Breaking Bad: Final Season Thoughts, Predictions and More

A note before this article starts: this feature contains total, ruinous, catastrophic spoilers for the final season of Breaking Bad. Do not read this article unless you are bang up to date with everything and have caught up with the first two episodes of season 5.5, or unless you happen to have severe short-term memory loss. If you do, under no circumstances tattoo this article on your body like Guy Pearce in Memento.

 

Ok, ok. I take it all back. I get mid-season breaks now. That won’t stop me whinging next time Doctor Who has a mid-season break, because as a member of the online community it’s practically my birthright to change my opinion more often than I change my socks, but for now, I get it. And all it took to shake loose the seething hatred I feel every time I have to go months without watching one of my favourite shows was a single line of dialogue, made up of two words: “Hello, Carol.”

Yes, it is, of course, the return of what is inarguably one of the greatest drama serials of all time, Breaking Bad. Now, to say I was excited about this is something of an understatement. I was giddy about the return of Breaking Bad all day, bouncing up and down so quickly that my very molecules began to vibrate, turning me translucent and giving me the ability to pass through solid objects. You might think that’s good news for Bad, as it meant the show could have been Bryan Cranston attempting to tune a broken guitar for 40 minutes and I still would’ve loved it. However, I can assure you that in reality, the opposite is true: my expectations were so astronomically high that anything less than perfection from the word go would result in my crushing disappointment, and so invested was I in not being too disappointed that I waited until the second episode had aired to write this just so I had a clear idea of where the series was going.

Apparently it’s going to a Mastodon fan club meeting.

Fortunately, that first episode was arguably one of the best in the history of the series and seemed to set up the finale perfectly. We were once again treated to a flash-forward (the narrative device, not the tragic and long-winded US serial starring Joseph Fiennes) showing erstwhile meth kingpin Walter White, now sporting a head of hair and a full beard, visiting his home to once again collect the ricin he’s had stashed there for approximately 100 years. His house has fallen into disrepair, is fenced off, and, tellingly, has the word ‘Heisenberg’ spray-painted on the wall. This hints at a lot, but actually tells us very little, one of the genius trademarks of Bad. Presumably, Walt’s secret is out (see the reaction of poor Carol when she spots Walt) and, given the presence of the graffiti and the pesky kids skating in the back yard, has already been passed into a kind of urban legend. It’s the same reason why kids are always daring each other to visit haunted houses (so I’m told). In the space of a few months, Walt has become a ghost, his story exaggerated but also diminished by Chinese whispers throughout the neighbourhood, with only the chosen few knowing the truth. Presumably Hank is still one of that number, and presumably he is also closing the net around Walt, but the how any why of this situation are still tantalisingly out of reach.

Walt is clearly in a desperate situation, which was clearly highlighted by the second episode which aired last Sunday. Hell, everyone is in a desperate state of mind. The first episode packed a hell of a lot of plot into its runtime, and, as a result, was a constant bombardment of intense scenes. It was awesome to finally get the sweet, sweet release of Hank and Walt finally squaring up, but the question had to be asked: where the hell do you go from there, with seven episodes left? Pleasingly, even with only so long left in its life, Bad still takes time out to focus on the characters we’ve come to love so much. If the first episodes was about actions, the second was all about the consequences of those actions, and it adds a richness to the universe that’s sure to mean whenever the action ramps up (as I’m sure it will next week) it’ll be skin-peelingly intense.

Nothing more intense than a good middle-distance stare, you know.

The acting was nothing short of incredible this week, with just about everyone looking haggard, fraught and desperate, perfectly conveying that theme of decline and decay that was hinted at in the pre-season trailers. Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt in particular have really stepped up so far this season, with Hank’s near-psychotic hatred of Walt driving every move he makes, while the uptight Marie finally snaps on Skyler. It’s incredibly powerful stuff that really hits home just how sinister the character of Walt (or should that be Heisenberg?) has become by this point.

Except, of course, he isn’t really, is he? I mean, look at him. Breaking Bad is rarely simple, and here we see Walt once again reduced to the sickly, pathetic character that he started out as in the first season. His cancer has returned and he’s decided to pull out of the meth business, meaning that just a couple of episodes after Walt organises the brutal prison stabbing of 10 men, he has our sympathies once again. Walt is more frail in last week’s episode that he has ever been at any point in the series, which was no doubt a calculated move by the writers. After seeing that, it’s hard not to hope the guy just gets to leave the meth business and keep his money, living out the rest of his days with his family like he always wanted to. Prison shankings and child-poisoning be damned, we’ve spent 5 years with this guy and we hate to see him suffering like this. Or, at least, I do. After everything he did, he tried to make it right in his own way and he arrested his ego before it completely consumed him. I feel a genuine pang of regret that it was almost certainly too late.

So then, where does the series go from here? The first two episodes have been almost exclusively about the Walt vs Hank war that is steadily escalating, so it seems a little too convenient that the two wild cards, Jesse and Lydia, have been given minimal screen time. It would be typical Bad if one or both of them played a major part in the finale after the show practically begs us to ignore them while apparently sneakily setting up something big for the both of them. Both of them are on very clear story arcs, but where those arcs lead is what I predict will be the downfall of Walt, not Hank. Jesse, easily the most complex and tragic character in TV right now, appears to have big things ahead of him next week in his interrogation from Hank. With poor Jesse in the state of mind that he’s in, anything could happen. Meanwhile, Lydia is picking up the pieces of Walt’s meth business and cutting a bloody swath through the competition  while she does so. Lydia’s character is simply far too unstable not to have some sort of collision with Walt, particularly when she seems so desperate for her new product to live up to the same standard. Everyone is desperate and unstable, and it all seems perfectly poised for a combustible finale. Exactly where the series goes is tantalisingly hard to predict, but I feel confident in predict that Breaking Bad will be that rarest of beasts: a TV series with a finale that lives up to the hype.

God Might Forgive, But He Still Thinks Your Movie Sucks

“Only God Forgives is like doing acid. Not the kind where you sit in a chair and see things — the kind of good acid where you become the chair.” Nicolas Windig Refn there, explaining how deep and clever his film is. Except, when you look at it, it’s a statement that’s just as meaningless and impenetrable as the film he’s describing. I mean, really, what does that even mean? It’s the kind of inane soundbite you’d expect to hear in the deleted scenes of Walk Hard, and it certainly doesn’t tell you anything about the film itself. It’s like doing acid? Why? Because bright colours? I might have been taken in by that when I was in my shut-up-mum-I-can-do-what-I-want phase, when I thought drugs were rebellious and cool rather than a way to kill time and make the screaming stop, but then I also thought Lostprophets were cool back then, and look how that ended up.

For legal reasons, here is a picture of Ryan Gosling, a consenting adult.

The point is, comparing your own movie to taking a tab of acid is crashingly stupid at best and calculated pandering at worst. “Look how cool this movie is! You need to take DRUGS to get it!” Screams Refn as he smears himself in his own excrement while choking himself with an ethernet cable, forgetting that such a ‘rebellious’ attitude means precisely fuck all in a world where you can use the internet to imbibe skin-peelingly extreme pornography before you’ve even had your breakfast, if you so choose. It’s such a hollow brand of hyperbole that really exposes the kind of wrong-headed mentality that resulted in Only God Forgives being such a failure. You may have already gathered (unless you are catastrophically stupid, but hey, you might be, I don’t know you) that I did not like Only God Forgives at all. I go into more detail about why in my review on Monday’s edition of The Highlight Reel, but I’d like to go into things in further depth here. Specifically, I’d like to go into just how phenomenally disappointing it was to see both Refn and the guy who is apparently his muse, Ryan Gosling, get sucked into their own hubris and produce a pile of vapid hogwash that proves just saying something is arty and deep doesn’t necessarily make it so. Only God Forgives is not art house cinema. It does nothing of any significance to earn that privilege. Only God Forgives is trash of the worst kind. It’s trash that doesn’t realise how bad it stinks.

See, where Drive actually was cool, Only God Forgives is made to look cool. There is a massive difference there. The thing about being cool is that it’s effortless. If you try and make something cool, you end up with a horrendously dated 90s infomercial. I can almost see the thought process that went through Refn’s mind when he was making Only God Forgives. Ryan Gosling was in Drive. He was quiet and blank for large parts of the film, which was atmospheric and cool. So, naturally, making every single damn character in your next movie enigmatic blank slates with the emotional range of a bag of flour makes it, like, ten times cooler, right? Of course not, unless you are one of the 0.000001% of the world’s population who finds shop mannequins sexy. See, what Refn missed was the rest of Drive. Yeah, watching Gosling cruise around looking broody and listening to European house music was cool, but it was nicely picked out by all his great character moments. Little things that nobody remembers, but you notice them when they’re missing. The sheepish smiles to his lovely new neighbour, offering a child a toothpick, his hesitation in shaking the hand of a mob boss. Ryan Gosling’s Driver was a character, he was not a cardboard cut out who’s sole purpose was to be bathed in neon light so he can have his chiselled features picked out by dark shadows. Had the Driver just been driving around listening to Kavinsky for an hour before mangling up some dude with a hammer, that film would not have been effective. Drive showed restraint. It held back. It played hard to get. And when it let you have it, you felt it. That strength of feeling invests you firmly in the film, the characters and, as a result, it earns the right to be taken seriously regarding any deeper, more allegorical significance it may have. Only God Forgives is a torrent of shit being flung directly into your eyes and ears at all times, like stepping out into the midday sun after a particularly heavy night on the gin. The constant overload of LOOK LOOK LOOK HOW COOL THIS IS, IT’S ALL NEON AND OOH NOW THEY’RE HAVING A SWORDFIGHT AND KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS IS SMOKING A CIGARETTE IN SLOW MOTION LOOK AT THESE THINGS might make for a bunch of cool shots you can edit together into a sweet trailer, but ultimately, when you stretch that over 90 minutes at the expense of having any story or character whatsoever, you haven’t created a deep movie. You’ve created an exceedingly pretentious music video. Marilyn Manson was doing this ‘long road to Hell’ crap 15 years ago, on a fraction of the budget, in under 5 minutes, while being Marilyn Manson. You don’t need 90 minutes of blank, sort-of-scowly sort-of-pouty expressions picked out in gaudy lights to get your tortured, irrelevant metaphor across.

I can’t believe how terrible Eat Me, Drink Me was either, Ryan, but there’s always his older stuff, eh?

There is no hidden meaning to Only God Forgives because it provides nothing substantial from which to draw meaning. It invokes no emotion apart from crushing boredom and frustration that you are wasting 90 minutes of your ever-shortening life watching someone try to tell you how cool they are. It’s the cinematic equivalent of rubbing fruit pastilles into your eyes. It’s probably striking and, as self-harm goes, it’s a pretty colourful and visually impressive way to do it, but you are still blinding yourself for no real reason, and no matter how much you scream and scream about how cool you are while you do it, no one will believe you. That’s one of the many things about being cool. You don’t get to decide that you’re cool, and trying? C’mon man, were you not around in the 90s? That’s the least cool thing of all. So, rather than doing acid, Only God Forgives is actually like sitting with all your friends as they do acid while you watch bug fights on Youtube and sort of pretend that you’re high along with them. Maybe Refn should amend his quote to that effect. It wouldn’t sit quite as comfortably as a soundbite, it takes far less courage and effort to do and it certainly doesn’t sound that cool.

Which actually makes the whole thing many times cooler when you think about it.