Learning to Suffer Like Everybody Else
Andy Greenwald: One should never feel sympathy for TV critics. (Although it'd be nice if you'd keep me in your prayers when I'm stuck behind a desk for hours watching nothing but putrid network sitcom pilots.) We get to watch television for free, share our opinions with the world, and, if we're lucky, get called the c-word by Kurt Sutter.
So I'm not really feeling sorry for myself when I point out that I have not yet seen this week's episode of Breaking Bad. The advance screener tap has been stopped, the promo party bus slowed. For these last few weeks we critics have been knocked from our high horses (they're really more like La-Z-Boys). We'll be forced to watch the last three hours of the show in a manner befitting Henry Hill slurping egg noodles in suburbia. Which is to say: like a schnook.
I mention this not to retro-humble-brag. Nor to appeal to your better natures. Do not send flowers — not even lilies of the valley. I'll somehow manage a couple nights living like the 99 percent. I imagine it'll be like that time Joffrey got out of his gold-plated carriage in Flea Bottom. I'll be fine.
But I have to be honest with you: It's going to be hard! Not the not knowing. I'm fine with that. As I wrote earlier in the week, I viewed "To'hajiilee"'s firefight cliffhanger as a blessing, not something to make you curse. By interrupting the action so abruptly, Breaking Bad gave us one last welcome week of (relative) good cheer; seven jittery days in which it was possible to believe that any situation, even one involving neo-Nazis and shotguns, can be fixed and that the lives of all our beloved characters aren't broken beyond repair.
Denial aside, the very best thing about having viewing links to new episodes show up, unprompted, in my e-mail every Wednesday was that it gave me a small modicum of power and control. Watching Breaking Bad is, as you well know, a visceral experience. The best episodes feel like bombs strapped to your chair, the opening music ringing in your ears like Tio Salamanca's bell. As a naturally excitable sort, one of the things that has gotten me through this fifth season with both my nerves and my fingernails intact is the ability to hit pause, to revisit the episode when my pulse has slowed and the meds have kicked in. It sounds silly, but there was something calming about being able to play the episode when I was feeling up to it, not letting it play me.
So don't shed any tears for your poor, unspecial recapper this weekend. (You should probably save them for Hank and Gomie.) I'll soldier on somehow. Maybe I can use the commercial breaks the way I usually use my stress ball and Mannheim Steamroller CDs. In a sick, anxious way I'll probably end up appreciating the show even more when viewing it as God and Vince Gilligan intended. What makes Breaking Bad special isn't just the unsparing consequences visited upon its morally malleable characters. It's the demands it places on the audience as well. It pricks our interest with outrageous setups and then dares us to look away when it delivers on them. On Sunday, when the fusillade of Nazi bullets resume their deathly flight, I'll be as powerless as Walt to stop them. As a great, gut-shot man once said: no half-measures. Not in business, not in baldness, and certainly not in television watching.
Aaron Paul IncontinenceWatch
Just got home to so many lovely tweets. Thanks for the kind words everyone I love you all. Any of you poop your pants tonight?
— Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) September 9, 2013
Aaron Paul continues to be deeply concerned about the freshness of your underthings.
We Need to Talk About Huell
Sean Fennessey: "Once the gig is up, though, I'm like, 'Oh man, this is crazy. I ain't going to jail for these sons of bitches! I'll tell you anything you need to know!'" That's actor Lavell Crawford talking to Rolling Stone this week about his character, Huell Babineaux's, very important decision from last week's episode. Huell, terrified of a Heisenberg gone rogue, decided to talk to Hank and Gomie, a pair of DEA agents with a cockeyed plan to find Walt's money. That plan worked, because Breaking Bad is a television show. Huell, of course, is a lawyer's bodyguard, a person who spends his days hearing phrases like "attorney-client privilege" and "writ of habeas corpus" and "Miranda rights" and "go pickpocket a pack of cigarettes off that methhead." We've never been led to believe that Huell is a rocket scientist, but he is in the employ of a legal professional. And when said professional handles the most crooked of crooks, you might imagine Huell wouldn't do something like, say, tell two DEA agents everything he knows about his boss's lead client without an attorney present, while not under arrest in a "safe house." Guys like Huell don't trust cops. That's one of the reasons they work for Saul Goodman.
Also, Huell is 6-foot-4 and pushing 350 pounds. He's a bodyguard. He guards the bodies of people in danger. Why one (admittedly vicious) meth cook would scare him into doing the one thing he has likely been told by his employer — "Don't say shit to the cops, and call me" — never to do is a mystery. Huell's admissions about the rented van, the barrels he purchased at Home Depot, and the residue of dust on said van are a construct, a Band-Aid on a bit of wounded storytelling. It's the unlikely choice that set off a terrifying chain reaction. I raise the point not in an attempt to unravel Vince Gilligan's elegantly woven wicker terror basket, but to point out that this was far from the first glop of storytelling spackle smeared over the plot this season. Part of what entrances about Breaking Bad is the unbearable tension, the impending doom of every encounter. It envelopes you; everything around you freezes for 43 minutes. But what comes before the tension must feel seamless, if not entirely logical. Huell's moment — and Skyler's Lady MacBeth–ian insistence on killing Jesse and Hank's phone call to Marie and the well-executed but ridiculous shootout that closed last week's episode — are signs of a story aching to close the loop. It was distracting. I come not as a troll emerging from under the bridge, but as a fan resistant to the deafening cries of "BEST ENDING EVER" three full episodes before things have ended. Be patient. The ceaseless desire for a perfect Breaking Bad experience is a testament to how truly involving and well told the story has been thus far. But it doesn't have to come at the expense of dear Huell's dignity.
WAAAAAALLLLT!!! JAAACK!!! And So On.
If you can dream it, the Internet can make it happen.
'Shipping Bad: Addicted to Love
Emily Yoshida: The Neo-nazis weren't the only ones bringing the big guns to the desert last week: Cupid was also packing some serious heat! So I decided to take a break from the ACN beat and bring you up to speed with all the most crucial Breaking Bad 'ships.
NEW: Todd & Lydia (Toddia)
Todd had never really understood the importance of the color blue until Lydia Rodarte-Quail walked into his Quonset hut. But now, whenever he heard the tires of a midsize luxury rental sedan crunching over the cracked earth of the desert, and saw the vivid azure flash of a peacoat emerge from the driver's side, he finally understood how his far-flung Czech customers felt whenever they got their hands on a new batch of the Heisenberg special. Todd didn't mind that she was older, or that she had a daughter; in the same way that he was pretty sure she wouldn't mind that he was ruthless child murderer. He found himself constantly replaying that moment in his head, over and over again, when he took her hand as she covered her eyes, and guided her gracefully over the bullet-riddled bodies of subpar meth cooks. Their first dance. If fate was on his side, it would not be their last.
OVER: Todd & Lydia (Toddia)
Because he is probably dead, you see.
OVER: Hank & Gomie (Hamie)
Because they are probably dead, you see.
OVER: Jesse & the neo-Nazis
See above. Kind of seemed like a nonstarter, anyway.
OVER: Walt & Jesse (Whiteman)
"Coward," Walt muttered.
Jesse stepped forward, tears of — what was it? Rage? Happiness? Exhaustion? — welling in his eyes, now face-to-face with the man who shaped the course of his life for the past two years, the man who elated and infuriated him, the man he pitied even as he wished death upon him, and did the one thing he had always wanted to do.
Sorry, guys. I think that's as close to swapping spit as we're going to get.
"The Fried Chicken is OK, not the BOMB."
Los Pollos Hermanos draws mixed Yelp reviews under new management.
From Eustace Tilly to Scarface
John Lopez: Why, pray tell, have you heard of that show The Breaking Bad?
Turns out this whole Breaking Bad thing we thought was our little secret has received the high-culture stamp of approval: The New Yorker sent Tad Friend down from their tweed-lined Olympus to profile Bryan Cranston this week. To my knowledge (i.e., a quick Internet search), this is the first feature profile of the show — Bryan Cranston specifically — after an initially dismissive review by Nancy Franklin. In fairness, Emily Nussbaum revised that history last year with a fresh review after Walt had killed Krazy 8, those two gangbangers, Gale Boetticher, and Gus. But, hey, sometimes you just need to read something while waiting in line at the DMV.
So what insights are there to be gained, aside from the usual biographical tidbits? (Yes, Cranston’s dad has 14 scripts ready to go, all of which just happen to be perfect for his son.) Friend’s exegesis on the show is limited to an intermittent recap of Walt’s descent into evil and the not-exactly-breathtaking insight that Walt likes to lie. But he did learn we should thank Vince Gilligan for resisting Cranston’s push to turn Walt into a sexual warlord with buxom “wenches” draped off Heisenberg’s arm. And remember pillow therapy? Apparently Cranston cried in every take. Also, Cranston spills the secret to his Heisenberg gaze, which is so scary in real life that it makes Anna Gunn and Rian Johnson hurt bad inside.
The biggest fun fact, though, is that Cranston now gets so many offers after a lifetime of deodorant commercials that he has come up with a point-based system — soon to be replicated by baristas all across Southern California — called the Cranston Project Assessment Scale. (And which I’ve decided to acronym-ify as CrAPS even though it doesn’t really work.) Script and Story count most, yay!, followed by Role, Director, and Cast. Friend quotes Cranston demonstrating how the system points to both roles in Argo and the upcoming Godzilla reboot, leading to my favorite sentence in the piece: “Ben was a three as a director — he was ‘good’ — and now he’s a four, ‘Argo says.’” You just know someone’s agent has been calling someone else’s agent all week apologizing about that. The undercurrent of the article is that real-life Bryan Cranston probably has just the exact mix of brilliant, friendly, and crazy as Walter White. He goes out of his way to be a welcoming den dad on set while also pushing advice on his directors with all the fervor of Walt telling Skyler how to reorder the car deodorizers. Most of all, it gives me the courage, should I ever meet Cranston in real life, to ask him to give me the “Heisenberg.” Apparently he loves messing with fans just as much as he loves messing with his costars.
Overanalyzing the Only New Preview Material We're Getting This Time
Mark Lisanti: Last week, we scavenged for gold nuggets of insight among the stale leavings of the breadcrumb trail Vince Gilligan scattered to his doorstep in his "sneak peek" video for Episode 513. This week, in full paranoiac, Reynolds-wrap-the-windows-Martha-they're-not-gonna-take-my-secrets mode, Gilligan offers even fewer clues about Episode 514. With a mere three episodes to go, we're no longer anticipating the endgame — we are already elbow-deep in it. In our ongoing crusade to ruin everything for ourselves, we're compelled to overanalyze our only fresh material, two preview photos from the show's website that we must assume were posted only after Gilligan's resolve was weakened by a coffee mug full of barbiturates.
Not much to work with here: We already know how fiercely protective Skyler is of Holly; she went along with Walt's video blackmail plan the moment Hank and Marie threatened to take the children from her. To see her clutching her baby to her breast offers no real clues, unless that adorable outfit is filled not with an infant but with enough crystal blue and stacks of hundred-dollar bills to set up the Whites with a new life in Colombia. We admit that's not outside of the realm of possibility, but this is exactly the kind of second-guessing Gilligan wants so close to the finale.
Stumped again. Nothing to see here.
Well played, Gilligan. Well played.