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Archive for the ‘Breaking Bad’ Category

Many new readers yesterday and today, so welcome.

Whenever I rouse myself to post something like this and get a pop in views,  also get a pop in Facebook friend requests – no offense, but don’t bother asking.  I don’t see Facebook as a means of interacting with everyone, just family, friends and colleagues, and even then in a minimal way. I am certainly not present on Facebook to argue or discuss.  If you want to follow this blog on FB, though, you can. 

I will be posting an exciting sequel that I’m calling “Barrier Methods”  at some point today, perhaps not even until this evening.  It’s a minefield, and I don’t want to fall into popesplaining myself.

  • Finishing off an insanely busy “home” school week, we attended a wonderful short performance of the Alabama Symphony – one of their “Coffee Concerts,” the pieces performed comprising half of the weekend’s evening program: Bach’s Ricecare, arranged by Webern, and Schubert’s Tragic Symphony. 
  • The conductor, Michael Morgan,  gave a very helpful 10-minute introduction, highlighting Webern’s particular approach to Bach and Schubert’s youth, and his positioning between Mozart and Beethoven.
  • I commented to my son that I was probably going to be the second youngest person there, and he the youngest. I wasn’t quite right -there was a scattering of other children and young people with parents as well. But also several retirement-home buses lined up outside.
  • Saturday was a piano competition thing, and then basketball. Not much the rest of the weekend. With one kid at a friend’s and the other sick-ish, there were no movies watched to report on.
  • I’m currently watching Fargo  the series, not the film. I’m midway through the first season, which is very good, building from apparently random grotesqueries and horrors to the slow but steady reveal of the persistence of goodness. And Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman…what a pleasure to watch such a cast, even if they are not having good days.
  • Better Call Saul continues tonight – hooray – and I’ll have a post up about that in the next couple of days as well. I started one last week, but then life got crazy.
  • Last week, I read Greene’s The Quiet American, which is one of the few Greene novels I had still not read.  I liked it quite a bit, although I couldn’t help but read it as allegory and as such, it felt a bit obvious.  But oh the writing. That not-quite-spare, but not-lush Greene way of description and characterization that is always just right. There is a 2 or 3 page scene in which Fowler is seeking a Mr. Chou and ends up in a ramshackle family dwelling, a scene that is a model of descriptive writing well worth study. I’m on it.
  • Researching a planning a summer trip I’m struck by two things: First, the genius of Booking.com is sending you into a panic that everyone else in the world is currently about to book the very last room in the B & B you’re looking at in the middle of nowhere.
  • The genius of AirBnB, on the other hand, is in exploiting the fashionable desire to connect with the individual rather than the corporation, to have uniquely curated experiences with interesting people off the tourist track and then making bank with it. I was looking something up regarding AirBnB policy and ended up on a property owner’s discussion board and learned that the way it works is that once a customer books with AirBnB they (as you know if you’ve done it) have to pay the whole cost up front, upon booking. But the property owner doesn’t get paid until check-in (which makes sense from a process point of view) – but which also means that the company has the customer’s money for perhaps months and is able to do some nice investing during that time. Of course. Because curated authenticity pays!
  • Hey, Happy Chair of St. Peter, guys! 

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Another day of #Syond2015! Quick! Let’s go to Italy before it’s over!

Darn. Well, there goes dinner.

Maybe the Germans will step up and help us out?


Eh, I dunno. That whole scene, you know? The #Synod2015 scene? Way too many triggers for me. All day, every hour of these crazy long days.

Like when you pose a simple, specific question about process and transparency, and they’re all..Yup…

And then they’re all…conspiracy theories! Snort! Ridiculous!  And no I’m not going to address specific points because transparency and you should probably just stop panicking and/or hating the Pope. And especially stop asking specific questions.Especially that part.

And then when they try to make it all better and tell you that, hey, seems like only 25% of the bishops were for the New Stuff today?

And you’re like…GREAT!…wait, what?

And then for the next hour all of a sudden everyone’s yelling about MAGISTERIAL AUTHORITY and EX CATHEDRA and SYNODAL STRUCTURES and PETRINE EPISKOPOS EKKLESIA and CILIA MEANS EYELASHES and you’re thinking, wait, that’s theology (except the eyelashes part)  and I thought theology was just empty talk by doctors of the law or something but maybe not, and so you’re all…

.

Told you.

Oh, but then they starting talking about the HOLY SPIRIT again and it’s even worse than yesterday because all you did was say something like, “I’m a little concerned that…”  and before you can even finish they’re all

HOLY SPIRIT GOT THIS!

DON’T YOU TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT?

FORGET ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT, DIDN’T YA?

oooooh…

And then you’re thinking, wait, do they keep saying that because they think it’s complex, real and important or is it really because they want to stop conversation? Which one is it? Huh.

Because nothing weird has ever, ever happened in the history of the Catholic Church. There were never three different guys claiming to be pope, the Reformation never happened and all those Arian bishops? Completely made up.  That’s Dan Brown talk, there, sister!

Holy Spirit’s Got This!

Okay!

Bright side! A Listening Accompanying Church!


Bright side! A Synodal Church! Because episcopal conferences are awesome!

Bright Side! Decentralized Church Because The Central Authority Sez So!

WHAT gif Aaron Paul Breaking Bad

Bright Side! Anybody can say Anything without attempting to make Any Connection to Any Past Teaching, Practice or Tradition! It will save time and everyone can be super creative!

Oh, heck. You knew this was coming.

Stahp, Skyler.

Holy Spirit’s Got This!

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So…we watched all three seasons of Granite Flats. 

For those of you who don’t know, Granite Flats is a three-season television drama originally produced by BYUTV, yes LDS. A few months ago, Netflix added it to the queue, I read about it on some blogs and thought, “Huh. Why not?”

And so, the two boys were introduced to the joys and agonies of binge-watching.

Let me say, that if had been up to me, I would have watched a couple of episodes from the first season, checked in with the second season to see matters had improved, then jumped to season 3 to check in with some episodes featuring Christopher Lloyd and/or Parker Posey and then called it a day. (or night.) It wasn’t great.

But as it turned out, the boys got hooked, went berserk at the end of every cliff-hanger episode (which was…every episode), and so I’ve watched the whole durn thing.

More specifically:  Granite Flats  has been described by some as a cross between Mad Men (because it’s set in the early 1960’s) and The X-Files (because it involves espionage and a bit of the paranormal).  Perhaps “they” have a point, but I’m going to say very quickly and firmly right here and now that Granite Flats doesn’t have the quality of either. It’s not horrible, but it doesn’t have the subtlety of great television drama, either. On my scale, Breaking Bad is a 10, Mad Men is a 7, and Granite Flats comes out, therefore, as maybe a 2.5.

YMMV, but in my opinion, while the boys were intrigued (and this is the first show like this they’ve ever watched, btw) and enjoyed it, it didn’t live up to the promise of the premise, the theme, the literary allusions (Shakespeare and Whitman, mostly) or the retro gestalt. 

The gist:

Um, forget that.  It’s too complicated to give a gist.

There are 3 young teens.  One is the son of a widowed single mother VA nurse – widowed because her military husband died. (And you know what that means…..)  The other is the son of the Granite Flats police chief.  The girl is the native Korean adopted daughter of a physician and a chemist, both of whom work for the VA hospital.

These teens are drawn together by weird circumstances and are then inspired to investigate said weird circumstances. The weird circumstances lead to Bigger Things, which involve the CIA, the FBI, the KGB and a bit of the paranormal.

It can be fairly confusing at times.  I think my 14 year old could probably draw you a map of it all, but some parts of it left me befuddled.

As I am wont to do these days…bullet points:

  • If you are looking for a show to hook your kids on that’s pretty much absolutely “clean” – this would be a good candidate.  There’s some tense stuff about marriage here and there, but that’s real.
  • It’s a show produced by an LDS network, so I was watching it with an eye to that.  Religion of the generic Christian kind plays a role in the show, but I have to say, it’s a refreshingly natural role. There’s a young non-denominational Protestant pastor involved, so that give the script opportunities to quote Scripture. The general tone (and I will get back to this in a second) is oriented towards an understanding of life as being *for* something rather than for anything or nothing.  But beyond that, there’s some interesting conversations between the kids about faith.  Madeleine (the adopted girl) is being raised in an atheist home, and so the kids actually talk about that the first season in honest ways. The only almosts-explicitly LDS-type thing I noted was in one of the lasts episodes when a wife said to a husband something like “I’m going to be happy with you the rest of my life here in this world – and the next.”
  • One of the primary writers on the show (who is also the father of one of the child actors and husbands of one of the adult actors) is a very serious Buddhist. Here’s an interview with him. 
  • Speaking of which…the writing is okay.  It’s strongest in the the third season, when Plummer (from the previous bullet point) takes over most of the scripts. Before that, it’s mostly fairly pedestrian and lacking in subtlety.  (I watched episode 4 of Rectify last night after we finished up Granite Flats, and oh, the difference was so, so clear.). As is often the case, the climactic episodes contain the strongest writing.  I confess that the last episode of season 3 of Granite Flats, even though it contained some weirdness, was very strong .
  • Pulling together my last two bullet points, the last episode of the show was well-written and quite affecting, bringing out issues of truth, love and the mystery and worth of each human person in a rather moving way.  It made some of the previous lameness worth it.
  • I was impressed, though, by the nuance given to the theme of patriotism – this was probably the strongest thematic element, and dealt with very well. While the KGB and Soviet Communism are certainly treated as inimical to American values, the question of how America has actually lived up to American values is bandied about with a bit more honesty than I expected. A major character – an FBI operative – is African-American, and the racism he encounters in and out of the agency is a plot point. Even the issue of Americans belonging to the Communist party in an American context isn’t dealt with simplistically – the characters who are are given credible reasons for their membership, including skepticism about the American project from a character whose beloved was a Japanese-American interred in her own country during World War II.
  • The acting varies in quality. I do wonder why it’s such a challenge to find really excellent natural American child actors. That said, the strongest actors included a young person – Charlie Plummer (son of aforementioned writer), who played Tim. There are some sort-of well known names in the cast, including Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride, Christopher Lloyd and most winningly, Parker Posey, who blasts into the third season and grabs all the best lines.  It was fascinating to watch because it shows how a crazy, eccentric character can inspire strong writing.
  • Also…and this amused the boys when I finally put all this together – featured through all three seasons is David Naughton.  I knew that I should know the name and the face was vaguely familiar.  Today, I finally looked him up, and yes..it’s that David Naughton, and hey people, let’s all FEEL SUPER OLD.

naughton

naughton2

  • Finally: There’s a bit of controversy about the show right now – BYUTV had produced three seasons – the first two shown, with the third scheduled to be broadcast this fall.  Netflix picked up all three seasons this past spring and has them all streaming.  Not long after Netflix picked it up, BYUTV announced that it was cancelling the program. There’s a bit of a campaign going on to encourage BYUTV to produce at least a few more episodes to wrap up some lose threads (and the last episode of season three did end with a huge hanging plot point), and some of the actors are on board…so we’ll see….

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DSC_0605Source. 

(Scene? Something in the first Star Wars. Or the fourth. Whatever. I guess if I can drag them to Breaking Bad locations in Albuquerque, they can drag me to Star Wars locations in Death Valley.)

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Spoilers ahead. Don’t whine.

As I wrote before, I had some doubts about Better Call Saul, even though I trust Vince Gilligan’s creative vision. Since we know the destiny (up to a point) of the two major characters, the stakes, it seemed to me, were not that high – and stakes are what make compelling drama.  If we know what happens to Mike (death) and Saul (Cinnabon), what is going to keep us coming back to Better Call Saul aside from close calls and ridiculous courtroom analogies?

"amy welborn"Well, even though I do hope that the series ultimately takes us to the “present,” at this point, one episode from the end of this first season, I’m in, and the stakes have been driven in. Firmly, ingeniously and with a huge dose of agonizing heartbreak, which, if you’re driving in dramatic stakes, is the way to go.

The question has always been….where did Saul come from? How did Jimmy McGill become Saul? In Breaking Bad, Saul answers a question about his name with the glib assertion that criminals feel more confident with a Jewish lawyer representing them, but the genius of this new series is that it takes that claim for what it is: the justification of a choice that actually goes much, much deeper.

As the series has progressed, we might have been content in our assumptions that Jimmy became Saul as a way of either hiding from his past or simply taking on less-classy persona in order to distinguish himself from the firm that (sort of) set him on his way in the legal profession.  But you know what? That still wasn’t enough. Why does someone change his or her name? The name they were given as a member of a family? 

Well, with episode 7, aired last night, we get it – you do it when you want to separate yourself from precisely that – your family. 

And it all clicks, so beautifully and sadly into place.

Jimmy McGill, on the verge of actually doing good (in the legal context) in a big way, so anxious to please his older brother, so willing to help that same brother in his illness, eccentric, brash, but endlessly and even ingeniously creative, is slapped down, rejected and yes, betrayed by his own flesh and blood who doesn’t want him getting too close with his JD from the University of American Samoa and who, after years of getting him out of scrapes and trouble, can’t believe that any good can come out of any of this.

You’re not a real lawyer. 

People don’t change. 

One could argue that subsequent events prove Chuck right – that Slippin’ Jimmy is inevitably Saul Goodman.  But the point of view on human existence is just what was expressed in Breaking Bad  – our personal qualities can take is one direction or the other. We have a choice, and as much as the pressure is to make bad choices, we still, at every moment have the freedom to make that choice – and our treatment of others influences their choices as well.

(I long maintained that the most compelling thread of Breaking Bad was Walter White’s perverse master-student relationship with Jesse. His personal corruption in turn, corrupted Jesse – instead of finding this lost former student and saying, “Hey! Let me help you!” He said, “Help me do horrible things!” Original Sin.)

Despite this deep, wounding betrayal, we won’t see Jimmy McGill portrayed as a victim – and that’s what lends Gilligan’s work even more depth – he doesn’t do fated victims with no personal agency. Yes, he could still shake it off and obey his better instincts and pursue the, if not exactly noble path, the path that is not the one to being, as he will tell Walter White a few years down the road, a criminal lawyer rather than just a criminal lawyer  (echoing the important conversation Mike has with the proto-Walter White) – and I’m guessing, just from how this first season has gone, that even though the die has clearly been cast, this won’t be the last chance Jimmy has to run up against that choice.

"better call saul" spain

Seen in Alcala de Henares, Spain.

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— 1 —

No, I didn’t give up the internet or blogging for Lent.  I might as well have, though, right? Eh.  It’s not like there’s no one else out there opining or sharing or venting online.

Plus the narrative out there is so very strong, I’m having to think long and hard how to navigate it and carefully say things that really need to be said.  But we’ll see.

— 2 —

We had a snow day last week and another this week.

"amy welborn"

There you go.

I get it.  Last year’s snowcapolypse (sp?) was a nightmare, happened in a matter of hours, and was absolutely unexpected.  It was nothing to laugh at.  But it made everyone exceedingly skittish around here, so this year, at the slightest hint of a system over Texas, we get all proactive and everything shuts down.  We went out late yesterday afternoon to shop for some clothes. The roads were wet but clear..and almost every store in both major shopping centers near here were closed.

Hopefully, next year, the pendulum will swing back.

— 3 —

One of my favorite Loyola Classics titles is Things as They Are by Paul Horgan.  If you don’t know about Horgan – go read this.  He’s probably one of the least-known double Pulitzer Prize winners out there.  He wrote both non-fiction and fiction, much of it centered on the Southwest, although Things as They Are is reflective of Horgan’s childhood in Rochester, New York.  His non-fiction is primarily historical – it’s what he won the Pulitzers for – and get this – the fellow never graduated from college.

(Catholic, too – awarded the Notre Dame Laetare Medal.)

That title was suggested to me by George Weigel, who wrote the introduction.  It’s an episodic, quiet, but ultimately hard-hitting (I think) coming-of-age tale.

— 4 —

A few weeks ago, I picked up a volume that collects three shorter novels of Horgans – it’s called Mountain Standard Time .  I read the first, Main Line West, and it’s very good.  Unusual and evocative, it’s about a Kansas woman, living with relatives, who is courted by a traveling salesman, marries him and is abandoned when she becomes pregnant.  What intrigued me about the plot was the turn in which the woman becomes a traveling evangelist. The story of where that takes her and her son, and the eventual tragedy – based, as Horgan says in his afterword, on an incident he had witnessed as a child during World War I – is startling.  I recommend!

— 5 —

Last weekend, we had 7 basketball games in the course of 72 hours.  I didn’t mind it too much  – basketball games are short – especially when the quarters are 6 minutes long, as they are for the younger son, whose tournament represented the bulk of those games.  One more game tonight – maybe two – and that’s done.

— 6 —

Better Call Saul is enjoyable.  No, it’s no Breaking Bad.  It doesn’t have the intensity or layers of that show (yet), plus, considering we know how Saul turns out, if the show stays in the past (and doesn’t eventually jump back up to post-BB Saul), there are no stakes at the core of it, since we know that Saul doesn’t follow the (faint) nudges of his conscience and find any sort of redemption.  Yes, there’s lots of interest along the way, but that hope that everything will turn out that is the driving interest behind drama is missing.

House of Cards? Eh.  I watched the first season, and then a few episodes of the second last year – but then it just got too ridiculous, I couldn’t follow (aka wasn’t interested in) the policy machinations, and – most importantly – lost interest because when every single character is immoral or amoral, there’s nothing at stake, and no real drama.

I watched the first episode of this season, and was sort of interested in Doug’s rehab and recovery, but am totally bored by the prospect of Claire fightin’ for her right to be UN Ambassador.  There was a bit of an uptick of interest in the show from religious quarters this week because a couple of writers addressed a scene in which Frank Underwood spits at a crucifix.  Can’t watch it anymore, these writers declared – it’s a deal-breaker. (And the threesome with his wife and the Secret Service guy wasn’t? I didn’t see that – just heard it was coming, and at that point, stopped watching. Ew.)  I haven’t watched that episode yet (maybe I’ll dig it up, maybe not), but it seems, from what I have read, that that scene is perfectly consistent with the Underwood’s character.  It’s not a sympathetic person doing it – it’s a murderous (literally), horrible, evil guy. Evil people spit on Christ,  and then walk away – figuratively and even literally.

— 7 —

Speaking of the Cross…

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

amy-welborn4

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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amy-welborn4

— 1 —

Lent is coming!  Full list of resources here, but take special note today, if you don’t mind, of these Stations of the Cross..and pass it on to your parish!

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

amy-welborn4

— 2 —

Podcast listening?  Not much of great interest this past week, since I’m mostly concentrating on that Couch to 5k thing.  I’m up to Week 8! 28 minutes! (But that’s on an indoor track – we’ll see what happens when I am able to go outdoors again, given the harder surfaces and more, er, varied terrain outside.

So, Melvin lost me this week with Phenomenology. I tried – I really did, but listening to philosophy talk about Husserl, Heidegger and meaning through earphones while running with youth basketball going on below was pretty much a lost cause.  What was interesting was this program on Zola in England.  After the Dreyfus trial, Zola fled to London – by doing so, he enabled keeping the case open.  While in England, he began work on his last series of books, the first of which was called Fecundity or Fruitfulness – and, although Zola is a hard slog (I read Lourdes – barely), the premise is fascinating and timely – in which Zola blames oppressive social and economic systems for discouraging the lower classes from reproducing, decrying contraception, abortion and child abandonment….

— 3 —

I’m currently reading The Colony, which is about the history of the leper colony at Molokai. The origins of the place are so sad, an example of incompetent and deceptive government action in the face of tragedy.

Related, but somewhat contrasting is this fascinating story that provided me with a brief excursion down the rabbit hole this past week:

In 1803, King Charles of Spain ordered an extraordinary expedition: Smallpox was, of course, taking a terrible toll on the Spanish colonies so…..

On September 1, 1803, King Charles IV of Spain, who had lost one of his own children to smallpox, issued a royal order to all royal officers and religious authorities in his American and Asian domains, announcing the arrival of a vaccination expedition and commanding their support to

  • vaccinate the masses free of charge,
  • teach the domains how to prepare the smallpox vaccine, and
  • organize municipal vaccination boards throughout the domains to record the vaccinations performed and to keep live serum for future vaccinations.

The expedition to vaccinate the population in South America against smallpox was a public health undertaking of staggering proportions. A small group set out by ship and horse to traverse present-day Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, carrying the vaccine and administering it in villages and cities along the way. The territory was not only vast but also brutally harsh, with precipitous mountains, dense jungles, and uncharted rivers. The expedition traveled in primitive riverboats and on mules when the terrain was too rugged for horses.

First Destination: Puerto Rico

The María Pita left the Spanish harbor of La Coruña on November 30, 1803, with the smallpox vaccination expedition team consisting of a director, Dr. Francisco Xavier Balmis; an assistant director, Dr. Jóse Salvany Lleopart; and several assistants and paramedics. The ship reached Puerto Rico in February 1804 with its cargo of vaccine serum preserved between sealed glass plates; also onboard were 21 children from the orphanage at La Coruña who carried the vaccine through arm-to-arm vaccinations performed sequentially during the ship’s journey, and thousands of copies of a treatise describing how to vaccinate and preserve the serum, recounts José Rigau-Pérez in an article on the smallpox vaccine in Puerto Rico.

More here and here. 

— 4 —

I’m going to try to do a learning post tonight, but in short, this week was a week of lots of science (properties of matter, heat transfer), art (printmaking) and puzzles (logic chapter of Beast Academy)

"amy welborn"

Also, here’s a fun thing:  Hit the Lego store when the staff is unpacking a shipment and you just might find yourself the recipient of big bags of random pieces they don’t have room to stock in those bins on the back wall….and it might be your lucky day.

— 5 —

Through reading H. Allen’s Smith’s The Pig in the Barber Shop, I discovered a book called Father Juniper and the General, "amy welborn"written in the late 50’s by another American ex-pat in Mexico named James Norman.  It’s in the Don Camillo – Father Malachy genre – priest does battle with and outwits local civil/social authorities, and it’s amusing.  I’m surprised I’d never heard of it, considering I thought I’d read or at least heard of every vaguely Catholic themed middle-brow book published in the US in the mid=century when I was editing the Loyola Classics, but apparently not!

— 6 —

I actually accompanied my kids to the movies the other day (they are old enough to go on their own, together now) – Big Hero 6, which was…good!  As usual with movies today (get off my lawn!) the climactic battle goes on waaaaay too long, but the setting – a mythical more Far Eastern version of San Francisco – was fascinating and the animated characters were surprisingly well individuated.

Speaking of movies: over the holiday weekend, we watched Strangers on a Train, which I enjoyed for some fantastic set-pieces and Robert Walker’s compelling performance, and didn’t enjoy for the mostly-stiff other performances and off-putting amoral tone surrounding the murder of Granger’s wife and the “happy ending” of him and his paramour.  I just thought that was so weird.

Also, The Trouble With Angels, which I hadn’t seen in a while, but is so good. Still. I had remembered the Hayley Mills’ character’s embrace of religious life as more of a surprise, and while it is a bit of a twist, the really observant viewer can see it coming, and her spiritual discomfort and awakening is sketched rather well, as she confronts her own fears about getting old and dying , encounters mercy again and again in the Rosalind Russel’s Mother Superior, and observes the ties of family among the sisters, a kind of family she’s never experienced herself.  It’s based on a memoir called Life With Mother Superior by Jane Trahey, a female pioneer in advertising, and the Hayley Mills character is based on a friend of hers who really did go on to become a Dominican Sinsinawa! 

— 7 —

 

Better Call Saul actually looks like it might be…good.  When it was first floated, I thought, “Oh, no….” and when it was announced as a thing, I thought, “Not a good idea.”  But in reading about the show’s premise, in which there are actually emotional stakes at work and seeing previews, I’m getting excited.  I’ve read a couple of reviewers who opine that it’s better than BB…hard to imagine,but… Love the logo!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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Kinda Shady, Morality-Wise

“The whole thing felt kinda shady. You know, morality-wise.”      –Skinny Pete.

Is there a more winning Greek Chorus on television than Badger and Skinny Pete?  I think not.

And of course, since his scruples were immediately assuaged by more fat stacks, there’s your Breaking Bad summary, right there.

So what did you think?

***********

One of the aspects of Breaking Bad that has struck me from the very beginning is the show’s reserve.   Yes, it’s a drama of extreme behavior and sometimes improbable machinations.  But one aspect that has always been held in reserve for the viewer is what’s really at the center of the whole enterprise:  Walter White’s soul and conscience.

There have been no psychiatric sessions, no voice overs, hardly any reflective conversations.   Walter White made a decision, and for years now, we have watched him act.  We know his reasons, and even before his “confession” to Skylar in this finale, we know that his fundamental motivation has been the pleasure of feeding ego and pride.  We’ve seen him hesitate before acting at times, we’ve heard some justification, but we’ve never been privy to any explicit interior struggle over what he’s done to other human beings.

In a way, that’s frustrating, but seen another way, it’s also keeps what we see very pure, in a way, and focused.

Walter White had, as Gilligan referred to it in the after show, his “Precious,” and that’s where he died.    That was what he was about – creating a product that no one else could duplicate, this pure result of a process he had perfected. He did it, and doing so was what made a dying man feel alive.   You could also argue that the satisfaction that we see is also about his “success” as a teacher, for the lab in the desert is Jesse’s work.

At what price?

Well, he doesn’t care.   Walter White says a few things in this episode and even makes a confession of sorts to Skylar, but the one thing he never says is, “I’m sorry.”

And that’s okay, because he’s not.   If he were sorry, he should say it, but since he’s obviously not really …then for him to do so would be false.

Who is Walter White?

Walter White is a dying man who operates in the world as a chemical agent – which means as an agent of change.  Remember in the flashback in “And the Bag’s In the River” – he converses with Gretchen about the chemical composition of the human body.   The numbers don’t add up to 100% and Gretchen asks:

Gretchen Schwartz: Sodium, 0.04%. Phosphorus, 0.19%.
Walter White: Point-one-nine. There we go. So the whole thing adds up to… 99.888042%. We are 0.111958%. Shy.
Gretchen Schwartz: Supposedly that’s everything.
Walter White: Yeah? I don’t know, it just… it seems like something’s missing, doesn’t it? There’s got to be more to a human being than that.
Gretchen Schwartz: What about the soul?
Walter White: The soul? There’s nothing but chemistry here.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is Walter White.   That’s his creed, his ethos and his reality.

Gilligan’s “Mr. Chips to Scarface” quote gets all the airplay, but one that is even more important is this:

“I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?” – source. 

Walter White didn’t say he was sorry because he wasn’t.  And the wreckage he leaves behind – on every front –  no getting around it –  reveals the end of Gilligan’s exploration of the question he’s posed himself, and I have to admire him because the answer offered onscreen is an honest one.

A weak materialist creates something that affords him a sense of power, even as he lives, powerless in the face of impending and inevitable death.  It’s a delusion, but he persists because it satisfies him.  It’s pleasurable.  I liked it. 

It’s the way he lived, it’s the way he died.  No epiphanies or sorrow, just a consistent, soulless vision.

Vaguely unsettling?

Good. 

"breaking bad" finale
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(Interesting that perhaps the ultimate impact of White’s death in the lab, with Jesse gone and all witnesses dead, was that the public would think he had still been cooking, and that this last batch was, indeed, the work of Heisenberg.)

 

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I have a few thoughts – written, as required, before the finale – up at the NYTimes “Room for Debate” page. 

 

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“This isn’t personal”

Plus a bit of Charlie Rose ex machina….

(more…)

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Quick Breaking Bad Thoughts

I know, I know.  So late and so lame.

The usual excuse:  Home education is sucking out my brains.

Also:  I find myself unable or at least unwilling to go to town on commentary until the whole thing is over.  It really is like a novel now – you have to see how it ends in order to make a judgment.

It’s not that I am demanding that it end in a certain way.  I certainly have my opinions on what seems artistically and philosophically “necessary” – but Gilligan and crew have not let me down (much) yet, so I’l withhold all that and let them be in charge. Because, you know, they are.

But….

  • Brutal.   I sat on a footstool 2 feet from the television screen for an hour.
  • When Walt started his (second) phone conversation with Skyler, I was taken aback and started rapidly thinking, Wow, this is awful.  This is crazy.  I wonder if he has brain cancer.  And are they going to play the brain cancer card and blame his behavior on that?  Oh, this has jumped the shark.  This is the worst show ever.     But then…..aaaaahhh…I get it.  Well played. Well, sort of. In a complicated sort of way. 

I was thinking – back to the expectations game – what it is I “hope for” in terms of this show, and specifically the character of Walter White.   “Redemption” is tossed around and found wanting, and rightfully so, I think.   That calls for a larger and slightly different universe than the Breaking Bad world.   But…atonement?   How about that?   Even the recognition of its necessity? Admittedly, a trunk full of firepower and a pocket full of ricin does not promise much of either redemption or atonement, but who knows.

Me, hanging out at the White’s before things got really hairy.

Oh, and this:

Chuck Klosterman made a good case in his Grantland article that Breaking Badis unique because Walter White’s sins are “not the product of his era or his upbringing or his social environment. It’s a product of his own consciousness. He changed himself. At some point, he decided to become bad, and that’s what matters.” Yet the most important feature of Walter’s transformation is not merely the fact that he chose it, but that he continued to choose evil each step along the way. In terms of his ultimate destination, the earlier decisions were just as harmful as the later ones. As Jackson Cuidon put it, “Walt’s pride at a dinner table is ultimately as important to the villain he becomes as his murder, his lying as corruptive as his violence.”

It’s important here to note that Breaking Bad is not a story of a good person gone wrong; we see nothing in Walter’s character in the first few episodes to suggest that he is an exemplar of virtue. Rather, it’s that finally the opportunity has really opened up for evil, and he chooses to take it.

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