Sunday, October 6, 2013

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The 21 Best Episodes of Breaking Bad

"The most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously."-T.S. Eliot


Despite sharing Marlon Brando's view that the American obsession with value judgement is "a major part of the pathology of our culture," I've compiled a list of my favorite Breaking Bad episodes as part of a larger effort to come to terms with the show's end. It has also helped me to put the last season into greater perspective and better understand the trajectory of all five seasons. What becomes abundantly clear upon reviewing the entire series is that it closed incredibly strong-the final half-season was simply on a different level, surpassing the exceptionally high precedent it had already set. Additionally, the marrow of the series can be found in season 3; this is where, after an extremely strong start, the show began to really find its identity and get into a zone where its cinematography, writing, acting, and character structure began form a kind of symbiosis and take on a life of their own. Finally, I was struck by just how difficult it was to compose this list; the first five or six episodes were easy, however with so many incredibly strong moments and so few weak ones, it felt somewhat ridiculous to be rating them in any kind of qualitative order. With the exception of just a few that were beyond mind blowing, the show was consistently excellent, and the gap between one episode and another was often negligible. At minimum, however, this list represents the episodes that appealed most thoroughly to my own subjective tastes. Without further ado, here is my list of the twenty one (because ten just wouldn't be enough) best episodes of Breaking Bad:

Monday, September 30, 2013

An Elegy for Baby Blue: Breaking Bad Series Finale, "Felina"

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” -Sigmund Freud


"Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise." -Sigmund Freud

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Bad Endings

"Good artists borrow; great artists steal."-Pablo Picasso

Originality is just a refined version of plagiarism. The best steal from the best, and do so craftily, in a manner that is both subtle and restrained. With this in mind, I've compiled a list of great movie endings whose content and form may have helped inform whatever twisted ending Vince Gilligan has come up with for the finale. At minimum, they represent the type of quality ending that we should all be expecting from such a great series. Here they are:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Twenty One Best Musical Moments of "Breaking Bad"



"I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things."-Tom Waits



The Soul of Breaking Bad

Music is part of the the fundamental architecture of film making. In serialized television, it becomes interwoven with the identity of the show, developing into its own type of character that evolves over time. Composer Dave Porter and music supervisor Thomas Gobulic have produced one of the more distinctive soundtracks in television history, its quirky darkness an essential part of the show's unique tone. I've  compiled a list of my 21 favorite musical moments in the series, iconic scenes in which the music perfectly compliments the storyline and cinematography. Without further ado, here are my (highly subjective, very loose) rankings of Breaking Bad's best music:

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Best of Breaking Bad Media

This is required reading/viewing/listening for the true Breaking Bad junkie. To truly appreciate the level of craft that gets put into the show, check out the pieces below. Some great insight here regarding how the show is written and produced, the details behind a lot of the decision making, and the personalities of the major figures behind the show. 

Best Interviews 

  • Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on Conan O'Brien  


Midweek Methadone: Precap for the Breaking Bad series finale, "Felina"


“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
  -Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning 


"Me with nothing left to lose, plotting my big revenge in the spotlight. Give me violent revenge fantasies as a coping mechanism."-Chuck Palahniuk

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” -Friedrich Nietzsche 


Less Than Zero

"I'm going to kill Jack Welker and his entire crew, and take back what is mine, and give it to my children. Then and only then is this over."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Uncle Jack's Pals-America's Deadliest Prison Gang, The Aryan Brotherhood


"How do you stop people who see a murder rap as a badge of honor? How do you stop people who have already been stopped by the law and sentenced to life imprisonment?"-Gregory Jessner, Assistant US States Attorney  


"There's a code in every segment of society...Well, we have a different kind of moral and ethical code. It's a lot more primordial."-T.D. Bingham, Aryan Brotherhood commissione


Super Predators

This is what comes from blood for blood, Walter.
Criminal culture is, at its essential core, characterized by vulgarity. Despite how it has been romanticized in popular culture, criminality is ugly, brutal, savage, and petty, its violence driven by rapaciousness and exploitation. To understand it fully, one need look no further than inside the walls of the American penitentiary, where a daily struggle for survival divides predators and prey. The Aryan Brotherhood represents the apogee of the prison hierarchy, super predators that have become dominant in the zero sum game of jailhouse politics. Representing less than .01% of the US prison population, its members are believed to be responsible for 20% of the homicides that occur within the penal system annually. They are, in the words of one of its founding members, willing to maim and kill "anyone, any time, anywhere, any place," including prison staff, prosecutors, judges, and the civilian families of its enemies. According to US States Attorney Gregory Jessner, who believes the organization may kill with more frequency than the mafia, "they may be the most murderous criminal organization in the United States."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In the Beginning...The Best Cold Opens of "Breaking Bad"

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."-Mike Tyson

"The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels."
-Simone de Beauvoir


The Elements of Style

The cold opening sequences in Breaking Bad have been the show's most innovative and successful stylistic embellishment. A huge part of the series' identity is derived from its willingness to do things differently, to subvert the traditional format of television programming and indulge in a wholly different kind of storytelling. To this end, the cold openers have been integral to the show's uniqueness, providing it with a boldness previously unseen in television. With just one more episode left, I've compiled a list of my favorite openings from the series, scenes that I feel represent some of the best writing and stylization in the history of TV: 

#1:"Blood Money"

After a year of feverish anticipation, the final half-season of Breaking Bad opened with the single most jarring scene in the entire series. Exceptionally dark, shockingly ballsy, and disturbingly funny, the opening flash forward sequence in "Blood Money" is emblematic of what makes this the most unconventional series in the history of television. The opening frame employs the show's signature visual technique, fixing the camera to the base of a moving object-we don't yet know where we are, but the dizzying motion and sound of the skateboard as it rips through the White's empty pool elicits a frantic sense of urgency. As each successive frame widens, so too does our emotional response as a subliminal familiarity of the setting begins to creep into our conscious mind. Finally, the camera pulls back fully, and we are left with the traumatizing image of the White's former home, boarded up, fenced off, and covered in graffiti. All in the first 30 seconds. Dave Porter's score beautifully reinforces the apocalyptic tone as Walt wanders through the vandalized destruction of his former home. His criminal monicker is tagged on the wall of the living room that, two years ago to the day, had been filled with loving relatives and friends. "Look upon my works, and despair." Oh yeah, and then there's the ricin...As the scene finally ends, the audience, like Carol, is totally disoriented and in a state of disbelief.

Monday, September 23, 2013






"Morality ends where a gun begins."

-Ayn Rand


"One man with a gun can control 100 without one."

-Vladimir Lenin



You know you've done it. We all have. Don't feel guilty about the vicarious thrill you get from watching Anton Chighur coolly kill five people with that amazingly cool looking suppressed shotgun. If film and television represent a form of wish fulfillment, an effectively used gun prop might as well be an 18 inch dick with wings. Heat, No Country for Old Men, Scarface, the James Bond series-the firearms used in these films are so iconic and memorable that they represent a kind of character in themselves. And now, with Walter's M60, we can add Breaking Bad to the list. The show has done an excellent job showcasing some of the more lethal firearms on the planet, exhibiting an expertise in weaponry that makes me believe that Vince Gilligan may be one of those survivalist weirdos who illicitly stockpile arms. Here are some details on some of the cooler weapons used in the show, just in case you happen to run into trouble with a bunch of heavily armed Nazis:

Dark Matter: Recap for Breaking Bad Episode 515, "Granite State"

"Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."-Cormac McCarthy, The Road 


"Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."-T.S. Eliot, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

"What about the soul?"-Gretchen Schwartz




 On Death and Dying

In her 1969 book "On Death and Dying", Elizabeth Kubler-Ross proposed a psychological model that outlined five discreet phases in the emotional processing of death: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White's emotional arc corresponds neatly to Kubler's model, however he is not a dying man attempting to cope with his impending mortality. Instead, we see a ghost coming to terms with the fact that he's already dead. Memory is the sole recourse of the departed, however Walter is a dead man walking, one that is determined to rage against the dying light with an M60 machine gun, and absolutely nothing to lose.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Midweek Methadone: Precap for "Granite State"

“Apocalypse is a frame of mind. A belief. A surrender to inevitability. It is a despair for the future. It is the death of hope.”

― Jim Butcher, Death Masks 

“So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.”
  -William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Early Retirement: New Hampshire or Belize?

On some primal level, even the most sophisticated viewers of Breaking Bad are morbidly preoccupied with the Belize sweepstakes. This is for a very simple reason: everyone's life on the show is in danger. The most macabre among us, however, want to keep these characters alive as long as possible. They've all been dealt fates worse than death, and, like Todd, I want to keep them breathing so that I can derive some grisly intrigue from their suffering. I am genuinely mesmerized by the myriad ways things can, and inevitably will, get darker for these characters. I, like Vince Gilligan, am a sick fuck, and if you really love this show, so are you. And that's ok...

Campaign Finance Reform-Occupy with a Goal

“the difference between poetry and rhetoric is being willing to kill yourself instead of your children.”-Audre Lorde

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Syria and the New Era of Climate Conflict

“Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments.”-U.S. Department of Defense, 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review 


"Unless we understand the extent to which we've already damaged the planet, the extent to which climate change is already irreversible, than whatever we do to cope with environmental issues will have no real long term effect."-John Grey, The Possibility of Hope



Lurking Variable

The current civil war in Syria represents a sea change in global conflict, one that provides a prescient glimpse toward the future of warfare. Detailed analysis of the genesis of Syria's civil unrest has been conspicuously absent from coverage in the mainstream press, signalling a failure to perceive the conflict's ultimate significance and greater warning: namely, that the civil war there is fundamentally an ecological, not political, disaster, and that there will be many more like it to come. It signals the prelude of a new era of global strife that will become ubiquitous throughout the remainder of the century, one driven by catastrophic environmental change and a corresponding decline in resource availability. Ideology may have provided the pretext for wars in the 20th century, however conflict in the 21st century is likely be driven by something far less abstract: water.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Things Fall Apart: Breaking Bad Episode 514, "Ozymandias"

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst 

Are full of passionate intensity.

                                      Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats 

 The Centre Cannot Hold

Yo, so what's next?
We wait.
We don't have like eight more anal things we gotta do first?
The reaction has begun.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mid-Week Methadone: Predictions/Spoilers for Breaking Bad Episode 514, "Ozymandias"

I met a traveler 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.

-Percy Shelley, "Ozymandias

The Limits of Epistemology: Preview of Errol Morris' Documentary on Don Rumsfeld, "Unknown Knowns"

“What is he thinking? Is this a performance? Is he acting? Does he believe in what he is saying? I would say it’s the central mystery of this movie: Who is Donald Rumsfeld?”-Errol Morris


"At least Rummy is tough enough. He's a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that."-Richard Nixon


"The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others."-Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Breaking Bad Episode 513, "Tohajiilee"


"I can't hardly recognize myself sometimes when I'm greased. I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong. I've been becoming a problem to myself." -Jesse James, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 


"Any man who could discover his own fate and elect therefore some opposite course could only come at last to that selfsame reckoning at the same appointed time, for each man's destiny is as large as the world he inhabits and contains within it all opposites as well. The desert upon which so many have  been broken is vast and calls for largeness of heart but it is also ultimately empty. It is hard, it is barren. Its very nature is stone." -Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridien, or the Evening Redness in the West

The Assassination of Walter White by the Coward Jesse Pinkman

Amidst chaos, there comes a point at which entropy sets in for us all. Even outlaws inevitably grow tired of running, perhaps most of all from themselves. The internal machinations of Walter White's universe have been trending toward disorder since the pilot episode, a process of accelerated decay that has been marked by volatility and explosiveness. And yet we find in "Tohajiilee" that even in the most unpredictable systems, matter and energy ultimately move toward a state of inertia. Necessity has always been the mother of Walt's criminal ingenuity; existential threats have tapped into the most primal and amoral aspects of his being, eliciting a uniquely ruthless form of genius that has allowed him to survive and conquer seemingly insurmountable dangers. But even Heisenberg is susceptible to entropy. At his moment of greatest vulnerability, he exhibits none of his prior resolve, and his savage commitment to survival has waned. Instead, we see a man resigned to defeat, a tired outlaw who has lost the determination to fight. As he asked Hank back in "Blood Money": 'What's the point?' Fragmented, conflicted, and driven completely outside of himself, Walter White no longer seems to have an answer to his own question.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Breaking Bad OCD: Thoughts/Predictions for Episode 513, "Tohajiilee"



“Whatever you think's supposed to happen, I’m telling you the exact reverse opposite of that is going to happen."-Jesse Pinkman


Just a few things that I'll be looking for in tomorrow night's episode...
  • Some thoughts on the "Who's Going to Die Next" sweepstakes...
Vince Gilligan has confirmed a well circulated theory about Walter taking on certain attributes of people he's murdered.  This should come as little surprise considering the obsessive attention to detail in both the writing and production of the show, but it does offer us some insight into who might be next on the Heisenberg kill list. Here's the quote from Gilligan in his interview with Digital Spy: