Remember My Name: Breaking Bad Final Season Thoughts

I’m a bad person. I admit it. If there is a Hell (although there isn’t) I’m going there, and chances are so are you. I mean, I like to hold doors open for old ladies with shopping and all that, but I’m still heading for a date with the horned one because, as I settled down with my blueberry crystal meth muffins (I actually did have these, by the way) to watch the last ever episode of Breaking Bad, I was firmly in the corner of Team Walt, something I later learned was not exclusive to me. Walt is, by some distance, the most sympathetic villain in TV history, with a whole armada of crazed wannabe meth kingpins cheering him on as he repeatedly lied, murdered everyone who crossed him, poisoned children and other such shenanigans. Hell, I found I actually liked Walt more as he trundled along the low road every time he got the chance. He started out as a slightly pathetic wimp with a bit too much pride for his own good, but as his moral descent worsened, he only got more compelling as he continued to forge genius master plans that nobody in the audience could even get close to. You know how everyone prefers The Joker to Batman just because Joker is way more interesting? Walt is like The Joker, only he actually gets to win. All the time. Walt lived his dream in a way us scrubs on our couches only wish we could do – it doesn’t matter that his dream just happens to be making really really good crystal meth and murdering like 500 people, the guy fucking earned that dream, and in the house of perversion that is TV-land, that’s something you’ve got to respect.

 

Even as a fugitive, Walt couldn’t resist popping out for the Weezer fan convention

 

 

All of which leads me onto my thoughts on the final eight episodes of the fifth season, and, of course, that finale. After Walt committed arguably his most callous, sinister criminal act in the mid-season finale of season 5, when he ordered a hit on 10 prisoners who might inform on him, Walt ultimately decided to curtail his pride and call it a day. He was $80 million richer by this point, of course, but as we later establish, it wasn’t about the money by this point, if it ever even was. That, to my mind, is one of the big reasons why Breaking Bad is such a phenomenally good show; a lesser show might have been tempted to ramp up Walt’s evil genius tendencies even further, to have a good season or so of Walt being the king before deciding to wrap it all up with some generic shootout. The genius of Breaking Bad was to curtail Walt at just the right time, which made his fall and fall in the second half of season 5 all the more arresting to watch. Walt was trying to get out of the meth business, but unfortunately he was too far down the rabbit hole, and everything came crashing down. By giving Walt that one last shred of humanity, by allowing him to acknowledge his pride and attempt to rectify (some of) his mistakes for the sake of his family, they managed to keep Walt firmly in a shade of dark moral grey, as opposed to the black he was drifting towards.

 

Walt’s strong resistance to the meth trade during the second half of season 5 was no doubt intentional on the half of the writers, who have always done their best to muddy the moral waters. It added an extra tragic twist to what would have been, in essence, a basic rise-and-fall story (albeit one of the best ones ever told). The last 8 episodes seemed to largely be about penance, and about Walt attempting to get his affairs back in order before the death that was waiting for him since the very first episode. As Walt was trying to get out of the meth game, he immediately became a much more sympathetic character, with the writers wisely choosing to give him some very human moments, particularly with Walt Jr., but also with Hank, when Walt attempted to barter his entire fortune for his brother in law’s life. Walt’s previously unchecked slide into insane greed – often cleverly disguised amongst the impossible-to-refuse sums of money he dealt in – was at once discarded, and the fact that Walt’s attempt to save Hank was futile only helped make Walt all the more sympathetic. The genius of this moment was, if you think about it, the death of Hank was indirectly Walt’s fault anyway, but Breaking Bad is an emotive show, and in that moment the raw emotion of Bryan Cranston’s performance was enough to outweigh such rational, collected views.

 

Walt talks through his favourite Pacino scenes. “SHE GOT A GRRRRREAT ASS!”

 

Walt’s long but ultimately failed climb back to the moral high ground meant that the finale, which was probably about as close to happy as this twisted series was ever going to get, felt so fitting. I loved the Breaking Bad finale. It’s so refreshing to have a show that doesn’t feel the need to bombard you with plot twists and shocking reveals to make a statement. Breaking Bad was largely predictable but masterfully executed and provided a fitting reward for the audience and every character on the show (apart from all those who were brutally murdered, but who cares?). Walt Jr. and Skyler both got what they needed from Walt, with Skyler getting a shred of honesty and Jr. getting… erm, nothing. Jesse was freed, finally getting a clean slate to do whatever he wanted (oh, and he got to push Todd’s shit in, which was nice). And Walt got to die almost like a hero, taking a bullet for Jesse while brutally murdering his enemies, before peacefully dying in the one place he was truly happy, a meth lab. Happiness for Walt was never riding off into the sunset with his millions, because that would lead to a slow death from cancer. The clue to what Walt wanted all along was in the tagline of the final season: “Remember my name”. What more could an egotist want? He gets to die in the knowledge that he was never brought to justice, that he achieved both his goals of becoming drug kingpin and providing for his family when he was gone, and, following the deaths of Lydia and Jack’s gang, he got to go out as the only player in the game. He killed everyone who crossed him.

 

“Remember my name”. We certainly will, Walt. You win.

 

Doctor Who Season 7 Part 2 Review

Well, another season of the longest-running, pioneering sci-fi has come to a close, and it marks – in case it hadn’t happened already – the metamorphosis of Doctor Who from a camp, slightly naff butt of sci-fi jokes into Saturday teatime destination television and arguably the biggest British show on the planet. Even several years after it was resurrected and rebranded to wild success in 2005, the show was still very… British. It was 21st century British of course, with CGI and proper actors and the rest, but there was something charmingly duff about it when you matched it up against the American juggernauts of the time, such as Lost and  Battlestar Galactica. That, it turns out, was just a foundation. With the rebranding complete, Doctor Who has evolved and changed much as the Doctor himself has done, with each series becoming more and more polished, with higher production values, until it could stand toe-to-toe with just about any show on television. Kitsch no more, Who is considered properly impressive these days.

The Doctor stumbles across the patented Stalker’s Wall Of Photos, BBC TV Centre c.1970

No more was this new Who on show than in the latest series, the second half of the seventh series of the rebooted franchise. Now, I’ve ranted before on how much I hate the mid-season break, but to be fair it has allowed them to massively increase how efficient they are with their budget. A lot of the previous shows had to use careful budget balancing, mixing effects-heavy action episodes with more low-key, talky episodes, but since the adoption of the mid-season break the high production values can be easily applied to the whole series. This means, in terms of being a pure thrill ride, these short half-seasons provide the most concentrated blasts of fun yet, with the sumptuously shot Hide being a particular highlight as a brilliant sci-fi twist on a classic ghost story. The rest of the episodes are similarly impressive, with Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and season finale The Name of the Doctor both also standing out as fantastic blends of fresh, hip, fizzing action and loving tributes to the beloved Who lore. Unfortunately though, it does have the downside of making the one episode that isn’t up to scratch –The Crimson Horror, which is slow, oddly paced and with a truly uninspired villain – seem like a real clunker. However, that episode is the single major blip in what is otherwise a consistently superbly-produced run of Who, which trundles along at a breakneck pace without so much as a pause for breath. It’s really quite remarkable for a soft sci-fi such as Who to have such electric, efficiently plotted action, but this season more than any other is a remarkable feat in screenwriting. The science may be unashamedly of the fiction variety, but the scripts are consistently engaging with barely a wasted line of dialogue in the whole season.

The crackling script is also delightfully brought to life by the brilliant pairing of Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman as The Doctor and his new assistant Clara, who manage to pull off the kind of cool, modern banter that could so easily descend into obnoxious dribble in lesser hands. It masters the art of being cool, as opposed to simply trying to be cool, and it’s a testament to the writers and the performers for delivering such a natural and bewitching chemistry. Coleman in particular is fantastic, bringing a genius sense of timing and a wide-eyed curiosity towards the insane world of a 1000-year-old time travelling alien, while also appearing realistically vulnerable (she is only a human against the biggest dangers in the universe, after all) without ever resorting to the doe-eyed, damsel in distress routine that so many of The Doctor’s companions have done in the past. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Coleman’s remarkable balancing act and her electrifying chemistry with Matt Smith is one of the chief reasons for the success of this latest half-season. Many of the guest stars also put a shift in, with Liam Cunningham, David Warner, Diana Rigg and Dougray Scott being just some of the Hollywood royalty on show. Indeed, the performances are so uniformly excellent that the irritating child actors who play Clara’s nanny responsibilities stick out like a pair of particularly troublesome sore thumbs. Their performances are so distractingly bad you wonder why they were included at all (my money’s on a pushy producer demanding his kids have some role, otherwise I’m completely stumped), but thankfully the damage is limited to one episode.

With The Name of the Doctor now in the bag, and with the big twist revealed, it seems only fitting that the most memorable series of Who since it relaunched should end with one of the most memorable and unexpected twists in the recent history of the franchise. It capped off what was, overall, a brilliant series of what was already a pretty good show. It manages to be consistently excellent horror, sci-fi and prime time entertainment, helped along by usually solid scripts and some phenomenal performances from the lead actors and most of the guest stars, child actors aside. It marks the ascent of Who from a mere Saturday teatime staple into proper destination TV, and, as it marks something of a gear change for the franchise, this second half of the seventh season is as good a jumping-on point as any for the uninitiated. So, what are you waiting for? Geronimo!

Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

I have a bone to pick with American TV. Now, I love the content of the shows made in the US of A, don’t get me wrong; how can you argue with Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and the rest? The quality is there, and I like to think those shows have influenced British TV just as much as the best bits of our shows have influenced them. No, my problem lies with the dreaded mid-season break. Why? Why do they insist on doing this? If you want two shorter seasons, just say so. Don’t try and squeeze two premieres and two finales out of one series and tell me you’re ‘having a break’. It’s spreading over here now, to the extent that even wise old BBC have adopted this most annoying of strategies. Still, considering the Beeb’s recent chequered history, it’s hardly their worst offence, so I’ll let it slide.

And besides, one of their biggest franchises has just come out of hibernation and is back on screens – Doctor Who! Yes, the Doctor is in once again, with a spruced-up TARDIS, a new jacket and, most notably of all, a new companion. She’s Clara Oswald, played with considerable attitude by Jenna-Louise Coleman. Coleman has already appeared in Doctor Who twice before, of course, so there’s some sense of déjà vu about her character, but presumably it’s all intentional and will pay off further on down the line. She appears to have the most important things down; great chemistry with the impossible-to-dislike Matt Smith, feisty personality, intelligence and wit, but then, most of the Doctor’s companions have these days. It remains to be seen whether she’ll continue to bounce off the Doctor so well, or sink back into the tried-and-tested pretty face role, but the early signs are positive. Their patter is electrifying, sometimes obnoxiously so, but the heart and humour are ever-present and for the most part that makes up for any Diet Coke Aaron Sorkin vibes that creep in occasionally.

Oh, just do it already

The plot is typical Who fare, with the science-fiction ratio firmly on the fiction and scarcely on the science. Yes, the sci-fi is soft and soggy as ever, so IT experts, look away now: a mysterious organisation is downloading the souls and personalities of people onto a mysterious network for nefarious purposes (which are never explained, presumably on purpose), all via our ever-unreliable wi-fi. Expect lots of scenes of people typing really fast, while staring intently at meaningless computer graphics and vomiting equally meaningless technobabble into your ears faster than you can integrate your downloads into the network. The wi-fi can also be used to possess people, and to transfer exact copies of them onto blank, faceless droids, which in turn can go around downloading other people. It’s as preposterous as you’d expect from Doctor Who, but does lead to some vintage Who scares – creepy little girls with fully rotating heads ahoy! While it is taken to ridiculous lengths, the idea of some nefarious force exploiting the world’s faulty wi-fi is a stroke of genius, and bodes well for the future. Steven Moffat and co clearly have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the world, which deserves congratulation. No doubt the BBC thought police were driving past my house when they picked up a torrent of unprintable swear words after my internet kindly cut out just as I managed to build up an unstoppable run of kills on Team Fortress 2.

The episode breezes along at a brisk pace though, and manages to breathlessly combine the sci-fi silliness with some well-judged chills – including one particularly disturbing twist that lends the villains some unexpected sympathy – that makes it everything you could want from an episode of Doctor Who. It’s perfect Saturday tea time viewing, with something for everyone, and is a solid, if not particularly memorable return to the series. As a reintroduction to the series, you could do a lot worse, with the beginning of something great between Clara and the Doctor, as well as some solid villainous groundwork being laid, which will no doubt be trying to kill us all once again in the near future. All in all, it’s an episode that ticks all the right boxes even if it doesn’t think outside of them, and nonetheless it bodes well for the future of the season. Sorry, half-season. Ugh.

Adventure Time: The Great Birdman

So in the latest edition of The Highlight Reel, I talk about Adventure Time. Chances are you may have heard of this show already, as it certainly has quite a sizable cult following who analyse every minute detail for hidden treasures. It’s the kid’s show that it’s cool for adults to watch, thanks to its expression of some mature themes in an innocent, childlike way. Death, nuclear war and even a harrowing depiction of mental illness are all common ground for a show that isn’t afraid to flaunt the dark heart that beats beneath its veneer of pastel colours and candy people. However, you may be one of the many who simply doesn’t ‘do’ children’s shows, or indeed animation in general. For those people, then (or maybe just for you who like reading blogs on the internet instead of doing work to help the economy out of the mire, but I’m not here to judge), allow me to give you a walkthrough of the latest episode from season 5 of Adventure Time, titled The Great Birdman, to let you in on what you’re missing.

The episode starts with Finn and Jake wandering through the desert, apparently on a mission to find the allegedly dangerous Great Birdman. Actually, that’s not quite true, as the episode actually starts, as usual, with a title card. This one happens to feature a hooded figure running across the desert, carrying a pair of detached eyes. How immediately terrifying. Now, if you’re using this episode as a jumping-on point for the series, it probably won’t win you over. Finn uses his holo-pendant (just go with it) to contact Princess Bubblegum regarding his mission, who informs him she’s under the sea trying to stop depressed mermaids from beaching themselves. “Turns out they’re just lonely. Haha!” she states, cheerfully. Finn promises to hang with them later and hurls his pendant across the horizon. And there you have it, the set-up to the episode, all wrapped up inside 30 seconds with some mad science, magic and suicidal mermaids. You can’t say they’re not efficient with their plotting, but it does make it all a little impenetrable for the uninitiated.

Proof that everything is not actually better down where it’s wetter

As you might expect from a desert-based episode, they soon get lost and start suffering hallucinations. When the pair come around, they’re being cared for by a bearded old goblin in shades. In a show of continuity unlike most other kids’ shows, this old feller is actually a character from a past episode – he’s Xergiok, the former goblin king who was deposed by Finn and Jake over his love of spanking goblin “hams”. See the well-defined Adventure Time moral compass in action. Spanking hams is bad! Obviously the writers have never been in a Doncaster nightclub, but that’s neither here nor there. Turns out Xergiok is a changed man – er, goblin – in more ways than one. He “miffed off a wizard” (presumably in some ham-spanking incident gone awry), who promptly took out his eyes.

Look in my eyes, what do you see? A cult of personaliJESUS CHRIST HIS EYES AREN’T THERE

Well, that’s only the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the human body is programmed to get awfully squeamish about thing messing with eyes. It’s an old psychological response to protect the softest, squidgiest, most sensitive thing on our face, and yet Adventure Time is quite happy to have this goblin flaunting his empty, shrivelled old sockets on daytime TV. I’d say you have to admire their balls, but apparently that’s impossible because they’ve been schlorped right out of their head. Anyway, it turns out that this wizard, for some reason, decided to just leave his eyeballs stuck in his beard. The cutesy dialogue just about manages to distract from the Cronenberg-esque horror that’s unfolding as Xergiok insists that he’s a nice goblin now, with no desire to smack anything, let alone hams. He’s taken to living as a hermit and building a psychic connection with the bird creatures of the mountains (this will be the last time I’ll say just go with it, if you’ve read this far I’ll assume you are suitably with it as it is).They all leave as Finn and Jake discuss whether to inform him of the location of his eyes (“they were just hanging there, it was driving me nuts!” Jake comments, as if it were a piece of spinach stuck in someone’s teeth) and question whether he really has changed.

Anyway, you know how earlier, I described the eyeless Xergiok as the most terrifying thing ever? Well, that record lasted all of 90 seconds. There is a sequence in which the goblin feeds his baby birds, and while I could just leave it there and let all the possibilities of what that might mean fester in your brain, I’ll just add that the exact phrase “suckle suckle” is used. My reaction was not too dissimilar from that of Finn and Jake.

MFW, as da yoof might say

After this, Xergiok goes to rest after imparting his, ahem, fluids to the birds, so Finn and Jake snoop around for clues. They find a bunch of messages (carved in Braille on a stick, how’s that for a way around a potential plot hole) thanking him for donating his kidneys to a hospital, saying they “fit great”. Now, this sentence worries me a little. KidneyS? Not just Kidney? Do goblins have more than two kidneys? Did Xergiok donate all his kidneys, sentencing himself to certain death? Or did he just find the kidneys lying around somewhere? WHERE DID HE GET THOSE KIDNEYS!? I MUST KNOW!

Sadly, we never get to know, but we’re soon given another lovely image to make us forget as, in the process of their snooping, Finn and Jake startle a sleeping bird which flees, bashes its head on the cave ceiling, and breaks its leg on the way down. Ouch. The leg-break is particularly nasty, coming with a very not-PG celery crunch sound effect. Xergiok soon comes running and uses his psychic powers to swap his own leg with the mangled leg of the bird! “Ooh, yeah, that hurts baby!” is his frankly worrying response. Presumably delirious with pain he goes on some bizarre, Dennis-Hopper-in-Apocalypse-Now-style hippie rant where he declares himself nothing but a vessel to carry friendship to everything even the dirt. “Hello friends. GO FOR A RIDE,” he says. TO THE DIRT.

Finn and Jake decide to finally tell him about his eyes, and Xergiok declares that he wants to go flying with them on his birds, so the first thing he sees can be the desert sunset (BUT HOW DOES HE KNOW?). In the sky, he pops his eyes back in and proceeds to go on a psychedelic music trip where he sees himself in the sun, and then flies into his own mouth while screaming “POWER” as if he’s Jeremy Clarkson on some horrendous cocaine bender. Honestly, I have nothing more to add to that.

Having a psychotic head trip where you fly into your own mouth which is also the sun…? Dammit, I was sure I had something for this

As he reminisces about the past, when he had his eyes he seems to get a little bit too excited about smackin’ dem goblin hams. He soon caves to temptation and returns to the goblin kingdom. Now that he’s wiser, he says, he can rule as king again. Well, that certainly seems reasonable, nothing wrong with that.

Oh no, wait, you’re evil now. Never mind

Yes, Xergiok’s old ham-spankin’ ways resurface, and now he has an army of birds to help him! He uses his powers to transfer his (that is, the birds’ mangled leg) onto Jake, but alas, the goblin doth spank too much. In his eagerness, he begins smacking the nose of the bird (“that’s sorta like a butt”, he postulates), which soon deserts him. Struck by his realisation that he’s “hitting bottom again” (is it cool to use addict-speak on a kid’s show, even in the form of a cute pun?), Xergiok breaks down and swaps his and Jake’s legs back. And then he whips his eyes clean out of his head. A little extreme, I feel, but effective. Maybe the modern justice system could use some sort of eye-based barter system. Maybe.

Finn pops the eyes back in Xergiok’s beard. Xergiok says his goodbyes and walks into a nearby lake. “Maybe he’s thirsty?” muses an onlooking guard. “Oh no, he’s just sad” the guard realises, as Xergiok dips below the surface. Wow, these goblins must have seen some pretty dark shit if they’re completely cool with witnessing a suicide of someone they know. I’ve been more broken up than these guys are when I dropped a slice of toast on the floor, but whatever. We’re all different.

BUT WAIT! Maybe they know something we don’t because Xergiok rises to the surface, riding on the back of… one of the sad mermaids from the beginning! BAM! How’s that for Chekov’s gun? “I’ve got a new girlfriend!” Xergiok yells. Presumably he’s delighted that he can finally put his ham-smacking expertise to more appropriate use (as long as it’s not on public transport, that’s just weird). The mermaid lets out a song as the show ends.

If at least one of your party stories doesn’t end this way, you’re not having enough fun

So, yeah. That was The Great Birdman. Hopefully this blow-by-blow analysis has sort of opened a few eyes (no pun intended, honest) as to the sort of thing this wonderful show is about. It’s delightfully weird and wilfully bizarre, but really, that’s half the charm. It’s done with a heart and a real innocence, even when discussing the darkest of topics that makes it impossible to dislike. It requires serious suspension of disbelief, but honestly, if you’re not willing to do that, you need to question why. The real world sucks, and The Land of Ooo is so much better. Time to get with the program.

Do give it a chance if you haven’t already, it’s on Cartoon Network every day, with new episodes released every Monday.