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Gearing up for the end of 'Breaking Bad'

All you Breaking Bad obsessives are surely aware that this Sunday is the beginning of the end: eight more episodes to finish off the tale of Walter White.

We ended last season (or what the folks at AMC would call the first half of this season) with Hank having finally uncovered Walt's secret. And we began that season with a glimpse of where Walt will be a year hence, celebrating his fifty-second birthday en route from New Hampshire to Alberquerque (or so it would seem) with a trunk full of major firepower. How we get from here to there, and what comes next, are questions I've been mulling over all year, so I am very very keyed up for this Sunday night. And I hope you'll come here to talk it all over, like we did last summer (that series of posts begins here).

To prepare ourselves, some recommended reading.

First, I loved this essay by James Parker in the Atlantic. He captures so much of what makes Breaking Bad so very good, and he is particularly insightful with regard to the relationship between Jesse and Walter. The magazine teases the essay with a question about how the series might (or must?) end, but to me the predictions are the least interesting part of what I've been reading. I'm much more interested in the analysis of what we've seen so far.

In that vein, I also highly recommend this piece from the New York Times by A. O. Scott. He focuses on what the show has revealed about its main character, Walter White:

The sides of his personality — sociopath and family man, scientist and killer, rational being and creature of impulse, entrepreneur and loser — are not necessarily as contradictory as we might have supposed.... Walter may have wanted us to believe — and may, at moments, have convinced himself — that he was a decent man driven by desperate circumstances to do terrible things, but that notion was either wishful thinking or tactical deceit.

Scott does go off on what feels to me like a digression about meth and its place in contemporary American life and culture, especially since he is right that "the sociology of meth has never been the point of Breaking Bad." But I love his take on Walt as "a mighty empire builder out of an Ayn Rand novel, biding his time amid the weaklings and plotting his revenge." The main difference being that, if Breaking Bad were an Ayn Rand joint, you'd be meant to feel good about rooting the Walter White.

Those essays are worth reading for longtime fans and newcomers alike. (If you still haven't seen the show, AMC is running the last few seasons marathon-style starting Friday. I can't say I recommend cramming, though — I wouldn't want to be responsible for what watching all that Breaking Bad in such a short time might do to your blood pressure.)

For those who are caught up but could use a quick refresher, take nine minutes to watch this very funny video recap of the first four-and-a-half seasons.

Or you might enjoy this adaptation of Breaking Bad as a musical performed by middle-schoolers (I liked Gus and his singing chickens best of all).

Other recommendations? Predictions, hopes, fears for these final episodes? Leave them in the comments. And See you back here at dotCommonweal after Sunday's premiere!

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Which is the more badass line?

" I am the one who knocks."  or

"Say my name."

Which is the funnier line?

"A robot." or

"[assorted agitated outbursts], bitch."



Both fantastic lines !!! Great memory.

I think the "Say my name" scene reveals his persona, his badass but playful nature. He knows how to seize control. He is a master at it. I remember that episode. I laughed out loud when he said, say my name. The very personification of confidence without being cocky. Then he just totally seizes control. Loved it.

The whole "I am the danger, I am the one who knocks" shows Skyler who he really is. He knows it. But, you do see the scary side of him then.

One of the unique features of the program is how it reveals different faces of fatherhood and mentorship. Walt is father and mentor to both Jesse and Walter Jr. In those two relationships, you see the various dimensions of his character. Surprisingly, Jesse turns out to be quite overly-sensitive with a tough brash exterior, the polar opposite of Walt. It is almost like Walt wants to give Jesse some of his blood but he still accepts, and yes, I think, even loves Jesse. Jesse fears Walt but I don't think Walt would ever harm Jesse and Jesse would not compromise Walt.

Now, about Skyler.......;) 

Thanks for starting the conversation up again, Mollie. I can't wait for Sunday.

Another interesting piece, this time focused not on Walt but on Skyler:

Tony - very interesting. Or at least it was up to the point where I stopped reading, because she started describing the next episode, and I don't want to know anything yet. (I'll go back after Sunday and finish!) It's nice to see Skyler/Anna Gunn getting some positive attention. I don't think the way that character is written is without flaw -- I found the whole Skyler-goes-back-to-work-right-before-giving-birth subplot very hard to swallow, and her character has never had much convincing shape beyond her reactions to Walter. But I don't understand the negativity that people bring to her either -- it seems like simple misogyny to me (or perhaps misogyny mixed with "I respond to scripted dramas as if they were reality shows" disorder). It's a very strong performance, and I find Skyler easy to identify with.

But then, this (from that same essay) shocks me, too: "One New York Post poll about “how to fix The Sopranos” elicited answers that included 'kill all the women.'" Even for Post readers, that seems ridiculous. I just finished watching The Sopranos -- the whole series, for the first time -- last night, and of course I knew it would be great, but one of the things that surprised me was its wealth of great female characters (and performances). I expected the world of that show to be a pretty thoroughly masculine one, but the women -- from Carmela to Livia to Dr. Melfi to Janice to Adriana, and on down the cast list -- were its most consistent pleasure. That's one area in which Breaking Bad can't compete, though I have been mentally comparing Carmela and Skyler as I've watched.

Also very very good (Breaking Bad brings out the best in television and culture writers) is this piece by Zack Handlen at the Onion's AV Club, "Why the end of Breaking Bad Doesn't (and Does) Matter." There's just one thing I don't agree with in Handlen's take: "There are no major questions left unanswered, apart from 'What happens next?'" We still don't know how Walt managed to poison Brock, and I for one am going to be seriously annoyed if they never tell us. They ended season 4 with "Gasp! It was Walt!" But part of the reason it was hard to imagine THAT he did it was that it was hard to imagine HOW he could have done it. Okay, it's hard for me to imagine them circling back to that at this late date. They made an allusion or two to the plot at the beginning of season 5 (Saul having the ricin cigarette to give back to Walt, for example). And I've heard that the writers and Vince Gilligan have been offering their own explanations for "what happened." So maybe I need to give this up. But I do so with a heavy heart, because to say "Surprise, Walt did it, betcha never saw that coming!" and then never bother to explain (for real, IN THE SHOW, not on some panel) how he did it is pretty darn cheap, and the writing on this show has never cheated like that anywhere else.


You find Skylar easy to identify with?

Shut up! Shut  up! Shut up! Lol 

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