TV postsTuesday February 10, 2015
'Fargo' + Anton Chigurh = TV's 'Fargo'
TV’s “Fargo” is basically the Coens’ “Fargo” with Anton Chigurh roaming through it. Same bad haircut, same slow, deliberate manner, same sense of death permeating him. He just has a better sense of humor.
In the pilot episode, this Chigurh, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), says the following to Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), the William H. Macyish schlemiel of the TV series:
Your problem is you've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t. We used to be gorillas. All we had is what we could take and defend ... It’s a red tide, Lester, this life of ours. The shit they make us eat day after day—the boss, the wife, wearing us down. If you don't stand up to it, let ’em know you’re an ape, deep down where it counts, you're just going to get washed away.
So Malvo is not only Death but Truth. He’s what you get when you scrape away all the Minnesota Nice.
I watched it on a day I felt washed away.
“You've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren't.”
"I’m going to miss the Colbert Report. Satire is the most potent of all political weapons, and Stephen was among the best. I always wondered whether conservatives understood what he was doing. Once, soon after appearing as a guest on his program, I was approached by someone in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport who said, 'Colbert really skewered you the other night.' I laughed. He didn’t. 'Serves you right,' he said, and walked off.
-- Robert Reich, last month, via Facebook.
That's All, Bitch
OK, that was a pretty good finale. If it has a fault, it lies in the old U2 lyric: I gave you everything you ever wanted/ Wasn't what you wanted.
“Felina,” meaning “finale,” and maybe the old Marty Robbins/New Mexico song “Faleena,” which we hear as Walt cuts out of New Hampshire, gave us everything we wanted. Was it what we wanted?
Here's what it gave us. It's ordered by how much I wanted it:
- Jesse choking Todd to death. Yeah, bitch! I think I might watch this scene a couple more times to get it out of my system. It fulfilled my hashtag request from yesterday: #FreeJessePinkman
- Walt laying waste to Uncle Jack and his crew. If there's anything more satisfying than watching Nazis die on screen, it's watching American Nazis die on screen. Seriously. It's 2013 and they're still bowing down to the swastika? Fuckers are useless.
- The big reveal with Gray Matter's founders Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz. This might have been the best part of the episode becuase it was both satisfying and smart. Did anyone see this coming? Yet once it came, it seemed so obvious, so perfect. Of course! Launder the drug money through them. Use them to channel it to his children once he's gone. Plus scare the shit out of them in the process. It's win-win-win. Plus—bonus!—the reappearance of Badger and Skinny Pete! Patricia called this last one. She figured it was them outside.
- The death of Lydia through ricin poisoning. Apparently we all know what ricin is now.
- The final conversation with Skyler and owning up to the fact that he'd done it all for himself.
Walt made everything work in this final episode. The problem is that Walt never makes everything work. Normally he stumbles his way ahead. Here he was the terminator. Maybe it helped that he was finally, irrevocably terminal. Maybe he was thinking clearly, rather than frantically, for the first time. (Emily Nussbaum has a good take on the New Yorker site: “The Closure-Happy 'Breaking Bad' Finale.”)
Question: Did he beat cancer the first time because he became Heisenberg? Because he found something to live for? Something he thrived at? It returned once he stopped. That's a little awkward.
And whither Jesse? He's last man standing. His digital confession is still in the Nazi hideout—although maybe it got riddled into oblivion by the MacGyver-esque machine-gun contraption Walt built. Even so: What becomes of him? Does he, as last man standing, go to jail, since they can't put anyone else there? Who knows? I like to think of him, eventually, as a drug counselor, doing carpentry on the side. If he sees the path. He'd be good at it.
But he's free. That's what matters. So is Walt: first free of his lies, then of his life. Most importantly, we're free now, too. Carry on.
#FreeJessePinkman: A Late-to-the-Party 'Breaking Bad' Rundown
YO: SPOILERS, BITCHES
We were late to the party. We barely made it in time. We showed up as dishes were being cleared away and put in the sink and washed. But the hosts waved us in anyway.
I suppose Patricia was always more interested in “Breaking Bad” than I was. I had other things I wanted to watch, movies mostly, and I wasn’t ready to invest any time in yet another TV show. It would mean, what, three years, then four, then starting last fall, five? How many hours is that? 60? 70? Too many.
But it’s the bomb, yo.
But it’s the greatest show EVER!
Really? Better than “The Wire”?
Naw, I’m telling ya, man, this thing rocks.
Not sure what wore me down. All the chatter? The fact that I’ve liked Bryan Cranston since his “Seinfeld” days? Or was it simply a need for another show for P and I? Because we have so much time left in this world?
I don’t even know when we began to watch. Wait, Netflix will tell me. Breaking Bad: Season 1: “Pilot” ... Viewed August 26, 2013. A little over a month ago. We caught up last night. Via On Demand, we watched Season 5, Episode 15, “Granite State.” Friends have asked, “What have you been doing lately?” and I haven’t had much to say. Watching TV seems like the wrong answer.
I know it’s the way we do it now but I don’t think this is the best way to watch these shows. I remember a friend telling me the longer you learn a language the longer you’ll remember it; but if it takes you only three months to get proficient, well, you can lose it that easily, too. Here, too. Episodes blur together. You’re not slowly steeped, you’re not talking about it with friends, you’re slamming through. And we did. And we made it in time to watch the final episode, “Felina,” in real time, with all y’all.
But now I’m heartbroken. I had trouble sleeping last night. Not because the show is ending but because of what creator Vince Gilligan has done with his characters.
Or one character.
Jesse and Walt at work.
Living long enough to become the villain
No, not Walter White (Cranston). Who gives a shit about him? He’s basically the show’s villain.
Walt starts out the hero, right, the worm-turns hero, the put-upon, underemployed, high-school chemistry teacher whose 50th birthday party is usurped by his loud-mouthed brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), a DEA agent, and Hank’s klepto wife with her purple fixation. He’s not rich. He works at a local high school and at a local car wash. His son, Walt Jr., has cerebral palsy and his wife is pregnant. Then he finds out he has cancer: stage 3, inoperable cancer. He’ll be dead in a year. That’s when the worm turns. That’s when he stops being us and starts being other, and we cheer him on at first. At a department store, his son is mocked by a jock, in the fashion of jocks, and Walt bursts in and takes the jock down and stomps on his leg and leaves him limping. Around this time, Hank offers Walt a ridealong to a meth bust and at first he turns it down and then changes his mind, because he changes his mind about meth. He stops seeing it as a drug and starts seeing it as an opportunity: an opportunity to make money to pay for his hospital bills and leave something behind for his family when he goes. Yeah, he’s got hospital bills. Yeah, his insurance sucks. The entire show is basically an argument against the American healthcare industry. Legitimately.
So the arc of the show is how this nebbish, this noodge, through a combination of smarts and dumb luck, becomes one of the most powerful drug figures in the Southwest. And how, in the process, he loses his soul. How he becomes hardened. How he becomes like a granite state.
But when in the arc do we lose sympathy for him?
Certainly not when he kills Krazy 8 in Jesse’s basement in season 1, episode 3. That’s easy to justify.
Is it when he turns down the financial aid of his former Gray Matter partners out of pride, stubborn and overweening and prickly pride? That’s a bit of it. I know a friend who jumped off the series then. Season 2. By that point, Walt knows what the meth trade brings. It brings murder, heartache, violence. By that point, he’s killed Emilio and Krazy 8 and blown up Tuco’s place, and he and Jesse have been taken hostage by Tuco and nearly killed by Tuco, and they have to account for being away and missing for days. Now his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), is suspicious. She thinks he’s fooling around. She knows he’s keeping secrets. His work for his family is destroying his family. So there’s a “Godfather” echo. It gets louder as the show progresses. By season 5, it’s deafening.
Remember when he’s so prideful he can’t bear the thought of laundering his drug money through the website that his son, Walt Jr., created to solicit donations, because he can’t bear letting anyone else—even his son!—get the credit? Awful. He thinks he’s tougher than he is, or luckier than he is, because he tries to expand their base of operations. He pushes to sell crystal blue meth in other territories, and, as a result, the following happens: 1) Combo is killed; 2) Jesse (Aaron Paul), distraught and a former addict, starts using again; 3) his girlfriend, Jane (Krysten Ritter), a former addict, starts using with him; 4) Walt inadvertently causes Jane’s death by disturbing their sleep and then letting Jane choke on her own vomit. This then causes 5) the crash of Wayfarer flight #515, a 737, because Jane’s father, distraught, goes back to work too early as an air-traffic controller and ... boom. An explosion over ABQ. The next season everyone sprouts light blue ribbons in sympathy.
That’s already a lot of deaths on his head but he keeps rolling. His cancer goes into remission but he keeps rolling. He has the money, easy millions, but he wants control and credit. It’s awful. He’s an awful person. And again, it’s less the people he kills or causes to die (Gale, Gus Fring, Hector Salamanca, Mike) than the prickly pride, the awful lies, the hectoring and scolding he does even with blood on his hands. He’s just an awful person to be around. He’s fucking annoying.
So it doesn’t matter that eventually he loses his family, and has to live out his days as a new person in a new state (the granite state). That’s all as it should be. I was fine with it.
It’s what Vince Gilligan does to Jesse that left me sick to my stomach.
Jesse and Jane: Before the crash.
So if Walt is initially the hero, then its villain, who is the real hero of the series?
Three guys. I can see arguments for three guys.
Not Walt, Jr. He’s kind of a non-entity.
Not Saul. He’s fantastic comic relief but he’s comic relief.
No, we care about Mike (Jonathan Banks), Gus’s former right-hand man, the guy who knows the guy. He’s basically a Michael Mann antihero. He does the job, he does it well, he doesn’t mince words. And he’s loyal. Seriously, Michael Mann could’ve made a good movie about Mike. Maybe that’s why he’s named Mike? In homage to Mann? But he gets it in season 5, episode 7. He’s about to get out of Dodge when Walt shoot him. Then Walt keeps talking. “Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace,” Mike says. Amen.
We also care about Hank. The annoying, overbearing brother-in-law from the first episode is revealed to be an exuberant man, a kind man, a man who shows how much he cares by giving someone shit. By belittling them. But he’s got soul, too. He cares about his annoying wife, he cares about Walt and Skyler, he cares about the men on his team. He wants to do the job well. And he’s good at it. He suspects Gus Fring when no one else does. He finally gets Walt, too, only to have it all go awry. These are among his final words to a skin-crawling neo-Nazi named Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen): “My name is ASAC Schrader. And you can go fuck yourself.” These are his last words to Walt, who is still bargaining for Hank’s life: “You’re the smartest guy I ever met and you’re too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago.” Those are sad last words. Then a shot rings out and Hank and Gomey are buried in the place where Walt once stored his millions.
Finally, there’s Jesse, the other annoying character from season 1, episode 1, the dipshit former student who thinks he’s hot shit, who calls himself the Captain, who has vanity plates reading THE CAPN, because he cooks his meth with ... what was it again? Chili powder? He’s also comic relief, and Jesse’s various sayings are all over the internet. You can barely click a link without finding one. But as time progresses, as violence occurs, as Walt and Jesse remain standing, Walt loses his moral compass while Jesse’s grows stronger.
He can’t kill. Walt does, in season 1, but Jesse can’t, and other’s deaths (Combo, Jane, the kid by the train) leave him distraught. He can’t deal with them. He hides away. He hides by using. But creator Vince Gilligan always has to bring him back.
One of my problems with the show, why I don’t put it on par with “The Wire,” for example, is because I don’t buy some aspect of the Walt/Jesse relationship, which is the principle relationship in the show. For much of the show to work, they have to get together to cook even though they clash. They are magnets that both attract and repel, but the show only keeps going on the track it’s going on by having only one of them open to the relationship at a time. Who this is keeps changing. Sometimes Walt is open and Jesse is closed, sometimes Jesse is open and Walt is closed. Sometimes Jesse wants Walt dead, sometimes Walt wants Jesse dead. Then Jesse risks his life to save Walt and vice versa. They’re family. We get it. Jesse is the family who knows the real Walt. But I don’t buy all of the openings and closings. A few of them ring false. But the series has to continue on the track it’s on.
Even so, I began to care about Jesse. He’s everyone’s lost son. He’s the lost son mentored by the unworthy father.
And what becomes of him? That’s the thing that makes me sick to my stomach.
The unlikely moral compass
After Hank is killed and Walt leaves town, Jesse is beaten and held prisoner by the neo-Nazis, then chained in a lab and made to make the crystal blue meth that only he and Walter can make, and that Todd (Jesse Plemons), the nephew to Uncle Jack, is too fucking stupid to make.
Todd is the anti-Jesse. He’s polite, willing to learn, soulless. There’s no there there. He’s terrifying in his own way. He never realizes the bad he’s doing. I don’t know if I’ve despised a “BB” character more, wished a “BB” character dead more, and he’s the guy jerking Jesse’s chain. He’s the one chaining him up in the lab next to a picture of Andrea (Emily Rios) and her son, Brock (Ian Posada), as a warning. Do this or they get it. You could say his situation here is analogous to ours. Most of us are chained to our jobs for the good of our family. We have to do it or they get it. We put pictures of them on our desks to remind us.
Seeing what’s happened to Jesse, how tortured he is both physically and spiritually, and how, last week, in the second-to-last episode, his one chance of escape leads to the death of Andrea, I got sick to my stomach. It says something about the quality of the show, I suppose, and the quality of the writing, and the quality of Aaron Paul’s acting, that I care this much about a fictional character. At the same time, after “Granite State” was over, I grew angry. I was furious actually. I wasn’t furious at Todd and Uncle Jack and the other neo-Nazi scumbags who give me the creeps more than any member of any Mexican cartel; no, I was furious at creator Vince Gilligan. He’s the master of all this. What he was doing seemed sadistic to me. So in my rage, I took to Twitter. I tweeted this:
Finally watched last week’s second-to-last episode of #BreakingBad. Vince Gilligan is one sadistic fuck.
Then I added this, thinking myself clever:
When I clicked on the hashtag, however, I realized I was late to that party, too. There were tons of them. They were all over Twitter:
- Burning one for Jesse Pinkman #FreeJessePinkman
- Previously on amc’s Breaking Bad...me sitting in an abundance of tears #freejessepinkman
- I will fuck Todd up! #BreakingBad #freejessepinkman
- Feel so bad for Jessie too! So sad! #FreeJessePinkman
Many have professed sadness that “Breaking Bad” is ending. Not me. I just want it to end right. I want it to end as Mike ended, as Hank ended. With the right words.
I don’t care what happens to Walt. But I would like the neo-Nazis to get it. I would like Todd to get it. Above all, I want the hashtag prophesy fulfilled. By any means necessary.
See you in a few hours.
“Felina” = finale.
I'd Rank 'Em: Gordon-Levitt First, Merchant a Close Second, Fallon a Distant Third
If this great lip-sync battle on Jimmy Fallon's show proves anything, it's that all those years I was lip syncing? I wasn't even good at pretending to be a star. Put another way: People with talent are better at pretending to be people with talent than people without talent.
Merchant's first kills, and it's funny, but the moment that ups the ante is Gordon-Levitt's slide toward the camera on “Tiny Dancer.” It's some kind of bizarro mix of funny and cool. It looks too good not to wish you could do it. And that's an odd moment. Suddenly you want to be the guy who's pretending to be the guy who's doing the thing. I'm sure even Elton John looks at this and goes, “Wish I could do that.”