Breaking Bad did NOT Oiler it

October 1, 2013

And it wasn’t just the perfect musical choice at the end (and throughout) of the episode. The highlight for me, beyond “Baby Blue,” was Walt’s parting admission to Skyler, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.”

This statement was something the audience already knew, but it was Walt’s final journey to that realization that made the end of the series so potent. And, as with the arc of the classic tragic figure, it came to Walt far too late for him to reverse the course of his downward trajectory.

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Breaking Bad, please, just don’t Oiler it…

July 25, 2013

We are nearing the end of Breaking Bad, and it is coming to an end at the perfect point in overall story arc. I admit, I am bubbling with excitement at the prospect of an ultimate finale, but I must temper my emotions for fear of crushing disappointment. In short, I hope they don’t Oiler it.

You might ask, “How could they Oiler it?” Or, more likely, you are asking, “What does it mean to Oiler something?”

The term might be clear – or at least intuitive – to anyone who lived in or near Houston in the early 1990s, specifically January 3, 1993, when the Houston Oilers were leading the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 AFC Divisional Playoffs 35-3 in the second half, only to lose 41-38.

From them on, “to Oiler” something is to snatch defeat from the jaws of a victory, an assured victory, to perform to near perfection up until the end, only to collapse and suffer a crushing defeat. We Houstonians imagined gamblers in Kansas City, after a particularly disappointing game of pool, saying, “Gawd dang, I sure did Oiler that game.”

Now, Breaking Bad is the best show ever. They could have an average finale and still be completely awesome. So how could Breaking Bad Oiler it? How could they end the show so badly that it would besmirch the entire series? Five words … “it was all a dream.” Or Walt could board the spaceship buried beneath his pool and fly back to his home planet in the Xemaphone Constellation.

Trust me, there are innumerable ways it could end horribly. And they wouldn’t have to work that hard to do so.

For example, the 2004 re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (BSG) was well on its way to being the best science-fiction TV series of all time until the show did a dramatic face plant at the finish line. Instead of staying in the nuanced, thoughtful, gray areas that made the show so superb for three and a half seasons, where it dealt in depth with character, religion, human survival, politics, and modern morality, they tried to wrap it all up in an absurdly neat package, with a spineless, by-the-numbers (and wholly unsatisfying) action climax. The actual battle seemed rushed but only because they needed to get to a meandering and prosaic conclusion that gave the illusion of profundity…

Yeah, BSG Oilered it. The episode “33” is about the best TV can get, yet I can’t watch that or any other episode without a slight distaste, for I know the suckitude to come.

I hope Breaking Bad does not share the same fate.

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If you had a President Romney…

September 16, 2012

A spokesperson for the Romney campaign recently said, regarding the protests and violence in the Middle East, “…if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation…”

Romney hasn’t mastered policy, but he has mastered the subjunctive. He wouldn’t have to do anything as president because if he were president, bad things would simply cease to be. He is a panacea to all things.

If you had a President Romney, there would be no violence in the Middle East.

If you had a President Romney, every fetus would have a job.

If you had a President Romney, no one would get cancer, except Walter White.

If you had a President Romney, coal emissions would smell like French vanilla.

If you had a President Romney, polar bears would attend the Burning Man festival.

If you had a President Romney, we wouldn’t have to wait a year for the Breaking Bad finale. [Seriously? Two Breaking Bad references?!?]

If you had a President Romney, my cattle dog would know how to whistle.

If you had a President Romney, my wife would not have baked a fork into the lasagna.

The Fork in the Lasagna

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Breaking Bad is our Greek Tragedy

September 25, 2010

It is natural and inevitable that a contemporary audience deems all those that preceded it to be unsophisticated.

Therefore, I can say with some degree of certainty that future human societies, whatever is left as the ice melts and oceans rise, will look back at our media libraries (and there will be a lot of them) with contempt. Case in point, I recently finished watching Season Three of Breaking Bad. [Fair warning that I am about to discuss incidents that occurred in the final episodes of Breaking Bad: Season Three. Suffice it to say, if you don’t want to know happens, stop reading now.]

A hundred years from now, people of the future will watch the end of Season Three of Breaking Bad on whatever internal visual implant they use to beam videos into their brains, and they will scoff at our sweet tooth for over-the-top melodrama. I can almost hear their groans echoing back through time when Walt’s Minivan of Death zooms in at the last possible second and plows over the two drug dealers, tightening the bond between him and Jesse and setting up a highly dramatic confrontation with Gus. Walt has completed his unlikely transformation from meek chemistry teacher to ruthless drug-dealing avenger.

They will think us childlike in our sensibilities, but what they won’t know about us, and what we don’t know about our antecessors, is we feel that same sense of disbelief – and quash it. It isn’t naiveté that allows us to enjoy these shows. We are simply willing to make certain concessions to reality in order to live in this world, if only for an hour.

I mean, what are the odds an orphan is one day going to return to the city of his birth, murder his father, marry his mother, and reclaim his birthright as king, all without knowing about it? About as good as a broke chemistry teacher with a DEA brother-in-law becoming a drug kingpin and outlasting (by a mix of wits and dumb luck) several Mexican cartels. So yes, future selves, we know how unlikely, even absurd, these events are. And we don’t care.

Why do we do it? Because in the end, we are suckers for tragedy – and I mean tragedy in the classical sense, at least as defined by Karl Jaspers, where tragedy is at the point where awareness of a need exceeds one’s ability to satisfy that need. In short, it is an awareness of our limitations. We don’t have kings any more, at least not those with that far to fall, not like Oedipus or Lear. Instead we have an exceptional scientist with slightly above-average problems (at least initially). His partner is a small-time drug dealer with a sensitive, no-bug-killing core. And Walt and Jesse have fallen so far, they have become irredeemable. Walt knows it – that awareness was what gave him the motivation to leave his family. And Jesse should know it by the start of the next season, if he doesn’t already. It is all great stuff – and an exploration into the tragedy of the human condition.

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