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Greg Kirkman
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Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 15660
Posted: 15 March 2018 at 12:20am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

I fundamentally disagree with all of that, but to each his own. I’ve rewatched the show in its entirety multiple times, listened to the audio commentaries for every episode, listened to every episode of the BREAKING BAD INSIDER Podcast, consumed many, many interviews with the filmmakers and cast, and read multiple critical analyses of the show. This isn’t a case of me filling in the gaps.

An important stylistic choice of the show was to show all of the “in-between” moments in a life of crime, from corpse disposal to logistical problems of dealing with irrational criminals from a rational viewpoint. Walt and Jesse’s partnership starts out as clumsy and careless. They make plenty of mistakes, and have plenty of setbacks. Walt’s morality erodes very slowly, and we see each decision which leads him down the path from reluctant executioner to willful multiple-murderer. He doesn’t go from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to supervillain overnight. 

The show may have been presented in a very artsy style, and it certainly had a flair for being the over-the-top, at times, but the emotional and psychological dynamics are complex and fascinating, and I think you’re selling them incredibly short. But, again, to each his own.
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Michael Roberts
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Joined: 20 April 2004
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 12:25am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

Had it stuck to its original premise, a show about a man who has no choice, he has to sell drugs so he can receive medical treatment that woukd bankrupt his family, he has no easy-outs, and this guy desecnds into evil,THAT would have been compelling, but Breaking Bad took the easy way out, " Walter does this because he's megalomaniacal villain".

-----

That was never the original premise. It may have been the show that you thought you were watching, but it was not the show they were making. It's made abundantly clear after the fifth episode, when Walt refuses a job and health insurance at a company that he started, opting to continue with his drug production. He was never a man without options. He was an egomaniac sinking deeper and deeper into moral depravity.
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Greg Kirkman
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Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 15660
Posted: 15 March 2018 at 12:30am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

“Meadowlands”.


A great episode which combines the usual laughs with a lot of careful plot-weaving. Whereas last episode focused to a degree on Meadow’s daily life, here we get a good look at AJ, and watch his illusions casually get shattered by his sister. 

The obvious attraction Tony has for Dr. Melfi takes a step up, as he hires Vin (a surprise guest-appearance by the late John Heard) to investigate her. Since she’s revealed to have a grown child, it seems that she’s really “Dr. MILFy” for Tony, eh? There’s also a delicious irony in Tony wanting to back out of the sessions, but Carmella basically insisting that he continue, with the implication that their marriage may depend upon it.

This episode also makes it clear that their sessions aren’t happening in a vacuum. Tony seeing a shrink would have all sorts of repercussions if the Family or his enemies got wind of it, and Melfi’s personal life is not immune to her having Tony as a client.

As predicted, Jackie dies, but, surprisingly, Tony does make a move to consolidate power AND smooth things over with Junior, thanks to Melfi’s unwitting advice. Of course, he initially tried to pass on the mantle of leadership, but his reaction to Christopher’s reaction to Brendan’s death caused him to naturally slip into a leadership role, which is an interesting twist. 

Christopher is hilarious in this episode. It’s all about the neck-brace. He and Adriana are adorable together, too. 

Loving this show!
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Greg Kirkman
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Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 1:00am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

That was never the original premise. It may have been the show that you thought you were watching, but it was not the show they were making. 
+++++++

Precisely. It was a genius bait-and-switch: Attract viewers with a simple, relatively relatable, high-concept/elevator pitch premise (“Cancer-stricken chemistry teacher resorts to making crystal meth so as to provide for his family after he dies”), then go on to tell a story about an insecure man who becomes obsessed with power, and uses his initial motivation as an excuse. He lies about his motives even to himself.

Heck, in the pilot, we see Walt clearly becoming intrigued with the potential money to be made from illegal chemistry before he even finds out he has cancer, when he watches the news story of Hank and the DEA busting a meth lab. Once he’s diagnosed, he starts formulating his plan even before he accidentally crosses paths with Jesse, his former student. The terminal cancer diagnosis is just his lucky excuse to finally self-actualize, so to speak. To let out all of the ugliness that’s been building inside of him for years. Of course, his actual experiences in the drug trade accelerate the process, and almost immediately turn him into a murderer.

The big question that the show leaves unresolved is whether or not the cancer diagnosis started Walter White on the path to monstrousness, or if that monster was always inside him, waiting for an excuse to come out. Based on all of the clues, the answer certainly looks to be the latter. Walt’s power-lust is laid out in the pilot. He gets a thrill out of assaulting the boy who’s mocking his son in the clothing shop. He manipulates and blackmails Jesse Pinkman into partnering with him. He’s sexually turned on after he gets home from that disastrous confrontation with Emilio and Krazy-8 in the desert. 

The pilot also does everything it can to emasculate Walt and make us sympathize with him, so that we’ll both be hooked on his story AND understand why he ends up going down the path that he does, even if we don’t agree with his initial choice to become a criminal. He’s been scared his entire life, and gave up a potential career as a chemist because of feelings of inadequacy. It’s later implied that he left Gretchen, his girlfriend and partner, because being with a “little rich girl” made him feel insecure. In his mind, over the following years, his willing buyout from the company he co-founded became twisted into a sense of being cheated by his former partners, whose lifestyle he’s jealous of.

Add to that a son with special needs, a loving-but-henpecking wife who gives him a birthday handjob whilst monitoring her eBay auction, an unplanned pregnancy, a macho/Alpha-male brother-in-law, and students who mock him and don’t care about his passion for chemistry. It all adds up to a character who seems like a sad-sack underdog with a plausible motivation for becoming a criminal. And then comes that fifth episode, where Walt shockingly turns down a chance to solve all of his immediate problems by taking a handout from Elliot and Gretchen. Walt hates even the thought of charity. He wants to be a Real Man who earns and provides for his family, rather than relying upon the kindness of even close friends and family. He doesn’t want charity, pity, or to be viewed as less-than. Ever. Because of his pride and wounded ego. Walt’s decision to reject Elliot’s offer was the key moment where BREAKING BAD deliberately turned from a seemingly high-concept show into a deep character study.

Walter White is a brilliant, complex character, astonishingly acted by Cranston. And the core of it is insecurity leading to a wounded ego leading to jealousy, pride, and rage. The seeds of that are all there in the pilot. Growth, then decay, then transformation.



...what show is this thread about, again...?


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 15 March 2018 at 1:08am
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Marc M. Woolman
Byrne Robotics Member


Joined: 17 April 2008
Location: Canada
Posts: 2029
Posted: 15 March 2018 at 1:26am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

We'll have to agree to disagree about
Breaking Bad. You see it as show with
great scripts and direction, showing us a
character's decent into evil,
I see it as a show that took the easy way
out and became more cartoonish and non-
sensical as it went along.

I have decided to try to keep up with you
as you work your way through the Sopranos.
Partly because your commentary makes me
want to view the episodes again, and
partly so I can comment in detail only
about what you have watched and completely
avoid inadvertently dropping any spoilers.

Edited by Marc M. Woolman on 15 March 2018 at 1:28am
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Greg Kirkman
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Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 15660
Posted: 15 March 2018 at 10:52am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

We'll have to agree to disagree about 
Breaking Bad. 
+++++++++

You took, er, the typing out of my fingers. Different strokes, and all. Watching the show for the first time was one experience. Going back and rewatching it was completely different, when armed with foreknowledge of the full course of events and the creators’ intentions. On subsequent viewings, you start picking up all of the clues regarding Walt’s innate character flaws and motivations, and he becomes far less sympathetic. The show was very carefully structured to play with audience sympathies. We’ve been trained to automatically root for the main character of any given show, but BREAKING BAD deliberately set out to make its main character more and more evil and unsympathetic as it went on. The show is like a moral Rorschach test, with its characters in a constant state of flux. I find it both fascinating and horrifying that some people were rooting for Walt right up until the end, and expressed blatant mysogyny toward Skyler White for “getting in Walt’s way”.

On the flip side, Tony Soprano is already a criminal at the beginning of THE SOPRANOS, and the show is more about showing how he deals with the craziness around him than exploring how and why he became what he is. 


Anyway, yes, I’d very much enjoy it if you watched and commented along with me! 
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Marc M. Woolman
Byrne Robotics Member


Joined: 17 April 2008
Location: Canada
Posts: 2029
Posted: 15 March 2018 at 7:03pm | IP Logged | 7 post reply

I'm almost caught up to where you are on
viewing.
One things the series does very well is
showing that no matter where you are in
life, the king of the hill, or bottom of
the pyramid, there's always problems and
complications that arise and difficult
people to deal with.
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Greg Kirkman
Byrne Robotics Member


Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 15660
Posted: 16 March 2018 at 12:47am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

“College”.


Another great episode, and one which very much highlights the delicate balance between the two lives Tony leads. Most men wouldn’t go out of their way to execute a rat whilst college-shopping with their teenage daughters, y’know? 

Meadow blatantly asking Tony is he’s in the Mafia (and the ensuing awkward denials and half-truths) is just hilarious. As is poor Christopher spending the entire episode talking to Tony on a payphone in the rain, chomping at the bit to fly up to Maine to kill the rat in order to make a name for himself. This running gag is a very stark reminder that cell phones were not omnipresent, in the 90s. 

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this episode is that it gives us out first real look at Carmella’s inner life. Her guilt over turning a blind eye to Tony’s double-life for the sake of her children and her own comfort. Her flirtation with Father Phil. Her feelings of betrayal and anger when Dr. Melfi (also coincidentally suffering from illness) calls for Tony and reveals the fact that Tony’s therapist is actually a woman. We get a good look at what makes Carm tick, here, and Edie Falco is just wonderful—funny, vulnerable, confused. Her calling out Tony on his hypocrisy at the end of the episode is a very satisfying moment.

It’s amusing to see Tony become fixed on Fabian after seeing him by accident. He goes full-Terminator, and his enthusiastic garroting of the man is a shocking display of violence. The Hawthorne quote at Colby sums up Tony’s precarious position very well. His feeble excuses to Meadow don’t fool her for a second. He makes some progress with her in terms of being more open and honest, but then loses it, because confessing to murder wouldn’t exactly help their relationship. Of course, she treats confessing to him that she’d been using meth like it wasn’t a big deal, so maybe she’d be less judgmental than he might think, if he just told her everything. Or not!


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 16 March 2018 at 9:15am
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Marc M. Woolman
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Joined: 17 April 2008
Location: Canada
Posts: 2029
Posted: 16 March 2018 at 1:43am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

I thought this episode was one of the best
of season one. Tony's struggle with trying
to take out a "rat" while taking his
daughter, Meadow, on a tour of a potential
college, was brilliantly done.

This episode's look at Carmella, plants
some seeds that Edie Falco really shines
in her performance of, when the seeds are
fully realized.
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Greg Kirkman
Byrne Robotics Member


Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 15660
Posted: 18 March 2018 at 11:11pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

“Pax Soprana”.


Not unexpectedly, Tony’s plan for Junior to serve as a figurehead isn’t going so well, since Junior is upsetting the capos’ applecart. On the flipside, his plan for Junior to serve as a lightning rod seems to be working rather well, since the Feds are now targeting Junior as boss, and think that Tony is just a capo. Looking forward to seeing how this investigation subplot plays out.

Meanwhile, we get some interesting dynamics in Tony’s personal life, as he juggles Carmella’s emotional needs, his mistress’ physical needs, and his feelings for Dr. Melfi. His declaration of love is quite shocking, although not entirely unexpected. Of course, this is very obviously a mutual attraction. There’s no way a sensible and reasonable therapist would A) Knowingly put herself at risk by analyzing a mobster; B) Not take action upon discovery of stalking/grand theft auto/etc.; C) Not immediately lay down the law and/or terminate the sessions after Tony professed his feelings and made an inappropriate sexual advance. Seems clear that Melfi is intrigued by/attracted to Tony, but is also quite afraid. The classic “girl getting the hots for a bad boy” scenario.

Tony’s dream sequences are both funny and revealing of his inner life, and he somehow remains likable despite his many physical (and now emotional) affairs. 
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Marc M. Woolman
Byrne Robotics Member


Joined: 17 April 2008
Location: Canada
Posts: 2029
Posted: 19 March 2018 at 12:59am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

This episode gives us a nice peak at
what's the foundation of Tony's marriage.

The interesting question about Tony's
feelings for Dr. Melfi, is whether Tony
will accept the explanation for those
feelings.
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Greg Kirkman
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Joined: 12 May 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 15660
Posted: 19 March 2018 at 7:55pm | IP Logged | 12 post reply

“Down Neck”.


An episode which continues weaving in serialized plot threads, and provides interesting backstory on Tony and his childhood. Nice to see AJ’s present-day problems causing Tony to reflect on his own childhood. The show continues to keep reminding us of the generational aspect of it all. Tony reveals a certain fatalistic tendency to be what he was born into, but hopes that his children will have a better future.

Meanwhile, Dr. Melfi is keeping things much more cool and professional, given the events of the previous episode. On the other end, Tony is becoming more and more open about the criminal activities of both his associates and himself. 

The period sequences are well-done, and a lot of fun. Speaking of which, we get another fine reminder of the 90s, with AJ’s Spawn t-shirt!
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