A Word on Last Week’s HOMELAND

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In a few hours, Homeland‘s fourth episode of the season will premiere on Showtime. However, the show has been receiving a lot of negative critical feedback as of late. While I understand that focusing on Dana for two whole episodes was unnecessary, the critics who wrote that the season’s third episode was painfully boring are gravely mistaken.

Writer Ross Jones of the British paper The Telegraph, had this to say:

“If nothing else, this season of Homeland will be remembered as a highly effective piece of immersive television. The two lead characters, Brody (Damien Lewis) and Carrie (Claire Danes), are now stuck staring at the same scenery with no obvious way out, devoid of hope and anaesthetised against their will – feelings all too familiar to anybody who made it through this episode.” (full article)

He hit all the points of why this episode, entitled “Tower of David,” is a masterpiece, only to rip it to shreds and write it off as boring.

I equate this episode to Breaking Bad‘s episode entitled “The Fly,” in which Walter attempts to kill a fly in his meth lab to ensure the purity of the product. Both episodes showcase a snapshot of the main characters’ lives, which so happens to be a low point for all of the characters in both shows. Even though Brody and Carrie don’t interact in this episode, we feel their bond become stronger and stronger as they both descend towards their rock bottom. Similarly, the character study in “The Fly” teaches Jesse the value of purity and we get a glimpse at Walter’s blooming obsession (almost addiction) with meth – something confirmed in the final moments of the series.

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Critics, however, loved what Vince Gilligan and the team did in “The Fly.” Time‘s writer James Poniewozik compared this episode to an episode of The Sopranos:

“After I watched the screener of “The Fly,” I tweeted that the episode was like “Breaking Bad’s ‘Pine Barrens,’ plus.” The “Pine Barrens” comparison, while a little facile, meant this: like The Sopranos’ classic, this was a set piece involving two characters in isolation, on a quest/hunt together. It was, first, incredibly well-directed for maximum tension. And the object of the hunt, like it was for Paulie and Christopher with The Russian, was not just important in itself but as a device to bring them into extremis and place their relationship under stress.” (full article)

So, by transitive property, “Tower of David” is Homelands “Pine Barrens,” right?

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Goodbye, Walter White

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Sunday night, we bid farewell to Walter White, a beloved husband, father, brother-in-law, teacher, mentor, defamed drug lord, and archetype-shattering anti-hero. Over the course of the show’s five seasons, we have seen one man’s descent into the tantalizing void of greed, leaving no victims unscathed. In the Season Three finale, we see the magnitude of Walt’s decisions, as two commercial airlines crash over his home because Jane’s father, an air traffic controller, couldn’t focus on his job after learning of his daughter’s overdose – something Walt witnessed and could have stopped.

While some are sad to see the drug lord’s story laid to rest, others are happy that the show ended on top, snagging the Best Drama Emmy last week. Some notable shows that audiences agree ran their course far before their finales are Lost, Heroes, Dexter, and, currently, Mad Men.

Fans were also pleasantly surprised at the amount of loose ends Executive Producer Vince Gilligan was able to tie up in the final two episodes, especially the well-deserved bow-out for the druggie fan favorites Badger and Skinny Pete.

Breaking Bad played with our emotions during the hour-long finale, replaying clips from Season One as Walt’s conscious becomes flooded with guilt. For once in his life, Walt confesses to Skyler that everything he did was for him – not the family. “I liked it,” he manages to say. “I was good at it.” If that doesn’t scream character arc, then maybe his selflessness in the show’s final moments will make you change your mind. I’ll leave you there without spoiling too much of the tale.

As for the legacy of Breaking Bad? It will become a textbook example in all categories – writing, directing, cinematography, and, of course, acting. Without Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, and the rest of the amazing cast, the show wouldn’t be the success it is. They made the strange place of Albuquerque, New Mexico feel like home. They made us apart of the White family. Heck, they made cooking meth into an art, let alone feasible by your favorite chemistry teacher and his dead-beat student.

So here’s to you, the great Heisenberg. And to many A-1 Days to come.

Goodbye, Dexter Morgan

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What’s there to say about the series finale of Dexter? It just wasn’t good. The whole season just wasn’t good, for that matter. DISCLAIMER: If you want to skip the part where I rant about the final season and talk about how great the show was as a whole, skip to the end of this article.

I feel as though the writers had good intentions of bringing everyone’s favorite serial killing back to his roots with the introduction of Dr. Evelyn Vogel, a psychologist who worked with Harry Morgan to develop “The Code” for his deranged son. However, Dr. Vogel’s character just made the conflict center on the relationship between her and her former patients and previously presumed dead son, Oliver Saxon, who was dubbed the Brain Surgeon.

Meanwhile, the writers put the various side characters into pathetically boring side-stories, like Masuka’s biological daughter becoming an intern at Miami Metro and Jamie being a complete bimbo with Quinn. Instead of Miami Metro tracking the Dexter/Hannah/Brain Surgeon saga, the writers tasked new characters (a private investigator and a state marshal) with the job. Like, there’s no drama there. First of all, I don’t know either of these “bad guys.” And second of all, both of them seem like they came out of a lame, ‘90s surfer flick.

In the end, Dexter was once again torn between his love for his sister and his love for Hannah (and his son, who he ends up abandoning just like his mother did to him…but that’s a discussion for another time). Dexter, showing a character arch, decides that neither of them deserves his wrecking-ball of a lifestyle. Cue a random flashback of Deb and Dexter holding Harrison for the first time and then snap back to reality with Dexter pulling the switch (or presses the button) on Deb’s life support, because taking a turn for the worst after a successful surgery is totally a feasible plot line for the Showtime hit.

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Dressed in his iconic kill outfit, Dexter sneaks Deb’s body out of the hospital and onto his trusty boat, “Slice of Life,” and sails into the eye of the very poorly CGI-animated storm. Regardless, Michael C. Hall’s performance in the final moments of the show are breathtaking, as he tosses his sister’s lifeless body into Bay Harbor – she is just another victim, no different than any of his other kills. In a cathartic act, Dexter continues on into the storm.

After the storm passes, Hannah reads of Dexter’s death, as she sits in an Argentinian café with the innocent Harrison.

But after a brief blackout, we are introduced to a lumberyard and follow a strange, bearded man into his small, dank home. He lurks in the shadows into the final moments when he sits down and stares at the camera – it’s Dexter Morgan. But the Dexter Morgan we know is dead – and so is his dark passenger (both Harry’s ghost and Dexter’s narration are void from this scene).

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While I criticize the show’s eighth season, let’s not forget what a cultural revolution this show sparked in terms of premium cable television. Dexter used to be the epitome of the office water cooler – from discovering the true identity of the Ice Truck Killer, to Trinity’s final kill. Dexter, the character, is a loveable serial killer – the first of many anti-heroes to grace the small screen in this golden age of television, paving the way for the other anti-heroes to follow him, like Don Draper, Walter White, and Sargent Nicholas Brody.

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So, cheers to you, Dexter Morgan. Doughnuts on you?

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Looking Forward with BREAKING BAD

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What more can I say about Sunday night’s antepenultimate (fancy word meaning third to last; sports fans may know this as the quarter finals) episode?
Between Hank’s death and Walter’s now infamously misconstrued phone call to his wife, the episode exceeded my expectations and has been attracting a lot of attention. Since the episode aired, employees at AMC’s headquarters have been stuck in a continuous Sue Heck dance-loop.
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While other blogs have given you a play-by-play of the full forty-two minute masterpiece, I thought I’d spend this time contemplating a few matters at hand as we prepare ourselves for the final two episodes of this great series.
Before I make a prediction of the White family’s fate, let me lay out what we know:

1. Walter White skipped town, presumably with the help of Saul’s vacuum repairman, after knowingly victimizing his wife and family with his police-tapped phone.
2. Jesse Pinkman is being held prisoner by Todd and his Nazi-branded uncle. Using the picture of his ex-girlfriend Andrea and her son Brock, they blackmail Jesse into cooking meth again. We assume that he will be forced to continue as a part of Lydia’s global meth operation.
3. In the Season Five Part 1 premiere, we saw a flash-forward of Walt returning to Albuquerque. By the way he places the bacon on his plate at the local Denny’s, we know that it is his birthday – one of Skyler’s tradition we see in the episode “51.” In the same scene, he has a full head of hair, a New Hampshire license plate, and a pretty hefty gun.
4. In the Season Five Part 2 premiere, we see Walter drive from the Denny’s to his now-abandoned and dilapidated home. The living room appears charred and “Heisenberg” is spray painted on the wall. Walter goes into his room to retrieve the ricin, which has been stored in his handy-dandy wall outlet.
5. On his way out, his neighbor Carol appears petrified. It is obvious that the world now knows the truth about Walter White.

So what does this all mean? Here’s what I think/hope is going to happen.

1. Skyler, Flynn, Holly, and Marie will be put under Witness Protection. Walter will never see them again.
2. Walter will return to Albuquerque to kill Todd and his uncle’s crew, thereby liberating Jesse of servitude. This is what the gun is for.
3. Walt will then give the ricin back to Jesse – this will be a symbolic gesture, as if he is giving Jesse the power to kill him, just as Walter had the power to kill Jesse many times before.
4. Walter and Jesse will drive through downtown Albuquerque and pick up Wendy for old time’s sake.

So these are my (edited) predictions for the final two episodes of Breaking Bad, which will forever be one of the most realistic, dramatic, eye-opening, genre-shattering, mind-bending show on television. In addition to its amazing writing, the cast is brilliant – especially noting the often hated on Anna Gunn. Let me just say, her New York Times article perfectly narrates her life’s struggle over the course of the show’s production. Let’s just say I got chills when this happened.

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While I will be watching the Emmy Awards next Sunday night, I expect ratings to dip a bit for Breaking Bad‘s upcoming episode, but the finale on September 29th should hit record numbers. Maybe surpass The Walking Dead? One can dream.

BREAKING BAD vs. the Decay of Pop Culture (VMAs)

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Sunday night is usually my favorite part of the week. I get to make some popcorn, put my feet up, dim the lights just right, tune into AMC, and watch Breaking Bad in the company of my Twitter friends. But last night, something disturbed my peace and focus. Millions upon millions of Americans reverted to their pre-pubescent girl mindsets as Miley Cyrus twerked her way across stage, followed by the quiver-inducing reunion of N*Sync. Needless to say, I couldn’t find my usually Twitter friends in the muck that littered my feed. Anyway, for those so-called “adults” who were busy watching the decay of pop culture in America, I hope you see this and I spoil last night’s episode of Breaking Bad for you. You kind of deserve it and you kind of know that.

The episode opens with a somewhat humorous encounter between Adam and two of Lydia’s henchmen at a diner, where Walter’s former apprentice relays the story of their great train heist. The crew rolls out with a tank full of methylamine as a cheerful tune plays from the stereo.

Over at the White household, Walter stops Flynn from going to his Aunt Marie’s by sweet-talking him and revealing to his son that his cancer is back. Flynn, being the oblivious sucker that he is, takes the bait as Marie waits anxiously for her nephew to come over – thinking that she can protect him from the drug lord and his many burnt bridges.

Later, Walt, Skyler, Hank, and Marie meet at a restaurant, where the conniving duo ask that their children be left alone. Before they even order appetizers, Walt and Skyler leave, placing a CD on the table as they go.

Standing speechless in their living room, Hank and Marie play the video: a twisted confession from Walt that recounts the entire past year from his perspective as Hank’s coerced sidekick in the meth empire. Walt sites the $177,000 that he was “forced” to give to Hank to pay for his treatment and physical therapy after the shooting.

Meanwhile, Walt advises Jesse to leave town. After some tears and a weird Voldemort hug, Saul sets the young apprentice up with a new identity and a ride to Alaska, but not before Jesse realizes that his ricin-filled cigarette is missing.

Jesse misses his ride and goes ape-shit in the office of Saul Goodman, Attorney at Law, and ultimately snags a pistol off the conman, who reveals that Walt has the ricin. For those who don’t remember, this is troubling to Jesse because he now has proof that Walt was responsible for poisoning Brock at the end of Season 4, even though the ricin was never used (he used the berries from the plant in his backyard). But still, Jesse’s rage continues as he barges into the seemingly empty White household and dumps a can of gasoline in the living room – which we know will be burnt from Episode 8’s flash forward.

Then it goes to black. Is anyone home? Flynn? Holly? Will the fire take anyone’s life? Will anyone actually die in this show? With only five episodes left, I expect each and every one of you to never take a Sunday night for granted ever again – looking at you, Miley.

BREAKING BAD and DEXTER Bring Their A-Games

Sunday night had a spring in its step as both Breaking Bad and Dexter wowed me with jaw-dropper after jaw-dropper and various other physical signs of amazement, like convulsions and gasps. (That was a weird sentence, but I thought it was kinda funny, so I won’t backspace it).

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First, on AMC, the word is out. And Hank and Marie are not happy about it. The writers and actors must have had a serious heart-to-heart before shooting the intense and delicate scenes because the show has seriously never been better. The chilling silence between Hank and Skyler in the diner brilliantly escalated to a Claire Danes caliber freak out on Anna Gunn’s part, who is, at this point, begging for that sweet Emmy. A few short moments after she’s asking Hank, “Am I under arrest?!” Marie decides to join the mix by taking Holly away from her sister – and she’s not a happy camper. The chemistry between the sisters has never been better as their shouting match, juxtaposed to a crying baby, erupts in the house.

Walter also had quite the episode, burying his money in the desert – but not after Huele lives his fantasy by lying on the enormous pile of tender bills.

Meanwhile, Lidia’s back and nastier than ever. With the help of Adam, she is able to wipeout her new, uncooperative meth cooking team, but the emotion hits home as she refuses to look at the dead bodies. The camera angle is perfect as we see her high-heels stumbling through the barren wasteland, sullen with the blood and guts of the dead.

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Over on Showtime, Hannah McKay is back – without a vengeance? After drugging Dexter and Deb, she fails to follow through and kill off the only people who know the truth to her years of crime and homicide.

After getting back with Hannah, Dexter decides to take her along on a trip to the Keys to catch Zach Hamilton, another one of Dr. Vogel’s experiments, in the act of murder. However, private investigator Deb is on the trail, leading to the most uncomfortable walk-in since the kids of Modern Family catch their parents in the act. Deb walks in on Dexter, Hannah, and Zach in a kill room. With some comic relief, Deb immediately leaves, but it also speaks volumes to where she is mentally as a character. She is beyond broken and staying would have only made her mix of depression, guilt, and anxiety worse.

While I was blown away by this episode, I was not wild about the ending when Dexter finds Zach dead in his home, killed by none other than the Brain Surgeon. I thought that teaching Zach “the Code” would have made for an interesting storyline, but at the same point it could have taken the limelight away from the title character.

Hopefully both these shows can keep it up in their final stretches, or else I’m gonna have to send someone to Belize.

BREAKING BAD Returns with “Bloody Money”

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After months of anxious anticipation, Breaking Bad is back – with quite the vengeance. The episode, entitled “Bloody Money,” marks the beginning of the end for the second half of the fifth and final season of the AMC drama.

We start out with a glimpse into Walt’s future, where he breaks into his own abandoned and dilapidated house (which is still in better condition than Don Draper’s childhood whorehouse). The now full-haired Walt, who we saw in an earlier episode leaving a diner with his New Hampshire licensed car, marches straight to his trusty electrical outlet to retrieve the still-unused capsule of ricin. As he leaves the house, his neighbor stares in a trembling trance and drops her groceries as Walt mutters, “Hello, Carol.”

Flash back to Hank on the toilet in modern times. Like the emotionally unstable Hank we have come to know and kind of love, he becomes very disoriented (and the lack of camera focus doesn’t let you forget how distraught he is about discovering Walt’s dirty little secret). He stashes Walt’s copy of Leaves of Grass, with Gale’s note printed inside, in his bag and bolts with his wife. After a relatively unnecessary car crash and a classic Marie freak out, Hank is out on leave from work…again.

Soon, we come to learn that Skyler and Walt’s carwash has become a financial success – just not successful enough to launder the thousands of dollars from Walt’s meth days. Lydia, the international meth transporter extraordinaire, pays the carwash a visit and offers Walt an opportunity to come back for a big money deal. But Skyler goes into full maternal mode and tells her off like only a mother could.

Over at the Pinkman residence, Jesse and his trusty pals Skinny Pete and Badger, the latter goes on a mindless, drugged-up rant about Star Trek. I wonder who had more fun: the writers writing the scene or Matt Jones performing it?

Again, Jesse is feeling conflicted about all the money he has accumulated, so he goes to Saul to sort out his “debts,” but Walt thinks that leaving large sums of money to Mike’s granddaughter and the missing boy’s parents will only stir more police investigation. So Jesse, in a scene where Aaron Paul was clearly determined to win another Emmy, throws wads of the “bloody money” out of his car in the slums of Albuquerque.

In a chemo-induced vomiting fit, Walt discovers that his bathroom copy of Leaves of Grass is missing, which leads him to find Hank’s GPS tracker under the frame of his car. In the episode’s climax (a moment we have been waiting months for), Walt confronts Hank and they brawl. Hank comes out on top physically, but Walt pulls the “I’m dying” card and assures his brother-in-law that he will never see the inside of a jail cell.

One thing I didn’t like about the episode’s ending was the writers’ feeble attempt to make yet another badass Walter White quote: “Tread lightly.” We’ve already heard the man utter the words, “Say my name,” “I’m in the empire business,” and, “I am the one who knocks,” so I just feel like, “Tread lightly,” pushes the envelope a little bit.

All in all, I was happy with the return of Breaking Bad. Nothing crazy happened – everything went according to prediction. But what will happen in the future timeline and how will the two timelines converge? Let’s just hope Marie doesn’t have any more shoplifting urges and the show can go out with a bang.