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!