Tag: Breaking Bad

Better Call Saul – Season 2, Episode 5 Breakdown

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Once again, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and their band of brilliant and creative Albuquerqians have masterfully placed another priceless jewel into the mosaic that is the Breaking Bad Universe, known henceforth as the BBU.

Better Call Saul (BCS), is far from simply the backstory of how Irish Chicago native Jimmy McGill became the ABQ’s drug dealer’s best friend and GOOJCCINCF (get out of jail card cheaply, if not completely free) and criminal rabbi, Saul Goodman. Each week that passes, shows how in fact, Jimmy/Saul (I’m hoping the name change happens at the earliest in Season 2’s finale, if not sometime in Season 3, or hell, Season 4. Those who were surprised that McGill wasn’t shown walking out of his urologist’s office (or whoever does circumcisions on adult males) by the end of Season 1 simply didn’t get the point. BCS isn’t just the story of how Saul got his name, it’s the origin story for Breaking Bad.

I know, I know, there are those out there who subscribe to the theory that in fact, Breaking Bad is the prequel to The Walking Dead, as explained here. Whether or not their lovably twisted minds are correct, after only 16 episodes of this television masterpiece, I don’t think it’s putting too fine a point on it, saying BCS isn’t the prequel to BB, but rather, BB is the sequel to BCS. No disrespect to the finest television show ever produced intended.

Okay, enough gushing and praise. Let’s break it down.

SPOILERS FOLLOW – If you haven’t watched every episode of both shows (and the entire run of BB at least TWICE), what the HELL are you doing here? Close the browser window, wipe your browsing history and go back to your iPad version of Wired (the March issue is just out), Buzzfeed or Godlike Productions. The spoilers below will quite possibly ruin your enjoyment of both shows.

S1E5 has Kim Wexler serving her time (and possibly waiting for execution) in the Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill dungeon, otherwise known as “Doc Review,” where her considerable legal expertise is spent going over page after page of billing reports, ensuring investors in Newell Rubbermaid, the company who makes the Sharpie highlighter, don’t have to rely on just Social Security to make their monthly payments to the Sandpiper Crossings of the world when they retire. We’re, of course, thinking Chuck McGill put her there, because in the Season 1 finale, we learned Jimmy’s older brother was the dick after all, and Howard Hamlin a good guy. Okay, reevaluate. Not so cut and dry.

Ep4 told the story of Mike’s run in with the fists of Tuco Salamanca, the psycho who would later kidnap Walt and Jesse, spiriting them off to the shack in the badlands, where we first heard Tio Salamanca’s bell and experienced his voiceless fury. In Ep5, we see Mike healing, and realize the at this point, grill-less drug thug’s appearance in Season 1 and now Season 2, aren’t just heart-warming cameos. Tuco’s relationship with Mike is an important lynchpin in the Breaking Bad mythology, as well as an ironic take on the one piece of advice Walter White took from Mike. More on that later.

Jimmy is guilt-ridden because Kim has taken the heat for his going off the reservation and running the TV ad he produced to gather more litigants for the Sandpiper Crossing case. Absolutely unfair, because Kim is truly blameless. Her responsibility for not telling Howard that Jimmy had produced and aired the commercial (quite tasteful, especially considering the TV ads Saul Goodman would run in the coming years and available on the web, here), so HHM’s Senior -Asshat- Partner could make points by tipping off Davis & Mane’s guitar-playing Senior -Asshat- Partner is sketchy at best, especially for lawyers who work so hard to stay so firmly planted in ethical territory.

So, Kim is up to her neck in highlighter yellow and Jimmy has two strikes on him at D&M and has picked up a babysitter, watching every breath he takes, every move he makes, and every Beanie Baby he tries to find a new mommy for. Jimmy, whose brother Chuck rightly tells Kim, has a “big heart,” doesn’t care about himself. He’s worried about Kim, and suggests she sue HH&M. He’s even drafted the initial suit, and delivers it to her in the bowels of Castle Asshat. Kim’s reply is that suing her boss might work, but who would hire her? Filing suit would be committing career suicide.

Kim’s solution, which has an interesting parallel to Mike Ehrmantraut’s handling of Nacho’s Tuco problem, is to put the lawsuit away, and dig herself out of the doghouse the hard way, by bringing in a new whale of a client, and we see her on her cellphone, using up cases of post-it notes, mining contacts, but only finding men who want to date her. Back in the dungeon, she takes another look at the lawsuit, but doing so only motivates her to work the cell harder (I don’t remember 2002 mobile phones having such a long battery life, not to mention unlimited minutes plans were hard to come by), until success finds our girl, in the form of a BIG new, bank client, whose legal issues, according not to Chuck, promise HH&M “months, if not years” of work.

Mission accomplished, what follows is a perfect meeting with the new client and Doc Review is a soon-to-be distant memory, right?

Wrong. After waving good-bye to their new whale, Kim suggests some first steps in servicing the client, Howard coldly replies, not even looking her in the eye as he walked back into the building that she was way too busy in Doc Review to worry about something as trivial as her new $250,000 a year client.

Ouch. This guy holds a grudge, doesn’t he? If you’re keeping score, looks like Howard is the dick again.

Meanwhile, Mike is having his own troubles with someone who doesn’t forgive. While having a leisurely breakfast (in the same diner, by the way, that Jimmy courted his first clients as a freshly minted lawyer, AND where Hank Schrader begged Skyler to turn herself over to the DEA in order to save herself from Walt in BB), an out of focus figure strides in and invites himself to sit down. As the camera comes around to reveal the man’s identity, I have to say, I was once again blinded by the brilliance of Gilligan and his writers.

It was Tio Salamanca, not yet consigned to a wheelchair, relying on a bell and a one letter at a time alphabet grid to communicate. Tio’s nephew Tuco, had been masterfully baited by Mike, in order to send him to jail, giving his partner, Nacho, free control of the cartel’s meth business. For this, Mike had been paid 25 large, half of what Nacho had wanted to pay the former cop (and apparently, a Vietnam Vet sniper, which we learn after a scene with BB’s favorite motel gun dealer) $50K to kill Tuco. Either haunted by all those he had killed in the past, or thinking a hit was more than required (trying really hard not to use the term “overkill”), Mike makes a decision that he learns will haunt him even more than killing Tuco would have. Tio is offering Television’s all-time greatest bad-ass a grand total of $5,000 to tell the cops that it wasn’t Tuco’s gun on the ground in the parking lot of the Mexican restaurant where the younger hothead had committed a brutal beat down of our hero, but instead Mike’s. This would cancel out the weapons charge, leaving just battery as Tuco’s crime. Far less time in prison. Mike pointed out that he would then be on the line for a gun charge, but Tio reminded him he was a retired cop, and the police would certainly go easy on him.

Before Tio presented his plan, he apologized to Mike for his nephew’s behavior, oh behalf of his entire family. Tio knew that even if the ex-cop hadn’t already sussed out Tuco’s connections, the apology would certainly make them clear.

As Tio gets up from the table and walks out of the diner, leaving a couple big bills to cover the check, the camera stays on Mike, who takes a sip of coffee, and raises his clenched fists just above the table, which is probably the most agitation we’ve ever seen from the perfectly calm, cool and collected Mr. Ehrmantraut’s. It’s as close as we ever get to the superb beyond words Jonathan Banks chewing scenery. Calm down there cowboy! That Banks could communicate such frustration and rage in such a subtle gesture is a testament to his acting skills. The man is a master.

In the Season 3 finale of Breaking Bad, titled “No Half Measures,” Mike explains the importance of never settling for halfway, when you should be permanently solving a problem. He tells the story of his own education about the concept, recalling how, when he had a wife-beating scumbag on his knees in a field, his service weapon pointed at the man’s head, he settled for the half-measure of letting the guy off with the warning to never touch his wife again, under penalty of death. Two weeks later, the guy killed the poor woman, Mike tells Walt, teaching him to never settle for half measures. I understand why this particular situation would not have made a good example in the teachable moment with Walt, but now I’m sure this little drama was on Mike’s mind during the conversation with Walt six or seven years in the BB future. It was no coincidence that the bounty Nacho paid Mike for letting Tuco mess up the pretty Ehrmantraut face was half that he offered for putting a bullet in the craziest branch of the Salamanca family tree. Sitting across the diner table from Tio, Mike had to be thinking “no half measures, ever again.”

Now, you’re probably wondering “Okay, what’s with the episode title, Rebecca?” Actually, it partially explains the question raised in Ep 3, Cobbler. Remember the beginning of the episode, where Chuck is playing the piano. The older McGill brother is frustrated that, even though his skills are almost as mad as Skinny Pete’s, who, in an ep of BB, is hired by Jesse to buy transport cases for meth lab equipment, in the process show’s he’s a talented keyboardist. Back in BCS, the piece Chuck is playing is an accompaniment for a violinist, whose name, “Rebecca,” is on the sheet music.

The opening of Ep5 is flashback, shot in black and white, and shows Chuck and his wife, Rebecca, happily married, electric lights and appliances working, with no apparent physical effects on Chuck. It’s a warm and comfortable domestic scene, the pair preparing dinner, expecting a guest who turns out to be none other than Jimmy, freshly arrived in the ABQ and having just completed his first week of office boy employment at Hamilton, Hmlin and McGill. It’s clearly pre-breakdown for Chuck, since there’s not an aluminum blanket anywhere to be seen.

The scene shows that Chuck’s lack of faith in Jimmy is nothing new. He preps Rebecca for meeting his younger, ne’er do well brother, going so far as to establish a code gesture Rebecca is to use to let Chuck know she’s had enough of the younger McGill, a tug of her ear that tells Chuck to “get this clown out of our home.” In reality, Rebecca is quite taken by Jimmy, laughing at his jokes, clearly considering him a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rather stuffy existence, something Chuck just can’t stand.

This theme echoes later, in the present day, when Chuck attempts to give Kim some insight into his brother’s character. It was a sad moment, watching Chuck stab Jimmy in the back with the woman the younger McGill clearly loves and cares deeply for. Chuck tells her a tale of Jimmy pilfering $14,000 from their father’s small business, implying that the theft ultimately caused their father to go broke, destroying his spirit to the point of causing their beloved father’s demise not long after losing his business. After somehow finding a couple square inches of Jimmy’s back he hasn’t already plunged a sharp instrument into, Chuck lets Kim out of the “doghouse” and welcomes her back to the adult lawyer table. Kim’s expression is unreadable, and at this point, we can’t be sure if she thinks Chuck is a complete, asshole, or believes she’s learned the Ruth about Jimmy. Perhaps both is her conclusion. Since Kim Wexler is nowhere to be seen or heard in BB, something comes between the two young lovers, causing them to part, so I know we’ll eventually figure it out.

I don’t believe it’s the last we’ll hear about the $14K. My gut tells me that when the truth of the story comes out, the pilferage will ultimately land at the feet of the oldest McGill son. Something like Jimmy swiped the money to pay Chuck’s tuition, or something like that. Of the two, Chuck is the most deeply flawed, his weird problem with electricity aside, HH&M’s Senior Partner is a messed up dude. Believe me, Jimmy will turn out to be the well-balanced one.

I admit that for a short time, I thought Kim was in BB, in the form of Saul’s long-suffering receptionist, Francesca. I considered the possibility that Kim loses her license to practice law, depression puts 50 pounds on her and instills in her a dejected, world-weary outlook on life, having to answer Saul’s phone and look at his lowlife clients all day. I no longer believe that’s the case, however. Whatever causes the split between Kim and Jimmy will be profound and permanent. I know, however, that I’ll be hoping, at some point, a beautiful blonde lady will find herself in Omaha, craving a Cinnebon fix.

We all have our dreams.

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Breaking Bad – Season 5b, Episode 2

Breaking_Bad_Season_5_Episode_PhotosThe long-awaited second half of the last season of AMC‘s superior Breaking Bad is so over-delivering on the 10 months of expectation and the 3 months of hype, it’s not even funny. The first two episodes of the last act represent some of the best television I’ve ever seen. I believe BrBa will ultimately render The Sopranos quaint and…well…really good for its time.

Damning with faint praise, indeed.

S5 Ep 10 continued the steady and almost breathless march to the finale in a way that shocked me when the credits rolled. I was watching the episode partly from DVR, partly live, fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks and finally caught up to the show as it was being broadcast, when Hank entered the cop shop interrogation room. Honestly, I thought we were half an hour into the broadcast. Tonight’s 60 minutes flew by faster than one of the show’s gorgeous time-lapse cut scenes.

At the end of that hour, an almost comatose Jesse sits before a presumably still running video camera (any bets as to whether Hank has the presence of mind to shut it off, or whether the two ABQ detectives the team of Pinkman and Goodman has so successfully bitch-slapped in the past accidently get the whole story from Hank’s mouth?) ready to unburden his soul with the whole story. There is a precedence for Jesse giving that story to Hank, the one person he hates more than Walt. Remember the partnership of Walt and Tio? The mute, nursing home resident didn’t bother trying to hide his hatred for Walt, but there was one man who he burned for even more than “Heisenberg,” and that was Gustavo Fring, which motivated the old guy to work with Walt in order to be a wheelchair-bound suicide bomber for the cause.

Don’t be surprised if history repeats itself.

Watching the final act of this masterpiece unfold, I find myself constantly in awe of Vince Gilligan and his writing crew. Making it clear that Hank had figured the whole thing out after 10 months on the crapper was a bold move. Most TV shows would have used their entire inventory of creativity convincing us that Hank’s discovery of Gale’s inscription in Walt’s copy of Leaves of Grass didn’t convince DEA agent Schrader that “Heisenberg” was none other than his own dying-of-cancer brother-in-law.

No, the look on Hank’s face as the lynchpin fell into place was for real, and Gilligan’s team took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.

Yes, I know I mixed my authors, and I do know the difference between Frost and Whitman.

The pitch for Breaking Bad was “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface,” but it was an interesting twist tonight, to see Walt lying on the floor of his bathroom, being tended by Skylar, and begging her to keep the money, never speak of it, and pass all of it along to his children. He pleads with his former domestic adversary, now turned ally “Please don’t let me have done all of this for nothing.” Now, we are faced with “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface, and near the end, when all seems lost, including his soul, tries to demonstrate he’s carrying a battered leather briefcase, rather than an M16. At the same time, I do need to remind you that in the flash-forward scenes, a heavily bearded and shaggily coiffed Walt has purchased an M60 machine gun, considerably heftier hardware than Tony Montana’s “little friend.”

And as a side note here, am I the only one who think’s it’s important that the actor who played Pacino’s character’s best friend in Scarface, Steven Bauer, also played the doomed Mexican cartel Godfather, Don Eladio, in BrBa? I love stuff like that, and just know it’s not coincidence.

Hank knows the truth, as does Marie, who by the way, did in tonight’s episode what so many of us would have paid big money over the past couple years to do ourselves, slap Skylar upside the head, and Jesse is in an interrogation room after playing paperboy with millions of meth-money, knowing Walt capped Mike and probably strongly suspicious that the bald one poisoned Brock after all. Just when you thought you knew which way the wind was blowing, that the endgame is near, if not happening, everyone committed to their course, Gilligan and Co. throw a big old spinning, spit-laden fork-sliding-curve ball at us.

Now, it looks like, with Skylar having second thoughts about Walt’s evilness, the money moved to a safe place in the New Mexico desert (and nice tip about how to hide a series of important numbers in plain sight – use a lottery ticket that you magnet to the fridge – I’m going to use that one), and Heisenberg about to board the room-temperature RV to the superlab in the sky (or somewhere further south with a much hotter climate), the pressure is on Hank. He’s damned if he does, damned if he don’t, his 3XL ‘nads completely in the vise. If the head of the ABQ DEA takes what he knows to the office, he’s laughed out of his job, because everyone will know his Public Enemy #1 is related to him by marriage and in Schrader’s words, “10 minutes later, I’m a civilian.” If he keeps it to himself and the info gets out anyway, he winds up in prison, assumed to be an important member of “Team Heisenberg”. Tonight, Walter White gave up his seat on the stove to his brother-in-law. Walt’s worst case now takes a backseat to Hank’s, and that ain’t good for Hank, who, when he closes his eyes to sleep, now dreams of getting out of this with his ass intact, rather than that “tuggy” from Shania Twain.

Either way, though, it’s a good bet Steve Gomez has heard his last “beaner” joke from the bottler of Schraderbrau.

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The Straits

I’ve been a Hulu+ user since the beginning of their pay service, and at first, wasn’t a big fan. There didn’t really seem to be any benefit to paying for the content, since not everything was available, and you still had to endure commercials.

Except for the commercials, that’s all changed. There’s a lot of content, some of the best being The Straits, a bit of a melding of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and even a little Sons of Anarchy thrown in. It’s dark, funny, and full of drug and gun-running crime. Oh, family stuff, too.

The story, an Australian ABC1 production, centers around Harry Montebello, played by Brian Cox. Harry’s London born, but came to Australia in his 20s. He has a Torrest Strait born wife whose mother was Maori. Kitty helped Harry create a thriving crime family with their four adopted children.

The writing is excellent, the characters sharply drawn, making it easy for the viewer to understand the setting and the conflicts from the first episode.

Like Line of Duty, Hulu+ is coming through with great content. Well worth the monthly fee.

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