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There has now been some time to absorb the finale of Breaking Bad. It’s been thought about and discussed, and for many the episode was supremely satisfying. There is a contingent, though—and a growing one—of those who found the ending a little too satisfying. One critic after another labeled the episode “too neat.” They’re not wrong, at least not in the literal sense. In the matter of plot, the episode is neat. Too neat. Cosmically neat, as though Walt had an angel looking over his shoulder through his final plans. But that neatness bears witness to the great beauty of Breaking Bad as a complete series.


The neatness on its own has been cause for consternation, owing mostly to its convenience. There have always been neat coincidences and conveniences in Breaking Bad, but rarely if ever so many so close together and without anything going wrong. Here, in its final episode, Gilligan and company got writerly, focusing on tying up their loose ends and selling themes rather than organically following their universe’s trajectory.

Of course, the bigger potential problem created by this writerly mode is the impression that the show effectively endorses Walt’s final actions as right, or heroic. It’s not surprising that many critics have taken this away from the finale. There’s certainly room enough to interpret it that way, right down to the final shot of the series. What are we to take away from a series that turned its lead character into a man impossible to root for, only to reverse course at the very end?

The answer is maybe not as obvious as some would like, but the truth is, a show that once seemed to be taking a specific journey—Mr. Chips to Scarface—instead decided on something far less black-and-white. Where it would have been easy to send Walt off as a monster, synonymous with the monstrous acts he committed and caused, the show instead chose to pull back and examine the man’s soul. Hard as it may be to remember, Walt is and always was a human being. In extending a hand to his humanity, Breaking Bad became something so much greater than the moralistic enterprise we all thought it was.

‘Felina’ opens with Walt in a car, attempting to steal it and having no luck in the attempt. He begins asking, almost in prayer, for help in this low moment, and miraculously finds keys to the car behind the sun visor. Of all the Deus ex machina moments in the finale, this is the most crucial. This is Walt meeting his guardian angel. This is the writers seemingly taking his side, nudging him along on his journey to make things right for his family and take revenge on the people who have wronged him.

Only, the writers aren’t necessarily taking his side in the moral sense. They are simply granting him this final journey to express all the facets of his fractured humanity. In just one episode we see all sides of Walt and we finally come to understand him fully, notably because he finally comes to understand himself.

Walt’s conniving brilliance shines bright in his scene with Gretchen and Elliott. He enacts a brilliant plan to strike fear into their hearts—no doubt a partial revenge for his feeling of being wronged—while also doing something genuinely good for his children. And furthermore, his threat of assassination was knowingly idle. As critic Matt Zoller Seitz described it on Twitter, “those red dots, courtesy of Badger/Skinny Pete, are Walt waving a big rubber dildo around.” Classic Walter White.

In his scene with Lydia and Todd, Walt gets to go undercover as the crazy fool, all the while setting in motion the complex machinations of his final plan to kill them, the Nazis and Jesse.

There’s the last bit of MacGyvering we’ll ever see Walt do, when he rigs a garage door motor to create a remote-activated oscillating device for his newly acquired M60 machine gun. It was always in the moments he was most desperate that he turned to his scientific know-how to pull off a crazy plan.

We also have Walt the Killer. A man who at first had the most difficult time killing a drug dealer in his basement, and who now doesn’t even flinch at the thought of poisoning Lydia, leaving her daughter without a mother, or mowing down a gang of neo-Nazi thugs in a hail of bullets. The killing is something he has come to take pleasure in, which leads to the most important facet of his character uncovered by the finale.


Walt goes to visit Skyler one last time, giving her the ticket to find Hank’s body and the means for a deal with the prosecutors. That’s all well and good, and fits perfectly into his mission to provide for his family. The more surprising moment comes when Walt finally admits, not only to Skyler, but also to himself, that everything he did was because “I liked it.” We’ve seen Walt lie an extraordinary amount. We’ve occasionally seen him be honest, or at least partially honest. This is new, though. Walt has come to terms with himself and his own motivations. He can finally offer Skyler that one thing she really needed, which was his complete honesty, and there she once again finds his humanity.

It’s a humanity that had become obscured and broken, and it wasn’t clear if we’d ever properly see it again. Even in ‘Ozymadias,’ when Walt cries over Hank and gives Skyler an alibi, there was a selfishness to his actions. A perpetuation of his deepest lie: that everything he did, he did for his family.

Walt’s profound lie is vanquished in ‘Felina,’ and the writers give Walt to space to pursue his needs honestly for once. He really does love his family. He wants Hank to have a proper burial and to provide closure for Marie. He wants Skyler to know he truly is sorry for how he ruined her life. He wants his children to have the means for a great life after his passing. Along with all that, of course, he wants to secure ownership over his greatest creation: the blue meth. He wants his enemies dead. He wants his meth to die with him.

Finally, we come to Jesse. Walt wants Jesse dead most of all. Jesse ratted on Walt to Hank, and worse, now he has partnered with the Nazis to cook the blue. It’s only when Walt gets to Uncle Jack’s compound and Jesse is brought in, shackled and totally beaten down, that Walt has a change of heart. In that moment he is face-to-face with the extent of the damage he caused over the last two years. Walt saves Jesse’s life, not because he is suddenly a good person again, but because his humanity is still to some degree intact. Jesse is granted a reprieve and a chance to become a better person once and for all.

In the final scene, with Walt walking through the meth lab to look on his works, he is finally where he belongs, notably alone except for his creation. There he expires, content. And that’s the tragedy of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan and his team, were they lesser artists, might have found a way to truly punish Walter for his actions, but they opted for the poetic.

In interviews, Gilligan has compared these final scenes to both The Searchers and The Lord of the Rings, with Ethan Edwards in the former finding a sliver of humanity in himself and yet remaining alone, and Gollum in the latter dying in the fires of Mount Doom clutching his “precious.” Walter Hartwell White was a far worse person than Ethan Edwards, but like the great John Wayne character, he was just a sad, lonely human being in the end. And like Gollum, Walt finds final solace in something so material and so trivial.


Walt is not redeemed in ‘Felina.’ Breaking Bad doesn’t ultimately take Walt’s side. The show simply pities Walt. It pities him because he’s a pitiful person, but a person nonetheless. He may not be worthy of love or admiration, or even respect, but the show does empathize with him, and through that finds a modicum of sympathy and a helping of pity. It’s pity for a man who was so consumed by the concept of success that he became perverted by it, and with nothing to show for it in the end but a legacy of pain and destruction. The tragedy of Walter White is not that he was a good human being who became evil, but that he was a human being through it all.

I knew very early on that ‘Dead Freight’ would be one of the most divisive episodes of Breaking Bad in the show’s history. It’s all a question of “reality” and how high the show expects us to suspend our disbelief. I suppose I should say up front that I thought ‘Dead Freight’ was a great episode of television. It’s the kind of episode that comes along only every once in a while; the kind where I can feel while watching it that something special is happening. Could I suspend disbelief? Sure, but not easily, and that’s precisely what the episode was looking for. It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble that paid off brilliantly, at least for me.

Tonal shifts are difficult to accomplish, but ‘Dead Freight’ goes a step further by also trying to shift audience expectations of its plot. My experience came in roughly four stages: confusion, denial, acceptance and shock. I feel that was by design. Vince Gilligan and George Mastras, the writer-director of the episode, created, in some ways, the ultimate Breaking Bad story. It was about plans. Plans that seem stupid on paper. Plans that end up working far better and going way further than anyone could have expected. And, of course, it’s about plans that end up going horribly wrong. Click to read more.

If this episode is a sign of things to come, Breaking Bad is going to be knocking out of the park this season. It’s an episode built around one basic plot point, but in leading to that logical end the show examines the true depths of what Walt is now going to be responsible for.

‘Madrigal’ is essentially a Mike-centric episode, which is great because Mike has very quickly become one of the best characters on TV. His quiet seriousness and clear contempt for what he does and a lot of the people around him make him fascinating. It’s alluded to that Mike was once a cop who went off the deep end somehow and landed a place beside Gus. Now that Gus is gone, Mike is forced to take responsibility for his future and the lives of others. CLick to read more.

This time last year I found a new obsession. Back in the summer of 2007, I got into Firefly in a big way. I’m a nerd, but I’m not the type who dresses up or writes fan-fiction or buys lots of merch, but with Firefly I went a little further than I ever had before. I bought any book I could get my hands on. I went to special screenings of Serenity. I bought a Jayne Cobb hat. It was pretty intense for a while, but a show that was already canceled, it wasn’t exactly easy to maintain the fandom. I still adore Firefly to no end, but I’m not totally over-the-moon like I was back then. My new obsession is on a whole new scale. It’s called Doctor Who.

For those completely under the rock, Doctor Who is a science-fiction series on the BBC in the UK. It first premiered in 1963, went on for many, many years, was eventually canceled in the 80s, and then brought back by Russell T. Davies in 2005. It’s about an alien who looks like a man and goes by the moniker, The Doctor. He flies around in an old police box called the TARDIS, which can travel anywhere in space and time. He usually brings along a companion or two from Earth. He goes on adventures, helping people around the Universe and stopping bad guys. It’s cheesy and fun and badass and sometimes even emotional. I love it to death, now let me tell you how I got into it and why you should, too. Click to read more.

(This review assumes you’ve already seen Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 1 and as such SPOILERS ahead!)

Welcome to my weekly reviews of Breaking Bad Season 5. It’s being called the final season, but considering it’s been split in half, with the second half airing next year, and since even the actors have referred to a ‘Season 6’, I’ll refer to this season as the penultimate one. When we left off last season, a lot of things were up in the air, but it had become pretty clear that Walt was now completely and utterly a bad guy. Where this coming season will take the character is a matter of pure speculation, but wherever he goes, it likely won’t be pretty.

With the first episode back, we jumped right back into the classic “SCIENCE IS FUN!” mode for the show. This week’s lesson: magnets. There may be some sort of thematic implications in using magnets, but I think we all know why it had to be magnets. They’re just so cool. I mean, really, did you see the scene where the laptop flew out of Jesse’s hands and smashed against the side of the truck? Pure gold. I was only watching it on TV, but for at least a few seconds I felt as giddy as a five year-old. But maybe we should leave the magnets alone for now and talk about the actual meat of the episode. Click to read more.

Aaron Sorkin has a problem. He doesn’t know when to stop. I love that he’s something of an idealist. I love that he writes dialogue in a way nobody actually speaks. I love the effortless ways he can build tension into a script with nothing but words, as seen during the broadcast of a news program in the first episode of his new HBO series, The Newsroom. The problem is that he has no filter. He has no sense of proportion. He doesn’t understand that the idealism with which he writes is only appropriate in certain settings.

When Sorkin was dealing with a fictional presidency surrounded by fictional politics in The West Wing, it worked. A dash of realistic policy jargon, stirred in with some heightened dialogue, hilarious characters, and a format that allowed for the fantasy of the perfect modern President to take shape on television week after week. Of course, then Sorkin came back with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in which he attempted to bring the same level of social import and awareness to a setting that could never believably call for it. A Saturday Night Live-type show dealing seriously with weighty concerns? It didn’t help that we never actually got to see the fake comedy show being remotely funny enough to justify its own existence. The Newsroom sits somewhere between these two spheres of Sorkin, which makes it all the more frustrating. Click to read more.

Girls: Finale Sadness

June 18, 2012 — 7 Comments

I’m not sure what the production of Girls was like, but I have to imagine the episodes were written mostly in sequence. I say this because the season quite remarkably got better as it went. Now, I still think the best episode was ‘The Return’ from right around the middle of the series, but in terms of the series’ arcs, it really did find a footing over time. When the show first premiered there were a lot of online discussions as to what Girls was actually about. Was it supposed to be some New Age feminist tract, or a representation of the modern young female? Was it just a new version of Sex and the City, or was Lena Dunham trying to do something completely different? By the end of the finale, none of these things are true (though in a way they all are). Girls, instead, is a show about its characters, plain and simple. It goes where the characters need to go, and where that is is anyone’s guess.

The season finale also confirmed the tone Dunham has crafted. Very much influenced by producer Judd Apatow, the series takes wild swings at small emotional moments. This isn’t Mad Men, where a single shot can be filled with meaning and mystery and allusion. But it is the kind of show where a shot of a girl sitting alone on a beach eating a slice of wedding can breathe emotion and wisdom. It’s also the kind of show where ending a season on such a shot, sad as it is, feels completely appropriate and satisfying. Click to read more.

The season finale of Mad Men‘s long-awaited fifth season was a levelling off. It was a reflection on the events of the preceding 12 episodes, a mourning for for the events of the previous episode, and a look forward to a future of repeating cycles. The fascinating thing about the characters on Mad Men is not that they do crazy or unexpected things, but that no matter how hard they try they succumb to the malaise of the American Dream.

It’s instructive to look at Pete’s journey through the season. Here’s a man who should be more than comfortable with his position, both at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and at home. He should be happy and content and feel accomplished, particularly for his age. Except he’s none of those things. He looks upon his success with disdain for the emptiness of it all. A marriage he has no heart in and a job where nobody truly respects his talent. Of course, he doesn’t help himself by wallowing, and instead of working on bettering himself he merely digs himself further and further into scumbaggery. Click to read more.

Spoilers for Mad Men Season 5, Episode 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5

No, seriously, big spoilers. So big I’m keeping everything on the other side of the jump.

Click to read the post.

Spoilers! for Mad Men Season 5 up to Episode 11!

Mad Men’s central character, Don Draper, used to be the coolest guy in the room. That may still be the case for the most part, but Season 5 has painted Don in a new light: the out-of-touch, middle-aged businessman. The generational gap has been a major running theme this season, embodied most clearly in the age gap between Don and his new wife, Megan. But while this theme has been played in the forefront, in the background we’ve seen a more subtle change in Don which came to a head in last night’s episode, “The Other Woman”.

In the past, Don Draper has been defined by his relationships with women. Specifically, Don has been the great philanderer. His approach to the women in his life has been primarily one of domineering, almost always sexually. Don controls the women in his life, or at least, he used to. The first break in this trend was marrying Megan. Not only are they far apart in age, but Megan represents the opposite of his previous wife, Betty. Where Betty was quiet and obedient, Megan is loud and upfront. Both characters often act like petulant children, but Betty usually displays this trait by being cold selfish. Megan is more primal, prone to lashing out in fits of rage. Don could control Betty. He can’t control Megan, and he doesn’t totally seem to want to. Part of what seems to appeal to him about their marriage is Megan’s unpredictability. She adds spice and vigor to his otherwise dry life. It’s not just Megan, though. Click to read more.