Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Archive for October 2011

Watch It, Bunghole

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Beavis And Butt-head returns to MTV tonight with new episodes for the first time in 14 years. 15-year-old me is pretty psyched. Hell… 33-year-old me is pretty psyched. And if you’re not watching it… what’s the matter with you? Seriously.

Written by jeremylikestv

October 27, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Posted in News

The Walking Dead Renewed For Season Three, Surprising No One

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On the heels of delivering record-breaking ratings to AMC with its second season premiere [1] and after being seen by more than ten million viewers in 122 countries for that same airing, AMC announced yesterday that it’s bringing The Walking Dead back for a third season next fall. The move was a no-brainer as the series brings both critical and mainstream support to a network in need of both with Breaking Bad’s end date announced a few months ago, the general failure that was The Killing’s finale earlier in the spring, and the mystifying departure of Walking Dead executive producer Frank Darabont earlier this year all chipping away at the network’s heretofore pristine reputation. To those of you worried (for some insane reason) that your zombie fix was going to be going away after this year, rest easy.

[1] Over seven million people watched the premiere at 9:00 PM on October 16, putting it on par with – ugh, Jersey Whore Shore – as the most-watched series on cable. Two encore airings that same night jumped the number up to over ten million. Them’s impressive numbers.

On a side note, I’ve been going back and watching season one of The Walking Dead a second time on Netflix [2] before diving into the two season two episodes that have aired so far, mainly because I’ve watched a helluva lot of television since season one aired last fall and I wanted a refresher course. In watching it, I’m struck by how much better the show was than I’d remembered. I think I’d allowed the disappointing finale (the destruction of the CDC building) to color my perception of the entire season, but I’m impressed by just how dark and shocking most of the season was. Rick’s awakening to a new world order in “Days Gone Bye;” the disgusting zombie suits donned out of necessity by Rick and Glenn in “Guts;” Shane’s brutal beatdown of asshole Ed in “Tell It To The Frogs;” and the shocking zombie attack on the survivor camp that concluded “Vatos.” The series also uses moments of silence better than almost anything that I can name right now. The Walking Dead is a bleak look at humanity, but it’s easily one of the top 10 to 15 shows currently airing on television. I’m very anxious to see if season two can continue to sustain its momentum and quality.

[2] In fact, I’m watching episode five, “Wildfire,” right now as I write this.

Written by jeremylikestv

October 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Hitting The Reset Button

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First things first – if you’re a regular visitor to the site, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read my drivel more than you know. If this is the first time you’re finding us, welcome and I hope that you’ll find something that interests you and you’ll decide to stick around for a while.

When I started the blog back in June, I never intended for it to become an all-Breaking Bad review site. Much as I enjoy the show and feel that it’s one of the best dramas that television has ever produced, I never meant for this to be a place solely devoted to one show and that’s kind of how things have been lately. With that in mind, I’m hitting the reset button. We’re going to start talking about more than just Breaking Bad, dammit! There’s too much good television out there that deserves to be discussed and if you’re anything like me, discussing television is just as fun as watching it [1].

[1] Although I still have one piece on the Breaking Bad finale, “Face Off,” to be completed but that’ll be the last one for a while. I swear.

As far as the changes to the blog are concerned, some of the features that have been here in the past such as the TV Power Rankings and (of course) reviews will be sticking around, and in addition I’ve been kicking around a few new ideas as well. The Breaking Bad format was fun (if a little unwieldy at times) so there’s a possibility that I might be going back to look at some older shows on an episode-by-episode basis. But don’t worry – those reviews won’t be nearly as long as the Breaking Bad pieces were. I promise. There will also be some more short burst posts on “news of the day” types of items, along with some other things I’m still developing. My hope is that this will help to make Jeremy Likes TV an enjoyable place for TV analysis and discussion. With that in mind, don’t be shy – please feel free to add your voice wherever and whenever possible.

Looking ahead, I’m working on a review of FX’s newest hit, American Horror Story, so look for that to be posted either late today or tomorrow [2] and I’ll also be posting some quick hits on news that we might find interesting.

[2] As a tease, here’s a quick impression of the show: It makes me actively angry.

I love TV. You love TV. So… let’s get back to talking about some TV.

Written by jeremylikestv

October 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “End Times”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

Any episode would have had a difficult time following up “Crawl Space’s” insane ending and, indeed, “End Times” is a slight (stressing slight) step down from the heights of the one that preceded it. Still, it was a very strong installment of Breaking Bad and there’s plenty to talk about, so let’s bunker down and brace ourselves for a discussion on “End Times.”

Teaser
“I have lived under the threat of death for a year now, and because of that I made choices. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices… No more prolonging the inevitable.”
With the seemingly the same music used in the kinetic opener to “Shotgun,” Walter and Skyler are frantically packing as DEA agents arrive to escort them safely to Hank and Marie’s house in the wake of the newest threat on Hank’s life. As they prepare, Walter informs Skyler that he will not be joining the rest of the family while she protests, saying he feels like his presence poses the greatest threat to everyone. “All that matters is that the rest of you are safe and that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” While she refuses to believe that they’d actually do anything to him, he reiterates [1] again that they’re not necessarily in bed with the nicest folks. She expresses her concern with how she’ll explain away his absence, desperately searching for another option. Walter gets a nice dig in about her decision to give her former lover most of their money when he reminds her, “There isn’t. There was. But now there isn’t.” Walter then says his goodbyes, first with a tinge of regret when he informs Hank via a phone call that he won’t be there due to his responsibilities at the car wash, and then when he waves goodbye to Skyler and Holly as they pull away, knowing full well that it could be the last time he sees his wife and daughter. He watches through the window as they pull away. And then the title card hits…

[1] For what seems like the millionth time. Skyler can actually be pretty dense sometimes. Maybe it’s due to carrying the weight of her self-righteousness. Who’s to say?

Act One
“I’m going on record: This blows.”
After watching his family depart for seeming safety, Walter sits outside by his pool, with his revolver by his side waiting for the inevitable. At this point, the man is resigned to his fate and is simply waiting for the hammer to finally drop. Meanwhile, Junior is frustrated and doesn’t understand why his father is risking his life over a need to be at the car wash and he takes out his anger on Skyler by blaming her for not doing a better job of convincing Walter to join them. Hank tries to downplay the entire situation by terming it a “smoke screen,” saying that someone doesn’t appreciate how he’s been spending his free time. He then lays out his theory for the rest of the family, eventually pressing Gomez (there as part of the protection detail) to check out the laundry as a possible lab site. Gomez is initially reluctant, but after some patented Schrader ball-busting, we smash cut to Gomez pulling up at the laundry to humor his friend [2]. After taking crap from Hank about his deficiencies in charming suspects/witnesses/pretty much anyone, Gomez does a fairly effective job of getting the general manager of the laundry to submit to a warrantless search of the facility, allowing Gomez, another agent, and a drug-sniffing dog to give the laundry a once-over. As Gomez tours the building with a digital camera, taking shots of anything and everything, the camera pans down to show Jesse and Tyrus in the lab, Jesse inquiring, “So… how long we gotta be quiet down here,” before adding, “I’m going on record… this blows.” Almost instantly, Tyrus receives a call from Gus wanting to talk to Jesse. “This is all a result of your former partner. Do you see now? Do you see why this can’t continue?” he tells him. Jesse again refuses to sign off on Walter’s death, reminding Gus that there will be a problem if Walter is killed. When Jesse asks what’s next, Gus’s ominous answer? “There will be an appropriate response.” We’ve seen how Gus generally responds. This is gonna be baaaaaad.

[2] There’s also a disconcerting (and head-swimming) amount of exposition going on at this point.

Act Two
“HT – Honeytits. I say it’s endearing.”
After completing their examination of the laundry, Gomez and his fellow DEA agent leave the facility and immediately the general manager calls Tyrus to give him the all-clear signal. We move next to a scene that shows the extreme measures Gus is taking to shield Jesse (and at one time Walter) from the investigation as Jesse is being driven out into the middle of the desert [3] hidden in the back of a tractor trailer bed to the spot where he parked his car. Sitting in the driver’s seat, he calls Walter on his cell phone but upon getting Walter’s voicemail, isn’t able to bring himself to actually leave a message. He then checks his own mailbox to find message upon message from Saul, each with increasing urgency. Upon arriving at Saul’s office and receiving a pat-down from an overzealous Huell, Saul informs Jesse that the “end times” have arrived and that he needs Jesse to find somewhere else to park his drug money because he is disappearing [4] in order to stay out of Gus’s crosshairs. Jesse is confused [5] and shocked to hear how Gus put the screws to Walter in the desert, eventually leaving stunned with his money. At the Schrader house, Hank is going through the photos that Gomez took at the laundry, frustrated at an inability to find anything damning within them. Meanwhile, Skyler is growing increasingly restless with the lack of news from Walter, so she makes her way outside (with permission from the DEA protection detail) and bums a cigarette from one of the agents. In a smart cut, the action moves to Jesse in his house playing with a lighter as he receives a phone call from a hysterical Andrea. He ends up rushing to a hospital where he learns that a very ill Brock has been admitted and that, “It’s like he’s got the flu, but it just keeps getting worse,” despite the fact that he seemed fine that morning. After consoling Andrea, Jesse heads outside to unwind with a cigarette of his own, only to find that the ricin-laced cancer stick is missing from the pack. As soon as he realizes what may have happened, he rushes back into the hospital. Gus hasn’t been above putting children at risk in the past, so is this his “appropriate response?”

[3] Which, in all honesty looks almost like the final scene in David Fincher’s Seven, what with the arid desert pockmarked with electrical towers everywhere.
[4] With another season left to go, this had better not be the end of Bob Odenkirk as Saul. That would be unacceptable.
[5] This likely puts an end to my theory that Jesse was present when Gus was threatening Walter in “Crawl Space.”

Act Three
“You are the last piece of the puzzle. You’re everything he’s wanted.”
Jesse’s realization that Brock may have been poisoned by the ricin-laden cigarette sees him hurriedly rush back into the hospital to find Andrea, causing the doctors to tell them to go outside. In a great one-take, POV shot, we see Jesse and Andrea rushing through the corridors of the hospital to a waiting area where Jesse lets her know that the doctors should be looking at Brock’s case as a possible poisoning. When she questions why he thinks this, he obviously can’t get into details but tells her to tell the doctors to look at ricin as a possible cause. He then tells her that he’s sorry, but he has to leave to find someone [6]. While Jesse is presumably looking to find Gus, Walter is laying low in his house with his trusty revolver waiting for Gus to strike. Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door and it’s Jesse needing to talk to Walter. Walter agitatedly ushers him in telling him, “I don’t know what you’re thinking coming here.” He then lays out to Jesse just what Gus put him through in the desert and Cranston is predictably incredible in conveying the range of emotions rushing through Walter’s body. He tells Jesse that he’s terrified of what Gus is going to do as he walks to the other end of the room, leaving his gun unattended on the sofa. As Walter turns his back and tells Jesse, “I don’t know where, I don’t know when… all I know is that it’s going to happen. I’m powerless to stop it,” Jesse moves to the couch and picks up the revolver, aiming it at Walter [7]. Jesse has jumped to the conclusion that Walter was behind Brock’s poisoning, pointing out that Walter was at his house the previous night and saw him with Andrea and Brock, while Walter struggles [8] to keep up with what’s being thrown at him. In a sequence that is yet more Emmy material for Aaron Paul, his feral emotion and rage at Walter is picked apart as Walter points out the logistical impossibilities of his poisoning Brock since Jesse himself admits that the cigarette was in his possession that morning. Jesse posits that Huell pocketed the cigarette when he was patted down earlier in the day at Saul’s office. When Walter asks why he would poison a child, Jesse tells him, “It’s your way of ripping my heart out before you’re dead and gone.” It’s coming into focus that, indeed, this is Gus’s revenge and his “appropriate action.” He’s been unable, to this point, to get Jesse on board with having Walter killed so what better way than to manipulate Jesse into having motive and doing his dirty work for him. Walter realizes this as well and begins laughing hysterically. “I’ve been waiting… I’ve been waiting all day for Gus to send one of his men to kill me, and it’s you,” he says. He points out how indifferent Gus has been to child murder in the past [9] as a way of reminding Jesse who he’s in bed with and gaining Jesse’s consent to eliminate Gus himself. When Jesse reminds him that they’re the only people who were aware of the ricin plan, Walter shoots that down by noting that Gus has cameras everywhere and has likely known all along. He then suggests that Tyrus had reason and opportunity to lift the cigarette from Jesse’s belongings that day as they worked in the lab. “Don’t you see,” he says, “You are the last piece of the puzzle. You’re everything he’s wanted.” Jesse is still unsure and aiming the gun, so Walter calls his bluff, pulling the muzzle of the revolver and placing it directly on his own forehead. “Go ahead. If you think that I am capable of doing this then go ahead. Put a bullet in my head and kill me right now,” he demands, telling him, “Do it.” Of course, Jesse is unable but the muzzle leaves an indelible mark on Walter’s head. Jesse decides to leave to deal with Gus on his own but Walter warns him against it, saying, “You’ll die before you get anywhere near him.” He advises him to leave and disappear, not looking back, but after Jesse reiterates his desire for revenge Walter offers his help. And just like that… the band’s back together.

[6] The theory from this viewpoint is that he’s going to go full-bore at Gus.
[7] Well… there goes that theory.
[8] Or does he?
[9] Andrea’s brother in season three.

Act Four
“No… don’t go, don’t go, don’t go…”
The episode’s final act opens back at the hospital with the doctors informing Jesse that he’s no longer welcome at the request of Andrea and her family. It’s sad to see this for Jesse as Andrea and Brock were the one good thing in his life and they’ve apparently cut him out of theirs. Surely, this will only steel his resolve against Gus even more. Despite not being a persona non grata, he decides to spend the night at the hospital anyway and is awakened – rudely – by Tyrus the next day as he tells him that he needs to get himself to the lab and get back to work. Jesse has other plans, however, and informs Tyrus that he’s not going anywhere and that if Gus has a problem with it he needs to face Jesse himself. When Tyrus tries to physically move him from his seat, he pulls a Walter and starts screaming to everyone in earshot that he’s being attacked as a way to remove Tyrus from the equation. It appears that this was part of a plan by Jesse and Walter as Jesse immediately texts Walter to let him in on what’s happening, while Tyrus predictably calls Gus to let him know that there’s a “situation” developing. Over at the White home, Walter is playing mad scientist by fashioning an explosive device of some kind from a large supply of cold packs as we see Jesse’s text come through [10]. Gus eventually does arrive at the hospital so it would appear that the first part of Walter and Jesse’s plan was successful but Gus is smarter than to arrive without protection as he’s flanked by both Tyrus and another guard as he enters the building through the parking garage. After being informed by Tyrus that Gus is present, Jesse meets with him. Gus offers some (seemingly) fake sympathy, but tells Jesse that regardless of the current circumstances, he needs him to finish the cook. Jesse refuses to do so. Gus, clearly not happy, offers to help Brock by noting to Jesse that he belongs to the hospital’s board and that he can make sure that Brock gets the best care possible. Jesse, in turn, points out to Gus that Bock isn’t sick but that he’s been poisoned. When Gus asks how this happened, Jesse says that the doctors don’t know and it’s obvious that the two men are playing each other, each subtly letting the other know that they’re on to what they’re trying to do. Gus ultimately takes the high road, telling Jesse that since the current batch is surely ruined that Tyrus can go to the lab to clean up and that Jesse can stay at the hospital for the time being. “You will start a new batch when you are ready to return. Next week,” he says. With that, he leaves, heading back to the parking garage with Tyrus and the other guard. It quickly becomes evident that the other part of Walter and Jesse’s plan involved Walter planting the explosive device on Gus’s car while he was occupied with Jesse as Walter is on the roof of a nearby building, surveilling Gus and his men in the parking garage. Innately, Gus senses that something strange is going on and stops dead in his tracks. Walter, growing increasingly frustrated mutters to himself, “Why did you stop?” Gus walks out to the garage’s railing and peers out over the horizon. Walter ducks down in response, not sure if he’s been spotted. He keeps his eye on Gus, the soundtrack building tension as Gus contemplates… and then decides to leave his car behind by walking on foot out of the garage. Walter, feeling he may have lost his final chance to strike, pleads, “No… don’t go, don’t go, don’t go,” before slumping down in defeat.

[10] “Think we got his attention,” it reads.

Overall Thoughts: Very successful outing on a lot of fronts. While it may not have had the showy conclusion of the last handful of episodes, it set up the finale quite nicely. It brought Walter and Jesse back together in an organic and believable way following their seemingly irreparable fight in “Bug,” with both men motivated by their mutual desire for revenge. The stakes have become so high between Walter, Jesse, and Gus that it’s hard to see the finale passing without at least one of the men dying. And that’s one of the greatest achievements that Breaking Bad has reached – heading into the finale, there are so many possibilities. Literally nothing is off the table, and when a show proves that it’s capable of that… nothing is more thrilling for its audience.

Rating: 89/100 

Written by jeremylikestv

October 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Crawl Space”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

Dear. Sweet. Jesus. The wait until next week’s episode is going to be more painful than ever as the Breaking Bad writers seem to be playing “Can You Top This?” with their endings the past few weeks. And this one? Might be the winner. With that, let’s squeeze through and see what we can find in “Crawl Space.”

Teaser
“This man pays my salary.”
A stark white operating room is being prepared carefully when, all of a sudden, the doctors and attendants rush outside to meet an oncoming car and it’s revealed that the operating room has been set up in a remote warehouse and the car that’s meeting them is carrying a gravely ill Gus and a severely wounded Mike. Both of them look close to death. The medical staff puts all of their energy and attention into Gus, leaving Jesse outside and angry about their lack of concern for Mike. After dragging a barely conscious Mike into the OR and yelling, “What about him?” in frustration to the staff, one of the doctors motions to Gus and says, “This man pays my salary.” And the title card hits…

Act One
“It ain’t all supermodels and speedboats, you know.”
Back in the world and away from the kinetics of Mexico, Walter weighs the day’s cook while trying to get something – anything – out of Tyrus about what’s been going on south of the border. He also takes the opportunity to reiterate, “If Pinkman is gone, I’m done. Do you understand? I quit.” Blatantly ignoring him, Tyrus steps in and re-weighs the haul himself, making a point to note that he arrived at a different weight than Walter did. As he leaves, Walter again tries to engage him in a plan to stall Hank from discovering any more about the operation, saying that he wants to be the one to go with Hank because he believes that he can control him the best. Tyrus again gives no response, his disgust with even having to be around Walter being plainly evident. Ray Campbell as Tyrus is great at conveying so much with a single facial response. Walter gets his wish, for now anyway, as the next time we see him he’s on a stakeout of the distribution center again as Hank’s driver. He pushes to go, trying to convince Hank that there’s nothing for them to see there, but Hank urges patience with the less glamorous aspects of police work. “It ain’t all supermodels and speedboats, you know,” he offers. He also drops some hints to Walter about “some big play down south” with “lots of bodies, apparently,” leaving Walter desperate for some more information and clarification about just whose “bodies” were left there. Hank either misreads this or intentionally steers the conversation elsewhere, offering his help and a sympathetic ear to Walter’s “gambling problem.” Walter, however, is having none of it. “I don’t want to talk about it, to you or anyone else. I’m done explaining myself.” Back at the operating room, Jesse is waiting impatiently to learn about Mike’s prognosis. The doctor in the room motions to a refrigerator and, after moving to it, Jesse notices that it is filled with Gus’s, Mike’s, and his own blood. The doctor then rattles of a detailed listing of information about Jesse’s medical history in a display of just how far-reaching Gus’s operation actually is [1]. Just then, Gus emerges from outside the OR tent and tells Jesse, “It’s time to go.” When Jesse asks about Mike, the doctor replies that it’s not safe for Mike to travel just yet and Gus assures him that he’ll send for Mike as soon as he’s able to be moved. Despite his weakened state, Gus tells Jesse that the travel back into the States is much more complicated than their exit was and that they’ll need to walk six miles to Texas before meeting one of Gus’s men, who will then take them back the rest of the way. He also compliments Jesse on his performance in Mexico and tells him that he proved a point – he’s now more than capable of running the lab by himself. Despite the brutal fight that ended “Bug,” Jesse yet again tries to ensure a safe exit for Walter by stopping in his tracks at Gus’s suggestion, saying, “Let Mr. White go. Pay him off or fire him. Don’t kill him.” Gus bristles at this. “You know that won’t work,” he says. Jesse’s reply? “Then you’ve got a problem.”

[1] It also raises an interesting logistical question, at least to me. Does Gus keep this doctor on retainer? Like, does he only do medical work when Gus needs him to? Does he not have a practice of his own? This might only be interesting to me and it’s a small matter to raise, but it struck me for some reason.

Act Two
“WRITE. IT.”
Skyler returns home to find a message from Ted Beneke on her answering machine telling her that he isn’t going to be able to use the money that she gave him to pay off the IRS. He invites her over to discuss the matter further if she would like. Knowing what we know about Skyler, obviously she’s not going to let this go and indeed the next scene sees her heading over to Ted’s house to speak with him. As his doorbell rings, we see Ted innocuously trip over a throw rug. Foreshadowing? Or just an inconsequential detail? After exchanging pleasantries, Ted tells her that he’s decided that he’d like to pay her back because he doesn’t feel right about taking her money and paying his debt using “illicit gambling winnings.” He tells her he just feels uncomfortable and hopes that she understands. She doesn’t, of course, noting that the mess was created when he asked her to cook the company’s books and he tries to dress things up by hiding behind a desire to save his company and his employees. That Ted… such a martyr. He continues to act incredibly oblivious to the gravity of his situation by believing that the fine “doesn’t make his life any less ruined.” Skyler begins to pick up on a subtext to his reasoning, believing that he’s trying to shake her down for more money, and it’s not entirely clear if this is what he’s doing. He protests and hands her a check for the full amount (less the amount of his Mercedes lease, of course) but Skyler rips the check up and demands he write a new one made payable to the IRS. He again refuses and she leaves, frustrated. After returning to her car, her first move is to call Saul. Oh… this is going to end well. Gus and Jesse have arrived back in the US and one of Gus’s first stops is to the nursing home to meet with Tio Salamanca for a little (OK.. a lot) of gloating over his elimination of Don Eladio. Upon seeing Salamanca, he pulls Eladio’s necklace from his pocket and arrogantly dangles it in front of Salamanca’s face as an indication of what he’s done. As Salamanca grows more agitated, Gus tells them that he eliminated everyone, including Salamanca’s own grandson Joaquin. He then motions over to the doorway where Jesse’s standing saying, “That young man shot Joaquin to death while I made my escape. I believe you’ve met him before.” He continues twisting the knife by noting that Joaquin was the last of the Salamancas, so that once Tio finally expires, the family name will die with him. Upon this revelation, Salamanca gives Jesse the stare of death. Will this lead to Jesse questioning whether placing his loyalties in Gus’s hands was a smart move? Meanwhile, Hank and Walter are back out in the field where Walter is again trying to glean more information about the Mexico incident, wanting to know whether all of the victims were cartel members. Hank is unsure and brushes it off, instead noting to Walter that he’d like to check out a nearby industrial laundry [2] on a hunch. Walter is all but frantic at the suggestion, trying to convince Hank that it’s a stretch to assume that the laundry could serve as the front to a meth lab. He instead tries to steer them back towards the distribution center/chicken farm. “I just don’t want to miss anything, you know?” is his desperate plea as he begins to realize that he may have underestimated his brother-in-law. Hank declines and wants to keep heading to the laundry. Walter, left with no choice, drives right past the lab and, following Hank’s suggestion to head back, does a u-turn into oncoming traffic.

[2] Uh oh.

Act Three
“Wow… I feel sorry for your taste buds.”
We’re back with the aftermath of the accident that sees Walter with a busted nose and Hank in a neck collar, which he describes as only Hank can:  “You know, kind of feels like one of those cones they put on dogs so they don’t lick their own balls.” Walter tries to say that the other car came out of nowhere but Hank calls him on it, leading Marie to demand an end to the amateur crime-solving. Hank agrees and tells everyone that he broke down and bought a “gimp-mobile” because he doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone anymore. Skyler’s phone rings and she excuses herself to take the call. It’s Saul and, after doing some recon on Ted’s house, they agree to go ahead on some kind of plan with Saul assuring her, “It’s gonna be alright. I’ve got my A-team on it.” Smash cut to Ted’s house and we see Huell and the fake EPA inspector from earlier in the season in “Open House” make their way in to “discuss” matters with Ted. It soon becomes clear that the plan is to strongarm Ted into signing the check to the IRS. EPA Guy tells Ted that his number one goal should be keeping Huell happy. Ted tries to protest that he doesn’t have the necessary funds, but Saul has done his homework as his henchmen make Ted well aware that they know that he does have the money. Ted soon realizes that this has been put into motion by Skyler and he attempts to use his friendship with her to save himself while displaying disbelief that she would actually resort to these kinds of measures. Ultimately, their plan is to babysit him until the check to the IRS is cashed and Skyler’s (seemingly) in the clear, but Ted gets spooked and tries to make a break for it, tripping over the rug [3] and doing a header into the base of a table, seemingly breaking his neck. The last shot of the poor Mr. Beneke is of his hand twitching as he lies lifeless on the floor, Huell and EPA Guy just looking at each other and shrugging. So ultimately Ted did buy it, but not exactly how I had expected. Because of Hank’s hunch about the laundry, Walter is forced to sneak in so as to not call attention to his presence at the lab and Tyrus seems to take pleasure in transporting him in via a dirty laundry basket. “Does the laundry have to be dirty?” “Nope,” Tyrus replies. After entering the lab, Walter realizes that someone has cooked without him. Tyrus again shuts him down saying, “You’ve been out of commission four days. You think we’re gonna shut down the operation… for you?” Over at Jesse’s house, he’s apparently moved forward emotionally and is allowing himself to spend time with Andrea and Brock [4]. Suddenly, Walter knocks at the door and, upon realizing who is paying him a visit, Jesse’s face hardens. Walter tries to force his way in but Jesse kicks him outside. Walter, increasingly desperate, realizes that Jesse performed the cook on his own and tries to convince Jesse that Gus is using him to replace Walter. “If you agree to replace me, he WILL kill me,” he pleas. Jesse, well aware of the situation they’re in, reminds Walter that, “You brought your brother-in-law to our lab. What’s wrong with you?” As Walter begs for his help, Jesse reminds him that Walter was unwilling to help him in “Bug” and, in fact, wished death upon him in Mexico. He leaves Walter, alone, outside when suddenly, Tyrus and an associate appear to quickly subdue Walter with a cattle prod. Strap in… here we go.

[3] ‘Twas foreshadowing, indeed.
[4] Who he’s proving to be very good with. A substitute for his missing relationship with his younger brother, perhaps?

Act Four
“SKYLER… WHERE IS THE MONEY?!”
After subduing him with a cattle prod, Tyrus and his associate have taken Walter to the desert where we see him – kneeling with a bag over his head, execution-style – in the middle of the desert. A car pulls up and Gus exits. As the hood is pulled off of Walter’s head, the screen goes white and slowly adjusts to mimic what Walter is seeing [5]. Gus then presents Walter with an ultimatum, showing just how much respect he’s gained for Jesse [6] by even entertaining the idea of leaving Walter alive. Their exchange is so good, and so visceral, that I must provide it in its entirety:

Gus: “You are done. Fired. Do not show your face at the laundry again. Stay away from Pinkman. Do not go near him. Ever. Are you listening to me?”
Walter: “Or else you’ll do what?”
Gus: “What did you say?”
Walter: “Stay away from Pinkman or else you’ll do what? Kill me? If you could kill me, I’d already be dead. But you can’t… you can’t kill me. Because Jesse wouldn’t cook for you if you did. That’s it, isn’t it? No matter how hard you try to turn him against me, to screw with his head so he would hate my guts and he still won’t let you do it.”
Gus: “For now. But he’ll come around. In the meantime, there’s the matter of your brother-in-law. He is a problem you promised to resolve. You have failed. Now it’s left to me to deal with him.”
Walter: “You can’t.”
Gus: “If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter. I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.”

And with that, he walks away and I am FLOORED. Giancarlo Esposito’s performance as Gustavo Fring this season has been nothing short of revelatory. The menace that he can find in what appears to be such an even-keeled character is masterful. It’s almost like you begin to forget how scary the man truly is and then he hits you with the hammer like this, or with the box cutter in the season opener. And Bryan Cranston… nothing else needs to be said. Walter just sits trembling and broken at the thought of Gus executing his family. The scene was incredibly played by both men. I can’t say enough about it [7]. Later, Saul is holding a meeting with his “A-team” to discuss their bungling of the Ted Beneke situation and Walter, as frantic as we’ve ever seen him, bursts in and Saul immediately thinks that he’s heard what happened to Ted. Walter soon makes it clear that he wants the number of the fixer that Saul had spoken of in “Bullet Points” [8] because of his fear that Gus is going to murder his entire family. Saul stresses that there’s no going back from this decision and that it won’t be cheap, but Walter doesn’t care. Before leaving, Walter gets Saul to agree to call in an anonymous tip to the DEA about Gus’s intentions toward Hank, saying, “My brother-in-law doesn’t deserve to die because of this.” He then rushes home to get the money, going into the crawl space of the house only to discover that the vast majority of the money is gone. Skyler returns home to see him scrambling as he screams, “Where is it? Where’s the rest? The money, Skyler… where is the rest? SKYLER… WHERE IS THE MONEY?!” She confesses that she gave it to Ted and Walter is in complete disbelief, so much so that he lets out a primal scream, and then devolves into sobs that soon turn into hysterical laughter. Skyler, rightly, looks on terrified at her husband’s mental breakdown. At the same time, their phone is ringing and after the answering machine picks up, we hear that it’s Marie leaving a message saying that the DEA has let them know that someone is after Hank (again). As Walter is still audibly laughing in the background, Skyler picks up the phone to tell Marie that everything is going to be alright and the camera pans back to Walter – still laughing – in the crawl space, the camera framing him in the dirt below the house, metaphorically placing him in a coffin. FUCKING. WOW.

[5] It’s the little touches like these that help to make Breaking Bad what it is.
[6] Or just that he’s a pragmatic businessman. Maybe a little of both, actually.
[7] Side note: Was Jesse actually there? When Walter is talking about Jesse wanting him to still be alive, there’s a figure in the background who’s seen out of focus that appears like it could be Jesse. Am I wrong?
[8] And that I’d speculated back then could be the season’s endgame.

Overall Thoughts: You want my thoughts? It should be a federal crime that the next episode isn’t available the minute that “Crawl Space” ended. As I mentioned in the open, it seems that the writers are trying to top one another with the way each of the recent spate of episodes have ended. The flashback to Gus’s past in “Hermanos.” The knockdown, drag-out fight between Jesse and Walter in “Bug.” Last week’s Mexican massacre in “Salud.” And now, quite possibly, the most tense sequence that Breaking Bad has ever put to film in “Crawl Space,” ending with the jarring image of Walter in a metaphorical coffin. What this writing staff has managed to pull off this season… it’s hard to quantify with words. Season three, to me, was one of the best overall seasons a television drama has ever had. Anything that followed it would likely have been a letdown. But, season four has been anything but a letdown and, in fact has managed to duplicate some of season three’s highs. Only two episodes left. I’m simultaneously anxious for, and dreading, the finale. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rating: 99/100 

Written by jeremylikestv

October 11, 2011 at 5:54 pm

2011 Fall Television Dead Pool: The Playboy Club

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The 2011 fall television season claimed its first victim on Tuesday as NBC announced the cancellation of The Playboy Club after just three airings. It wasn’t exactly the most surprising move as the show had been averaging just over four million viewers an episode, trending downward in each week and bottoming out at 3.39 million for Monday’s (final) episode. It had also sunk to just over a 1.0 rating in the coveted 18-49 demo. That’s bad. Can’t say that this one really surprised me because, after viewing the first two episodes I was struck more than anything by just how BORING it actually was. For a show that actually places the Playboy brand in its title and is set at a nightclub populated by scantily-clad women, it was actually very, very tame, so much so that the PTC protest of the show and an NBC affiliate station in Utah’s decision to ban it from its airwaves were incredibly laughable. Much like the protests against it, the show wasn’t to be taken seriously, either. This is a show that, in the pilot, had a character refer to the club thusly: “It was a place where anything could happen to anybody. Or, any Bunny.” I mean, really.

While the writing proved to be something less than good, The Playboy Club was done no favors by its casting either. Its ostensible star, Eddie Cibrian, has a rep as a noted show-killer [1] and here came off like a homeless man’s Jon Hamm that the show’s writers apparently thought was much, much more interesting than he actually turned out to be. I’ve never gotten the appeal of Amber Heard as an actress and here as the central Bunny, Whatshername, proved to be much too vapid and somber to carry anything resembling an actual human emotion. In fact, the only actress who could come out of this unscathed is Laura Benanti as Carol-Lynne, the “house mother” to the younger Bunnies at the club. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her pop up somewhere else in the near future.

For the show itself, sure, the easy and lazy comparison is to Mad Men [2] due to the fact that the shows share a 60s setting, but in all actuality the series came off more like the bastard child of American Dreams and Las Vegas, two noted lightweights that, admittedly, got to run for more than three episodes. But the writing was clearly on the wall. The Bunnies were so easily placed in a box (the one with the mysterious past who’s just trying to start over, the aging one who feels threatened by the younger model, the African-American striking out for civil rights, the one fleeing an abusive husband) that it was difficult to see them as actual people instead of simply cardboard cutouts of stock characterizations, and in all honesty, I didn’t see any reason that I should give a shit about any of them in the two episodes that I saw. While I’m usually a sucker for period-piece television of this era, The Playboy Club was so limp and lifeless that I didn’t see sticking with it past a third episode. In the end, I’m just thankful that NBC made my decision for me.

[1] Anyone here remember Invasion or Vanished? No? Exactly.
[2] Hell… I just made one myself.

Written by jeremylikestv

October 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Salud”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

Next episode. NOW. “Salud” featured one of the most insane, bonkers endings in the history of Breaking Bad and I want the next episode right now. If you’ll excuse the language, I believe my exact words as the episode concluded were something like, “Holy shit. Holy fucking shit.” If a show can elicit that kind of a response from its viewers, it must be doing something right. With that in mind, let’s drink up and take a closer look at “Salud.”

Teaser
“You can do this.”
We open out in the desert where Gus, Mike, and a terrified looking Jesse are waiting for someone or something to arrive. Suddenly, a plane approaches, presumably to take the trio to Mexico as part of the deal that Gus completed in “Bug.” All three men board the plane but Jesse hesitates the most, taking one (last?) look at the New Mexican landscape. While they’re in the air, Gus senses Jesse’s fear and tells him in a calm, reassuring tone, “You can do this.” Whether Jesse actually believes him is yet to be determined. And the title card hits…

Act One
“Now go get me my phenylacetic acid. ASSHOLE.”
Walter’s apartment sits seemingly empty as the phone rings, unanswered. The answering machine picks up and it’s Skyler telling him (for the third time, she notes) that she’s going to go ahead with giving Walter Jr. the new car whether Walter’s there to see it or not. Apparently the fight with Jesse has hit Walter so hard that he’s skipping out on his own son’s birthday because of it. Skyler eventually has Jr. go outside to get the paper as a ruse to allow him to see the new car, but his reaction to is something less than what Skyler was hoping for [1]. She makes her pitch but Jr. is more interested in heading back inside for some pancakes. Meanwhile, Saul is preparing himself for a meeting with someone that he terms “a bad idea.” That someone turns out to be Ted who, as it turns out, has a “long lost relative” who’s leaving him a sizable sum of money ($600K give or take). Hey! He needed money to pay the IRS to avoid jail time. And now he’s got a bunch of money. That’s very fortuitous. Or not. Probably not. From Albuquerque to Mexico, we next move to Jesse, Gus, and Mike being transported [2] to meet with the cartel [3]. The three men arrive at a lab headed by Chloe’s dickhole husband Milo from 24 who in all actuality turned out to be not a dickhole. But here he’s a dickhole again, belittling Jesse’s appearance and not believing that someone Jesse is in any position to tell him how to run his lab. As Jesse familiarizes himself with his Mexican settings, his stomach drops when it’s revealed that the Mexican chemists synthesize their own phenylacetic acid [4], which is not how things are done back in Walter’s operation. Jesse has a very rudimentary knowledge of the chemistry aspect of the operation (“I get my phenylacetic acid from the barrel with a “B” on it. That’s how I know how to do it.”), causing Milo to deride him as an amateur. Jesse does not take kindly to the disrespect, telling Milo [5], “Tell this asshole if he wants to learn how to make my product he has to learn how to do it my way. The RIGHT way.” When Milo confirms that he does in fact speak English, Jesse retorts, “So you understand what ‘asshole’ means. Now go get me my phenylacetic acid. ASSHOLE.” It would appear that our little Jesse is all growns up. He then goes even further, criticizing the lab’s overall appearance and cleanliness [6] which Milo takes offense to. Jesse goes right back at him: “I’m the guy your boss brought here to show you how it’s done. And if this is how you run your lab, no wonder. You’re lucky he hasn’t fired your ass. Now if you don’t want that to happen, I suggest you stop whining like a little bitch and do what I say.” There are many, many moments from this season that Aaron Paul could conceivably submit for Emmy consideration. This is definitely one of them. And Gus and Mike look on like proud parents at Jesse’s performance.

[1] And, really… can you blame him? She bought him a PT Loser that she describes as “pretty slick” that comes with a “CD player so you can listen to your tunes.” Parenting fail.
[2] While blindfolded, naturally.
[3] And it’s right about now that the credits scroll across the bottom, showing that Michelle McLaren directed this episode. Very, very good sign.
[4] Key meth ingredient.
[5] At some point I’m going to need to stop calling him Milo, I realize.
[6] Sounding not just a little bit like Walter.

Act Two
“I made a mistake. It’s my own fault and I had it coming.”
After not having his father show up for his birthday, Walter Jr. takes a ride to Walter’s condo to check in on him. Walter is still in bed, nursing his very literal wounds [7] from his dust-up with Jesse in “Bug.” When Walter doesn’t answer the door, Jr. calls and gets the answering machine, telling Walter that he might have to call 911 if Walter doesn’t answer because he doesn’t know what else to do. Finally, the garage door opens and Walter greets him in his underwear and tells him, “Come in if you’re coming in.” Seeing the state that Walter is in, Jr. feels compelled to call Skyler to fill her in but Walter is having none of that. He tells Jr. that he was gambling again and got into a fight over it. Jr. presses for more info and Walter eventually breaks down in front of him, sobbing and saying, “I made a mistake. It’s my own fault. I had it coming,” and it’s clear he’s not just playing up the gambling lie. The fractured relationship with Jesse and the stress of working for Gus is taking its toll in a big way. Bryan Cranston is reliably brilliant in this scene, but RJ Mitte deserves special mention as well. The combination of horror, fear, and compassion on his face while reacting in this scene is very, very impressive. Walter continues his breakdown, just repeating, “I’m sorry,” over and over through sobs while Jr. tells him it’s OK. This might be the most powerful scene we’ve seen yet between father and son and it’s definitely the best work that Mitte has done to date. Jr. later helps Walter get back to bed and, in a painkiller-induced haze while asking him about his birthday, mistakenly calls him “Jesse.” Jr. returns to the kitchen area and sees Walter’s broken glasses and the blood soaked rags from the aftermath of the fight and the implication is that Jr. may begin to do some investigating of his own. Having watched this on demand instead of watching it live, I was privy to some Twitter chatter about something big going down. After this emotional scene and having it look like Jr. may be getting himself into something… I really hope that it’s not what I’m thinking. Because that one would hurt. Back in Mexico, the cook has been completed and Jesse is anxiously awaiting the results of the purity test. When it comes through at 96.2%, everyone is impressed and Jesse lets out a satisfied yell. His joy is short-lived, though, when the cartel negotiator is so impressed that he terms it “the first of many.” When Jesse asks for clarification on this, he’s told that he’s now the property of the cartel. He quickly looks to Gus for reassurance, and Gus’s tough exterior makes it difficult to tell if he’s either in on this development or if it has surprised him as well.

[7] Seriously… his sheets stick to a bloody spot on his face in very gruesome fashion.

Act Three
“At least last night you were real, you know?”
Saul surprises Skyler by dropping by the car wash to debrief her on his meeting with Ted and she’s none too pleased to be seen with him in public. The conversation confirms that the “dead relative” plan was indeed Skyler’s, although Saul expresses again his reservations with the idea when he informs her that Ted has taken the money she gave him and spent it on a new Mercedes. “I just thought you should know, loathe as I am to say I told you so.” Upon learning this, Skyler wants to know where Ted is so that she can confront him. Back at Walter’s condo, he wakes up and sees that his glasses have been repaired and are waiting for him by his nightstand and that Jr. has stayed the night. Walter expresses his concern over what Skyler might think but Jr. assures him that he had it covered – he called Skyler and told her he was staying the night with a friend. Walter then expresses his embarrassment with his mood from the previous night, trying to explain it away by blaming a mixture of painkillers and alcohol. His ego is coming back to the surface as he tells Jr. that it worried him having his son seeing him like that. It’s an interesting play because, speaking as a father, it’s the one time this season where I can identify with his self-image. No father wants their son to have to see him in a weak moment, and Walter sheds some light on his relationship with his own father as a way of explanation. He tells Jr. that his father suffered from Huntington’s disease and his most stark memory of his father was of seeing him in a very frail physical and mental state. It scarred him and he doesn’t believe that any son should have to see their father that way, not wanting Jr. to see him that way himself. It’s a great monologue for Cranston who delivers the hell out of it, punctuating it with, “I don’t want THAT to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone.” Jr.’s response is just as powerful when he tells Walter that he doesn’t want to remember him the way he’s been the past year [8]. “At least last night you were real, you know?” he says. This is one of the most human moments we’ve seen out of Walter this season and it suggests that maybe there’s still a sliver of the old Walter White inside the monster Heisenberg that’s been created. After leaving things on a nice note, Jr. departs for home and as Walter is seeing him off almost immediately Tyrus pulls into his driveway and mutters, “Isn’t there somewhere you should be?” Meanwhile, Skyler has found Ted at his office to check in on him. He tells her that he’s decided to get his business back together instead of using the money to pay off his IRS fine like she’d hoped he would. He explains away the Mercedes as a necessary evil of his job (portraying a successful image to potential clients), much to Skyler’s chagrin. When pressed on whether he’s paid the IRS, he only tells her that it’s “in progress” and that he wants to hire a lawyer to try to get him a better deal. Skyler begins to insist that he pay and he starts getting indignant and tries to kick her out, but not before getting a little dig in about how she was the one who called off their relationship. I’m starting to realize what a moron Ted really is and that he’s probably not long for this world. She leaves and – small victory – at least manages to not spill the beans about where his money came from. But, no… wait – she comes back in and asks him, “From whom exactly did you think you got that $600K, Ted? Great Aunt Bergit?” Oh, that was a stupid, stupid move.

[8] Remember: while we’re in the fourth season of the series the timeline of the story has only been around a year or so.

Act Four
“Get us out of here, kid.”
The episode’s final section opens in Mexico with Gus staring regretfully into the pool on Don Eladio’s estate, no doubt remembering what happened there twenty years prior. He takes a small pill-case out of his pocket and swallows its contents. Is this little detail going to be significant later? Fifty feet away, Jesse and Mike are sitting at a table where Jesse inquires, “What is this shit?” Mike’s response: “I promise you this – either we’re all going home or none of us are.” That’s… ominous. Flanked by a cadre of henchmen, Don Eladio emerges from the mansion [9] and a standoff between he and Gus occurs until he motions Gus forward and Gus relents, the two men hugging and Don Eladio figuratively gloating about his victory. Gus introduces Jesse to Don Eladio, with the drug kingpin belittling Milo saying that Jesse cooks meth better than he does. Gus then presents Don Eladio with a gift, terming it a symbol of respect in light of their “renewed” relationship. Eladio moves to open the box [10], which as it turns out contains a bottle of alcohol and OHMYGODGUSPOISONEDITDIDNTHE? Don Eladio calls for glasses for everyone while telling his attendant that he’ll cut off his hands if he spills a drop. He gives the first glass to Gus and the second one to Jesse, but Gus takes Jesse’s away by explaining to Don Eladio that he’s an addict and that he needs to be sober in order to work [11]. Don Eladio waits until Gus takes a drink from his glass – which he does [12] – and the tension can be cut with a boning knife. The scene has been masterfully constructed, as the rest of the party follows Gus’s lead and it’s bottoms up. An almost Boogie Nights-ish pool party begins, with Gus sitting somberly as a throng of bikini-clad women are soon parceled out [13]. Don Eladio tells Gus to cheer up even though he had to be spanked: “Look, once every 20 years you forget your place. There’s no place for emotion in this. You of all people should understand. Business is business.” This prompts Gus to excuse himself in order to use the bathroom and, while there, he carefully turns on the sink, removes his jacket, carefully folds it and places it on the sink [14], folds a towel in front of the toilet, and proceeds to force himself to vomit and HOLYSHITHEDIDIT. All of a sudden, back outside Don Eladio drops his cigar and spins around to see all of his men begin dropping to the ground before he collapses himself. When the cartel negotiator tries to make his way through the carnage to get to Don Eladio, Mike creeps up behind him and garrotes him [15]. We then get a point-of-view shot of Gus returning to the outside to survey and admire his damage. Don Eladio expires, but not before seeing Gus and giving Gus the satisfaction of seeing that Don Eladio knows that HE did this. As Mike yells to Jesse to make himself useful, he rips away a necklace from the lifeless body of Don Eladio and presents it to Gus. Gus himself collapses, bearing the cost of taking the poisoned alcohol, but pulls himself together enough to yell to Don Eladio’s remaining henchmen that Eladio and his capos are dead and that anyone who’s still loyal to him will be allowed to pace peacefully in order to give Gus, Mike, and Jesse safe passage out of the kill zone. As they beat a hasty retreat to their car, one of the henchmen takes a shot at Mike [16], causing Jesse to spin and instinctively empty his gun into the man and remove any kind of life-taking trepidation he may have been carrying. As Alan Sepinwall points out, this shows that his loyalties are indeed with Gus/Mike as he could have easily solved his and Walter’s problems by leaving them for dead. Jesse, as the only one in any condition to drive, peels out and we’re stuck waiting a week for the resolution.

[9] I KNEW casting Steven Bauer in this role couldn’t have been a one-off job.
[10] What’s in the box?!
[11] So poisoned.
[12] Maybe not poisoned, then?
[13] More possible proof of the “Gus is gay” theory.
[14] Shades of his methodical sequence in “Box Cutter.”
[15] HOLY MOTHEREFFING SHIT.
[16] Causing me to yell audibly.

Overall Thoughts: HOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHIT. This is one of the most bonkers endings in the series’ history and immediately goes in the pantheon with the endings to the brilliant “One Minute,” “Half Measures,” and “Full Measures.” Not to mention some very, very strong character work by Cranston and Mitte, and a stupid move by Skyler that could invite even more danger into the Whites’ lives. In all, possibly the best episode of the season and it gets the road to the season finale started in riotous fashion. I don’t know how Vince Gilligan and co. top this, but I trust them so implicitly that I almost expect them to.

Rating: 98/100 

Written by jeremylikestv

October 4, 2011 at 11:44 pm