Tag Archives: Gus

Season Finale: Breaking Bad – “Face Off”

“Face Off”

October 9th, 2011

“I won.”

For the sake of the fact that writing an opening without spoilers feels like an impossibility at the moment, let’s throw all of this behind the fold and get to the real meat of the issue.

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Breaking Bad – “Crawl Space”

“Crawl Space”

September 25th, 2011

This isn’t going to make much sense, but when things get particularly busy it’s the good shows that suffer.

I am aware that this sounds odd, and do lament that I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for the past two weeks when it comes to Breaking Bad, but the reality is that I’m less likely to write about something when it’s delivering on this kind of level. Without screeners, I’m not able to watch things in advance, and my early week schedule is such that any sort of extended breakdown of the episode just isn’t feasible in the way it was during the summer. Even as I write this, I’ve got lesson plans to work on, names to learn (I made promises!), and reading to get a jump on, and so it becomes much easier to just hand you all off to Alan or Noel (whose reviews were posted as soon as the episode concluded) who I am quite certain share my opinion that “Crawl Space” was a pretty great episode of Breaking Bad.

While I remain a strong believer in the value of post-air analysis, I’ll admit there are points where our coverage of “prestige” dramas like Breaking Bad becomes a bit hivemind-y. It’s possible we might focus on different things, or make slightly different observations, or offer different theories for where things go from here. Similarly, we might write more or less, and include more recap or less recap depending on our proclivities on that subject. However, at the end of the day, we’re all basically saying that Breaking Bad’s fourth season has been particularly strong, and that “Crawl Space” benefits from having brought numerous storylines together in a blissful bit of horror as Walt manically laughs while his life falls apart around him, a capper to what was a truly impressive performance from Bryan Cranston.

If I had time, I’d love to explore the inner-workings of this episode more closely, diving into smaller details or analyzing character arcs as compared with earlier seasons, but the problem is that I don’t have time to do it. Really, I don’t have time to do Breaking Bad justice, which is why I haven’t written reviews for the past two weeks and why I don’t have as much to say about “Crawl Space” as I might like to. The great shows are the ones you watch even when you should probably be doing something else, but they’re also the ones that you’re less likely to write about when you know that everyone else is more or less saying the same things.

However, at the risk of being repetitive, here’s a few hundred – okay, it ended up being more like a thousand – more words about the stellar “Crawl Space.”

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Breaking Bad – “Hermanos”

“Hermanos”

September 4th, 2011

There are some definite echoes to be found in the paths of Zjelko Ivanek and Giancarlo Esposito when it comes to their Emmy Award ambitions.

Both actors were regulars on series in which they played minor roles on a weekly basis (Ivanek on FX’s Damages), and both became the focus of episodes later in the season where their characters were fleshed out through flashback. And, both were strong enough in those episodes that they were labeled as Emmy contenders; while we will have to wait twelve months to see if Esposito will have any success in this area, Ivanek stole the Emmy out from his co-star Ted Danson (and a lot of other contenders) in 2008.

The difference, I would argue, is that Ivanek’s episode is meant to be shocking. We knew nothing about Ivanek’s Ray Fiske (a name I wouldn’t remembered without the help of Wikipedia) before that episode, and hadn’t really been given any reason to care about the character beyond considering him as a legal opponent. And so when we started delving into his past, including his homosexuality and his self-destruction related to an unrequited love, it was meant to throw the viewer off-guard. Fiske’s arc in the episode is a statement, a singular one in fact, and it was the “shock” of it all that made it resonate in subsequent episodes and with Emmy voters.

By comparison, Gus Fring has been an enigma from the minute he was introduced. The show has always kept a certain distance from Gus, always resisting showing us his perspective on events, and in the process it has created a large number of mysteries. Whereas Ray Fiske was a character taken from obscurity to a sudden point of interest, Gus has always been a character begging for an origin story, or in the case of “Hermanos” an origin story mixed in with another escalation in the season’s focus on perspective (this time focused more closely on the narrative). As a result, it comes with a great deal of anticipation but also a great deal of expectation, and raises another question entirely: is it worse to have too many questions or too many answers?

Or, of course, you could just split the difference and embrace them both equally, as “Hermanos” achieves quite admirably.

[Heads up: while I tiptoed around it above, I'm going to spoil Damages Season One here, so skip past the next paragraph if you've still got those DVDs sitting around. I'll drop in another warning when it's done.]

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Breaking Bad – “Problem Dog”

“Problem Dog”

August 28th, 2011

“I never wanted any of this.”

We’re reaching the point in the year where my schedule is going to make covering Breaking Bad weekly a bit challenging, but we’re also reaching the point where I honestly don’t know how much I have left to say.

Now, I could technically write 2500 words talking about what happened in “Problem Dog,” given that the show continues to build on its mythology of tension and self-destruction. However, I’m finding that the show doesn’t really need to be “explained” or even “analyzed” at this point in its fourth season, with the focus instead being on experience. It’s something the show has been doing from the beginning, really, but the fourth season has been particularly built around the audience either sitting back to enjoy the spectacle (as was the case in Hank’s big scene this week) or on the edge of our seats full engrossed in the characters’ plight (as with Jesse at pretty much every point this season).

I’ve stopped taking notes while I watch the show, in part because anything I write down is just as likely to spring from my brain an hour later as I sit down to write a review, and in part because it feels counter-productive. I’m hopeful that I can keep writing about the show in future weeks, but chances are my responses will be a little more free-flowing, and a bit less detailed, given the position the show is in right now.

Which is a damn fine position, just so we’re clear.

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Breaking Bad – “Cornered”

“Cornered”

August 21st, 2011

Admittedly, I am once again delayed in getting to Breaking Bad by another commitment (this time covering The Glee Project finale over at The A.V. Club), but I also think it’s another episode where an extra-long treatise feels sort of unnecessary.

“Cornered” is another straightforward hour for the show, getting right to the point thematically and having the characters more or less follow suit. Walt, in particular, has been an open book in recent weeks, at least to an audience that has been watching the show all along. It’s not quite a cry for help, as Skyler diagnoses it early in the episode, but I do think that it’s an obvious sign that Walt’s worst neuroses are rising to the surface.

And that Walt and Jesse are as much alike as ever before.

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Breaking Bad – “Shotgun”

“Shotgun”

August 14th, 2011

It was late this evening before I got to tonight’s Breaking Bad, as a result of filling in on Entourage at The A.V. Club, but when I finished watching “Shotgun” I found myself at a loss. Perhaps it was simply that I knew my review would be less than timely (especially with most critics still working with screeners), but it also seems like “Shotgun” pretty much lays its cards on the table.

It’s a rare instance where we see both the cause and the effect, and where character actions are contextualized in almost every instance. While the show doesn’t outright spell everything out for us, there are enough moments of clarity within an often impressionistic hour of television for us to be pretty confident in where things are headed from this point forward.

And while there’s something a bit strange about that, I can’t deny that it remained a satisfying stage in the season’s development.

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Breaking Bad – “Bullet Points”

“Bullet Points”

August 7th, 2011

“Walter H. White – a man of hidden talents.”

When I reviewed the premiere a few weeks ago, I discussed whether or not the show’s flashback opening rendered the episode a “wee bit too writerly.” Obviously, considering that I used the phrase “wee bit,” I didn’t consider it a serious problem, but it is something that Breaking Bad can engage in on occasion.

“Bullet Points” is filled with writerly moments. It’s an episode in which the show’s characters literally script out their actions, and where elements of performance and theater are put front and center. There is nothing more writerly than meta-storytelling, and Moira Walley-Beckett’s script certainly doesn’t hide the fact that it’s gesturing back to previous seasons in a major way.

It’s also blisteringly funny, suspenseful without necessarily relying on major plot developments, and offers a great deal of insight into how these characters confront their demons: some of them bury them, some of them obsess over them, and all of them are in desperate need of someone to talk to.

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Breaking Bad – “Thirty-Eight Snub”

“Thirty-Eight Snub”

July 24th, 2011

“It’s like nothing but good days ahead.”

Walt remarks near the end of “Thirty-Eight Snub” that it’s been a hell of a last couple of weeks, which is certainly true: in fact, the sheer dramatic weight of the entire third season hangs in the air throughout this episode, the first one where the show feels stops to take a breath.

That breath doesn’t contain a great deal of surprise, much as last week’s resolution to the season three cliffhanger went about as one might expect. Based on what we saw at the end of last week’s episode, Jesse and Walt respond about as one would expect to their attempts at returning to something of a normal life, but just like last week’s episode the predictable remains compelling. There is so much baggage within these characters and within this show as a whole that the pathos is enough to carry even storylines that call attention to their true purpose. That line above is way too on-the-nose in laying out the theme of Jesse’s portion of the episode, for example, but it only serves to reinforce instead of undoing the work that was done.

Free from the “suspense” of last week’s outing, “Thirty-Eight Snub” instead just throws the show’s fantastic actors into tense situations and asks them to play out life as they would know it. It’s striking, it’s evocative, and it’s a whole lot of momentum for an episode that actively evades any major showdowns.

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Season Premiere: Breaking Bad – “Box Cutter”

“Box Cutter”

July 17th, 2011

It has been over thirteen months since Breaking Bad finished its third season, which isn’t something that happens all that often. Of course, AMC will be dealing with this issue twice in one year when Mad Men returns early next year, but that show didn’t leave on an arresting cliffhanger. “Full Measure” was a thrilling hour of television, creating suspense through uncertainty as opposed to mystery. We know what happened, and the sequence of events that allowed it to happen were delineated without any sudden twists or turns, but the finale left us with a sense of disbelief: we were haunted by that final image more than we were shocked by it, and we desired its conclusion less to have something resolved and more to see something begin.

“Box Cutter” picks up where “Full Measure” left off, although not immediately. The episode is very interested in the dramatic power of delay, lingering in those moments of waiting for the other shoe to fall. It doesn’t seek to surprise us so much as it seeks to make us reconsider: it knows we spent a year thinking about the various possibilities, so it lays out a likely scenario and then basically sits back and lets our own anxiety drive this story forward. The result is bracing in its minimalism if a wee bit writerly, further cementing Breaking Bad’s reputation as one of the most distinctive dramas on television.

And, yes, one of its finest as well.

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Season Finale: Breaking Bad – “Full Measure”

“Full Measure”

June 13th, 2010

“We had a good run…but it’s over.”

When I sat down at about 3:00 am last night to watch the Breaking Bad finale after arriving home from my trip to Madison, I discovered that AMC was showing “Shut the Door. Have a Seat,” Mad Men’s third season finale. It took me a good ten minutes before I managed to turn on my recording of “Full Measure.” There is something exhilarating about that finale, something immensely pleasurable as lingering storylines that were sort of floating their way through the season (Lane’s dissatisfaction, Joan’s marginalization, etc.) become wrapped up in an unforgettable heist narrative which launches the show in a fascinating new direction.

And as I sit down the next day to consider “Full Measure,” I can’t help but make some comparisons, although less in terms of quality (both are great, we don’t need to qualify which is “better”) and more in terms of structure. “Full Measure” is similar to “Shut the Door…” in that it shows our protagonists struggling to respond to a new set of circumstances which threaten them in some capacity, but the world of Mad Men values creativity first and foremost, something which Breaking Bad tends to oppress (as we see with Jesse as the paralyzed artist figure, his youthful drawings or woodcraft projects signs of wasted potential). So while Don and Co. got out of their situation with some creative thinking, and the series found its finale in contrasting the creation of a new direction while simultaneously dissolving another, Walt and Jesse solve their circumstances with a cold dose of reality, and the series finds its finale in doing as it has always done: following through on the social, psychological, and monumental consequences of going down this dangerous path.

The result is a fairly simple tragedy with less than simple ramifications, as “Full Measure” uses the show’s trademark tension to cap off a stunning season of television which went on a run that is most certainly not over as the series heads towards its fourth season with an obnoxious amount of momentum.

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