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!