their buddies and getting home than they do anything else, and they still fight, suffer, and die for both. So today, step back from the flag-waving and bloodless black and white stills for a moment and remember the reality of what these people endured, and not just in Normandy and France, but also in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Southern France, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Okinawa, and Burma, among too many other places made into Hell on Earth between 1936 and 1945. Take the time too to remember the young men and women from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland, France, and the Soviet Union who fought beside us, and died in their millions.

General William T. Sherman noted not only that "war is hell," but also that "war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it." Remember today the young men who endured that hell and cruelty, and who inflicted the same on those who took them from their homes.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Meth Monday: Why Season 5B Starts Late

Hello, Readers Mine! Guess what came in the (e-) mail today? Some possible cover designs for Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad! Nothing is official yet, and unfortunately, they were sent to us in a format that won't post neatly here, but I have to say they're all pretty cool. We're getting closer!

This week I thought I might turn you on to some stuff at AMC's Breaking Bad website, in particular, the quizzes they've been churning out over the past few years. Amaze your friends, intimidate your family, and realize the true strength of your inner nerd with these quizzes!

Plus, check out this incredible collage piece by Breaking Bad fan and artist Emmanuel Torres:

Breaking Bad by Emmanuel Torres

The final eight episodes of Season 5 start on Sunday, 11 August, at which point "Meth Monday" will go weekly again, but it seems like a hell of a long time to wait, so why the delay when AMC has traditionally started BrBa seasons in July?

One word: Emmys.

By beginning the highly touted (and undoubtedly to be even more hyped in the coming months) final episodes in mid-August, AMC creates a tremendous amount of buzz about the show at the same time that the judges begin to consider the Emmy nominations for 2012. This serves to reinforce Breaking Bad and folks like Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brant, and Johnathan Banks (to name a few outstanding performers from Season 5A) in the minds of the judges as they consider their nominations. I pretty sure that the timing also makes sure that the final eight episodes are in contention for Emmy nominations in 2013, giving the network and the show one last awards season. So the timing is tremendously savvy in terms of business, but Jesus does it suck for us poor fans!

So that's it for this week's Meth Monday. Tune in two weeks from now on June 17 for the next edition, and int he meanwhile, sty up on all the latest Breaking Bad news by following me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Until next time, be well!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Alabama Phoenix Festival

Hello, Readers Mine! As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mockingbird and I headed down to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend to take part in the Whedon Track and to generally geek out at the Alabama Phoenix Festival. It was a fun, exhausting, and inspiring weekend of old friends, new friends, and a plethora of geek flags flying high, and I thought I'd share a little bit about it with you.

The Whedon Track Super-Panel, from left to right: yours truly, K. Dale Koontz, A.J. Wiley, and Paul Smith (Nicole Brunk and Cam Crowder were also in on the fun, but they're not pictured here). This is pretty much what we did all weekend. Photo credit: Pam Smith.
I've written here about the academic conferences I go to fairly regularly, but this was a different kind of event. Alabama Phoenix Festival (APF) is a fan convention, where geekdoms collide and intermingle, and you don't have to cite your sources nearly as much. The Whedon "Track" was basically a series of discussion panels focusing on various aspects of the works of Joss Whedon including war and military representations, faith and religion, women and feminism, and general discussions about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and The Avengers. It was a tremendous time, and great fun to share a table with folks who have the same general passion for all things Whedony, but whose areas of expertise were so varied that between all of us, we were able to field most any question from our audiences. And those audiences were gratifyingly large, well-informed, and comprised of devoted, thoughtful fans who are some of the finest people on the planet, and from whom we all gathered some cool new friends.

APF wasn't all Whedon, all the time, though. There was an enormous amount of stuff going on at any given time. I'm not going to list all the folks and fandoms who were there, but I'll tell you about those with whom I was privileged to meet and greet. First up was Mr. Allen Bellman, who worked at Timely/Marvel Comics from 1942 ~ 1951. During World War II, he worked on Captain America Comics, The Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch, Young Allies, and All Winners, to name just a few of the classic Golden Age comics Mr. Bellman had a hand in. I'll put it to you this way: Al Bellman remembers when Stan Lee came to work at Timely - as an office boy. If you have ever enjoyed a comic book, you have folks like Al Bellman to thank for the medium as we know it today. The Golden Age artists and writers literally invented the medium, and there are damn few of them left today. Mr. Bellman is also one of the kindest, humblest, and funniest men it has ever been my pleasure to meet, making it not only an honor, but a true pleasure to have met him - and to get some originals signed!!!!

Bombs Away! by Allen Bellman, limited edition print numbered and signed by the artist.
Next up was another comics superstar, David Michelinie, who's written comics for DC, Marvel, and Valiant Comics since 1975. He is perhaps best known for writing the Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle arc, which dealt with Tony Stark's struggles with alcoholism with a compassionate realism that is unfortunately still rare today, not to mention in 1978 when he actually wrote the story. It is one of the great moments of courageous storytelling in comics, and it was incredibly moving to meet Mr. Michelinie, who also turns out to be a total sweetheart of a guy. Mockingbird got her hardback collection of Demon in a Bottle signed, and we were lucky enough to chat with Mr. Michelinie off and on throughout the weekend.

In an entirely different fandom, we got to meet Oliver and Terry Holler, who have bought an old DeLorean and modified it into an exact replica of the time-travelling vehicle made famous by the Back to the Future films. The car really is just incredible, and has to be seen to be believed, which you can do pretty easily as the Hollers (and their time-machine) tour the country raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The Hollers are wonderful down to earth, and very funny people, and were one of the highlights of our weekend.

We also ran into an old friend from the academic world, Jennifer C. Garlen, author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching, which, if you love great films, you really should have on your shelf. Jennifer was at APF indulging in her LEGO fandom, including a LEGO Dr. Who-ville complete with custom built Daleks. We also ran into Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers!) and Ernie Hudson (Winston from Ghostbusters!), and I got to sit next to Jeremy Roberts (Kakistos from BtVS!!!) on the Buffy panel!

Finally, there was the exhibition hall, where I spent way to much money on comic books (including some great Bronze Age Our Army at War and Sgt. Rock books), buttons, books, and MST3K episodes, and Mockingbird got herself a very cunning hat! It was a weekend of early mornings, huge breakfasts, late lunch/dinners with friends, and wonderful fun. This was my first con, and I loved it. The organizers brought their A-game, and took extraordinarily good care of us even when they were rapidly spinning 50 other plates at the same time. If you didn't make it this year, plan on going next.

We sure are!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's Really Wrong with Abrams' Star Trek

So Mockingbird and I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness this weekend, and unlike the majority of film goers, we weren't that impressed with the movie. So being who we are we spent the rest of the weekend debating the film with friends on Facebook, and trying to nail down exactly what we didn't like about it in a series of rambling conversations. Turns out, there is quite a lot we didn't like, and she goes into some of it in a post on Unfettered Brilliance which you should go read. Personally, I have been ambivalent about J.J. Abrams' reboot of the franchise since his first film, and after Into Darkness, I think I have finally figured out why. FAIR WARNING: this post may get spoilery, so if you haven't seen the movie, and don't want to be spoiled, don't continue after the jump.

William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The problem is that Abrams has gotten away from the heart of Star Trek, and a big chunk of that missing heart lies in the fact that Abrams and Chris Pine's Kirk doesn't read. Instead he moodily rides motorcycles in picturesque settings, stares into glasses of whiskey in dive bars while wearing cool leather jackets, sleeps with tailed twins, and other manly-type things. Gene Roddenberry and William Shatner's Kirk, on the other hand did all of that, could quote from the classics, and school Spock on American history. Star Trek has traditionally been a very literate and literary franchise. In "Where no Man Has Gone Before" (1.03) Gary Mitchell describes Kirk in his Starfleet Academy days as "a stack of books with legs," and the value and importance of books and reading was emphasized both overtly as in the hardcopy-loving lawyer Samuel T. Cogley who defends Kirk in "Court Martial" (1.20) and Spock's gift of A Tale of Two Cities to Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, and more subtly in the stack of books that was always seen on a shelf in Kirk's quarters aboard the Enterprise. Kirk was as much a man of letters and science, of wonder and poetry, as he was the dropkicking, quick-drawing space western action hero.

This literacy and humanism was one of the key factors in the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation's success and popularity. Remember Picard's own vast knowledge of literature and general intellectualism as displayed perhaps most wonderfully in "Darmok" (STTNG 5.02) where Picard is able to recount the story of Gilgamesh from memory, and finishes the episode reading Homer, which, of course, he has in hardback form in his ready room? Not to mention Data's search for humanity through the plays of Shakespeare  the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, classical music, and painting. Star Trek is one of the great works and proponents of humanism in American popular culture, and Abrams abandons that in favor of more and more action, with less and less thought.

Finally, let's not forget that Star Trek's literacy has historically informed its villains as well. Remember Kodos the Executioner, the mass murder who went underground as the leader of a Shakespearean travelling troupe in "The Conscience of the King" (ST 1.13)? Or Garth of Izar and his Shakespeare reciting Orion lover Marta in "Whom Gods Destroy" (ST 3.14)? Or the brilliant "Mr. Flint" of "Requiem for Methuselah" (ST 3.19) who quite literally was  DaVinci, Bhrams, and Alexander the Great? Christopher Plummer's Shakespeare quoting General Chang stole every scene he was in for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and finally, as much as I truly loved Benedict Cumberbatch's viciously intense Khan, he comes nowhere close to the power of the original, who goes down quoting from what is arguably the greatest novel ever written by an American:

That's Herman Melville right there, straight out of Moby Dick. That's the literate Star Trek, and the heart and soul of the franchise that Abrams and Co. have, sadly, forgotten.