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Breaking Bad 4.1 – “Well…? Get back to work!”

NOTE: Henceforth, you’ll be able to find the “Breaking Bad” blog over at the Bullz-Eye blog, or you can just visit Bullz-Eye’s “Breaking Bad” fan hub, where the latest entry can always be found.

Hey, everybody, Gale’s okay! Gee, I guess Jesse’s bullet missed him after all, so…

Oh. Never mind. It’s a flashback. But, hey, at least now we know how the superlab first came into being. And we also know the sad irony that Gale is directly responsible for Gus bringing Walt into the business in the first place. So obsessive was he with his concern about the quality of the meth he was making – more concerned, even, than Gus himself – that he simply couldn’t comprehend that Gus wouldn’t want to work with someone like that, even risking the possibility of talking himself out of a job by saying of Walt, “If he’s not (a professional), I don’t know what that makes me.”

Well, as it turns out, Gale, what is makes you is dead. But, then, I think we all pretty much knew that when Season 3 faded to black. Some of us just didn’t want to admit it.

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“Breaking Bad” is back, baby!

It’s been a long, cold wait for Walter White to start making meth again…so long, in fact, that the actor who plays him – Bryan Cranston, of course – has missed the window of eligibility for this year’s Emmy Awards…but on Sunday night at 10 PM EST, “Breaking Bad” will finally return to AMC.

Season Four of the acclaimed series arrives just on the heels of the network having received countless complaints from irate viewers who felt cheated when “The Killing” didn’t resolve the mystery of who killed Rosie Larsen, but if you’re one of those folks, fear not: while the answer to the question “is Gale dead?” isn’t definitely answered at the precise instant the season premiere begins (although you would be forgiven for thinking that it has been), you’ll have clarification of Gale’s state of existence mere moments after the opening credits conclude.

Mind you, despite all of the discussion about whether or not Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) successfully shot and killed Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) at the end of Season Three, series creator Vince Gilligan has said outright that “it’s not actually meant to be ambiguous. It’s meant to be, ‘Oh my God, Jesse shot poor Gale.” Not that he couldn’t have changed his mind in the interim between seasons, of course, but given Gilligan’s steadfast vision for the series over the course of 33 episodes, there’s little reason to think that he has.

Okay, so everyone remembers that Gale probably got shot by Jesse, since that was the last moment of the Season Three finale, but do you remember where everyone else was at the end of the season? Let’s play a little bit of catch-up, just in case.

When we last left Walt, he (probably) was on the verge of being shot and killed by Mike (Jonathan Banks), as order by fried-chicken impresario / meth kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), but the stay of execution was temporarily rescinded upon the realization that Jesse might well be in the process of murdering the only other person capable of maintaining the manufacturing of the meth. (Did I ever mention how much I love alliteration?) Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), another one of Gus’s main men, makes a mad dash toward Gale’s apartment, but as it stands right now, we don’t officially know whether or not he made it in time…except, y’know, we probably do know, which is to say that he almost certainly didn’t.

But I digress.

Elsewhere, Walt’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), now knows of her husband’s goings-on (even if she isn’t nearly as much in the know as she thinks she is) and is trying to incorporate her own business acumen into the operation. Utterly in the dark, however, is their teenage son, Walt, Jr. (R.J. Mitte), who spent much of Season Three trying to figure out just what the hell was up with his parents. And can you blame him? After all, he watched his mom kick his father out of the house, demand a divorce, and even call the cops in order to have him arrested, only to see her backpedal. You’d be confused, too.

You’ve also got Skyler’s sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt), whose DEA-agent husband, Hank (Dean Norris), was left a paraplegic after an attack by two very violent gentlemen on a quest to avenge their cousin. When last we saw Hank and Marie, she had just successfully managed to make his groundhog see its shadow…by which, of course, I mean that she gave him a hand job and made his penis stand at attention. Sure, it seems like an easy enough trick, but it was the first time he’d managed it since incurring his injuries, and the fact that Marie made it happen meant that he had to make good on his promise that he’d leave the hospital, head home, and begin further physical therapy. Once Hank’s back on his feet, it’s only a matter of time before he’s also back on the trail of the mysterious blue meth and the man responsible for manufacturing it.

Obviously, we know where Jesse was when we last left him, but prior to that, he’d had a hell of third season. He started off in rehab, and once he got out, he initially managed to stay clean while still continuing to make meth, but after spending a little too long lingering on his conviction that he had become “the bad guy,” he soon began to backslide. In addition to his chemical dependency, Jesse also had his fair share of emotional turmoil, dealing with the death of his girlfriend, Jane (Krysten Ritter) by seeking solace in Andrea, a girl from his drug counseling sessions, only to learn that her 11-year-old brother had been responsible for the murder of his friend and fellow dealer, Combo. Dude can’t catch a break.

The relationship between Walt and Jesse hit some serious highs and lows during the course of the third season, but by the end of the next-to-last episode, it became clear that the two of them have a bond which cannot be broken. What remains to be seen, however, is how Gus is going to handle their continued partnership, not simply because of his lack of respect for Jesse, but also because of the way Walt has transitioned from being a mere manufacturer into someone who clearly has an interest in working his way up the corporate ladder, as it were.

So that’s where we stand with “Breaking Bad” as we enter into the show’s fourth season. Tensions were sky high when we last left the series, and I can assure you that by the time the credits roll on the season premiere, you will feel the same way Giancarlo Esposito felt after he read the script for the episode: a little bit stunned and a little bit shaken.

True, that’s generally how most viewers feel at the end of every episode of “Breaking Bad,” but having already seen this one, I’m going to lay it on the line: the show delivers the “holy shit” moment to end all “holy shit” moments to date.

See you on Sunday, kids.

P.S. Don’t forget to visit Bullz-Eye’s “Breaking Bad” blog right after the season premiere to join in on the post-show discussion. Trust me, there’s definitely going to be a lot to talk about. In the meantime, be sure to head over to our “Breaking Bad” Fan Hub for all the interviews, reviews, and features about the show that you can stand.

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Bryan Cranston’s Back to “Breaking Bad” in Albuquerque

This morning, Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Bryan Cranston – oh, sorry, I think we’re now required to refer to him as three-time-Emmy-Award-winning Bryan Cranston – about his new Atom.com series, “The Handlers,” and rest assured you’ll learn all about it when the full interview turns up in the very near future. For the moment, however, we can’t resist shining the spotlight on our beloved “Breaking Bad,” which, as we learned in AMC’s panel during the winter TCA press tour, starts production on its fourth season on January 13.

Cranston, God bless him, opened our conversation by asking, “How are you? When are you coming back to the set?” (My answer: I’m ready when he is, since God knows I had a blast last time.) This is kind of a funny question for him to ask, though, given that he himself hasn’t even made it back to the set yet, having literally only arrived back in Albuquerque last night. Still, given that we talked to him at 6:30 AM PST, he’s clearly raring to go when the time comes.

That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s looking to get too far ahead of the game when it comes to finding out what’s next for Walter White.

“I’ve only read the first script so far,” said Cranston. “I have the second one ready to read. I like to keep it like that, where it doesn’t get too far ahead of me. Walt is on this journey, and I like the fact that he doesn’t know where he’s going, so why should Bryan know where it’s going? It doesn’t help me. In fact, if there’s any kind of subliminal preparation, then it could hurt the character. I want to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible, so that I feel that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other tension that Walt has.”

As a result, Cranston’s obviously not in much of a position to offer up hints of what we can expect from the season…not that anyone from this show has ever gone out of their way to provide spoilers.

“I can’t!” he apologized. “I don’t even know anything, except that the first episode picks up right where the last episode left off. The tension was wound pretty tight, so we just have to wind ourselves back up to that level, and away we go, spinning like a top!”

Having only just returned to Albuquerque, Cranston’s big post-interview plans were to get settled back into his townhouse and get himself unpacked, then head over to “Breaking Bad” HQ for a fitting and to pick up some paperwork.

But we know what you’re really wondering: has he shaved his head yet?

“No, actually, and here’s an exclusive for you,” said Cranston. “Steven Michael Quezada, who plays Gomez on ‘Breaking Bad,’ he’s a local guy, and he’s very popular here. He’s a stand-up comedian, and he has a variety show on The CW that airs in New Mexico once a week (‘The After, After Party with Steven Michael Quezada’). They tape on Tuesdays, so tomorrow night I’m going to be on his show, and I’m going to do a little stand-up, and then we’ll do an interview session. What the audience doesn’t know, though, is that when we’re talking, Steven’s going to say something to the effect of, ‘You know, you look so different in person than you do as Walter White the character.’ And then I’ll say something like, ‘Well, it takes a team of professionals and…well, let me show you!’ And then out comes my makeup artist, my wardrobe head, and hairdresser, and they start going to work on me. And I’ll just keep talking to Steven, taking off my clothes, putting on the wardrobe, the make-up goes on, the goatee goes on – I don’t have one right now – and then they’ll shave my head live on TV. And then I’ll put the glasses on, and it’s, like, ‘Voila!‘”

NICE.

Cranston’s hopeful that they can get a clip of this momentous event onto YouTube sooner than later. Let us all keep our fingers crossed…both for the clip, and that he makes good on his assurance that he’ll have me back on the “Breaking Bad” set in the near future. (In this case, a win for me is a win for you, too!)

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2010 Year End TV Review: Will Harris

You’d think it’d be easy for me to pull together a “Best TV of 2010” list, given that I’ve attended two TCA press tours (one in the winter, one in the summer), participated in two editions of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings (one in the spring, one in the fall), and pulled together the site’s annual Fall TV Preview, but damned if that doesn’t somehow make the task harder. Nobody likes to feel like they’re repeating themselves, and given that there’s going to be some inevitable content crossover between all of these various pieces, I often find myself bouncing back and forth between all of these features, wondering if I’m subconsciously recycling a particularly nice choice of phrase. Hopefully, I’ve managed to make this sound at least somewhat original, but if for some reason you feel I’ve failed at that endeavor, please, for God’s sake, don’t take it out on the shows. It’s not their fault, and they shouldn’t be held accountable for my lack of creativity.

Oh, and one other note: in a further effort to avoid conceptual duplication, I’ve only written about each show once, so if you see a show’s title without anything written beside it, look back and you’ll find where I’ve already written about it. That, or I screwed up. Either’s possible, really. (I’m only human, after all.)

Best Shows to Come and Go within 2010

1. Terriers (FX) – It’s a testament to the quality of “Terriers” that FX president John Landgraf held a teleconference with journalists after breaking the news of the series’ cancellation in order to explain his actions, but I don’t think anyone really blamed the guy, anyway: the show’s ratings were as deplorable as the writing was phenomenal. Between the awful ad campaign for the show (no, it wasn’t about dogs) and the fact that many of the viewers who did tune in were kind of bummed out by too-real character traits and developments like alcoholism, infidelity, divorce, and mental illness, it’s not a surprise that it wasn’t a huge hit. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
2. Lone Star (Fox) – I’d like to think that this “Dallas”-esque series about a con man leading two lives would’ve been battling with “Terriers” for the top spot if only Fox hadn’t canceled it after only two episodes…but, then, if they can’t canceled it after only two episodes, then maybe viewers might’ve embraced “Lone Star” enough that it wouldn’t have been canceled at all. Oh, wait, never mind, I forgot: it was on Fox, so it probably still would’ve been canceled, anyway. Even so, Kyle Killen provided an intriguing concept and delivered it with the help of a top-notch cast. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of it.

3. Warren the Ape (MTV) – So falls another network effort by one of our favorite fabricated Americans. Greg the Bunny couldn’t keep a show alive on either Fox or IFC, but it really seemed like a given that the shenanigans of Warren the Ape were tailor-made for MTV viewers. Not so, apparently. Frankly, the whole thing smacks of anti-puppetism. Warren himself has conceded that “fabricated Americans still have a very long way to go in this country, and I think it’s always going to be an uphill battle.” How right he was.
4. Happy Town (ABC) – Note to ABC’s publicity department: while I appreciate your intentions when you underlined the comparisons between “Happy Town” and “Twin Peaks” with a giant Magic Marker, you have to expect that “Twin Peaks” fans are going to offer up their equivalent of the old “I knew Jack Kennedy” line. Yeah, I know, you only meant it as a point of reference, and you never intended to imply that the two series were on even creative footing, but try telling them that. For my part, I thought it was a creepy little sleeper of a show…but, unfortunately, the other five people who agreed with me weren’t enough to keep it on the air.

5. Sons of Tucson (Fox) – I’m still not quite sure what Fox was thinking by trying to slot this poor live-action sitcom into the midst of their otherwise-animated Sunday night line-up. Maybe they’d hoped it would instill viewers with a bit of nostalgia for the days of “Malcolm in the Middle,” given the similarity in feel between that show and “Tucson.” If so, the plan failed miserably. In a perfect world, the network would raise the series from the dead and team it with “Raising Hope.” Now that’s a double bill I could get behind.

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The 2010 Primetime Emmy Awards: The Post-Game Wrap-Up

First of all, I’d just like to say that it’s cruel of both “True Blood” and “Mad Men” to air new episodes on the same night as the Emmy Awards, especially when neither show is sending out advance screeners anymore. Yes, I’m a big whiner, and I don’t care. It’s 11 PM, the Emmys have just wrapped up, and now I’ve got to go blog both shows. I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it: this sucks.

Okay, enough of my bitching. Let’s talk about the Emmys.

As far as I’m concerned, Jimmy Fallon did a fine job as host. The “Glee”-inspired opening segment was awesome: Jon Hamm ruled that bit with his sweet-ass dance moves, but Joel McHale leaping in front the camera was pretty awesome, too, and once they switched over to the live performance, I laughed out loud at just how happy Randy Jackson seemed to be to get to play in front of the audience. Sometimes you forget that the guy’s got some serious studio-musician street cred.

The minstrel-in-the-aisles bit was hit or miss, but Stephen Colbert was hilarious, and I was pleasantly surprised at Kim Kardashian’s performance. Jimmy’s quick quip at Conan’s expense was pretty funny, too. I wasn’t as big a fan of the farewells to “24,” “Law & Order,” and “Lost,” mostly because all I could think was, “This kind of takes away from the seriousness of the farewells to the folks in the industry who really have died.” The segment with the “Modern Family” cast meeting with the network was hysterical, though.

And now on to the awards!

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 5

Mercifully, there were no panels to attend on Day 5 of the TCA Press Tour, thereby allowing me a brief chance to breathe…and, more importantly, to spend some time with my lovely wife Jenn, who arrived from Virginia in the wee hours of Day 4. Although I ducked out to attend the TCA business meeting that morning, I passed on a chance to visit the set of “Big Brother” in order for Jenn and I to have lunch at the South Beverly Grill with my friend Dileep Rao, who I knew way back when he was just a member of the Trashcan Sinatras mailing list. Now, of course, he’s a big shot movie actor who can’t even finish his lunch without having someone come up and say, “I loved you in ‘Inception.’” Either way, it was still good to see him again.

After that, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the TCA Awards, an evening which always proves to be one of the most enjoyable evenings of the tour. It’s the opportunity for the members of the organization to pay tribute to our favorite programs and performances of the previous year, and it’s also a chance for us to interact with the individuals responsible, but we do so with our tape recorders put away for the evening. There’s no red carpet. There’s no video document of the proceedings. It’s just us, the stars, and the night…or does that sound too pretentious? Yeah, it probably does, especially when you’re talking about a night that’s hosted by Dax Shepherd.

Given that the first two TCA Awards ceremonies that I attended were hosted by John Oliver (“The Daily Show”) and the Smothers Brothers, respectively, you’d think that Dax Shepherd would feel like a step down…but then you factor in how awful Chelsea Handler was as last year’s host, and darned if Dax doesn’t seem like a decent choice. Indeed, he proved to be extremely funny, much funnier than I think a lot of us were expecting him to be. He kicked things off by pretending he was addressing a group of HerbalLife salespeople, claimed that he was only hosting because Dog the Bounty Hunter dropped out, then acknowledged he was a little hurt by the fact that just about every review of “Parenthood” that mentioned his performance invariably began with some semblance of the phrase, “You’re never going to believe this, but he’s actually pretty good.” There was also a funny story about how he’s a god at CostCo, thanks to having co-starred in “Employee of the Month” with Dane Cook, and he did a spot-on impression of Owen Wilson calling his brother Luke and mocking him for his telephone commercials. Really, the only disappointing thing about Dax’s appearance was that I didn’t realize he’d brought his fiancee, Kristen Bell, until after she’d already gone. DAMN!

From there, we entered the awards portion of the evening.

PROGRAM OF THE YEAR: “Glee” (FOX)
OUTSTANDING NEW PROGRAM: “Glee” (FOX).
INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY: Jane Lynch, “Glee” (FOX).

Alas, Jane Lynch was suffering from laryngitis and was unable to attend, but Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan accepted the award in her stead, offering as solace a list of four things we’ll hear Sue Sylvester say in Season 2.

4. “A female football coach is like a male nurse, Will: it’s a sin against nature.”
3. “I secretly hope you’re in the middle of a midlife crisis, William, as that means you’re halfway to an early death, affording me a blissful demented convalescence spent peeing on your grave.”
2. “Don’t go soft on me, Will. I realize you’re mourning the loss of that bony little redhead you’re in love with, and I understand. It’s not just a loss for you. As she appears to be the link between early hominids and man, it’s also a loss for science.”
1. “Should’ve taken the poop cookies, Will.”

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Breaking Bad 3.13 – Where In The World Is Jesse Pinkman?

Has any season of television seemed to go by quite as fast as this run of “Breaking Bad” did?

You hear critics throw around phrases like “the best show on television” so often that it barely seems to mean anything anymore, so in addition to making that particular declaration of “Breaking Bad,” I feel like I should offer a bit more, in order to give it some extra heft. Now, obviously, I’m a TV critic, so I watch television day in and day out. Indeed, to borrow a phrase from one of my peers, TV feeds my family. (Hi, Bill!) But while that’s a far cry from being a hardship when you love the small screen as much as I do, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve watched so much television that it takes a hell of a lot to lead me from saying “I like this show” to “I fucking love this show.” “Breaking Bad,” however, has done that, by taking the time to intricately build the characterizations of its major players, developing plots which never seem to stop unfolding, and – perhaps most impressively – zigging when I think they’re going to zag and unabashedly defying me whenever I say, “Oh, no, they wouldn’t dare do that!”

Man, I haven’t even finished writing about the Season 3 finale, and already I’m longing for Season 4…

We start tonight’s episode with…an empty house? That’s right: it’s a flashback to when Walt and Skyler were first buying their house. Okay, to be honest, this wasn’t a surprise for Jamey or I, since we were there when they were filming the season finale. In fact, there’s a portion of this scene that we’ve seen and you haven’t yet, with Walt and Skyler wrapping up their walk-through of the place and stepping outside, then hopping into their convertible and driving away into what they perceive to be a perfect future. Presumably, this will turn up on the Season 3 DVD, but what we all got to see was more than enough to show that, once upon a time, the Whites were not only happy but in a position to see the world as their oyster. (“Why be cautious? We’ve got nowhere to go but up!”) Hell, back then, they were even talking about having a third kid, something that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, based on the current state of their marriage.

Cut to the present, with the disconcerting sight of the windshield and front bumper of Walt’s car showing the residual effects of the previous night’s events. There’s no sign of Jesse as Walt looks across the horizon, watching the headlights of a car roll ever closer, but if he’s suffering from any nervousness, the return of the Heisenberg hat seems to be displacing it. Mike gets in several great lines, including his version of “assurances” and a momentary musing on how words can be “so open to interpretation” (I love the way you can hear the smirk in Jonathan Banks’ delivery), but Walt scores a point when Mike suggests that he get his car fixed: “Let’s see how this goes first.”

Gus is not a happy man…and, really, who can blame him? This scene was, as has become par for the course with any scene featuring Giancarlo Esposito, thoroughly gripping, but it was as much so because of the lack of certainty surrounding the actions of both characters. We thought we knew Walt pretty well, but after that move last week, when he mowed down and shot down the dealers, it’s clear that we’re dealing with Heisenberg now, which means that anything can happen. Like the scene last week with Walt and Skyler, this is a back and forth full of constant oneupsmanship.

Walt: I’m quite well.
Gus: Clearly, you are not.

Gus: Are you asking me if I ordered the murder of a child?
Walt: I would never ask you that.

I find it fascinating that Walt’s life has taken this turn where, after years of suffering through the public school system, he’s had to start making meth to find himself back in a career where he’s on something approximating even intellectual footing with his co-workers.

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The boys from “Breaking Bad” weigh in on character transformations and the future of the series

Over the course of my time at Bullz-Eye and, by extension, Premium Hollywood, I’ve slowly but surely reached a point where I do so many one-on-one interviews almost never sign up to do conference-call interviews anymore, but when you’re pitched a “Breaking Bad” call that features Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and series creator Vince Gilligan…hey, there are some offers that you just can’t refuse. It was a packed house, but I managed to sneak onto the call twice during the course of the hour that these three gentlemen held court. Here’s some of the wisdom that they imparted upon me…

First of all, I’m curious what percentage of the “Breaking Bad” budget goes to replacing the windshields of Walt’s vehicles.

Vince Gilligan: (Laughs) That is a good question. It has to be a huge percentage. That has turned into a running gag, hasn’t it? We didn’t intend for that to happen at the beginning. There was no long-term plan to keep breaking Walt’s windshield. But it sure does happen a lot. We keep the tape on there to remind everybody.

Aaron Paul: You love the tape.

This has been a fantastic season, especially for Jesse. Aaron, you really soared with the character, trying to go clean, going at it alone, finding out that your new girlfriend’s brother killed one of his associates. Can you talk about adapting your performance to meet each of Jesse’s challenges in life?

Aaron Paul: I thought I had a grasp of who this kid was by the second season. I had an idea about where he was going before we started the third season. But as always is the case, we went in the complete opposite direction. It was a little tough. Now Jesse is convinced that he is officially the bad guy. He has all of this guilt on his shoulders. He is making a valiant effort to stay on a clean and sober path. It’s like playing a different character within the character itself. Which presents a different challenge. But its so much fun to play.

Talking about character transformation, Skyler went through a major transformation over the course of the season, first making decisions in desperation, then becoming empowered. Was that development planned way, way in advance, or was it something that came about as a result of you guys deciding to have her discover Walt’s secret at the beginning of the season?

Vince Gilligan: Good question! You know, I guess…there’s always an exception to every rule, and this going to the lie slightly to some stuff I was saying earlier, but we try very hard to keep our storytelling organic and to let the characters let us know where they intend to head. Having said that, Anna Gunn is such an integral part of our show, and the character of Skyler is such an integral part of our show and is a character that I would surely hate to lose from our series, and there was a crossroads early on this season when we realized that she had to find out about her husband’s illicit activities. We couldn’t keep that lie going very much longer, because she’s a very smart character and she knows he’s up to something. So we’re at a crossroads at a moment like that, storywise, my writers and I, because she has three very believable routes or forks in the road to take. She could call the police, and that’d be very believable, and it’s definitely an option when you find out that your significant other is dealing large quantities of meth and putting your whole family at risk that way. Or she could divorce him, definitely, or she could take the kids and flee and get the hell out of Dodge.

I mean, these are all possibilities, but we wanted to keep her around, so in kind of a moment of wanting the character to tell us where she wanted to go but… (Starts to laugh) …trying to steer her a little bit into sticking around and not leaving the show entirely, we decided at that point that we want her to go through sort of a process this season. If it’s not coming to sort of a sympathy for Walt throughout the course of the season, at least she comes to some sort of an understanding whereby she doesn’t side with him necessarily, she doesn’t think that he did the right thing here, but she gets to kind of a pragmatic place where she says to herself, “Well, there is this money, and we’re going to need it for Hanks’ rehabilitation and recovery, now that he’s been shot four times. Let’s be pragmatic about this. Let’s make the best out of a very bad situation.” And that’s sort of what we’re working toward with Skyler all season: the idea of her slowly, as organically as possible, as believably as possible, getting her head around a very big concept, which is that her husband is a criminal. And it took 13 solid episodes to get there, and it will perhaps continue in Season 4 because she’s a wonderful character… (Laughs) …and, on a very mercenary level, I want to keep her around, because she’s a great actress and a great character. So that’s my long-winded way of saying, “Yes, that was intentional.”

Obviously, Walt is no longer Mr. Chips, but nor is he quite Scarface yet. Where are we on the sliding scale, and will the final transformation into Scarface take place in Season 4?

Vince Gilligan: You want to take that one, Brian? That’s a good question.

Bryan Cranston: Oh, you’re dishing off, and I’m going to put it back to you, because I’m kind of along for the ride, just like Walt is. Walt has no idea that this transition is happening to him. He’s just experiencing it as it goes, and that’s what so much for me as an actor to play this, because it’s so immediate. It’s so in the now. He has very little thought on the future because he doesn’t have much of a future. The past has completely destroyed him. All he has is the now, so he’s living right here and now. So as an actor approaching that, I like to do the same thing. I knew the larger picture, just as all you had, from Vince’s very colorful way of explaining what he wanted to do four years ago, when we first started talking about this journey, and that fascinated me, because I knew it had never been done in the history of television.

But with that being said, as the actor, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what’s in the back of Vince’s brain. It’s dark and ugly… (Laughs) …and I would rather have him delight me with his story as we go along, because in this case, it just couldn’t help me. And, y’know, to me, it’s like someone telling you the ending of a movie, and then saying, “Oh, let’s go see the movie,” and you’re, like, “Well, it’s kind of blown for me now!” In that sense, I like not knowing, and wherever that line is, we don’t know. I think it’s safe to say that this is not a series that was constructed to last like “Gunsmoke.” It’s not going to be, “Wow you’re in remission!” “Yeah, it’s been 20 years now!” (Laughs) Nor do we want it to be. I think we’re all very proud of this show and proud of the collective work that goes into it from all fields, but like the prideful athletes that we see, I think that Vince and I and Aaron and everyone else connected would rather have an amalgam of years that make sense and end it at the right time, as opposed to going and extending our welcome and having people wonder when we’re going to die already. I think we’d like to wrap it up in a… (Hesitates) It’s hard to say, because it’s kind of a moving target, but in the right amount of episodes to tell the story and to do it justice, and then go home.

Vince Gilligan: That’s a great answer. And to add to that…and I’m not being coy here… it is very well described by Bryan as a moving target. I don’t quite know where we are on the spectrum of Mr. Chips and Scarface myself, and, again, I’m not being coy. I don’t know how much farther we can take it. In some sense, we’ve already taken it farther than I would’ve thought possible way back when I was writing the pilot, and it’s a credit to our actors and certainly first and foremost to Bryan…when we’re speaking about Walt, it’s a credit to Bryan’s ability to continue to let an audience sympathize with his character, despite his character’s terrible behavior. You still sense the underlying humanity. You realize he’s not a monster, even though he very often does monstrous, cold, evil things. He behaves that way, and yet he is not necessarily that person. He hasn’t lost completely his moral compass yet. He continues to remain…his character continues to remain interesting and relatable, or at least understandable, if not sympathizable, and so much of that credit goes to Bryan.

It is very much a moving target. If you held my feet to the fire right now, I can’t really see beyond one or two more seasons, but having said that, there was a time way back when when I thought that three would probably be the total amount we could do, and I think we easily could do another season, if not more. But as Bryan says, this will not be “Gunsmoke,” and I can’t forsee it… (Trails off) It’s better to leave the party early than late. You’d rather leave people wanting more from you than saying, “Jesus, is that show still on the air?” So it’s a tricky equation and one I hope we will get right, as far as, “When’s the time to take the final bow with a show like this?”

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Breaking Bad 3.12 – No More Half-Measures, Walter

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, no matter what happens in the season finale, this week’s installment of “Breaking Bad” will still go down as the best episode of Season 3. With that said, we’ve got plenty to discuss, but let’s start things off with a song, shall we?

I don’t know about you, but, personally, I’m never going to be able to hear The Association’s “Windy” in the same way again. Here we go with another example of what I referenced last week, paying off longtime viewers by revisiting a long-dormant storyline. We haven’t seen Wendy since the early days of Season 2, but she’s back and, as we (and Jesse) can clearly see, business is still booming for this industrious young lady.

Despite Jesse’s assurances to Walt that Wendy had the necessary emotional stamina to help him with his plan, I knew she was acting way too hesitant about assisting him for things to go smoothly. Frankly, given the ominous green light in her room and the way she was gazing longingly at the blue meth, I figured we were looking at the very real possibility of an O.D. before her part in the proceedings ever came to pass. That’s not what happened, of course…but, then, given the way she shambled off after her dismissal, who knows what her eventual fate will be?

(Actually, it’s probably kinda like Lucy Lawless’s comment on “The Simpsons,” where, whenever you notice a continuity error on “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the explanation is that a wizard did it…except that anytime a character on “Breaking Bad” vanishes and is never seen again, you can presume that they either O.D.’ed on meth or were killed by a dealer. I mean, c’mon, if you do the stats, the law of averages speaks for itself on this matter.)

It was nice that Walt, Jr. got a chance behind the wheel, and it was even nicer that they kept it real and directly addressed how his medical condition would affect his driving. While Walt and son were bonding, however, Skyler was online, doing her research on money laundering so that she’d be properly prepared to pounce on Walt the second he arrived. That was a great scene, with the back-and-forth between them, each certain that the next words out of their mouths would give them the upper hand in the discussion, and even though Walt seemed to be bowing to her superior position, he ended triumphantly. (“…and THAT is how we’ll sell your little fiction!”)

There were a lot of intense discussions this week, with the one between Walt and Skyler quickly followed by one between Walt and Jesse. This one, however, took place over the course of a couple of cold ones. (“No, seriously, get a beer with me.”) Looks like my concerns were correct: the dealers were some of Gus’s boys. Not that Jesse gives a rat’s ass about the possible end result of taking them out, since he’s angry about the situation on at least two levels, but Walt tries to talk some sense into him, anyway. (“Murder is not part of your 12-step program!”) Walt was making some pretty harsh statements, most notably underlining the fact that if Jesse had really been interested in revenge, he would’ve done something about the dealers weeks ago instead of just getting doped up, but surely he knew that his arguments were falling on deaf ears.

Jesse’s record for making rational decisions isn’t exactly unblemished, however, so not only was there never any way he was going to change his mind, but, frankly, I can’t believe Walt ever really expected Jesse to show up for the meeting at Saul’s office, either. Not that I’m really complaining: any scene with Saul is a good scene, and this one was no exception, thanks to his clarification to Walt about wearing orange jumpsuits and picking up trash along the highway (“That’s jail”) and his musing on the chancy bathrooms at Springer. What I found most enjoyable about the scene, though, was the way Bryan Cranston so effectively captured the feeling that Walt was just kinda spitballing ideas, with no real idea what to do about the situation.

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Breaking Bad 3.11 – I Don’t Understand How The Last Card Is Played (But Somehow The Vital Connection Is Made)

I said this on Facebook this morning after watching my screener of this week’s episode, and I’m saying it again now for all of the readers of this blog: not only is “Breaking Bad” the best show on AMC (which is a hell of an accomplishment, given how much I enjoy “Mad Men”), but it is now officially my favorite show on television, period. Not even having to blog it every week can kill my love for it…and that’s saying something. Watching this week’s episode, though, really served as a turning point for me. I’m someone who, when faced with a plot development which involves a ridiculous amount of coincidence, often finds himself whispering under his breath, “Oh, give me a break…” Tonight’s episode effectively tied new characters from this season into events from last season in a way that, on another show, might have left me feeling the same way. Instead, I was left in awe.

Let us begin, however, at the beginning, with a flashback that allowed Krysten Ritter to return from the dead and play Jane once again. That Jesse was left less than impressed by a trip to an art gallery is hardly surprising, but being reintroduced to Jane after so long served to remind me of a question that occurred to me a few times last season: why is a girl as deep as this involved with a tool like Jesse? Her rap about how “sometimes you get fixated on something and you might not even get why” struck me as a suspiciously on-the-nose callback to Walt’s obsession with the fly, but I could watch Ritter recite from the phone book, so I have no real complaints about that. Besides, if nothing else, the scene provided us with the origin of the lipstick-encrusted cigarette in the car’s ashtray.

Hank didn’t have a huge amount of screen time this week, but his brief appearances in the episode nonetheless served to underline how much he’s struggling with his recovery…and by “struggling,” I mean that he’s kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place: he refuses to leave the hospital until he can do so on his own two feet, but he’s barely willing to participate in the physical therapy that’s being provided. I loved his back and forth with Marie on the matter of pain (“Pain is weakness leaving your body.” “Pain is my foot in your ass, Marie!”), but it shows the depths of his anger about his situation that he should be giving shit to Walt, Jr., a kid who has to use his own crutches to walk out of the room. Gee, you don’t suppose his nephew’s condition serves as a constant reminder about his own physical limitations, do you? Nahhhhhhh…

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