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!