Archive for September 30, 2013

Everything I’ve ever written about Breaking Bad

September 29, 2013

In anticipation of tonight’s finale, here are links to everything I’ve ever written about Breaking Bad. I started covering the show for Rolling Stone with Season Five; prior to that I blogged my way through a marathon of the first four seasons. I hope you like it all.

* Season One
* Season Two, Episodes 1-3
* Season Two, Episodes 4-6
* Season Two, Episodes 7-12
* Season Two, Episode 13
* Season Three, Episodes 1-3
* Season Three, Episodes 4-7
* Season Three, Episodes 8-13
* Season Four, Episodes 1-6
* Season Four, Episodes 7-10
* Season Four, Episode 11
* Season Four, Episodes 12-13
* Season Five, Episode 1: “Live Free or Die”
* Season Five, Episode 2: “Madrigal”
* Season Five, Episode 3: “Hazard Pay”
* Q&A: Anna Gunn
* Season Five, Episode 4: “Fifty-One”
* Q&A: Laura Fraser
* Season Five, Episode 5: “Dead Freight”
* Q&A: Dean Norris
* Season Five, Episode 6: “Buyout”
* Q&A: Jesse Plemons
* Season Five, Episode 7: “Say My Name”
* Season Five, Episode 8: “Gliding Over All”
* Walter White’s 10 Lowest Lows
* Breaking Bad’s 10 Most Memorable Murders
* Season Five, Episode 9: “Blood Money”
* Q&A: Dean Norris
* Season Five, Episode 10: “Buried”
* Q&A: Betsy Brandt
* Season Five, Episode 11: “Confessions”
* Q&A: Bob Odenkirk
* Season Five, Episode 12: “Rabid Dog”
* Q&A: Steven Michael Quezada
* Season Five, Episode 13: “To’hajiilee”
* Q&A: Lavell Crawford
* Season Five, Episode 14: “Ozymandias”
* Q&A: R.J. Mitte
* Season Five, Episode 15: “Granite State”
* “Granite State” bonus thoughts

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Three: “Acres of Diamonds”

September 24, 2013

* Huh. That was…that was a shaky one, I think. Terence Winter wrote it, which I’d assumed meant it would feel pivotal in that showrunner-wrote-this-one way, but in retrospect it looks like a whole bunch of thankless plothammering needed to be done and Winter decided to do it himself. Multiple storylines felt both perfunctory and predictable: the Narcisse-exacerbated falling out between Chalky and Dunn Purnsley, Gillian’s ladies’-room fix, the weak wink-wink “that’s a matter of opinion” dialogue between Nucky and Patricia Arquette’s character, and especially everything involving Eli’s college-boy kid. We’ve seen that story a million times, and while this is true of a lot of things on Boardwalk Empire, the usual compensatory values in performance or setting were absent; the whole Temple sojourn felt, appropriately and regrettably, like a sophomore creative-writing class exercise. You drop Capone, Luciano, Lansky, Van Alden, Gaston Means, Eddie, Eli himself, and (god knows) Margaret for this — for stock frat-boy bullies and cardboard girls who throw themselves at anyone who can provide booze? Every time those scenes came on I just wrote “College boy, I dunno.”

* Even Richard — Richard! — was served some underbaked material. The Carl Billings storyline was weirdly stumpy; it was just a freelance gig he picked up on the train back home, after all, and after his legitimately epic battle at the end of Season Three it felt like the anticlimax it was. I mean, these doofuses get the drop on him? We all saw him kill his way through Gyp Rosetti’s gang, guys. And his sister killing to save him felt less inevitable than predictable, without the value of catharsis since the whole storyline felt so rushed.

* And the McCoy/Florida thing…McCoy, I discovered through googling, was the very first person we saw in the entire series, and he’s been there on and off throughout, but it’s not as though he ever made a particularly strong impression despite having been a pretty interesting character in real life. (His rep for honesty in his bootlegging and the undiluted quality of his product gave rise to the phrase “the real McCoy”!) But suddenly we have to be super-invested in his fate, and satisfied that he’ll suck Nucky into his vortex. (Well, him and that unconvincing meet-cute with Patricia Arquette.) Eh.

* I mean, it’s still Boardwalk Empire, so even the weak spots had their moments. That noxious speech about wealth as indicative of moral worth that the college kids were forced to listen to, say; or Richard taking off his mask to gaze at the sunlight; or Nucky’s interrogation of the real-estate kid, and how his too-blunt jokes caught the guy off guard and loosened his lips; or how August Tucker looked like a Michael Rooker cosplayer and wound up with a Tom Savini haircut while McCoy sobbed his way into the closing credits as a moth swirled around a bare lightbulb. But this is the first time in a long time — since Rosetti’s rote “he’s a mad dog!” introduction and Margaret’s doctor crush, probably — that I found myself ambivalent about such a large swathe of the show.

* A few other thoughts, though:

* I really can’t get over what a good-looking show this is. That straight-up Magritte quote of Nucky at the window in Florida, overlooking the sea — man.

* The business with Nucky and his goons in dark suits while all the Floridians are in white was a little blunt, maybe, but it’s interesting to see just how much he looks like a gangster now. Maybe it’s the rise of the fedora on his men that does it.

* Owney Madden shows up! Legs Diamond is mentioned! Voice-off between Rothstein and Narcisse! Yep, still love this shit.

* Ron Livingston’s a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Richard Nixon.

* The heroin stuff with Gillian did contain one lovely little detail: “It melted!” Childlike and sad.

* The confrontation between Nucky and McCoy after the deal fell through was very suspensefully staged. A lot of standing against windows, a lot of off-center placement so there’d be huge stretches of screen for bodies to fall through. I was convinced Tucker was going to open fire.

* “Oh Richard, you need to call yourself to account.” The confessions of Richard Harrow?

“Breaking Bad” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Fifteen: “Granite State” – plus bonus thoughts

September 23, 2013

I reviewed last night’s penultimate Breaking Bad for Rolling Stone. I focused on the last things we see of Walt and Jesse before next week’s finale, which really will be the last things we see of Walt and Jesse.

I had a few more thoughts that didn’t make it into the review:

* The casting of Robert Forster as the disappearance specialist is, I think, even better than it seemed with that first flush of “Hey, it’s Robert Forster!” Seriously, to come up with an actor with the recognition factor and gravitas necessary to play that part, yet who wouldn’t be so famous or so showy that showing up for the first time in the penultimate episode would throw the whole thing off balance? That’s miracle working is what that is.

* At first I found Todd’s demurral over murdering Skyler difficult to believe, particularly after he killed Andrea and grinned while watching Jesse tearfully talk about his murder of Drew Sharp. But the only explanation for it, that he truly does respect Mr. White so much that he wouldn’t kill his wife unless she gave him no other choice, actually works, because after all it’s the only reason Walt himself is alive right now, too. If you were Uncle Jack, you’d have killed Walt, buried him alongside Hank and Gomez, taken his $10 million, and tied off that loose end for good, right? But Jack explains to Walt that they’re not doing that because Todd doesn’t want them to. If that’s true, and apparently it is because why else would they spare him, then I can buy that Todd would threaten Skyler rather than kill her, even in the face of Lydia’s disapproval.

* A bit more of a credulity strain is the vacuum repairman’s continued contact with Walt. Wouldn’t the heat on Walt make him less likely to maintain a working relationship with him, not more? Is Walt just the richest guy he’s worked with, and the money’s what’s keeping him around? If that’s the case, what’s to stop him from killing the sick and helpless and isolated Walt and taking all the money instead of accepting it in $10k/hour installments? Is it just a sense of professionalism? Even if it is, how would word of his betrayal of Walt ever get back to anyone and affect his reputation? I guess, like Heisenberg, some people just take pride in their work.

* One of my favorite moments of the episode was Marie’s disorienting arrival at and departure from her house. I loved how tight the camera was at all times, how it took a while for it to be clear what the hell was happening, how it all happened so quickly. Part of me would love if that’s the last we see of Marie, her face full of confusion and dismay, submerged for good in the chaos Walt has wrought.

* I was glad to see Carmen’s the principal now.

“Breaking Bad” Q&A: R.J. Mitte

September 21, 2013

I interviewed R.J. Mitte, aka Walt Jr., aka Flynn, from Breaking Bad. He told me it gets crazier. He made me nervous.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Two: “Resignation”

September 19, 2013

* It’s funny: My first instinct upon seeing Michael Shannon’s enormous moon face at the door, delivering flowers and punching faces, was to say “Agent Van Alden broke bad.” But he’s always been bad, right? A powder keg that exploded and drowned his partner for being both crooked and Jewish. But the character’s been drawn…inconsistently, I think is actually being charitable about it, so it’s somehow easy to look at his current predicament as a fallen-man situation, when of course he never had far to fall to begin with.

* “Too old to hunt. Pretty much blind. Can’t even smell. Senile. Stares at me sometimes like I didn’t raise him from a puppy.” Emma Harrow describes the great terror of all the men on this show: outliving their usefulness.

* “Orphaned in April, married in May, pregnant in August, widowed in November.” Maybe it’s just seeing Dennis Lehane’s name in the writer’s credit, but boy this episode had some cracking dialogue.

* The Chessmen of Mars. Oh Richard, please get into SF.

* The rattling of the cup, the focus on the sight and sound of it, the sense you get that this is a very expensive cup on a very expensive saucer, containing very expensive coffee…this is the kind of detail at which this show excels, and which it can use to drive home information about the emotional state of the characters, in this case Eddie (and Nucky). “Everything is ‘only something,'” Eddie says, and that’s true, but on this show, everything is something.

* The elder O’Banion’s one of the few cases in which I think the casting plus the period voice equals a miss rather than a hit on this show. Nice to see Finn from The Sopranos, though.

* Chalky’s son-in-law’s dad’s voice is lovely. More on that later.

* “Mr. Thompson is in everything. He is in the sky and sea. He is in the dreams of children at night. He is all that there is, forever.” DARKSEID IS

* Okay, so, Richard’s big killing-his-way-to-the-top mission was, what, a favor he’s doing for a fellow vet he met on the train? Is that the gist of it? It’s rare that a plotline confuzzles me on these shows, and rarer still that I’d go public with it if it did — it always baffles me, the way people who are paid to be smart about these things crow about not being able to tell characters apart and stuff like that; wiki it, folks — but I’m a little lost here.

* Ha, the head Prohi is crooked now. Did we know that?

* Chalky Ascendent. I liked that whole entrance-into-the-club sequence, even if you knew it’d go sour the moment that gladhanding doofus who always shows up at the wrong time and is obliviously happy showed up and rubbed his head. Chalky’s earned five minutes of enjoyment.

* Enter Doctor Narcisse, aka Jeffrey Wright with a Marvel Comics villain name and a Trinidadian accent. Man, this show really is voice porn, isn’t it? I could have listened to him go line for line with Chalky all night. Maybe Stephen Root could pop in once in a while to do his demented Foghorn Leghorn now and then.

* Now I’m just going to write down some more dialogue.

* “You wish to leave it at this?” “I ain’t pick it up in the first place.”

* “One looks down in secret and sees many things. You know what I saw? A servant pretending to be a king.”

* “Respect. I wish you to demonstrate it. [Nucky gives Eddie an envelope full of cash] This is beneath you.” “I’m not sure that it is.”

* “Are you quitting or asking for a promotion?” “This will be for you to decide.” (And with that, Eddie leaps right into the deep end of the Season Four dead pool, alongside Nucky’s handsome nephew.)

* Richard can’t kill anymore. I think maybe the pacing of this was bobbled a bit? Like, if I were him, I’d have finished the job before visiting my sister, wouldn’t you? So it’s weird that we see him go all Terminator on two dudes, then visit his sister, then go “oh yeah, I’ve got one last Terminating gig to take care of,” and then he freezes.

* I would not have put it past the show to see the bullet hit the dog, by the way.

* “Dat schemin’ mick fuck.” I giggled with delight, hearing that line. Gangsters!

* Chalky and Dunn need a bottle episode like “Pine Barrens” or “Fly.” I want to watch Williams and Harvey glower and growl at each other for an hour.

* Yessssssssssss Stephen Root, christ, what a voice. “I’d say your Agent Knox is a hayseed of the purest variety.” I want to make that my ringtone.

* Nuck’s got an instinct about Knox, though. That’s a good sign, especially given how grim it is that his secret completely eluded Root’s fixer character.

* Van Alden growls during the attack on the Democratic rally. He didn’t used to be comic relief, remember?

* Does Chalky take Nucky’s gift of 10% of the club to Narcisse as an insult, or will he write it off as the cost of doing business? Will the lynching of the woman who caused the trouble affect either of their POVs on the transaction?

* Acting Director Hoover!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hahahahahahaha, sure, why not, Boardwalk Empire. I like the introduction of J. Edgar as a pint-sized martinet in a back room.

* “A thing mixed is a thing weakened.” “Is that from the Bible?” “That’s from me.”

* I’m glad you didn’t get the shot of the feet after the lynching, by the way. You know the one — the shot where we see the car drive off and we pan over and up and her feet are dangling. I mean, it turns out they just choked her to death, they didn’t hang her, but still. Leave it unseen.

* Eddie’s breaking bad, haha

* Who’s trying to lure Richard? Does this “Carl Billings” quest have anything to do with Emma being in the red?

* What a shame this show launched opposite the final four episodes of Breaking Bad. I gather HBO doesn’t care when you watch it, as long as you do watch it, but buzz is based on that initial airing, no?

“Breaking Bad” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Fourteen: “Ozymandias”

September 18, 2013

Read my review of this past Sunday’s Breaking Bad, ye mighty, and despair. Certainly that was the case for dozens upon dozens of commenters.

Comics Time: Illegal Batman

September 12, 2013

I reviewed Illegal Batman by Ed Pinsent for Vorpalizer. This is really some comic.


September 12, 2013

Once again, I will be attending the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend. I’ll be moderating the following panel on Sunday at 2pm in the White Oak Room:

Troubling Tales, Difficult Drawings
Effective comics can elicit a number of intellectual and emotional responses from readers. Undoubtedly, some of the most memorable comics have been those which have an unsettling effect that lingers long after the final page has been read. Comics critic Sean T. Collins will speak with Ben Catmull, Julia Gfrörer, Michael DeForge, and Ulli Lust about the intent and methodology behind work that troubles, disturbs and gets under the reader’s skin.

I look like the person in the photo above, so if you see me, please say hello if you feel like doing so.


September 11, 2013

As he followed her inside Mother Abagail’s house he thought it would be better, much better, if they did break down and spread. Postpone organization as long as possible. It was organization that always seemed to cause the problems. When the cells began to clump together and grow dark. You didn’t have to give the cops guns until the cops couldn’t remember the names…the faces…

Fran lit a kerosene lamp and it made a soft yellow glow. Peter looked up at them quietly, already sleepy. He had played hard. Fran slipped him into a nightshirt.

All any of us can buy is time, Stu thought. Peter’s lifetime, his children’s lifetimes, maybe the lifetimes of my great-grandchildren. Until the year 2100, maybe, surely no longer than that. Maybe not that long. Time enough for poor old Mother Earth to recycle herself a little. A season of rest.

“What?” she asked, and he realized he had murmured it aloud.

“A season of rest,” he repeated.

“What does that mean?”

“Everything,” he said, and took her hand.

Looking down at Peter he thought: Maybe if we tell him what happened, he’ll tell his own children. Warn them. Dear children, the toys are death–they’re flashburns and radiation sickness, and black, choking plague. These toys are dangerous; the devil in men’s brains guided the hands of God when they were made. Don’t play with these toys, dear children, please, not ever. Not ever again. Please…please learn the lesson. Let this empty world be your copybook.

“Frannie,” he said, and turned her around so he could look into her eyes.

“What, Stuart?”

“Do you think…do you think people ever learn anything?”

She opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, fell silent. The kerosene lamp flickered. Her eyes seemed very blue.

“I don’t know,” she said at last. She seemed unpleased with her answer; she struggled to say something more; to illuminate her first response; and could only say it again:

I don’t know.

—Stephen King, The Stand

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode One: “New York Sour”

September 9, 2013


* Before I say anything else, please go read Ryan Leas’s piece on Boardwalk Empire for Salon, by far the best writing on this show I’ve ever seen. Alone out of the professional critics I’ve seen tackle this show, most of whom appear to be imagining themselves at a cool kids’ table with David Chase and Matthew Weiner, gleefully refusing Terence Winter a seat, Leas gets what the violence and spectacle of this show are, what they mean. It’s not the show trying and failing to to have taste.

* Anyways:

* Aw, that poor gas-station guy from No Country for Old Men. All he does is get menaced during monetary transactions with professional killers.

* Richard Harrow emerges silently, retreats into the darkness.

* Dunn Purnsley! He’s a main character now? Or is he just the germinative incident for the Chalky White storyline? Either way, I am so deeply glad to see Erik LaRay Harvey get more screentime, in a season premiere no less. That is a very odd, very magnetic performance, made more so by the beaten-in eye socket make-up.

* Hey, Nucky’s German factotum (thanks, Cicero Daily Tribune!) survived! This is just the first of the Season Three finale cliffhangers resolved in fairly short order this episode: Rothstein’s not in prison from Nucky’s frame-up using the treasury secretary’s distillery; Masseria’s willing to meet and forget the massacre of his men post-truce; even Rosetti’s right-hand man is allowed to come back to A.C. for the meeting.

* I’ll never not be enough of a mafia nerd not to be thrilled any time I’m watching a scene in which Joe Masseria, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and Meyer Lansky are characters.

* I sure would like it if there’s a Lucky/Meyer break-up-to-make-up storyline this season. That’s this show’s great undying romance, after all, if history is any indication. (Spoiler alert for non-mafia nerds?)

* “All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself.” I think this might be true! Out of the mouth of Rothstein, man. (Hat tip to Jim Henley for reminding me of the genius of “Flip a coin. When it’s in the air, you’ll know what side you’re hoping for.”)

* Michael Stuhlbarg’s Rothstein echoes Eddie Cantor in some way, doesn’t he? Pale pancake-makeup complexion, studied speech pattern — a performance by a performer who’s become his character. You can’t spell “vaudevillian” without V-I-L-L-I-A-N.

* Nuck at the window. Lots of conspicuous framing of Nucky overlooking things this episode.

* Leander is Gillian’s lawyer, lol.

* Hey, the Sigorskys are still around. That’s rad. I thought the saga of Jimmy’s little boy would be over, and that Richard’s girlfriend and her PTSD father would be gone with him. I hope there’s more thread to tug at there.

* Was Eli’s son hot last season too, or is this new?

* Mickey Doyle is back on my television. Truly this is the most wonderful time of the year.

* How soon did you see Agent Knox coming? Something was up with the guy, that was clear when he took that lingering look at the payoff money changing hands, but it took me until his next scene to realize what he was.

* Fuck “cellar door” — “Cicero, Illinois” makes my heart sing like no other two-word English phrase.

* Hey, it’s Herc from The Wire!

* “He gets my fuckin’ name wrong??”

* Actual note written down: “YESSSSS Eddie Cantor!” NERD

* Nuck loves the showgirls, huh. What’s up with that? I mean, I guess obviously they’re reliably attractive and relatively liberated. But are we to read into their nature as performers, entertainers, actors, dissemblers-for-hire?

* Gillian Darmody is, indeed, “quite the scene-painter.” Aaaaand she’s a junkie, and a whore. I’m still capable of feeling very, very bad for Gillian, the Cersei of New Jersey. As they made a very welcome effort to point out after that incredible Season Three climax’s smoke cleared, Nucky has an awful lot to answer for in terms of how she became what she is.

* The scenes with Richard on the hunt for…whatever he was on the hunt for regarding the insurance company were great, but as I guess is clear from this sentence I have no idea what that was. Maybe we’re not supposed to know. The episode is structured to make it look like he was trying to find his sister, but that doesn’t exactly square with, you know, killing his way there. Separate missions?

* Don’t stop fighting for the cherry and the white, college boy. I don’t think things will go well for you otherwise.

* Los Bros Capone

* “Yes, boss.” Christ. Nauseating scene, amazingly good at making the viewer feel Dunn’s helplessness, loathing, and rage. I knew exactly what he’d be getting himself into and didn’t care. I just wanted to see him stab that guy to death, in that moment. You want a show that addresses race, critics who cover the Mad Men beat? Good god. Ran right at the most noxious shibboleths of anti-black racism with a broken bottle. Right at the end of the sexiest scene in the show’s history, too, I think. Wow.

* Right, so, this next scene was where it became clear that our new agent setting the old agent up.

* Back to Dunn, now with Chalky and Nucky and Eli. I like how unwilling he is to own up to wrongdoing. He was being raped.

* The steel blue gray of that burial scene. Wow.

* Ron Livingston, I presume?

* It’s just a split second, but I loved the beat where Gillian realizes he’s not in it for the prostitution. Gretchen Mol is usually as heightened as her Lady Macbeth archetype calls for, as are a lot of the performers on this show, but that was really subtle and really strong work.

* Roy Phillips. Piggly Wiggly. Big Business.

* Outrageous splendor of the shots of that Cicero Daily Tribune office, for no good reason.

* “I don’t want anyone else’s grief.” Aw Nuck. Good luck with that.

* Chalky front and center, at least so far.

* “Bring on the dancing girls.” The Onyx Girls in a post-Miley era. “Deliciously primative.”

* Agent Knox:Boardwalk Empire::Todd:Breaking Bad

* “Albatross Hotel. Transients welcome. Closed.”

* “Big hauls down here. Come and see. McCoy.”

* “Hello. I’ve come home.” Keep making Richard Harrow a myth, Boardwalk Empire.

“Breaking Bad” review, Season Five, Episode Thirteen: “To’hajiilee”

September 8, 2013

I reviewed tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad for Rolling Stone.

It was something.

“Breaking Bad” Q&A: Steven Michael Quezada

September 6, 2013

I interviewed Gomie for Rolling Stone! Am I happy about this?

“Breaking Bad” Q&A: Bob Odenkirk / “Breaking Bad” Thoughts, Season Five, Episode 12: “Rabid Dog”

September 3, 2013

I interviewed Bob Odenkirk, aka Saul Goodman, and reviewed the most recent episode of Breaking Bad for Rolling Stone.