Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad Is Over and Everyone Has an Opinion

Last night was the final 75 minutes of one of the most compelling television shows in my lifetime. I can not remember and show whose final episodes has engendered such a profusion of opinions, assessments, analysis, or explication. Many bloggers and critics are reading this series as one might read a novel . . . and employing many of the same tools of exegesis.

ALL of the articles listed below were written before the airing of the final episode, so none of them have the advantage of knowing the whole story, yet they still have a profound need to write, including at least one plea for Walt's death.

I'm just posting a little taste of these articles - follow the links to read the whole of any article(s) about which you are curious. Here they are, in no particular order.

Why You’re Hooked On Breaking Bad

The show developed legions of fans thanks to deft writing, superb acting and the miracles of binge-watching

By Eric Dodds
Sept. 28, 2013

Though the premise for Breaking Bad — a high school chemistry teacher transforms himself into a meth kingpin — might sound far-fetched, the explanation for Walter White’s rapid ascension to the top of the drug game is not. He has the best product, the best distribution and the best reputation. In the landscape of television dramas, the same is true of Breaking Bad show-runner Vince Gilligan.

Since its debut in 2008, Breaking Bad has arguably been the best drama on television — not unlike Heisenberg’s blue meth. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why the show has become so incredibly popular over the last year (we’ll get to those in a bit), but that popularity begins and ends with the fact that Breaking Bad is simply better than its peers. That superiority is thanks, in large part, to Gilligan, who was a writer for the X-Files prior to creating Bad. His vision for the show (taking Mr. Chips and turning him into Scarface) has been unwavering since the beginning, but what’s far more impressive is the way in which he has realized that vision without veering off into the convoluted plot twists and unnecessary melodrama that afflicted so many of Bad‘s contemporaries.
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“Breaking Bad”: Walter White must be punished – America, finally, needs to see someone pay
We'll be rooting for justice because there's so little of it: Jamie Dimon walks free but whistleblowers face prison

By Colin McEnroe
Jamie Dimon, Walter White, James Clapper (Credit: AMC/Ursula Coyote/Reuters/Gary Cameron/Jason Reed)

You may be aswim with doubts about the real-world efficacy of punishment, the usefulness of the “war on drugs” and the morality of the death penalty, but I’m betting you expect to see Walter White die in the final episode of “Breaking Bad.” I’m betting you even need that.

Maybe it’s a little easier because Walt is dying from cancer anyway. He’s a pre-digested protein. He’ll zoom through Death’s intestines like a kid on a water park slide.

We all have strong ideas about the fates of Walt and the people around him partly because – here in real life — crime and punishment seem more disjointed from one another than ever before. You’re more likely to be prosecuted for lying to Congress about steroids and strikeouts than for bald-faced perjury about the wholesale government espionage directed at all of its citizens. You can run a major investment bank using the handbook from a pirate ship and never face criminal indictment. Blow the whistle about war crimes, and you could be looking at serious prison time.

And it’s not just the crimes. There’s something in Walt’s self-righteous tone and his indifference to the little people who get hurt that we recognize from today’s news. In 2010, Charlie Munger, number two guy at Berkshire Hathaway, was asked if bailout money should have gone to beleaguered homeowners instead of to big banks. His answer: “At a certain place, you’ve got to say to people: Suck it in and cope, Buddy. Suck it in and cope.” And this week AIG CEO Robert Benmosche told the Wall Street Journal the public caterwauling about bonuses for executives at bailed-out banks was “just as bad and just as wrong” as the lynchings decades ago in the Deep South.
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The hidden clues to “Breaking Bad’s” meaning

The show's many visual "Easter eggs" reveal its deeper message 
By Michael Darnell 
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in "Breaking Bad" (Credit: AMC/Ursula Coyote) 
At the end of “Breaking Bad’s” five-season run, I, like so many others, have turned to the Internet to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment from this remarkably rich series. Redditors in particular have long been poring over the subtle callbacks and visual motifs that have become “Breaking Bad’s” signature, compiling a virtual archive of many details that I, for one, missed on my first viewing. (This piece is much indebted to the Redditors’ keen eyes.) Much has been made, for example, of Season 2′s pink teddy bear, which, having fallen in the wreckage of Wayfarer 515, haunts the show as a constant reminder of the chaos wrought by Walter White. These Easter eggs are a reward to dedicated fans and a boon to television theorists who read them as messages from Vince Gilligan himself. But they’re also invitations for an ethical interpretation of a show based around the effects of violence.

“Breaking Bad’s” main ethical dilemma challenges the viewer to decide at what point Walter White ceases to be the hero and starts to be the villain of his own story; and implicit to this question are still stickier ones. What acts of violence are we prepared to accept as somehow not bad enough to deserve our contempt? And why are we willing to condone our protagonist’s violence while condemning the violence of others?

The pink teddy bear invites us to consider these questions by subtly connecting three seemingly unrelated acts of violence with the visual of a half-destroyed face. The charred bear initially signals Walt’s indirect blame for the death of Jesse Pinkman’s girlfriend Jane when he chooses not to save her from a fatal overdose. His inaction ultimately leads Jane’s grieving father, an air traffic controller, to cause the midair collision where we first see the bear. Two seasons later, after we’ve forgotten Wayfarer 515 and the telltale teddy bear, the symbol returns as the mangled face of drug lord Gus Fring who, himself guilty of several grisly murders, is justifiably (apparently) killed by Hector Salamanca at Walt’s behest. And most recently, Jesse’s face is similarly mutilated after Walt hands him over to the Aryan Brotherhood for going to the DEA.

The One Who Knocked First 
From start to finish, Breaking Bad has echoed the uncannily similar—and equally good—cop show The Shield.
By Mark Peters 
Michael Chiklis on The Shield and Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad. Photos courtesy FX, AMC 
My favorite TV show is a Shakespearean tragedy in which the antihero’s sins, spinning out from a fatal decision he makes in the pilot, slowly destroy everyone around him. The main character insists he’s doing it all for his family—but he’s lying, especially to himself. There’s a lot of collateral damage, but this murderer’s worst crime might be the corruption of his vulnerable younger partner. The show maintains a remarkable level of quality throughout its run, and helped put its network on the map. It was largely carried by a great performance from its lead actor, a man previously known mainly for comedy who transformed himself into an Emmy-winning badass. 
Of course, I’m talking about The Shield.
As Breaking Bad winds down, conventional wisdom says it’s a contender for Best Show Ever, along with The Wire and The Sopranos. No argument there. But major argument here: The Shield should be in that conversation, too. Shawn Ryan’s saga of Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and the Strike Team, which aired on FX from 2002 to 2008, remains—pardon the expression—criminally underrated. It was every bit as riveting and consistent as Breaking Bad. And the two shows are also remarkably similar. In many ways, The Shield was Breaking Bad before Breaking Bad.

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Breaking Bad Is TV’s Best Medical Drama, Ever
Not that there’s a lot of worthy competition.

By Haider Javed Warraich 
Jesse Pinkman (Aarol Paul) in Breaking Bad | Courtesy of AMC 
Breaking Bad is about a lot of things—the contextualization of evil, the blind bond of family, the consequences of lifelong repression—and of course, the macro and micro-economics of the methamphetamine industry. But wrapped within all of this is a medical drama unlike any other, possibly the best medical drama on TV, ever. 
Not that current medical dramas offer any meaningful competition. Personal disclaimer: As a physician, I can’t stand watching medical dramas. They are inaccurate, over the top, and give a very poor representation of the environments we work in, the nature of the work, and the people involved. But my wife sees enough, leaving me to explain that not every shower taken in the hospital involves collateral canoodling à la Grey’s Anatomy or that it’s impossible for me to simultaneously do both surgery and cardiac catheterization and run all my own lab tests à la House. Even when there are interesting subplots, deeper themes, or stellar performances, the lack of overall believability makes it hard for me to become engrossed or to separate the medical setting from the drama.
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Jesse Pinkman: One Sorry Individual 

Every single bad thing that's happened to Breaking Bad’s saddest soul.

By Andrew Bouvé

Breaking Bad comes to an end Sunday after five grueling seasons, and no one has had a harder time than poor Jesse Pinkman. Here is our video goodbye.
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Breaking Bad Has a Pinkman Problem
By Jessica Winter
In the pilot episode of Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman is sprinting away from the fearsome drug dealers Emilio and Krazy 8 when he trips and falls eye-socket-first onto a rock in the New Mexico desert. When he wakes up, he’ll have a scone-shaped shiner the color of a Marie Schrader accent wall. But for the moment, he’s out cold, and Emilio can’t resist kicking him—hard, spitefully, once in the side—when he’s down.
As goes Emilio, so goes Breaking Bad. This show has never passed up an opportunity to kick Jesse Pinkman when he’s down. It’s forever endeavoring to find new, more vigorous techniques for kicking him when he’s down—through pirouettes of plot and calisthenics of character development—and new, pliant body regions to kick or, when the kicking is done, punch or stomp or split open bleeding. What horrible thing hasn’t happened to Jesse, perhaps repeatedly, over the last five seasons? Psycho Tuco beat him bad enough to put him in the hospital. Psycho Hank beat him bad enough to put him in the hospital again. He awoke one morning to find his beloved Jane dead beside him. He feels responsible for the deaths of Jane and Combo and Tomás. He is responsible for the death of Gale, although Walter was the one really pulling the strings. He’s been rejected by his biological family, and lost his adopted one—Andrea and Brock—around the time that Walter decided the best plan of action for preserving his meth empire was to poison a small child and later plant a ricin cigarette in Jesse’s Roomba, just to reinforce one more time (but not one last time) what a stupid worthless junkie imbecile Jesse is, because that’s always been Walter’s favorite topic of discussion—his go-to when the cocktail chatter is flagging.
However difficult this may be to watch, Jesse’s ongoing abasement served a narrative purpose. Jesse evolved from bratty burnout to, for a time, the show’s most complex and interesting character—a “bad” kid who increasingly, desperately wanted to be good, without knowing that in the pitiless Breaking Bad universe, no good deed goes unpunished.
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Breaking Bad: I Want Walter White to Survive the Finale
How wrong is it that some fans want this evil person to get away with his crimes?
By Charlotte Alter Sept. 27, 2013
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) | Frank Ockenfels/AMC 
Unless you’re decomposing in a barrel of acid, you are likely aware that Breaking Bad ends this Sunday.
And unless you’re one of the 15% of Americans who don’t have Internet, you must also have come across some of the endless back-and-forth about how the show will end, and why. Who shall live, and who shall die; who by ricin and who by Uncle Jack; who shall be degraded and who shall be mourned.
But for some TV critics and active tweeters, the question of Breaking Bad’s ending has become as much a moral question as an artistic one. And while I love the back-and-forth, it’s getting a little sanctimonious for my taste.
You see, I want Walt to get away with all the horrible things he’s done. So sue me.
I’d like to see him drive across the desert with little Holly and a truck full of cash, off to start a new life somewhere like Mike and his granddaughter might have done. Skyler, I have a lot of respect for you, and I wish you the best. Walter Jr., whatever.
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The World According to Team Walt
Published: September 28, 2013
ACROSS five seasons of riveting television, the antihero of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Walter Hartwell White, has committed enough crimes to earn several life sentences from any reasonable jury. He has cooked crystal meth in bulk, hooking addicts from his native Albuquerque all the way to Prague. He has personally killed at least seven people and is implicated in the deaths of hundreds more. He has poisoned an innocent child, taken out a contract on his longtime partner, and stood by and watched a young woman choke to death.

But one thing he hasn’t done, as this weekend’s series finale looms, is entirely forfeit the sympathies of his audience. As a cultural phenomenon, this is the most striking aspect of “Breaking Bad” — the persistence, after everything he’s done, of a Team Walt that still wants him to prevail. In the online realms where hit shows are dissected, critics who pass judgment on Walt’s sins find themselves tangling with a multitude of commenters who don’t think he needs forgiveness. And it isn’t just the anonymous hordes who take his side. “You’d think I’d bear Walt some serious ill will considering he sat there and watched Jane die,” the actress who played his vomit-choked victim wrote for New York magazine last week, “but I’m still rooting for everything to work out for the guy.”
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The Psychology of Becoming Walter White  
Six reasons why breaking bad is easier than it looks  
Published on September 28, 2013 by Thomas Hills, Ph.D. in Statistical Life
Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, said that his goal with Walter White was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. Take a regular person, like you—assume you’re regular for a second—and then make you nice and evil, like a witch in a gingerbread house. Is that really even possible? Could you become another Walter White?
I’m inclined to believe that most of us still think some people are good and some people are bad, and never the twain shall meet. Despite the lessons we learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we still think that good and evil belong in different people. Walter clearly shows that it doesn’t. And he demonstrates this with so many good psychological reasons—reasons that experimental psychologists observe in ‘normal’ people on a daily basis.
What are these reasons and do they apply to you? See for yourself.
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Walter White’s sickness mirrors America
"Breaking Bad" strikes such a nerve because Walt's ills of body and soul are also those of our country
By David Sirota
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad" (Credit: AMC/Frank Ockenfels 3)
It is safe to say that as “Breaking Bad” comes to a close, Vince Gilligan’s series is the moment’s Best Show In the History of Television. Incredibly, the show isn’t even over yet, and it is already a cult classic, with all the attendant prop fetishization and tourism industries that come with such a designation. But as we approach the final episode, there’s an unanswered question: What makes the show so historically important?
Critics have rightly lauded the series for, among other things, its cinematography, its dialogue, its character development and its carefully constructed plot twists. Yet, in this much-vaunted new Golden Age of TV, there are plenty of programs with great visuals, terrific conversations, nuanced personalities and enticing stories — but most never achieve the same notoriety as the life of Walter White. Similarly, “Breaking Bad” is part crime drama, part satire of the legal system and part commentary on family dysfunction — but those narrative vectors are hardly unexplored territory in television. So what makes the story of Walter White so special?
Here’s a theory: Maybe “Breaking Bad” has ascended to the cult firmament because it so perfectly captures the specific pressures and ideologies that make America exceptional at the very moment the country is itself breaking bad.
Whew . . . and that was only the ones that showed up in my feeds the last couple of days.
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