Breaking Bad 5.16 – “Felina”

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“My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 87104. To all law enforcement entities, this is not an admission of guilt. I am speaking to the AMC viewers now. There are… there are going to be some things, things that you’ll come to learn about me in the next five seasons. I just want you to know that, no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart. Goodbye.”

Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly what Walt said in the opening moments of the first episode of “Breaking Bad,” but as I sat down to write this, my review of the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” the paraphrasing seemed like as apropos a way to kick things off as any.

I’ll be honest: as much as I wanted to just let the events of the series finale wash over me and accept whatever Vince Gilligan wanted to give me, it was impossible to walk into the proceedings without feeling like a kid at Christmas, giggling and wondering, “What am I gonna get?” We knew the big-ass gun in Walt’s trunk and the ricin he’d retrieved from his house were both going to come into play, but we didn’t know how. Well, not really, anyway. The two big theories I kept hearing about the ricin were that he was going to slip it into Lydia’s tea or drink it himself, but I’d also heard convincing dismissals of both theories, so I really didn’t have any clue how things would play out. Besides, I’ve said more times than I can count that this is a series that never fails to zig when you think it’s going to zag, so there’s just no point in trying to guess. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get really, really excited about the prospect of finding out.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Giancarlo Esposito (“Revolution”)

It’s a matter of public record that I’ve interviewed a huge-ass number of people over the years, but given that most of those interviews tend to be on the phone, it never fails to give me a warm feeling inside when someone actually remembers me from an in-person encounter. Then again, one presumes that the cast of “Breaking Bad” doesn’t sit down and break bread with journalists on their home turf of Albuquerque all that often, so maybe that makes it a little easier to remember such an occasion.

Either way, it was still nice to see the warm glow of recognition in Giancarlo Esposito’s eyes when I came up to him at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer. I mean, it’s certainly better to see that than the steely anger we came to expect from him in his final appearances as Gustavo Fring, right? Sadly, it was a short chat, so we didn’t even get a chance to talk about Gus’s last days (except in passing reference) or even his Best Supporting Actor Emmy nod, but you can still look back at the far lengthier conversation we had a few years ago to get a bit more insight into his feelings about Gus and his career as it stood prior to “Breaking Bad.” For now, though, Esposito is all about looking forward…really, really intensely.

Giancarlo Esposito: Hi, Will! Oh, my goodness, I remember that evening in Albuquerque. I totally remember that evening!

Bullz-Eye: I’m glad I’m not the only one!

GE: How are you? It’s good to see you again.

BE: It’s mutual, of course. So I’m curious: with “Revolution,” you’ve taken on another supporting role. Not that you don’t do them well, but do you have an active desire to kick it up to leading-man status, or do you just enjoy the challenge of making the most out of a smaller part.

GE: You know what? I always have a desire to make it to the big time. [Laughs.] But the more I’m able to put my heart and soul into a role and the fuller that character that is, then the more screen time it has, and for me that’s a plus. But I love doing what I do as a character actor, and I think that’s also important, because that enables me to strengthen my craft. And in this case, that supporting role is with some of the best folks in television. So to me, it’s a journey. I feel like there is a moment in time when there’ll be that moment to step up into films where I’m doing the lead and carrying everything, but right now I think that all is well.

I’m coming off this time with “Breaking Bad” and that’s been very special for me, and it’s a nice way to decompress and play a character that’s a heavy but probably a little more of a loose cannon, a little more psychotic. He’d love to think he’s always in control, but he does lose it. And he’s a guy who’s a little bit different than the last guy, but…audiences just love the bad guy! [Laughs.] And they love the character actor that can play him in a fuller way. So I’m all in. I’m all in with this “Revolution.” I think the show itself is about evolution of human beings, and on a grand scale. I mean, this is an epic show. I don’t know what people expect, but some seem to think that they may be seeing something they’ve seen before. They’re not. It’s a big show to do, a big show to produce…it’s a big, wide canvas of a show, but I think it’s not only a grand action/adventure series but it’s also a very dramatic, character-driven show as well.

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Breaking Bad 5.03: Hazard Pay

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Monday following a new episode of “Breaking Bad.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game. 

Walter White or Heisenberg?

The transformation is nearly complete. The artist formerly known as Walter White is almost pure Heisenberg, although the sympathetic family man we (along with his family and friends) once knew and loved is still in there, popping up now and again to, say, be fascinated by machinery and tell an anecdote about the summer he spent working in a box factory. Then poof, he’s gone as soon as he appeared, and we find that the only reason he was hearkening back to days gone by was to explain why such a location will not be a suitable for his meth lab.

This juxtaposition of (what’s left of) Walter White and his super villain alter ego Heisenberg is one of the major themes of the final season, but it played an especially large role in “Hazard Pay.” At any given moment, the viewer can and should be questioning just which “aspect” of the man is speaking and acting. Sometimes it can be hard to tell, and sometimes, as in the above example, you can be positive it’s Walter White, only to discover it was just the opposite.

“Hazard Pay” was chock full of such moments. Was that a man casually enjoying “Scarface” with his son, or a “real” ultra-violent drug kingpin idolizing a fictional one? Was the guy sitting on the couch with Brock awkward because of remorse or was he silently confirming that poisoning that very child was simply doing what needed to be done? Can it be both?

In those instances, maybe. But the best and most important Whitenberg contrast came during his (their?) post-cook beer with Jesse, while discussing love and honesty in relationships. At first it was a quietly beautiful moment of genuine discourse: the friend and father figure offering advice to his business partner while acknowledging that the choice was ultimately his own and treating him as an equal, perhaps for the first time. But by the time the commercial break rolled around I found it was something else entirely: Heisenberg subtly manipulating Jesse to ditch Andrea and Brock—the only loose ends remaining from the Gustavo Fring saga.

Jesse realizes this too, although it takes him a bit longer. After the money squabbles have run their course, Walt asks Jesse if he’s OK. Given their earlier conversation, Jesse believes Walt’s asking how he chose to deal with the Andrea situation, and says he’s broken it off with her, although he will continue to support she and Brock financially. Walt brushes this away, because in his mind, of course Jesse broke it off, that’s what he had intended, so that’s what’s occurred. Just a few days earlier, Jesse was honestly considering marrying this woman.

Instead, Walt is referring to the money. Seemingly out of the blue, he brings up Victor, the man whose throat Gus slit  just to send a message. Only he’s thinking that might not have been the whole story. Maybe Victor, who decided to begin the cook himself when Walt and Jesse wouldn’t, “flew too close to the sun, and got his throat cut.” It’s hard to know just what Walt’s really talking about, but I’ve got a guess: maybe Walt feels Mike is flying too close to him, the sun, and that sometime soon he’s going to get his throat cut, and Walt will take over the business end too. In this analogy, Walt is the sun, and the universe quite literally revolves around him.

Killing Gus has given the ever-prideful Walt a surge of confidence. He feels as though he’s untouchable and that everyone answers to him. When Mike asks if they should take a vote on the tented-house plan, he responds “Why?” as in, “Why? I made the decision and that’s all there is to it.” Mike’s noticed this and tries to set him straight with, “Just because you killed Jesse James doesn’t make you Jesse James.” Clearly, Walt’s not so sure that’s the case.

Skyler’s Breakdown

As she said, Skyler is afraid of her husband. Her murderous, drug-cooking, sociopath husband, and rightfully so. Indeed, Walter has abused her sexually, and now he’s moved back into the house without so much as asking her opinion on the matter. All she got to do was stand in horror and mumble questions about whether he thinks that’s the right decision. Just a few more notches in the Walt thinking he’s the invincible boss count. Why should there be a vote on where to cook? He’s decided. Why should there be a discussion about whether he should move back in? He’s decided.

Walt’s unannounced return is the last straw for Skyler. She’s visibly shaken, but can’t discuss these things with Walt, so it all comes out on Marie instead. When Marie demands to know the cause of her sister’s breakdown, Walt makes himself the victim, the cuckold, the honest, sympathetic man who’s still trying to put things back together despite his wife’s infidelity. That’s Heisenberg talking, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s Heisenberg who stops to chomp on an apple before checking up on Skyler. Then, when she finally emerges from her room to find him playing the good guy with their son and watching Tony Montana go up in smoke, it’s all her fears realized. Heisenberg is sitting there with their daughter in his lap and their son at his side, perfect father that he is, and asks Skyler to join them. After all, they’ve got popcorn. He’s doing his best Walt impression, but that’s the bad guy. She knows it, he knows it, and ultimately, we know it. It’s getting harder and harder to root for Walt, for those of us who still are (to some degree) anyway, and I’m wondering how much longer we can keep this up.

A few extra bits:

-It’s more than a bit ironic that it’s Walter’s genius idea to cook in houses being fumigated for pests. This is the same man (sort of) who once refused to cook because of a single fly in an otherwise immaculate laboratory.

-Walter notes that “everyone dies at the end” of “Scarface.” In that film, there’s a big shootout as the result of one arrogant drug kingpin’s rising too power way too fast. Probably just a coincidence Walt was buying that M60 in the first scene of the season, right?

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

 

  

Let’s begin the buzz for Breaking Bad’s fifth season, shall we?

Now that “Breaking Bad” is back in production for its final 16 episodes – which, if you haven’t heard, are going doled out in two parts – it’s time to start ramping up for the series’ return to the airwaves later this summer. As such, AMC is rolling out Q&A’s with some of the cast members. First up is someone Bullz-Eye’s never actually spoken with before: stand-up comedian Lavell Crawford, who plays Saul Goodman’s bodyguard, Huell:

Q: What was it like to go from being a stand-up comic to a tough guy on “Breaking Bad”?

A: I loved it, it was a great opportunity to be on a hot show. There were a lot of directors and they wanted to shoot so many angles — like the scene where I had to take a dump? They made me do seven different takes! They were like, “Do a little more, act like it came out a little more.” I was, like, “Jesus Christ, I’m about to crap on myself!”

Q: What did you think when you showed up on set to find that you were actually one of two comedians playing Saul Goodman’s henchmen?

A: When I walked in and saw Bill Burr (Kuby), I thought it was hilarious. We’ve worked together as comedians, so he laughed and I laughed too. It was so funny that we were playing these guys that were going to scare the hell out of Ted.

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Breaking Bad 4.13 – Lily of the Valley

In last week’s blog, I wrote of Walt sitting poolside, “We see a man who’s spinning both his firearm and his wheels, waiting to figure out how little future he has left. When the pistol spins toward one of the potted plants, however, it’s clear that Walt has gotten an idea.” If only I’d recognized that plant as a Lily of the Valley, I could’ve been a hero among my peers. Damn my insufficient knowledge of botany! Damn it all to hell!

Ahem.

When we first see Walt this evening, he’s making a mad dash through the parking garage to remove the bomb from the underside of Gus’s car, which he promptly carries into the hospital and up to the waiting area. It’s an unabashedly slapstick moment when the magnet on the bomb sticks to the elevator door, followed by a hilarious back-and-forth between Walt and Jesse about the decision to bring the bomb with him (“What, was I supposed to leave it on his car?”), but things get serious immediately thereafter, with the ABQ police showing up and requesting an audience with Jesse about his statement. As the boys with badges walk away with Mr. Pinkman, Walt looks positively pale. Is it just from being in close proximity to the cops?

The conversation between Jesse and his new friends is predictably tense. “We’re just talking.” “So if I get tired of talking, I can get up and leave?” Sure, that’s how it always works. Jesse’s being seriously grilled over the fact that he offered up a very specific poison as what was causing Brock’s illness. His explanation? “I musta seen it on ‘House’ or something.” Awesome. Time to call Saul, but there’s so much shredding going on that his secretary can’t hear the phone when he calls…or when Walt calls, for that matter, as we discover when he busts through the bottom pane of the front door in a desperate effort to find Saul. It’s an unexpectedly hilarious scene between Walt and H.T. (as Saul dubbed her last week), particularly when Walt is initially completely oblivious to the fact that the $20K pricetag for the repairs ain’t nothing to do with repairs. Okay, so it was a little slapstick-y when Walt left the office the same way he came in, but that didn’t keep me from laughing, anyway.

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