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Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 8 THE FINALE OMG

30 Sep

So this thing turned out to be the cultural event of the year. At least for the people in my age/class/race group. Which is a pretty privileged group. Which makes it the overall cultural event of the year. Shoutout to privilege.

I’m not going to write a big comprehensive thing. I think a lot of people are doing that. I read a bit of Matt Yglesias on Slate and I even listened to the Slate Spoiler Special about the episode. It seems like there’s been some disappointment and backlash over the finale. I don’t get that. One complaint is the rather high level of implausibility of everything. That’s a fair criticism, but it’s one you could make about dozens of episodes going back to the first season. This is a show that traffics in implausibility. The coincidences, the lack of repercussions, all the normal TV drama standards are taken to new levels in Breaking Bad and no one has said a word until now. I don’t get it.

Here’s the other, larger complaint. Walt won. He goes out as the hero. He accomplished everything he set out to do in the finale and died happy. People seem legitimately angry about it. That totally baffles me. I mentioned this last week, but I’m glad that things didn’t end with that kind of heavy-handed moralism. I think a lot of people wanted the show to make some kind of definitive statement that Walt was a bad person, and therefore deserved a bad outcome as a result of his actions. One of the reasons that Breaking Bad is a good show is that it has always avoided dumb easy answers like that. Bad people are successful all the time. A lot of bad people go their whole lives without any kind of comeuppance. That’s how the world works. And that assumes that you’re dumb enough to separate all people into a good group and a bad group in the first place.

If you’re looking for a bad ending for Walt, I think it’s helpful to think of the end of episode 6 as the ending. Or at least an ending. It’s amazing to me how long Walt held on to the notion that he would be totally and unambiguously successful. That he would just walk back into his house and go on running the car wash and bask in the adulation of his family. That was obviously never going to happen. Walt’s realization of that was the closest the show came to a repudiation of him. A lot of the two episodes after that were Walt coming to terms with the fact that he cared about himself more than his family. His intellect, his empire, his reputation, etc. I was glad that he came out and said it to Skyler.

For that part of Walt the ending was perfect. He died alone in the lab. Everyone will assume he was running it. The only people who can tell the whole story are Jesse and Saul, and they never will. Walt’s dead so he can’t do anything to diminish his reputation after being arrested. The people who will come forward to give interviews etc. about him will only burnish his reputation. Marie, Huell, Skinny Pete/Badger, etc. He goes down as a Pablo Escobar-level crime legend. Which is not at all the case, by the way, not with all of his frequent bumbling, mistakes, almost getting killed, etc. That was always a big part of things that got mostly ignored. The most famous thing about the show is his “I am the one who knocks” speech. That’s just not really true. He came out on top in the end, but it wasn’t because he was so ruthless and ingenious. He got totally outsmarted by Jesse on the fake money barrel thing, for one. He was on the brink of running away because of other people knocking. Multiple times. And then he finally had to. Walt’s actual meth empire prowess never matched his self-image.

All that being said, going into the final scene I was hoping Walt would live. His actions leading up to the machine gun massacre made it obvious that he was expecting to die, and that’s how it probably had to end. The show started out with him being diagnosed with terminal cancer, after all. His death has always been hanging over everything. But still. I wanted him standing in the lab with his fists at his sides, mean-mugging the SWAT team as they filtered in. Oh well.

I do have one grievance that I want to air. I was wrong on the self-ricining. Fine. I feel like I was right in spirit, because Walt pretty obviously came back to Albuquerque planning to die. But Lydia? Really? The whole Todd gang storyline never really did it for me. They weren’t around that long, and they never had any personality like the other meth world people. That they were set up as the final boss of the whole show was a little disappointing. It felt a little low-stakes compared with the drama over Gus Fring and the various Salamancas.

Overall series thoughts: Good show 10/10 would watch again.

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 7

24 Sep

OK. I’m pretty confident at this point that no one reads these, but I don’t care. Only one episode left, and I’m writing this more to clarify things in my own mind than anything else.

The obvious scenario for some time has been Walt coming back to shoot up Todd et al. with the giant gun, and that seems like the only real indisputable event that’ll take place. The unexpected and great wrench in things was Gretchen and Elliott’s appearance on Charlie Rose. My assumption has been that Walt will find out somehow about Jesse being kidnapped and that would be the trigger for him to return–and Charlie’s comment about blue meth seems to be that. Walt also seemed pretty pissed about the whole tone of the interview. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that Walt will ricin himself, but now we have a new candidate: Elliott. Was that just a plot device to prompt Walt to go back to Albuquerque? Or will we find out more about Gray Matter Technologies? I don’t think that company has ever really been explained. Maybe Walt’s plan now is to get caught so he has a platform to proclaim his indispensability in whatever it is they do. That would fit nicely with the whole “remember my name” marketing campaign.

From what I can gather, most media people think that Walt will die, or that he should die, or that he deserves to die, or that the finale has to provide some kind of moral justice; to definitively say “Walt is a bad person”. I won’t be surprised if Walt dies, but I think that’s a profound misreading of things. I think that’s a lazy and simplistic view of the world and I think Vince Gilligan is too smart to think that way. “Deserve” is a stupid concept. If Walt dies, I think it’ll come from a place other than “Walt deserves a bad outcome because he is bad”. Or at least I hope so.

Riding across the country in a propane tank would probably be really uncomfortable. And you’d think they’d stop on the way for some DVDs/books/magazines/etc.

I just read Matt Yglesias’s thoughts about this week on Slate. He says something that a lot of people think, that Todd’s uncle and pals are Nazis. That’s what everyone calls them at least. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they hate Jews and black people, but the obvious explanation for the swastika tattoos in that they’re ex-cons who got down with the Aryan Nation in jail. Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. Prison gangs don’t have an ethos. This also, of course, explains how they had the connections to carry out the jail hit.

Question: Will Walt take his barrel of money back to New Mexico? He has the box, will he take the time to go back for the barrel or will he just pay cash for a car and split? He knows the feds are coming after the phone call.

So here’s Walt’s plan as I see it: Go back to Albuquerque, get the gun and the ricin, take out Todd and crew, rescue Jesse, kill/not kill Jesse, recover his cash, get the cash to Skyler somehow, make a public appearance explaining his role at Gray Matter and making sure everyone knows how great he thinks he is, ricin self.

Unless Walt’s convinced the family doesn’t want his money. I could see him totally giving up on that part of it. Maybe he’ll give the money to Jesse or light it on fire.

I’m most interested in this new Gray Matter angle. I won’t be mad if the following loose ends aren’t tied up: Todd/Lydia’s business/romantic relationship, Skyler’s legal problems, anything about Marie and Junior, Huell in the hotel room, finding Hank’s body, whether Bogdan resumes control of the car wash, etc.

That was more unfocused than usual. Maybe I’ll edit in more stuff later. I’m very excited for Sunday.

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 6

17 Sep

So my predictions and story ideas so far this season have been almost uniformly wrong. I’m OK with that. This week’s episode was pretty spectacular. No more needs to be said about that, everyone else on the internet probably already wrote a breathless and flowery blog post about how good it was. I’m just here to add my scattered thoughts as usual.

A couple things I have gotten right: Junior found out the whole story and Jesse teamed up with Todd. Of course, I did not at all expect Jesse to be kidnapped. My thought has always been that they would just kidnap Walt if that’s what they wanted. Whatever.

Let’s talk some more about Junior. Apparently it’s a big deal whether or not you hate Skyler and why you do or don’t hate her. I don’t pay much attention. I’m too busy hating Junior. He drives me crazy. He’s by far the least complex, least interesting person on the show. He’s whiny and annoying. His parents are shitty in a lot of ways, but they both clearly like and love him. And all Junior wants to do is spend more time with them and be buddies with Walt and get ore worried about cancer than anyone else etc. Why does anyone think that’s at all believable? Junior seems like a well-adjusted kid; we know he has at least one friend in Louis. And yet all we ever see him do is try to spend more time with Mom and Dad. Have the writers never met a teenager? He’s a total failure as a believable fictional character. I can’t believe no one talks about this. It’s the only glaringly bad part of the show.

Now on to my own remaining potentially correct theory. I am more convinced than ever that I’m right. Walt’s going to ricin himself. Let me lay it out. Walt hates the Todd faction for killing Hank. And he wants his money. He’ll also find out about Jesse and he won’t like it. He’ll come back to rescue Jesse and maybe kill him.* He’ll also lay waste to the Todd faction. His phone call to Skyler got her off the hook with the police. He knows Junior hates him. He wants them to go on happily, and he wants to slip them his cash, and he knows they’ll find out if he comes back. He won’t be able to keep it a secret once all of the  meth-related killing reaches the police. Walt also doesn’t want the family to think he killed himself. Be it pride or whatever, he has his reasons. So, in the finale he comes back to Albuquerque and takes care of business. He finds a bar, orders a beer, stirs in the ricin, takes a sip, fade to black.

*Hard to predict how Walt will come to feel about Jesse.

I don’t think I have anything else interesting to say. I don’t even know if what I did say is interesting. I mostly just want to repeat as many times as possible that I think Walt will ricin himself. Christ I hope I’m right. That would be great television.

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 5

10 Sep

I don’t have much to say. All of my great ideas are out of the window. I was disappointed in this episode. Here are some brief things.

I thought the whole sequence of events leading Walt out to the desert was highly unconvincing. Huell flipping, the fake barrel, the fake van GPS, etc. Huell wouldn’t cave like that. Walt’s too smart to fall for dumb nonsense like that. Duh. And explaining it away with a single line from Hank was lazy. I don’t want to dwell on it, but that’s the root of my disappointment.

The obvious setup now: Hank is killed/injured/captured/something in the desert. Walt escapes. Marie panics and calls someone. The story’s out, and Walt’s fake confession is neutralized with Hank gone (especially if Hank is dead). Walt is pissed off at the Todd faction and refuses to cook for them. He disappears forever to protect himself both from them and from the police (who have gotten the whole story from Marie). He comes back and takes out Todd et al. with the huge gun and ricins either himself or Jesse (if Jesse’s still alive). I still lean toward himself. I also don’t really like this scenario. Making the Todd faction the final villain just doesn’t have a lot of juice. I’m hoping they swerve away from that.

Junior meeting Saul obviously has a larger purpose. Seems like the first step in him finding out everything. That could be interesting, or it could be a dumb waste of time like every other Junior storyline.

The big mystery is Jesse. Does he survive the shootout? What happens if he does? It feels a little too early to kill off both Jesse and Hank.

Kind of on the nose how Walt calls Jesse a coward when he had to call in the Todd faction to do his own dirty work. Walt’s the real coward. I get it.

I think my “Jesse teams up with Todd to cook meth with Hank’s protection” scenario would have been a lot more interesting than this. I suppose I should withhold judgment until it’s over.

What happens to Skyler and the baby? The baby is kind of hanging around unmentioned. Why weave the pregnancy/baby through the whole series without some big baby climax? Could be a lot of things, but there will have to be something. Maybe the Todd faction kills the baby as revenge on Walt for leaving and that prompts him to come back. Just off the top of my head.

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 4

2 Sep

Over the last couple weeks I have read some recappy stuff about Breaking Bad on the internet. Yikes. That is not a fun time. I understand if you do not want to read this. I’ll try not to be overdramatic and overserious and generally a bad writer like everyone else. Plus this isn’t really recappy. More of a way for me to disseminate my brilliant ideas about what I think is going to happen next and maybe make some bullet-pointy observations.

Last week I laid out a scenario in which Walt ricins Jesse at the end of the series. That could still happen, but I feel a lot more uncertain about it now. But I do think one of my sub-predictions from that scenario is going to pay off. I think it’s highly likely that Jesse goes back into the meth business.

When Jesse says to Walt, “Next time I’m going to get you where you really live,” what is he talking about? If it’s a physical place, the only logical location is the car wash. That doesn’t make much sense. He could be speaking in some loose metaphor about killing his kids or something, but I don’t buy that. His money maybe? I don’t think Jesse would be able to figure out where it is. Where does Walt really live? In his head. Where he’s the kingpin of a meth empire. Again from last week: how can Jesse really hurt Walt? By usurping his title as the meth king of the Southwest. We’ve seen Jesse cook on his own. Not only does Jesse know he can do it, he knows he has Hank’s help.

Hank made it pretty obvious to Jesse that he’s gone rogue. Keeping him at home, interviewing him at home, running this sting operation on his own, etc. And don’t think Jesse didn’t figure out that Hank knew there was a chance he could die and didn’t care. Hank doesn’t give a fuck about the law or the DEA anymore. He only wants to get Walt. He’s just as crazed about it as Walt was about his meth. He’ll go along with Jesse’s meth-cooking plan, and not only because Jesse is the only person who can plausibly deligitimize Walt’s blackmail confession.

That leaves poor dumb Todd as the linchpin. Will he side with his mentor Walt and help kill Jesse, or will he side with Jesse, who probably still hates him, and get rich cooking meth? Tough call. My guess is that the bankroll, Lydia, will want Jesse on the team. This could be the prelude to my prediction of Walt using the disappear forever option and then coming back to dismantle the new meth empire and kill Jesse one on one.

More about the ricin. I thought Marie talking about poisoning Walt with her therapist was interesting. Could this be a clue? Here’s a bold theory: Walt comes back, wreaks havoc, and then ricins himself. He wants it over, but he doesn’t want the family to think he killed himself. With the cancer advancing*, he wants to go out on top. And he knows that as soon as it becomes known that he’s back, everything’s over one way or another anyway. The more I think about this, the more likely I think it is.

*Remember him coughing in the bathroom in the flashforward? Very Season One.

Potential ricin victims, from most likely to least likely:
Walt: See above.
Jesse: See last week.
No one: The whole ricin thing is a big multiple-season misdirection. I hope this isn’t it, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Skyler: Easy for me to envision a scenario in which Walt needs to be rid of her in a way that won’t make Junior suspicious.
Walter Jr.: THIS would be fucking interesting. Junior finds out the whole story* and gets some evidence that could take Walt down. Walt persuades him to wait before going public and ricins him in the meantime.
Hank: Seems too obvious. And I don’t think Walt could get close enough.
Marie: Walt can’t get to her either. And if he wanted to, why not go for Hank instead?
Todd/Lydia: Seems too out of left field.
Saul: Nahhh.

*This raises another unanswered question: does the family go with Walt to New Hampshire? I guess no.

Beef with this week’s episode: Obviously a lot of exposition this week. Can’t always be so action-packed. But they didn’t show a moment that, to me at least, was important. How did Hank get Steve Gomez on the rogue team? Maybe they’ll explain it later. I’ll be very disappointed if they don’t. It requires some kind of explanation, right?

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 3

26 Aug

There are a lot of the people on the internet writing about Breaking Bad. Good for them. I don’t read much of the discourse about the show, but I’m here to add to it. Not that this will be thorough or in-depth or even weekly, but I have a scenario in my head that I want to put on the public record in case it turns out to be right.

By the way there are super duper spoilers in this.

At the start of season 5, we saw Walt returning to Albuquerque on his 52nd birthday, which is several months in the future. He picks up this big-ass gun and returns to his condemned house with “Heisenberg” graffiti, where he picks up his vial of ricin. So how do we get there, and what happens afterwards?

Here’s what’s in my head. I’m still thinking it through as I write this so it might have some inconsistencies or whatever.

We see the White house in the season-opening flash-forward. It’s fucked up, but not burned. So Jesse doesn’t torch the house. My guess is that Walter Jr. comes out of his room and sees Jesse, who won’t kill him and takes off. Jesse is angry, but he’s not a snitch, so he doesn’t go to Hank. He anonymously leaks to the press or something that Walt is Heisenberg, which simultaneously forces Hank to come clean to the DEA and neutralizes Walt’s confession. Walt realizes that Jesse double-crossed him and he is now fucked. This is when he uses the disappear forever option and moves to New Hampshire. I haven’t decided yet whether I think Skyler will go with him.

Jesse, meanwhile, realizes that the thing Walt loves the most is his empire and his reputation in the meth world. Again, Jesse doesn’t have the stomach to kill anyone, but he realizes the best way to get back at Walt–team up with Lydia to create an even bigger empire without him. Todd is involved here somehow.

Of course, Jesse is easily able to evade police detection since Hank was the only person who really knew how involved he was, and Hank is now disgraced. Once Jesse has established himself as the new meth kingpin, he somehow finds out where Walt is and sends word of his new success.

Walt cannot tolerate this. Jesse using his formula to create his own meth empire? No way. Plus the double-crossing. So he hops in the car and drives back. Fully armed, he guns down Jesse’s (and Todd’s?) guys. He gets word to Jesse that he wants to meet. This is the final scene of the series. The meeting is at Denny’s or wherever. It’s tense. Jesse is nervous. He gets up and goes to the bathroom. Walt takes out the ricin and dumps it into Jesse’s Mountain Dew. He slowly stirs it in. Jesse comes back. He takes a long sip of Mountain Dew as they stare silently at each other. Fade to black.

OK. That’s my dream scenario. In truth I don’t know how realistic it is. So here are some other scattered things.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jesse’s parents again. They haven’t been on the show in awhile, but they’re still around, right?

Right now the big wild cards are Todd and Lydia. Walt coming back to kill them seems likely, even if it’s outside of the confines of my scenario.

The more I think about it, what happens if Junior confronts Jesse with the gas can in the living room? What if Jesse panics and shoots him? He still has Saul’s gun. If he then immediately outs Walt, Walt will have to skip town without getting retribution. Thus he’d have to come back for Jesse. In this case Jesse wouldn’t need to go back to meth cooking. Walt could poison him and gun down the Todd/Lydia meth business in separate operations.

Another good Junior story would be/will be him finding out about Heisenberg. That could go a bunch of different ways. Who tells him? What’s his reaction? Etc.

Is everyone hoping that Walt dies at the end? By now he’s unambiguously the villain; the traditional setup would be to have him die. He turns evil and gets his comeuppance. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen. I want Walt to be the last man standing. I think if things end with him victorious, mean-mugging the camera, it’ll kill the whole anti-hero trope for the foreseeable future. It could never be topped. It would be a mic drop on an era of television.

To go with that, Jesse is set up to be the hero. He’s definitely the most sympathetic/relatable character now. To invert that and kill him would take a lot of balls.

One minor quibble. In Walt’s confession, he mentions paying Hank’s medical bills. But if Hank had hired Walt to work for his meth operation, why wouldn’t he have enough money from said meth operation to pay his own medical bills? It makes the whole thing seem fishy. I guess Walt could say that Hank and Marie were complicit in the gambling story and used it so Hank wouldn’t have to flash any unexplained cash around. But still.

So obviously that didn’t cover everything and I didn’t give a lot of detail, but whatever. I think this most recent episode makes it pretty obvious that things are coming down to Walt v. Jesse. I’m looking forward to that no matter how it plays out.

Public perception and the Postal Service

6 Feb

I don’t know if this is at all interesting to anyone but it’s something I was thinking about today.


This post will feature pictures of stamps featuring bridges

Today’s big news is that the US Postal Service is ending Saturday delivery. The goal of this is to save money. The Post Office has a huge budget problem. The problem stems from two things: decreasing revenue, and increased overhead costs. Some people would say that the latter problem only exists because of peculiar accounting rules that the government makes the Post Office use, but that’s a political argument and I don’t know very much about it and even if I did I’m not interested in writing about politics.

Everyone says that there’s less mail now than there used to be. That seems crazy to me. I get mail constantly. Everyone does. At least everyone who I have ever shared a mailbox with. I think the biggest problem is that most mail used to be first class letters with first class stamps, and now most mail is junk with bulk rate postage. I have no data to support this assertion.


A related news item about the US Postal Service is that postage rates just increased. First class stamps now cost $0.46. For my entire life people have complained about the cost of stamps. This seems like the dumbest thing in the world to me.

First, a little bit of math. I was born in 1983. The price of a stamp then was $0.20. So, since then the price of stamps has increased by 230%. In 1983, The Consumer Price Index was 99.6. In 2012 it was 229.594. Since 1983 it has increased by 230.516064257%. You might notice that the price of stamps has increased almost exactly as much as the price of everything else in the last 29 years.

That last paragraph should be enough to demonstrate that anyone complaining that stamps are expensive is an idiot. But I’m going to keep writing. I have two questions: Why do people complain about the price of stamps, and are stamps actually expensive?


I think idiots complain about stamps instead of milk or toothpaste or whatever other consumer good because it’s easy. There’s one universal price for stamps. Everyone knows what it is. And since it doesn’t fluctuate like other prices, it’s easy to remember what the old prices were.

Digression: The other price that people constantly complain about is gas. I think a big part of that is that giant signs advertising its price everywhere, which makes people remember how much it used to cost more so that other goods.

The second question is more interesting. Are stamps expensive? I don’t think so at all. For 46 cents you can have a document hand-delivered anywhere in the United States. Depending on the distance involved, it takes two to four days. This service is incredibly, almost unbelievably, reliable. To me that’s a bargain. I think the Post Office essentially has a large public relations problem. I think that a big part of the problem is that everyone assumes stamps are overpriced because dumb people are always unwarrantedly complaining about it. This problem gets worse every year because the Post Office keeps raising prices. Just like every other business. This creates a terrible feedback loop. People complain about stamps being expensive for some reason. This is common enough that most people agree with the proposition. Then everyone feels like they’re being ripped off by the Post Office. Then the USPS raises stamp prices, and people feel even more aggrieved, since they thought the old price was already too high.

This is all a good MBA case study. I should be a business professor.

The other problem the USPS has is a terrible reputation for customer service and reliability. People always joke about things being lost in the mail or damaged in transit or whatever. Just look at Newman on Seinfeld, for example. I don’t know why this is the case. The Post Office truly does have a huge problem with in-person customer service at the physical Post Office, but I don’t know why that reputation extends to mail delivery. I can honestly not remember a single instance of anything that I’ve ever mailed or had mailed to me being lost or damaged en route. I think this falls under the same category as stamp prices. People joke and complain about it so everyone assumes it’s true, even if they don’t have any actual evidence for it.

If I were the Postmaster General, I would raise the price of a stamp to $1. This seems to me like an eminently reasonable price. Erase your conception of historical stamp prices and think about it. You can have a document hand-delivered pretty rapidly anywhere in the US. For $1. If no one had an idea in their head of how much a stamp “should” cost, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at paying a dollar to mail a letter. Then I guess I would do some MBA stuff. Advertising to change public perception or whatever. That doesn’t really interest me though. I just wanted to float my stamp proposal.