Breaking Bad//Season Five//Episode 15//Granite State

Written & Directed by Peter Gould
Originally aired September 22, 2013

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Is there a harder episode to make than the second to last? Breaking Bad has traditionally upheld an action/reaction rhythm wherein a pivotal, energetic episode is followed by one dedicated to the aftermath often honing in on the tedious purgatory of waiting for the ax to fall that fuels some new turn that is often equal parts desperation and ingenuity. Where “Ozymandias” was a high water mark not just for this current season but the entire series, “Granite State” feels more like a deep breath before diving back below the surface one last time. With the exception of “The Fly” it is probably the most literally meditative episode of the series as both Walter and Jesse find themselves in different forms of exile or imprisonment; variously contained by their circumstances. The theme of personal agency, an extraordinarily important element in the philosophy of the series, receives much attention herein and the conclusions drawn are as startling as ever. Though “Granite State” is slow and occasionally heavy handed (fire imagery gets a little overdone), it is nevertheless astute, provocative and thoughtful. Exceeding the standard runtime, the episode never once feels loose or directionless even as its protagonists wallow and sulk. Continue reading

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Breaking Bad//Season Five//Episode 14//Ozymandias

Written by Moria Walley-Beckett
Directed by Rian Johnson
Originally aired September 15, 2013

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There really ought to be a pool to see who can guess how the next episode of Breaking Bad will use its cold open to simultaneously delay gratification and heighten stakes. Though season five has seen a few leaps forward, the flashback has been a blessedly underutilized device throughout the series’ history. The flashforward can be a doubled edged sword and has to be used with the utmost prudence. “Live Free or Die” and “Blood Money” provided some very concise, very oblique clues as to the future of Walter White that remain effective as the information we gleamed, without proper context, earlier in the season is now fed directly into the current assault of events. Yet, the flashback is even more fickle as it can often be used to backtrack or reveal important otherwise unknown information that can radically recontextualize the present. This almost always feels like a cheat as if the writer was not thoughtful enough to include these important details within the subtext of his/her writing and is forced to callously shove them wherever he or she can. Yet, Breaking Bad uses flashbacks much in the same way as it uses flash forwards: to augment the already punishing sense of tragedy that increases exponentially with each decaying moment. Continue reading

Breaking Bad//Season 5//Episode 13//To’hajiilee

Written by George Mastras
Directed by Michelle MacLaren
Originally aired September 8, 2013

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You know what I really love about Westerns? The sense of time. For instance, crossing the desert requires little more than the patience for a beautiful montage of sunsets and tumbleweeds to pass by. Yet when there’s gonna be a showdown, every second is earned through sweat and blood. The iconography of the Western has been mined for rich rewards in the last few episodes of Breaking Bad but it’s “To’hajiilee” that really brings it home. The desert has never exerted itself as a character in the series though it is flush with significance as a symbol of our wasteland culture: a place where only the resilient survive. As a scene for this episode’s unforgettable confrontation, it’s excruciating indifference to life is picture perfect. Continue reading

Breaking Bad//Season 5//Episode 12//Rabid Dog

Written & Directed by Sam Catlin
Originally aired September 1, 2013

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For anyone who’s ever watched an entire season of a dramatic television show on Netflix, Hulu or even old-fashioned DVD, you’ve experienced that sensational feeling of getting to the end of one episode and immediately pushing play on the next because you just have to know what happens next. I would say this is TV’s bread butter but it’s more like its flour and milk fat. The worst serials on television do this. Much in the same way that the differences between organic artisanal Ciabatta and Wonder Bread are undeniably obvious, so too do shows like Breaking Bad stand apart for their ability to turn convention and expectation on their nose. With the hooks deeply sunk in during “Confessions” cliffhanger, “Rabid Dog” dials back briefly only to push forward in an uncompromising and ultimately surprising direction. Continue reading

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen

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Woody Allen’s most widely enjoyable film in years, Blue Jasmine borrows its basic story and most of its guts from Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Yet, where that play was focused on the capacity of refinement to ruin itself and the enduring grit of roughneck romance, Allen is thoroughly disinterested in the latter. Instead, most of his attention and all of his dramatic panache (or what’s left of it) is poured into his leading lady, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), the surrogate Blanche and classic Allen female. Neurotic, charming, beautiful, obnoxious and ultimately self-destructive, Blue Jasmine is an exercise in self-delusion on the part of its title character and her maker. Continue reading