Monday, Sep 30, 2013, 10:04 am · By Lindsay Beyerstein
As far as I’m concerned, Breaking Bad ended in the wilds of To’hajilee, with Hank slipping the cuffs on Walt and Walt realizing that he had been beaten in a battle of wits with men he regarded as his inferiors. Walt’s humiliation is only matched by his horror as Hank is murdered by a force Walt set in motion but failed to control. The series should have ended there, with Walt suffering the full consequences of his actions.
The finale episode was great TV: brilliantly acted, well shot, and fun to watch, but it fell short of the moral vision that Vince Gilligan promised us. The ending felt like a sop to the Team Walt fanboys who tuned in each week to watch Heisenberg be a badass, morality be damned.
Sure, it felt good to watch Walt’s homemade machine gun turret mow down unsuspecting Nazis in Uncle Jack’s living room. But the final episode did not give us the moral clarity that Vince Gilligan had been promising. The last two episodes, “Ozymandias” and “Felina,” felt like rush jobs to rehabilitate Walt just enough so we could root for him as an avenging angel of justice.
Walter White got so much better than he deserved, including the death he’d wanted from the moment he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Walt wanted people to remember him as vital and powerful, not sick and diminished. He got his wish. When he realized he was fatally wounded, Walt went to die in the bikers’ lab, with a serene expression on his face and his trademark respirator by his side. His last act was to reach out and caress one of the gleaming tanks, literally leaving his fingerprints on the operation that he designed, as if to say, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Walt never cooked in the bikers’ lab, but his final gesture guaranteed that he would be remembered as Heisenberg, the man behind the blue meth
Tuesday, Sep 24, 2013, 1:09 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
In “Granite State” we finally learn what Walt was doing in New Hampshire. The vacuum salesman/rehoming specialist sends Walt to live like a hermit in rural N.H. because his case is too hot to put him anywhere else. The state is synonymous with stoic masculine independence, so it’s a great setting to make a point about the limits of Emersonian self-reliance. Secreted away in a remote cabin with no human contact, Walt belatedly discovers that he really needs other people. Emerson claimed that every man is a genius when he rejects conformity and trusts in his own thoughts. Walt discovers that being alone with his thoughts is torture. There’s no point in being a genius if you have no one to talk to. Money can insulate you from others to a point, but if you have no one to exchange it with, it’s just so much paper.
Monday, Sep 16, 2013, 3:52 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
“Ozymandias,” the poem about a long-forgotten ruler of Egypt, a cruel tyrant whose colossus lies in ruins, is a metaphor for the transience of worldly power. The monarch taunted posterity with the inscription: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” It so happens that “Remember My Name,” is the tagline for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad. By the end of the episode, the last vestiges of Walt’s empire lie in ruins, but Walt will keep trying to control how people remember him.
Monday, Sep 9, 2013, 11:28 am · By Lindsay Beyerstein
In a dusty corner of the To’hajiilee Indian reservation, Walt loses his battle of wits with Hank and Jesse. This is the clearing where they first started cooking together, the clearing where Hank and Gomey first started poking around in the dust. They’ve come full circle.
Wednesday, Sep 4, 2013, 5:30 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
When Skyler learns that Jesse doused the White family home with gasoline, Walt tries to keep his wife focused on the bright side: At least Jesse didn’t follow through with his plan to burn the house down. As usual, Skyler sees the vodka glass as half-empty: A drug-crazed maniac is stalking her family and she’s in no position to go to the police. She demands that Walt kill Jesse. Surprisingly, he resists. Walt is so cocksure of his ability to manipulate Jesse that, instead of calling in a hit, he invites Jesse to meet him in a crowded plaza to talk things over.
Monday, Aug 26, 2013, 2:20 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
In this episode, the writers elegantly orchestrate a decisive break between Walt and Jesse. A split in their deeply dysfunctional relationship seemed imminent when Jesse figured out that Walt killed Mike, but the writers have been steadily ratcheting up the suspense by having Jesse repeatedly stick by Walt under duress. The money-throwing tantrum was what Jesse did instead of what he really wanted to do, namely, breaking up with Walt for killing Mike. The suspense builds because we’re wracking our brains to figure what it’s going to take to make Jesse see the light.
In this episode, Jesse holds up under Hank’s interrogation, even when Hank hints at a very attractive plea deal.
Jesse knows that Walt is using him, and even tells him so during their parley in the desert, but Jesse’s resolve proves no match for Walt’s bear hug. At first, Jesse stands stiff and unwilling, but he eventually relaxes into Walt’s hold, sobbing.
Monday, Aug 19, 2013, 2:30 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
Jesse Pinkman is found lying catatonic on a merry-go-round, spent from hurling bundles of cash onto the lawns and stoops of a blue collar neighborhood. As we saw in the scene with the homeless man in the previous episode, Jesse doesn’t just want to throw the tainted money away, he’s trying to redeem himself by giving the cash to people who need it.
Jesse’s breakdown is an indictment of Walt’s cold, pseudo-rational approach to life. Walt thought he could placate Jesse with money. What Walt didn’t realize that was that by taking away everything that really mattered to Jesse, he lost control of him. Jesse’s decisive break with rational thought came when he realized that Walt murdered his mentor, Mike. Since the beginning of Breaking Bad, Jesse’s character arc has been one loss after another. His aunt is dead, his parents have written him off, his soul-mate Jane died of an overdose (thanks to Walt, though Jesse doesn’t know that yet), he broke up with Brock’s mom, and he stopped cooking with Walt. Mike was Jesse’s last important relationship.
Inevitably, Jesse’s largesse attracts the attention of the DEA, who bring him in and demand an explanation for his suspiciously large cache of cash.
Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013, 3:05 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
The final half-season of Breaking Bad begins with one of the show’s trademark flash-forwards. As usual, the viewer’s task anticipate the circumstances that brought about the scene. Walt returns to his now-abandoned house to retrieve the ricin cigarette he stashed behind the switchplate. The house has obviously been vacant for some time. Walt has to cut the lock on the cyclone fence that has been erected to cordon off the decrepit structure from the rest of the neighborhood. The state of the house can’t be a surprise to Walt, after all, he came with bolt cutters. Neighborhood kids have turned the empty pool into a skatepark. When Walt’s neighbor Carol sees him getting out of his car, she drops her groceries in horror. Clearly, something terrible has happened. In previous seasons, the house has been a family oasis, even as Walt has gone off to do desperate and dangerous things. The trashed house hints that whatever horror Carol is re-living was visited upon Skyler and the kids.
Interestingly, Future Walt is sporting Sasquatch-grade hair and a beard to match. Has he finally beaten the cancer, or simply given up on chemo?
Friday, Aug 9, 2013, 4:49 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
This week, the Associated Press ran a very sad story about women who are being maimed and killed by black market buttocks injections. The story portrayed these tragedies as byproducts of female vanity and ambition. The real story is probably much more complicated:
JACKSON, Miss. — Women across the U.S. are risking their lives for black market procedures to make their buttocks bigger, often involving home-improvement materials such as silicone injected by people with no medical training.
Some want to fill out a bikini or a pair of jeans. Others believe a bigger bottom will bring them work as music video models or adult entertainers. Whatever the reason, they are seeking cheaper alternatives to plastic surgery — sometimes with deadly or disfiguring results
Whoever else is getting butt injections, these treatments have long been popular with trans women seeking a more feminine appearance. Two years ago, Laura Rena Murray had a brilliant piece in the New York Times documenting the struggles of trans women in New York who turn to the black market, at great cost to their health, because they can’t afford proper medical assistance for gender transition. Maybe the AP reporter has uncovered a silicone injection subculture populated exclusively by cisgender women, but I have my doubts.
Monday, Aug 5, 2013, 12:30 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
The New York Times reported Friday that anti-choice activists were using “disputed scientific theories” about fetal pain in a bid to overturn 40 years of settled law and ban abortion at 20 weeks. As bad as that sounds, it’s actually far too generous: Anti-abortion activists are using pseudoscience and denialism in their bid to radically redefine the constitutional basis of a woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade established that a woman’s right to control her body overrides the state’s interest in protecting a fetus until the fetus becomes viable, at roughly 24 weeks’ gestation.
Anti-choicers are trying to manufacture a non-existent controversy over fetal pain at 20 weeks to undergird a tendentious legal strategy. In voting to uphold a ban so-called “partial birth abortions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, the critical abortion swing vote on the Supreme Court, argued that the state may ban a particular abortion procedure in the name of preserving respect for human life, without violating a woman’s right to choose, as long as there are other abortion procedures available to her. This is part of a post-Roe trend in which the Supreme Court has allowed states to place an endless array of obstacles in a woman’s path to an abortion--from mandatory waiting periods to medically unnecessary transvaginal probes--as long as they stop short of banning abortion itself. It’s not clear why the anti-choicers think that their 20-week abortion bans will get a sympathetic hearing from Kennedy, given that a 20-week ban would prohibit abortion by any method.
Let’s get one thing straight: 20-week fetuses do not feel pain. As the New York Times makes clear, the National Right to Life Committee settled on its legal strategy first and canvassed for fringe experts later.