Breaking Bad Season 3’s Epic Finale

First of all, shout out to the amazing use of that opening preamble section. As the show’s matured, they’ve put those couple minutes before the Opening Titles to amazing use. What’s refreshing about it is that since the show is otherwise so tightly written, each tiny moment builds the story, they have the luxury of using these vignettes for worldbuilding, backstory and character development. That’s why we have these amazing bite-sized treats like the narcocorrido about Walter White, in its entirety, the commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos dissolving to a Picture Picture like montage of meth production and the sad, telling moments of backstory that are inessential but beautiful. Love.

Second of all, I honestly thought this season was going to fall prey to the Amazing Penultimate Episode Disorder I blogged about with Boardwalk Empire earlier. Halfway through the season, we got this incredible war in a parking lot. It results in the loss of two antagonists that they’d been building up as badass since day one and while Walter wasn’t directly involved, it felt like a finale in a lot of ways. Now, at the time it’s clear part of the hugeness of this event is that it’s all orchestrated by Gus, it solidifies him as a tactical genius and as such even more badass and formidable an opponent than the twins, so yes, I see how it’s all an amazing set up. At the same time, about three quarters the way through things start to lose steam. It almost feels like a new season without the twins and with Hank out of commission and Jessie back cooking. It’s disconcerting. Then this conflict with the drug dealers from last season comes up and it feels a little forced — a stroke of randomness, Jessie meeting and getting together with the sister of the child that shot one of his dealers last season, causes him to suddenly want to beef with them. It’s the second absurdly random plot point that sets things in a whole new direction (last season was Walt’s chance meeting with Jane’s dad in a bar the night she died).

You know when else this happened? The Dragon Tattoo series. They had built up some amazing bad guys and then they just killed em off midway through the series and while I still love those books, I think they could’ve gotten a lot more traction if they’d kept some of those vile cats around a little longer.

Anyway, then the penulimate epi rolls around and it’s fucking excellent, full of tension and oh shit oh shit, even with the somewhat outta nowhere conflict and the sense of deja vu as Walt once again steps in a saves Jessie’s aintshit ass. I thought, one more time and that’s gonna become a shtick, yaknow? But there was more to come. Instead of spending the whole finale cleaning up the mess and slow winding down to some faux-ass sense of closure, the last episode just ratchets everything up. From the first tense meet-up to forge a fragile ceasefire in the desert onward, each scene builds on the last to land at the final, disastrous sequence: a perfect set up that demands Jessie step out of his always fucking up, always getting saved shell and make a decision. The problem is, the ‘right’ decision, to save his partner’s life, requires him to take someone else’s in cold blood.

This ending does everything an ending should: the threat is real. When Gus’s hitmen pick up Walt and for the first time we seem really lose his cool, actually beg for his life, it’s both emotionally gripping and the threat is real. Even knowing the show goes on, we really feel like he might get it. The stakes are high. The enemy has been slowly established over the season as the baddest of bad guys, even if he appears mild mannered, we know he’s ruthless and brilliant. The outer conflict intwines flawlessly with the inner ones, both Walt’s descent into full on gangster/tension with being a family man and Jessie’s need to be decisive/not a self absorbed fuckup. So the final final last moment, where we’re wondering in those awful seconds which of the two impossible choices Jessie will land on, is earned. And then it just blacks out, and all the things that may or may not happen next hang in the air around us until we cue up season 4….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boardwalk Empire’s Amazing Penultimate Episode Disorder

***Massive Spoilers throughout***

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Boardwalk Empire wrapped up last week and while it remains one of the best written/acted/produced/directed shows on TV, the finale left much to be desired. One thing that seems to happen with a lot of HBO shows is the phenomenon of having an outstanding second to last episode and then a sputter out finale. True Blood has done this, the Sopranos did it. Game of Thrones is KING of it: Season 1’s second to last episode was the BeNedding. Season 2’s was the Hellfire battle, season 3 was the Red Wedding. WHAT?? And their finales were…uh, some stuff happened.

Last season, Boardwalk Empire ended with two almost perfect episodes, gathering tension and then releasing in perfectly timed street wars and reunions. I mean…It was a breathless, violent, complex end that tied up just enough loose ends without being tidy or leaving us hanging. This season, the setup was there. Episode 4.11, Havre de Grace, focuses on Chalky’s desperate escape to his old mentor’s country house (the always amazing Louis Gossett Jr.) and the building tension between Nucky and his brother, who’s informing for the FBI. Every scene sizzles with the feeling that someone’s about to get got and with Chalky, you really don’t want it to be him. Dr. Narcisse’s malevolent shadow lurks even he’s not on screen and the closing shootout in front of Oscar’s decrepit old house is expertly filmed. On top of that, you have the gripping climax of Gillian’s betrayal and confession. Really, the show rivals any big screen gangster movie in the past ten, maybe twenty years.

Then comes the finale, much anticipated, and the whole of its action pretty much hinges on this one showdown between Chalky and Dr. N, a moment we’ve literally been waiting for all season. What happens? A missed opportunity, both for Chalky and narratively. The shot aimed for Dr. Narcisse hit the wrong person, chaos erupts, Richard gets hit in the crossfire, walks off to die, Dr. Ngets arrested, Chalky withdraws to Oscar’s country house, essentially becoming his old mentor, Nucky sticks around to pick up the pieces of his broken family now that his brother’s on the run after killing the FBI handler. I mean…it all just sat there. The tension didn’t resolve to much as fizzle out, the status quo remained uneventfully unchallenged and at the end you just feel like, well, that happened. In the words of that famous emo Pisces, I’m just saying you could do better…

 

 

Some Awesome Story Things About Breaking Bad Seasons 1 & 2

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Just finished season 2 of Breaking Bad, #EpicLatePass I know yes, shut up whatever I’m a busy man so there it is. Anyway, I guess everyone already knows it’s amazing and all that but here are some things in the story-craft department that struck me as particularly above and beyond the regular bullshit we’re used to. Mad spoilers ahead, duh.

No Easy Answers:

This comes mainly in the realm of character. Take Ted Beneke, Skyler’s recently-divorced boss/work crush and Don Margolis, Jane’s dad. An average, lazily written show would’ve made Ted a lecherous creep – he’s the protagonist’s love-realm competition so we’re supposed to dislike him. He’d make a pass or be somehow grovely and pathetic, victory would be sweet for how sniveling dude was in comparison to Walt’s awesomeness. Instead, Ted is a decent guy, he’s not over the top, he’s corrupt but struggling with the morality of it (and who is NOT corrupt on this show anyway…)  and Skyler has righteous grief with her lying ass husband. She might even be better off with Ted. Don Margolis appears at first like an overcontrolling dickhole of a dad, through the eyes of his daughter Jane, and we’re all set to see him square off with her and Jessie as they fall in love and get all cutesy. Then Jane relapses and we see Don has been going to NA meetings with her and standing by her, apparently patiently, through her struggle with addiction for ten years. He doesn’t lose his mind and kill Jessie when Jane dies, he just stands there stunned.

Hank is another one. He’d be so easy to write as the idiot cop brother-in-law and in a lot of ways, he is. But he’s also brilliant and it’s clear that he needs to be, because it looks like one day it’s going to come down to him and Walt facing off and Walt is already smart as fuck and learning from each of his mistakes so if things are gonna get real, there better be an evenly matched splay. I’m sure allyall that already know what happens are snickering. Har har.

Colliding Layers of Disaster

It’s never just one thing gong wrong on Breaking Bad, it’s EVERYFUCKINGTHING at once. Not just in the finale, in everyfuckingepisode. The most important drug deal ever is about to happen and if it doesn’t they’re fucked and Skylar’s in labor and already distrustful and Walt doesn’t know where the stash is and Jessie’s all fucked up on heroin and and and…it’s awesome.

Colliding Layers of Meaning

Which gets to what works overall about the show – it’s not just about a chem teacher turned meth dealer, it’s about surviving cancer. Neither is just a cheap sideplot, each could be the full focus of the show, each gets treated with respect and patience. Most shows it’ll be like A SNARKY ALLIGATOR FARMER oh and he’s also a wall street banker wow! And one or the other will be utter trash, cardboard cut out version of fake ass TV land reality that no one gives a fuck about. 🙂

Cause and Effect But Also, Chaos

There’s an amazing amount of this happened which made this happened which made this happened going on. For ex: homeboy gets shot, so they lose their distributors and Jessie gets high, so they seek dude at the Pollo spot and Jane relapses and gets Jessie on heroin, so they need to make the big deal go down and Jessie’s high, so Walt cuts him out of his money, etc etc all the way through to the plane crash – which to me tipped the boundaries of possibility and relevance some but was still epically built up to. This domino/butterfly effect makes everything so fucking interesting, because nothing happens in a vacuum and each action is buffeted by everything that comes before and after it. This is so much richer than the typical One Off Episode strategy – “this is the episode about time travel! This is the episode about addiction! and so on into oblivion.”

Within all this dominoing though, there’s always chaos hard at work, jacking things up. Obstacles pile on top of each other and when they’re peeled off it’s generally not deus ex machina but some deeply built in mechanism of relief that had been there all along. The old tío in the desert shack that both almost gets them killed by dinalinging that damn bell to alert his sociopath nephew he’s being poisoned AND ALSO saves their asses because he wont’ break the code of silence, even to implicate his sworn enemies. Yes. Saw it coming and didn’t care at all, because it made sense. Built that shit right in. Amen.

Now. Can we have some none drug dealing Mexcian characters or is that too much to ask?

Don’t answer that. And don’t Do Not doooonnntttt post any spoilers from future seasons in the comments sections or I’ll block that ass like Gandalf. Thank you.