Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Weeds Recap: Miscommunication

 "Ahhhh, now I see!"   --Every Weeds fan who doesn't realize, doesn't care about or chooses to overlook the fact that even though some of the loose ends were tied this week, we've just had too many episodes lately of this show being a light-to-moderate chore to watch.

I'll admit that this episode was an improvement over most others this season, in that it finally brought some of the subplots together and might even deliver on that ol' storyline advancement we've all been hoping for. Still, everything was just a little too calculated -- it was much too obvious that every scene/detail from the past few episodes that seemed odd and pointless at the time was placed there for the express purpose of assisting the story. Sure, no one ever regarded this show as gritty realism, but I still value the escapist aspect of TV viewing. In fact, I value it kind of a lot and resent anything that yanks me out of the fictional world created by the show. Behold the contrived plot devices that put Nancy once again in the driver's seat: Shane forms something of a father-son relationship with the cop who mentored him, causing the latter to feel more compassion for Shane than for any other prisoner and thus making him more susceptible to Nancy's scheming; Silas screws Emma, then Emma screws Silas and Nancy, giving Nancy the perfect opportunity to get her son out of jail and her business back;  and Andy is generally useless and behaves uncharacteristically (though who can really say with the inconsistent characterization running rampant on this show?) like a baby brandishing a nail gun. God, just when I thought we would finally get to see a more emotionally cogent side of a frustrated, desperate Andy, he still winds up looking and sounding like a fucking clown. But whatever, because shrill Andy is kinda funny, I guess? (I am being facetious; I really do hate the way this character has been bastardized this season.)

What I liked, however, was the setup for the next episode (a real complication, finally!). In the immortal words of J. Walter Weatherman, that's why you don't make plans without first consulting with your business partner. Will Silas get arrested? Will he be forced to sell out Nancy to save himself?

Elsewhere, I guess the Vehement subplot is still unresolved. Oooookay. By the way, is that SEC overseer lady not the ultimate 21st century manifestation of the Alice personality on United States of Tara?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Loyalty

"I'll kill him. First chance I get."   --Jesse

Ah, Episode 7. I had high hopes for this one, seeing as how it marks the season's midpoint and also because Episode 7 of last season was so explosive and such a game changer for the rest of Season 3. This week's episode did not disappoint; though it did not involve the stylish action sequence or elicit the sheer fear of "One Minute," "Problem Dog" gave us some similarly enthralling moments -- such as another terrific Jesse monologue -- and wrapped it all up with yet another exciting Hank-centric final scene. The two episodes essentially serve as bookends of Hank's most recent arc, in that this Episode 7 is all about his triumph over the -- understatement alert -- setback suffered in the last Episode 7. As Gale might have said: neat!

Chilling cold open this week of Jesse playing a first-person shooter video game, though we could see the implications of this even without the flashes of Gale popping in and out of his consciousness. (I mean, we get it: the kid has a traumatic history with guns; come on, show!) Elsewhere, Walt finds himself the begrudging object of yet another of Skyler's bossy directives, but instead of communicating his displeasure outright, like an adult, he goes out and does doughnuts in an empty parking lot in the very car his wife oh-so-gently instructed him to take back to the dealer. (He's still so repressed!) As cool as that scene was, the act itself still reads more like a nerdy Walter White interpretation of badassery than it does a  Heisenberg one, which is all the more evident when terminally uncool Walt finally gets the car stuck over a parking block, then takes petty pleasure in lighting it up and watching it go up in flames. But I do appreciate the unfulfilled expectation of the car exploding long after Walt was done walking dramatically away from it.

After a quick fix-it visit to Saul (Hi, Saul! Also, way to have your lawyer clean up your messes, Walt!), Walt visits his partner at home. This is the first time we've seen Jesse in his personal environment since Mike took him out for a drive, and in keeping with his new persona, he is hard at work painting over the graffiti on his walls, covering up all evidence of the hellpit he once lived in. Turning over a new leaf, as it were. And if the realization that it was Mike and Gus who motivated Jesse to at least overtly return to the land of the living gnaws on or registers at all with Walt, he doesn't show it. You see, he came with a plan -- attempting to beat Gus at his own game -- and as much as it bothers me to see him treat Jesse as a pawn in his power move, I can understand why Walt might see this as a last resort at this point. But, because he's Walt, he slathers it on way too thick. "Does [Gus] think you are that naive?" he asks Jesse, wink wink. To Walt's credit, at least he's graduated from outright calling Jesse an idiot to merely treating him like one, refreshing his memory on Gale and Victor and Andrea and Tomas and everything that spells out Gus = Evil. "Is it possible that he would think that you were that weak-willed?" Way to stick the landing, Walt! Is it possible that you would still think Jesse is no more than an idiot slacker addict? I get it: the blustery street speak fooled me too for a season and a half, but wake up and smell the series of personal traumas, man."Drop the sales pitch," Jesse says, proving once again he's not as easily duped as Walt thinks. "I'll do it." He agrees to kill Gus at the first opportunity.

But, whether it's the lingering Gale-guilt or the fact that Mike trusted him with a gun, Jesse ends up losing his nerve (making this the third time someone was not killed with ricin on this show), then after some more bonding with Mike, he rethinks it altogether and even lies to Walt about having an opportunity to carry out the plan. Mike later opines that the thing Gus sees in Jesse is loyalty, "only maybe you have it for the wrong guy." Whether this is Mike talking or merely carrying out Gus's edict is unclear, but the seed is planted. Jesse takes his newfound uncertainty straight to the NA meeting, where he does his best to elicit compassion, then hatred from the most theoretically understanding group of people available to him. But not even the so-called dregs of society can remain judgment-free when presented with Jesse's tale of executing a figurative "problem dog." That ensuing speech slash lashing out is full to the brim of his guilt, self-hatred, anger, despair. So much damned angst. Is there anything about Jesse Pinkman that won't decimate my heart this season? Throughout that quest for absolution and punishment alike, what he's seeking most of all are answers. "What's it all mean? What's the point?" he ponders. (He may not know the meaning of the term "Kafkaesque," but this kid is an amateur philosopher!) At the existential level, it's life itself he is conflicted about, but at the immediate level, it's the particular life he's chosen. What he's really asking is, Who do I pledge my loyalty to? Will it be Walt, whose days in this business (possibly on the planet) are numbered, or Gus, who himself has had a significant setback this episode? (That scene with the cartel representative was an excellent reminder that Gus is not the biggest threat our meth-cooking duo will face, and it wouldn't surprise me if he were eliminated as such by season's end, whether by getting killed or getting caught.)

And speaking of Hank, he may just be the one character this week who is absolutely sure about his purpose. Oh, Hank, you beautiful bald bastard! I cannot even express how worried I was for the reception his borderline-fantasy story would get from his former partner and boss. I feared the worst: that they would politely yet resolutely laugh him out of the office, and all the hard work, determination, and sheer force of will he had summoned up over the past couple of weeks would all just dissipate back into the self-lamenting, wife-abusing, mineral-collecting depression of a few episodes ago. And when the actual conversation onscreen reached that cringe-worthy moment, I was already shaking my head in sympathy. And then "Except..." happened. That single word uttered by an adorably smug Hank followed by an irrefutable piece of evidence establishing a connection between Gus and Gale had me promptly changing the sentiments behind my head shake. Just like that, I was the sap. Because of course Hank wouldn't present his findings to the DEA unless he was certain he had something good to show them. Hank, for me, is like the other side of Mike's coin, in that they are almost polar opposites in almost every way (position on the criminal spectrum, personality, demeanor) yet so very similar in their cleverness, efficiency, resilience, and plain awesome factor.

Other noteworthy bits:
  • Loved the vegetable platter Mike and Jesse brought to the would-be cartel meeting. 'Cause nothing says you're amenable to a negotiation with your drug rivals than offering them crudites. Also loved the way Mike makes Jesse repeat the rule of the day back to him like a six-year-old -- "Eyes open, mouth shut." Ha!
  • Great scene with Hank and Walt Jr., and I totally called it that Hank was after Gus's prints when he accepted that soda refill. But if Junior starts working at Pollos, so help me, I will flip my shit.
  • It's merely Skyler's maiden voyage into active criminality, and she's already freaking out about the amount of money she needs to launder. Yet still she doesn't walk away.
  • Mike to Jesse: "I figure I'd better teach you how to shoot." Oh, Mike -- so paternal! Maybe you two can toss a ball around after dinner.
  • Hiding a vial of ricin inside a cigarette in case of an impromptu body search is the perfect kind of reminder for when I, too, sometimes forget that Jesse is sort of smart. For a while I had this character pegged for a future post about TV's most loveable idiots, but never mind now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Weeds Recap: Watch It Burn

 "Babe, these are cops. I'm a drug dealer. You're a murderer. We can't all play on the same kickball team."  --Nancy

So, remember how last week's episode ended with a super-tense (ha!) gathering of family, lovers, business partners and feds that threatened to blow Nancy's cover and possibly send her back to prison? "Cats! Cats! Cats!" skips right over that awkwardness and straight into the morning-after, where Nancy wakes up in Foster Klein's gorgeous townhouse for the first time. They have some romantic repartee, which might be sexy (but probably not) if the chemistry between the two actors weren't sadly lacking.  I get that Legends of the Fall was a long time ago, but Aidan Quinn is still a decent-looking older guy, so why does he come off so smarmy here? (And were we supposed to buy their later scene as some sort of tearful farewell? Puh-lease. There's no way that anyone is buying these two as star-crossed lovers after such minor and unimpressive relationship development.) At any rate, romantic repartee exhausted, Nancy comes clean about the SEC investigation and her role in it. Hello! That I was not expecting; how is she ever going to stay afloat and out of prison if she burned the one sort-of bridge she had left? Oh, I get it: she acted selflessly because, having shagged him once, she's too gosh-darn fond of Klein to let him be unwittingly arrested for a crime he committed -- so fond, in fact, that she was willing to put her own freedom in tremendous jeopardy to save him. So I guess Nancy is sentimental and selfless now -- see what they did there? Either that, or she just wanted him out of her hair? Or she wanted him to be safe from the arson she'd been planning all along? So confused. Let's get back to the warehouse.

...Where Zoya is wreaking havoc on Silas and his models, but mostly on Andy, who's just trying to get his honest business off the ground. Poor guy. And not just because he's hitched his wagon to a decidedly not honest enterprise but because his character now seems relegated exclusively to comic relief. It's OK, though; he was pretty funny. I especially enjoyed him taunting Zoya with so little effort. Easiest mark ever, that one. It's funny, 'cause she's crazy. She really is crazy, though, and Andy wants her gone, and Nancy will take care of it, she promises, but first: the SEC. Oh, man, these guys are pissed! Nancy screwed up their investigation and she's a drug dealer? Whatever will happen? Anticlimax alert: Doug (Doug!) shows up to save the motherfucking day through blackmail. And it works! It turns out the SEC pension plan is tied up in Vehement Capital, and these feds are sleazy enough to drop their investigation and let everyone off the hook, just like that! God, I miss Roy Till. He may be dancing it up in that big gay club in the sky right now, but he was a legit law-enforcing antagonist.

Meanwhile, Shane uses his in with the police department to glean information on Pouncy House, but then gets busted by his new mentor. Oh, well, at least Nancy will finally have a chance to come to someone's rescue. Silas does his own research on the competition, by hiring and subsequently sleeping with Michelle Trachtenberg's character, Emma, who secretly runs the operation. Oh, man. I like Silas a lot, but I couldn't help but chuckle when it was revealed that she totally played him because he was too dumb and horny to pay attention. So now his business computer with all the clients' contact information is gone, which, OK, as far as cliffhanger endings go, this was a step in the right direction. On the other hand, the whole upside-down bike shop bit, while cute... how many people got that done in one night? How did they even get inside? Also: poor Andy!

Oh, and Nancy "takes care" of the Zoya problem by setting fire to Klein's house herself and making Zoya think the feds will pin it on her. It's all bullshit, but crazy Zoya buys it and she takes off for Vermont (OK, doesn't this woman have any parole conditions whatsoever?), where she'll be waiting for Nancy --"Soon," she promises -- so they can open their hotel for dogs and nary a cat or an Andy in sight, thankyouverymuch. OK, then. Two crises averted in one fell swoop. I'm a little fed up (no pun intended) with all these quick conflict resolutions; it made sense last season when the family was on the run, but now they are bound to one place -- and have been for almost an entire season -- with no real sense of danger. On the contrary: eeeeeverything's coming up roses for Nancy, freedom and townhouses just dropping into her lap. What, is Emma going to be Nancy's downfall this year? I highly doubt it. I keep thinking this whole thing is a ruse, lulling us into a false sense of security only to later introduce something lame, like Guillermo coming back or something. And the funny thing is, even that would be a welcome change of pace from what's currently going on with this show.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: The One Who Knocks

"Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family."   --Skyler

Holy crap. I'm going to go ahead and declare Walter White's egomania the theme of Season 4. The beginning of last night's episode does see Walt offering a good two minutes of contrition in the form of awkward backpedaling on the morning after his ill-advised dinner outburst, but all it takes is Skyler's fear-fueled implication that he might be "in over his head" for him to go right back into wounded-pride mode and arrogantly out himself as the indispensable mastermind he wants/believes himself to be. "I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger," he bellows, scaring Skyler enough to contemplate fleeing, however briefly. Because if there's one thing Walt hates more than not having control over his own situation, it's being thought of as the weak, passive, emasculated schoolteacher he once was and, as far as everyone else is concerned, still is. (And what a painful reminder of that guy his later interaction with Bogdan must have been.) But as far as he is concerned, gone is Walter White, the loser chem teacher who let life pass him by and fear rule his existence... well, not gone, but overshadowed now by Heisenberg, the genius chemist and lethal alter ego who has gotten where he is by the sheer force of his own agency.

It took a while for Walt to actually decide to be a criminal and to later decide to keep being a criminal, but now that those and other decisions have been made, by God, he is owning them! Like Walt says to his son, "What is going on with me is. . . about choices. Choices that I have made. Choices I stand by." It is not, as it first appears, a charitable attempt to convince Junior to cut his mother some slack for coming down hard on the fake gambling. It is, rather, a declaration of intent and self-satisfaction -- Father is not the helpless victim of a disease; he knows what he's doing, and he's doing it on purpose. It was a seductive package Walt was offered by this double life, and somewhere along the way, he went from being a guy who wanted to provide for his family to being a guy who gets off on being that guy.

Perhaps this is what is making him so blind to how his actions are affecting everyone else. Last night's episode made for an embarrassing spectacle of Walt's outrageous self-centeredness, from his failure to consider what Gus would do with the Honduran ladies once they'd seen the inside of the lab, to his inability to appreciate the awful position he'd be putting Skyler in by buying a flashy new car for their son. "This whole thing," he tells Jesse, "It's all about me!" Walter's intelligence is superior, to be sure, and he figures out that Gus is manipulating his partner, but his arrogance and belittling attitude have the opposite effect than the one he desires, and he ends up alienating Jesse further than even Gus could have hoped. "Why [you]?" he asks his partner in the most disparaging tone imaginable. "Is there something about you I don't know about? Are you a former Navy SEAL?" That Walt has been so oblivious to Jesse's psychological frailty post-Gale is the biggest of all testaments to his self-absorption.

Ironically, Bogdan's humiliation tactics at the carwash held a kernel of truth: Walt is not ready to be a boss. At least, not in the context of the drug empire he is in the middle of. If this show's aim is to chronicle one man's gradual transformation from a Walter into a Gus, then Walt has a lot more to learn about dealing with people. Mike and Gus are lying to Jesse and likely don't care an iota about whether he lives or dies, but their management styles are certainly effective. "Maybe I'm not such a loser after all," Jesse says, all but spelling out the crux of his entire existential crisis to a still-clueless Walt.

Jesse, in fact, isn't such a loser at all; he sees a lot more than Walt thinks, but Mike and Gus are presenting him with a seductive package of his very own, and he must be getting as high on all the self-worth and approval as Walt is on being the man in charge. Trouble is, all of it is rooted in perception, at best, and illusion, at worst. Jesse is skeptical -- "Why me?" he asks Gus -- but not for long. "I like to think I see things in people," Gus replies in that terse way he has. Jesse is now seeking to impress the same man he once defied in a monumental way.

Some other good things about "Cornered" (other than another clever title):
  • Walt staying miraculously composed throughout Bogdan's entire condescending speech -- "I'm sure you can handle it, and if not, you can always call your wife." -- then finally refusing to let him take the framed dollar bill -- probably the first-ever instance of Walt being downright mean. 
  • The whole hilarious scene with Walt coaxing the laundry ladies in broken Spanish into cleaning the lab, then offering that self-satisfied smirk to the surveillance cam while sipping Gale's ultimate coffee brew. Did he really think Gus would look the other way to civilians stepping foot in his meth kitchen? "Tell Gus to blame me, not them," he pleads with Tyrus once he learns of the women' impending deportation. "He does," Tyrus answers.
  • "This war stays cold for now." What does Gus intend to do about his latest cartel troubles, and why did he reject Mike's suggestion to go on the offense? This whole storyline seems like it's building up to something big.
  • Just like Walt stands by the choices he's made, Skyler, too, will have to stand by her choice to ignore that would-be fateful coin toss at The Four Corners Monument.
  • Jesse's absurdly inspired handle on the situation with the meth head Tucker was great, and that Miranda Priestley-esque smile Mike subsequently cracked back in the car was genuine. I know it's illusory, but these two are totes adorbs together!  
  • If I ever had even a fleeting thought about trying crystal meth, the scenes with the two junkies have scared me straight.
  • "Why don't you just go break the door down, pistol-whip those bitches and show 'em who's boss?"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Weeds Recap: It's a Good Time For Many Things

"I like that you've rewritten history."   --Klein

Oh, boy. Is this for sure the final season of Weeds, because it is well past the halfway point and it shows no sign of wrapping up any time soon. On the contrary, it keeps piling on the new situations and plans and characters that couldn't possibly be more than vehicles for the protagonists' arcs. This week's episode was a particularly farcical clusterfuck of elements: lesbian rape, incestuous voyeurism, hickeys, functional alcoholics, rival shakedowns, illegal seafood, SEC surveillance... everything but the kitchen sink. And that non-cliffhanger of an ending read more like some sort of poorly executed Shakespearean parody -- let's get everyone in a room together and act out this awkward writing, even though there's no logical reason they should all be physically present here!

This show is no stranger to tense episode endings, but by now it's gotten to the point where they don't even really register anymore; we know Nancy will get out of this jam and the next one and be back on her merry felonious way before the following episode's second scene. I mean, is there actually any doubt this will get resolved in a couple of lines of dialogue next week? As if the SEC really gives a crap about a mini-empire of a barely illegal drug as long as Nancy makes good on helping them uncover their precious ponzi scheme. This whole season has failed to deliver a single worrisome predicament that didn't immediately get solved by magic. Remember the urine test? I don't expect all the cliffhangers to rival the U-Turn/Armenian gang gunpoint holdup -- we knew Nancy would come out the other end then, too -- but you've got to make me believe that these characters are at least in some sort of moderately sized pickle. Maybe something along the lines of coming home to find your best frenemy waiting by a swimming pool full of your now-ruined weed, every now and then. (Celia shoutout!)

Enough with these wacky Punky Brewster-style scrapes; and what's with all the tears and whining at the first sign of difficulty? ("I am not going back to prison, wah wah!") Give Nancy a real crisis to maneuver through already; it's tiiiiiime.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Pride and Purpose

"From what I saw, and this is just my humble opinion . . . This genius of yours... maybe he's still out there."  --Walt

How do you shake someone out of a guilt-induced nihilistic funk of total indifference? Give them purpose, of course! (And maybe also make them fear for their life a little bit). Who knew Gus was such a wizard of human psychology?

A great episode, from start to finish. I especially enjoyed the time-lapse sequence and how well -- and hilariously -- it captured both Jesse's childlike boredom and Mike's profound irritation. By the time "Shotgun" ended -- there goes another clever title -- the big question we were all asking in the beginning had undergone a subtle change from "What will Gus do with Jesse?" to "What will Gus do with Jesse?" An agenda, he has; that much is clear. But maybe Mike is getting one of his own. Gus may have orchestrated the set-up and appealed to Jesse's ego, but it was Mike who implemented it and kicked his sense of self-preservation into gear (even though Jesse wouldn't have had a prayer of defeating him with his sad fistful of keys). The "old man" is obviously grooming him for someone, but for whom?

The most revealing Mike moment this week was his angry outburst -- finally! -- in the car. "I just do what I'm told," he bellows, "and now you're gonna do what you're told!" Methinks his breach in unflappability was too great to have been caused only by having to babysit the world's most irritating chatterbox, and I don't quite buy his "I know better than to ask questions" compliant attitude with Gus, either. But whatever Mike's endgame may turn out to be, the short-term goal to drive a wedge between Jesse and Walt is clearly working, as the young junkie is clearly smitten with his new unintentional father figure, and who can blame him? After all, Mike succeeded where Walt disappointed -- identifying Jesse's erratic behavior as a cry for help, pulling him out of his pit of despair and loneliness, and making him feel important on top of it? Yes, please! The look on his face when Mike told him to go ahead and have a victory cigarette was a few degrees short of full-on veneration, and even though I quake in anticipation of Jesse's gradual transformation into a hardened criminal -- the buzz cut, people! -- it was nice to see him enjoy himself this week, and it was definitely a welcome change from all the self-destruction.

And Jesse was not the only one who enjoyed the positive aftereffects of a little shot of pride and purpose this week. Now that Hank is back on the Gale case -- thanks to Walt's gigantic ego -- he is at once a better husband and a happier guy, and please God, let this mean that insufferable mineral collection is a thing of the past, though we will miss all the laughs it has brought us, Amen.

But as we know, nothing bespoke pride this week more than Walt's entire arc: a wonderful illustration of how it can spur someone into self-sabotage just as easily as it can bring someone else back to life. The buildup to his big moment of drunken, reckless hubris was leisurely and deliberate and perfectly in keeping with what we know about Walt. He is a control freak with an overblown sense of pride, both intellectual and masculine, and after such a rough day -- his partner gets kidnapped, he charges into a would-be confrontation with Gus that causes him to fear for his life, he is forced to trudge along in the lab on his own, his wife unilaterally decides he should move back in while his son drinks coffee from a Beneke mug, no less, then he realizes Jesse is being courted by his psychopath of an employer -- it is no surprise that Hank's speech about Gale's alleged genius would push Walt into a typical ego-driven brag session, veiled though it was, at least to everyone but Skyler. And to belittle Hank's detectiving skills in the same breath? A truly irresistible prospect to our brilliant scientist. I had feared this exact type of stupidity from Walt when he and Hank were rifling through Gale's notebook in last week's episode and mistakenly believed we would be spared another of his vanity demonstrations for good. Sneaky, writers! And well done!

Finally, one of my favorite moments this week was when Hank begrudgingly admitted to Tim The Detective that he did not believe Jesse capable of shooting Gale. The simultaneous rightness and wrongness of that statement... so much irony!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Weeds Recap: Third Base

"You have no idea what a good day this is turning out to be."  --Nancy

Whatever shadow of sentimentality last week's episode delivered (and who would have thought I would ever require more sentimentality from a TV show?) has been wiped clear away in "Vehement v. Vigorous," the corporate baseball game where most of this week's action takes place, and also the episode where the Botwin saga quickly reverts to treating everything like a big joke filled with self-interest and wrapped in glibness. This may seem like a silly complaint, but I see it as a bit of a problem when Entourage is out-profounding you on a week-by-week basis.

At any rate, Silas is back from California with 30 pounds of MILF weed, looking more beautiful and bitter than ever. And he has a plan -- no more direct-to-customer sales; you have to "insulate yourself," he says, then it's a whole bunch of "Heylia this, Heylia that." And guess who doesn't like that one little bit? I would say that Silas came up with his pyramid business plan to deliberately antagonize Nancy, but he actually seems genuinely committed to making the best of it, so much so that he ignores mommy's directive to get some sleep or "at least run a comb through your hair" (but only until she turns her back -- you can take the model out of the boy, but you can't take the vanity out of the former model, I guess). As for Nancy, she is just excited to return to what she does best: "selling dimebags [to rich douches] at local sporting events." Like Andy puts it, "a somewhat circular journey." Oh, but now Ed is back and he is pissed and he is out to nail her for sort of getting him fired. It seems like just yesterday that he was walking around, exuding world-weary-yet-idealistic charm and spewing off cute little rhymes. Now he is mostly running around, trying to locate the mystery man who inexplicably chose to give Nancy a job at a pretty high profile firm. Doug, of course, is in accidental disguise until the end, when he stupidly outs Nancy as a drug dealer to Ed and -- not for the first time -- demonstrates his inability to distinguish among heavyset black gentlemen. Doug's absurdity as a character hits a new nadir this week, as he spends an entire episode sporting honest-to-goodness man boobs as a result of the steroids he's been ingesting in preparation for the game. Granted, Doug has never much been one for self-respect, but come on!

Poor Ed is once again thwarted in his attempt to expose Nancy and possibly get his job back, because -- get this -- the SEC has just recruited Nancy to act as a mole at Vehement Capital Partners. Gah, I should have known that ridiculous storyline with Whit and Doug deciding to cook the books would turn out to be significant. And just when Nancy seemed to really take a liking to Mr. CEO! But, in true Nancy fashion, she doesn't seem too broken up about assisting on an investigation that could cost him his company and send him to prison. Not if it will get her out of the halfway house and that much close to getting her kid back. The new plot turn makes sense in retrospect, but it's pretty annoying that we're halfway through the season and Nancy has had everything she needed pretty much fall into her lap. She is much more interesting when given the chance to prove herself as a scrapper, and the season so far feels a bit like coasting, for both Nancy and the show. And I bet somehow Shane's new gig interning with the police is going to come into play as some sort of magical save for Nancy, as well. I do have to hand it to the Weeds folks -- they've always done a good job of laying the groundwork for future big events; I'm just worried that these presumed big events are not actually going to satisfy. Meanwhile, I am almost expecting Silas's brief foray into "model boxing" (which reminded me of the "boy fighting" on Arrested Development) to play a role in The Great Season 7 Master Plan, but I fail to see the connection at the moment.

All in all, a good -- if undeserved -- day for The Widow Botwin Scottson Reyes, and "Hello, lover," indeed! Zoya's back and none-too-happy to see Nancy all cozy with her bro; we all remember how the last person to betray the temperamental Zoya ended up, do we not?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Fiction


"There's got to be something else that I could do. Some way to keep everything from spiraling out of control."   --Walt

This week's episode, "Bullet Points" -- I sure do love a double entendre -- finally brought the long-awaited (first of many?) Mike mini-sode, and it. was. awesome. Not unlike most of the scenes Mike appears in, but this particular one firmly established this character as the weariest-looking, most blasé BAMF on TV, bar none; with the exception of the events surrounding the night of Gale's death, nothing has elicited an emotion more powerful than mild irritation out of Mike -- not being forced to clean up after Walter's killing spree, not scraping remnants of Victor from his jacket, and certainly not being ambushed in the desert by what I can only describe as an avalanche of bullets. I love this guy.

Back at Casa White, humor reigns, as Walt and Skyler are preparing to come clean -- correction: preparing to "appear to come clean" -- to the family about Walt's gambling and subsequent windfall of cash/purchase of the carwash. Well, Skyler is preparing while Walt just sort of sulks and belittles her obsession with details from the sidelines; I don't know if Walt's had so many narrow escapes that he's taking his invincibility for granted, or if he's simply too proud to admit that Skyler is being incredibly smart in a way that he hasn't been (or both). Whatever his reasons, his reaction to Skyler's bullet point approach couldn't be more dickish. "Maybe lying doesn't come as easily to me as it does to you," she says by way of explanation. We know, of course, that Skyler is actually an exceptional liar, but ironically not one who can see through Walt's own, less convincing lies. What I really enjoyed about this scene was the seamless incorporation of character-revealing statements in an ostensibly routine conversation between estranged husband and wife: both Walt's delusion about his own heroism and Skyler's resentment over his months-long deception are brought to light during their exchange of opinions about her proposed script for their "fiction." Skyler may be willing to enter into business with Walt (and into a world of crime that she knows very little about), but that doesn't mean she has forgiven him. And just when she thinks she's finally gotten the long-overdue apology from her husband, she realizes that he was just rehearsing for their big fake confession. Ouch. Feel-good family drama is not one of this show's levels (though the extended family scenes are often oddly moving; must be all that amenable dishonesty). 

Cut to Hank and Marie's front door stoop, where Walt and Skyler anxiously await the curtain call on their little fiction; I like that shot because I can imagine a similar one taking place on the other side of the door. Sure enough, the door opens, and everyone is positively exuberant to see each other. But just in case we forgot how miserable Hank and Marie have been, we are quickly reminded that Skyler is not the only lady on this show who is harboring husband resentment. Case in point: Marie's passive-aggressive invitation that Hank "show the boys his rock collection"; she is probably aware by now that Hank prefers the term "mineral," don't we think? And that's when the episode takes the dark turn we all knew was coming: Gale guilelessly singing karaoke at Walt from Hank's TV. (If this were any other show, I would accuse it of laying it on a little too thick with the cuteness, but being that Breaking Bad is usually so devoid of sweetness and light, this particular Gale reminder kills me on behalf of Walt, yes, but mostly Jesse, all over again.) And just like that, whatever invincibility Walt may have felt is gone, as he learns that Hank is consulting on Gale's case. He is now worried in a way Skyler's limited knowledge prohibits her from being, and his deeply buried remorse resurfaces, if only long enough to deliver a veiled apology at the dinner table. Walt did pull the metaphorical trigger, after all.

The literal trigger puller, on the other hand, continues to act rashly and dead inside, skimming off meth from the lab and generally asking for it with his out-of-control partying, if one can even use that term to describe whatever the hell is going on at his aunt's house right now. And yet, all Jesse seems to really be interested in is having company and playing video games. This poor kid! Even his interest in money seems to be a thing of the past. And his sharp observation of the blindfolded thief is not consistent with drug use, which makes me think Jesse's been sober this whole time. It would certainly explain his clear-headed rhetoric with Mike and his nonchalant attitude about everything excepting the Gale ordeal, which a fingerprint-obsessed Walt forces Jesse to relive in detail, no doubt confident that the trauma of looking at some crime scene photos is akin to that of shooting a man in the face. Still, it's nice to see that Walt still cares about Jesse as more than just his potential downfall; his fierce "Where is he?" into the camera after Jesse's disappearance certainly indicates more avid interest than he's shown in his own son in quite some time.

One errant thought: When Walt rushes over to give him the Skyler treatment regarding Gale's shooting, Jesse is sporting a new buzz cut, and given this show's obsession with baldness, I have to consider the significance of this. Not only did Walt's own de-hairing signify the emergence of Heisenberg, but the last alteration Jesse made to his head gear -- in losing those teen-thug hats he used to wear -- signified his newly achieved sobriety and general awakening to a new layer of reality after Jane's death. If losing his beanies meant accepting his own darkness ("I'm the bad guy"), then it looks like shaving his head might mean total cynicism. Which would make him perfect for going into Mike training. Which I think is where Mike is taking him at episode's end. Thoughts/predictions? 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weeds Recap: Booby Trapped

"...I'm aware of all my people, wherever they are; I carry them, you know? Otherwise, they might slip away, and then what?"   --Nancy

One of my biggest gripes about Weeds as a show is that the flip tone and predominant shallowness of its comedy have been growing rather dissonant with the darker story elements introduced in later seasons. If my memory serves, the show started out with a good balance of cynicism and heart, yet somewhere along the way the dial just flat-out broke; I don't mind that the stakes keep escalating, but the characters' attitudes should adjust accordingly. Yes, there have been interludes here and there that suggested that they do indeed possess some depth and emotional maturity, but at the end of the day, Andy's character reel still includes more instances of buffoonery rather than those brief moments of wisdom and insight he's shown every now and then, so even when we are supposed to be appalled at Nancy's decisions as head-of-household, the implication is that she is doing the best she can as the only fully realized character in the entire operation. And on this I call bullshit on Jenji Kohan, because it is impossible -- not to mention boring -- for some of these characters, having been through all they've been through, to remain as aloof and irritatingly unscathed, psychologically speaking, as they were when the show debuted. It is this insistence on being by turns both a dramedy and a sitcom yet never a consistently believable mixture of the two that makes Weeds such a frustrating show and one that has become very difficult to review in a manner devoid of irony and snark. And so I am forced most of the time to treat it as the big joke it is trying to pass itself off as, yet I still await those episodes that will finally offer some sort of emotional payoff (to me) and general credibility (to the characters), and praise be to Jenji (I guess), "Object Impermanence" was the first such episode of this, the final season. (An aside: it's interesting that the episode gets its title from a theory of cognitive development; Heylia employs the phrase to accuse Nancy of failing to be aware of people that are outside of her immediate periphery, but Nancy herself has justifiable reason to be worried about this phenomenon as it pertains to Stevie.)

Amid some typical comedic situations involving (once-again) Pathetic Andy and his newest money-making scheme -- though I have to say the Copenhagen Wheel was a pretty good business idea that befit both his quirky intelligence and his boyish personality -- the episode did provide some encounters that were for once thought-provoking and analytically sound. I'm referring, of course, to the heated exchange between Nancy and Heylia, at long last. Heylia has such a humorless urban philosopher's way about her that it was difficult to determine whether she was actually aiming her shotgun's fire at Nancy and missing her repeatedly or whether she just meant to give her a little scare, though I cannot imagine Heylia doing anything in a playful fashion. At any rate, it was interesting to see the interplay between these two women, both survivors in their own right, both emotionally abandoned by loved ones, both fiercely protective and unapologetically exploitative of their families (one of whom forced the other out of her home and into the boonies, but hey, bygones). It's almost pathetic to learn also that Heylia, as chock-full of sassy badassery and self-righteousness as she is, is also deeply envious of Nancy for her ability to inspire loyalty -- albeit begrudging in Silas's case -- in her family without even trying.

The more compelling story this week, however, involved the showdown between Nancy and Silas, which was a long time coming and was handled quite well, I must admit. What better place for the long-awaited mother-son confrontation than in a booby-trapped field full of MILF weed -- the strain partly developed by Silas and the one that put Nancy on the map way back when, before human trafficking and drug kingpins and homicidal sons entered her life. And what better analogy for Nancy herself than the shot of her wandering through the grass maze, trying to find a way out of the mire of her own making while avoiding the disaster waiting around the corner and being approached by the occasional wounded party there for the purpose of some much-deserved reckoning? An adrenaline junkie through and through, there's no question that Nancy has acted selfishly more often than not, but bad parents love their kids too, and Nancy has always been good, if late, at the "grand gesture" stuff, as when she recounts to Silas the details of the day he was born ("I wanted to eat one of your toes so I could still keep a piece of you inside of me"), the significance of which -- in her mind -- is reasonable grounds for forgiveness. That Silas is still bitter and resentful over his mother's deceit regarding his paternity is baffling only to Nancy, whose arrogance and love of Husband No. 1 are displayed in equal measures when she asks Silas what difference any of it makes in his estimation of his dead father. Of course, even before he verbalizes it, we all know it is not Judah but Nancy who alone has fallen out of grace in Silas's eyes, and so he opts to stay behind at Heylia's bequest to help her harvest the current crop in exchange for being his and Nancy's supplier.

Meanwhile, back in NYC, Shane's brother-envy has reached new heights, prompting him to buy for dear old mommy the best present an ex-con drug dealer girl could ask for: a front business for her shady dealings. Andy is happy too, as he gets to peddle his revolutionary new bike to passersby, which is probably the exact kind of product that appeals to stoners. Doug continues to be a useless lout and oh my goodness, how could I forget about Nancy and Stevie: The Reunion set to the sounds of nostalgic music and Nancy's Important Speech, with which Martin Short (wtf kind of name is Steward Havens, anyway?) is pretty much as unimpressed as the rest of us. Still a sweet moment, though.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Grown-Ups

"For what it's worth, getting the shit kicked out of you . . . You do kind of get used to it."   --Jesse

As though Mike gloriously kicking his ass in the last episode wasn't bad enough, in this new one Walt arrives at work only to find video cameras installed throughout the lab. Pumped full of righteous indignation over Gus's lack of trust, Walt proceeds to flip off the camera, thus kicking off a regression-heavy episode, which revolves mainly around the show's core characters and their respective lapses into immaturity. First, Walt bullies and ridicules Skyler into cutting him slack about his black eye after feeding her some line straight out of the battered woman handbook by way of explanation, in spite of the fact that, although she doesn't know it yet, she has justifiable reasons to be worried about both Walt and her own family's safety. Walt then follows up his childish diversion tactic by whining to Jesse about the "violation of the workspace" constituted by the lab cameras. Oh, Walt. That complaint was made even more ridiculous by yet another sighting of Mr. White in his trademark tighty-whities.

This episode really belonged to Skyler, who, in spite of her own regression into adolescent stubbornness with the whole carwash acquisition matter,* has managed to maneuver a very complex situation to her favor as well as trick her own husband into supporting her in the endeavor by appealing to his sense of pride. It was quite a treat to behold such a masterful manipulator at work and even better when, in spite of her ostensible confidence in her negotiating stratagems, she underwent that slight moment of doubt while waiting for the phone to ring the second time. Skyler is compelling precisely for being both calculating and vulnerable, and I'm relieved to see that Breaking Bad is finally starting to pay attention to its women.

Jesse's party, meanwhile, is still going full swing, if  we expand the meaning of the phrase to include the pathetic wasteland of addiction and excess the party has degenerated into since the last episode. And what spells excess more than the scene in which Jesse, playing the part of a modern-day Nero all too convincingly, makes it rain money over the junkies who have overtaken his home (while Tyrus The Goon watches it from afar)? Compared to how much energy the Whites are putting into their laundering scheme, Jesse seems almost deliberately careless with his money; I worry about that and especially about the cash he gave Andrea. It's ironic that not too long ago, Jesse was motivated entirely by greed, yet now that he is by most definitions a very rich man, he has also become deeply unstable and cripplingly lonely. I don't know what's sadder: the fact that Walt turned him down for go-karts or the fact that Jesse's expression all but begged him to come in the first place. In a weird twist of fate, Andrea and Brock, the two people who could offer Jesse some genuine companionship are also the walking reminders of the guilt he has unsuccessfully been trying to banish. It's heartbreaking to see him reverting back to this sort of childlike vulnerability, which is evident not only in his recent choice of recreational activities, but also in his seeking to spend time with his only available friend/ally and father figure: Walt, who has been neglecting both Jesse and his own son for some time (not to mention the fact that baby Holly is now being carted around by Skyler on her not-quite-above-board errands).

Poor Marie has reverted instead to her kleptomaniacal compulsions, going around inventing increasingly more exotic fantasy realities for herself and pocketing various tchotchkes from open houses around Albuquerque. The episode, aptly titled "Open House," spent quite a bit of time on this particular subplot, but I appreciated the fact that the show has brought back one of Marie's somewhat pointless Season 1 quirks in a way that actually makes sense now that she's dealing with an immobile bear of a husband at home. And speaking of Hank, his childish behavior is right where we left it last week: berating his wife and tending to his rocks -- sorry, minerals -- and literally jerking off. He's so bored that he agrees to take a look at Gale's lab notebook as a return-favor for the detective friend that kept Marie out of jail, and you'd better believe Hank is going to find something. Here's hoping that his involvement in this investigation will finally bring Hank out of his self-pitying funk, because Lord knows it's time something did.

*It's a bit of a problem when Saul Goodman is the most reasonable person in the room