Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Negative Review: Breaking Bad S05E16 "Felina" Sucks

No witty caption. But this looks cool.

Maybe now that Breaking Bad is over, its inflated reputation can eventually simmer down and some of its weaker writing can be viewed with a more objective eye. It's kind of hard to talk with people about this show because most are complete fanboys/girls who, by virtue of the show's absurd, weekly pre-episode hype, dismiss any illogical or wonky writing. This isn't to say that Breaking Bad is... bad... it isn't. Not at all. Breaking Bad is very good – however, season 5A mostly sucks and the series finale definitely sucks. So in no particular order...

1. As far as Bad Guy 101 goes, any time a foreign car attempts to enter your compound, it is the case that this car must be checked, because, you know, there could be an improvised rotary M60 death-turret in the trunk. But even supposing the Aryans weren't dealing with Walter, whom at least some of them must know is genius enough to be able to build something as dangerous as this, wouldn't it make sense to be extremely wary of the guy you just ripped off $80 million from? Not to mention, the Aryans specifically know (courtesy of Todd/Lydia's encounter with Walter, earlier that day...) that Walter is up to something – and yet, despite knowing this, they allow him within meters of their top-level personnel without anything more than a flimsy frisking. Sure. 

2. Who leaves their Volvo unlocked and places the keys underneath the visor? What is this, a television show– 

3. Isn't it nice that Walter was able to predict with precision what table Lydia would be sitting at? Because despite the former's mentioning of the latter's schedule, it is apparent if one observes any previous scene that despite Lydia's recurring Café visits, she sits at a different table every time. And counting the number of tables in the diner, Walter bet his revenge on odds no better than 1/20.

4. And you know what, speaking of that unlocked car, who leaves the door to their expensive house open so that creeps such as Walter are free to come in and sit down in the porch/foyer/veranda/whatever the fuck that room was? Furthermore, after the presumed owners arrive and wander into their "inner-house" and turn off the alarm (which apparently doesn't cover the stoop/vestibule/courtyard–), wouldn't they then probably want to lock the front door? It's almost as if Gretchen and Elliot wanted someone to burglarize their house. 

5. And now, let's consider the ridiculousness of that M60: why take the risk? I know that this is the guy who bet that Lydia would pick the winning Stevia packet, but assuming that his car wouldn't be searched or that his keys wouldn't be confiscated beyond recovery or that he wouldn't be able to park in the correct location or that his car keys wouldn't be out of range or rendered ineffective through the walls or– well, the list goes on. So I ask again: why take the risk? He knew he was going to die that day – he even tells Skyler he isn't coming back after tonight (by the way – props to the police for not staking out the refugee house despite knowing Walter's in town). So, by the way, this Walter guy, he's a chemist. And yet, Walter did not opt to strap the inner linings of the car with C4 or some equivalent and just drive into the approximate location of Jack and explode. Let's not kid ourselves here – modern  technology allows one to place enough explosives in the linings of the doors to make a crater 20 feet deep and 300 feet wide; no one would have survived, guaranteed, if Walter had so opted. Except for Jesse, maybe, in his Rancor pit.

Actually, there's an explanation for most of this: lazy writing. Why, you ask? Because Walter needs to be alive in order to have his final scene with Jesse. And thusly, we have...

6. The disgusting, sugary "Awwwww!" scene where Walter and Jesse acknowledge one another for the last time. "Okay, Jesse, I won't be around to keep saving you, so you better go and start a new life before the police find your fingerprints all over the gun I just used to kill Jack. I mean, it's not as if your information is already in the system – you're driving away scot-free!" And going a bit further back into the episode, by the way, that scene where Walter asks of Skyler to see Holly one last time and then observes Jr. from afar is so overdone that it made me realize something: the send-off Jr. and Holly get is about as meaningful as their character arcs and contributions to the show; remember when it was a really big deal that Skyler was pregnant? And when Jr. had that wacky business with his cool friends from school? Yeah. I don't remember either; it was meaningless filler.

7. Speaking of the police... suppose someone dials 9-1-1 and reports hearing an improvised rotary M60 death-turret – even if the caller has only a very vague idea about what he is describing, wouldn't the police at the very least, take away, "automatic weapons fire?" And yet, we get maybe 4-5 cops with Glocks rushing into a shady compound late at night instead of waiting for SWAT. At this point, I'm beyond feeling offended for the police, because Breaking Bad literally has the first cop find out about Walter while taking a shit.

8. Bad Guy 101 again – guys, I'm really happy for you about your secret, isolated compound, and I'm going to let you finish that batch of meth, but follow the rules! Never leave your perimeter insecure. Never have all henchmen operating at nighttime – someone needs to be attentive enough come morning to ensure the previous condition is met. Because, you see, if you're all holed up in the same, tiny clubhouse, you're liable to be killed by a single attack. Perhaps Walter's contraption isn't the first thing that comes to mind, but you guys are some pretty bad dudes and it's likely that after slaughtering a rival gang, in addition to an extensive amount of prison inmates, that someone might have it in for you.

9. And now... the moment you've all been waiting for... the final cliché! Walter lets his M60 open fire, saves Jesse, kills Jack, taunts Lydia... he does it all. And only after this has all been achieved... only then! does Walter reveal that he's been wounded in the upper-right torso by dolefully opening up his jacket to the camera. This is a cheap ploy by the writers to generate empathy – shit! He's dying! Just like he said he would. Well, thanks for letting us know, I guess, but now you're going to be hard-pressed to explain how Walter, in his beyond-terrible physical condition, was able to stomach the pain of a red-hot piece of metal puncturing his body without immediately succumbing to the pain and collapsing. Ah... you say you want him to collapse only after everything's been tied up? And inside the meth lab, because it suits your artistry? My friends, you are lazy, lazy hacks. Shock does not mask the pain of a 7.62×51mm bullet ripping through your guts, and not even the most hardened of soldiers would be standing upright afterwards long enough to do a tenth of what Walter was able to do. And yet, this is necessary, because otherwise we wouldn't get that last, droll expression from Walter, as he slowly slips to the floor and the camera majestically zooms into him for his death – I've only seen that about a million times before.

10. Saul wasn't in this episode. And there wasn't a flashback to Jesse in Walter's class. Too bad. There was a lot of potential here with that second one, anyway.

Oh, and I'll just say it here, too: stating that Breaking Bad is on the same level as The Wire is probably worse than using FOX News as a reliable source of information. 

3 comments:

  1. As much as I enjoyed this show and as much as it seems to have spoiled me from enjoying certain other dramas, the last few episodes kind of bothered me. It felt to me as if the show had written itself into a position where the only way they could bring everything together and speed everything towards the conclusion was to have characters suddenly start acting irrationally. Some rash decisions are to be expected in times of great stress, but it felt too contrived the way everyone seemed to collapse all in the same one or two day span.

    Why, for instance, is Huell so quick to betray his boss and confess everything to the DEA? Why is he not in the least bit skeptical that he's being set up? Why does Jesse immediately assume Walter's meeting is a trap and instead does everything he can to further antagonize his former partner? Why is Skyler so quick to confess everything to Marie and reveal everything to Walter "Flynn" Jr without bothering to confirm anything in advance? Why is Walter "Flynn" Jr so quick to believe everything, and why is he so quick to turn against his father whom he seemed to love more than his mother throughout the entire show? Why does Jack's gang not bother at least searching the trunk of Walt's car?

    There are probably others I'm missing, but it all feels so contrived, as if it was somehow necessary for these characters to all suddenly act out of character and make strings of irrational decisions just to get the "drama" to happen the way the writers wanted.

    I agree with most of the points you made about Ozymandias as well as Felina, but I think some of them are a bit of a stretch.

    #2: Speaking from personal experience, it seems like the practice of leaving your keys in the unlocked car is a more common practice among citizens of small towns in the middle of nowhere. The crime rate is so low, everyone knows each other, and they don't get any through traffic, so the odds are probably higher that you'll wreck the car in an accident than get it stolen. Had this been in a major city, I'd be right there with you flipping the table.

    #7: In the final few seconds after Walter collapses on the floor, we see seven cops enter the meth lab and at least three of them are carrying rifles, I presume shotguns and/or semi-automatic rifles. It's a top-down view in poor lighting so it's kind of hard to tell. Not the most fearsome arsenal to take down an M60, no, but it's a bit more than just 4-5 guys with 9mm pistols, assuming there aren't more offscreen.

    #9: When the M60 is going off there's a specific shot of Walter reacting in pain with the audible sound effect of him getting hit, so it wasn't a surprise when he opened the jacket later. Given his position on the ground, it means he must have been hit by ricochet, which depending on how many objects the bullet hit / went through, might have mitigated some of the damage he sustained.

    He's still remarkably composed for someone with a bullet in his side, but I think it's worth pointing out the (what I assume to be intended) symbolism of it being his own bullet fired from his own gun that kills him, which I think is meant to parallel the ongoing message of "Walter brought all of this on himself." It's also yet one more instance of him saving Jesse's life -- not just by knocking him down so he avoids the bullet fire, but also by (perhaps unintentionally) acting as a human shield lying on top of him.

    As for certain characters not getting a proper sendoff (or any sendoff at all), that doesn't really bother me. I don't think this show (or necessarily any, for that matter) has to conform to our own preconceived expectations of what has to happen to a character when they're written out of the plot. Even had Gomez, Junior, Holly, or Saul been much more important characters, I'm perfectly fine with them essentially disappearing from the screen without one nod from the writers; sometimes an anticlimax is necessary and effective.

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    Replies
    1. #2: Okay, that's fair. I should get out more.

      #7: It's certainly true that we're not shown too much of what happens as the police arrives, so this is probably a pedantic point to argue, but it still irks me. In my mind, at least, a shady compound such as the one in the final episode would be off-limits to initial responders – the police would arrive at the scene, and given what they see, they'd probably wait for some sort of special unit to back them up. It's not a very big deal as far as the show goes, especially given the context (this whole argument is about something that happens after the show "ends" already), but... eh.

      #9: The issue for me wasn't so much that it was improbable that Walter gets shot and lives, but that it's a cinematic cliché for all that other stuff to happen – he only dies after moving himself over to the area of greatest artistic value, makes sure to open his jacket to the camera... etc. I know I'm overanalyzing a fairly simple and stupid point, but this is the same show that did this:

      http://i.imgur.com/E60ZhXV.gif
      and this: http://i.imgur.com/1agjkN0.jpg

      I just feel like it could have been written better.

      Anyway, yeah, there is always an argument to be made for characters getting a proper sendoff (or not). Personally, I simply felt cheated that Holly, a character that was conceived during the first episode, as part of Walter's initial frenzy upon realizing his situation, ended up hardly mattering. But yeah, it's still Walter's show, so I can't ever make a truly solid case. I guess I've been spoiled by The Wire, ha ha.

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  2. Thank you! I can't believe how much praise this show still gets.
    I only watched a few episodes and what I saw was a well acted and filmed pulp story. Nothing bad about that, but hearing people calling it the best thing ever and insisting it is flawless still makes me wonder.

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