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Season Finale of Breaking Bad - The Ex-Communicator

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June 21st, 2010

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03:56 pm - Season Finale of Breaking Bad
On Friday I got up in the middle of the night to watch the season 3 finale of Breaking Bad (3-13 'Full Measure') and stayed up until 5am. Since then I have been reading reviews and commentary online. Season 4 has been confirmed, which is a relief (viewing up 20% on season 2).

Here is a review from AV Club which expresses my feelings:
Tonight's finale should cement this season of Breaking Bad as one of television's finest dramatic accomplishments. And what makes it so exciting -- what makes the recognition of the current golden age (of TV) so pressing -- is that the season has not been "television good."  The heart-in-the-throat quality of this season comes as much from the writers' exhilarating disregard for television conventions as from the events portrayed.  Every cliffhanger produced anticipation that often as not was subverted by having what came after timed at a jagged off-angle from the shape we've internalized as expectation.
Here is Stephen King's appreciation of S2: 'like watching No Country for Old Men crossbred with Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. I said previously that the new Season gave me the impression that the predictable trajectories of characters had exhausted, and the writers were shuffling them like pieces, trying to find a way through. Surprisingly in this interview the show's creator, Vince Gilligan, confirms this perception:
We're actively moving these chess pieces around, not so much playing 10 or 15 or 20 moves ahead, but we are kind of running for our lives. It's scary. I don't want it to sound like it's a slapdash operation. It doesn't feel that way when we're doing it. We put a lot of thought into everything, and we try to play the game several moves ahead. But we're only human, and it's tricky sometime. All of this is a long-winded way of saying this was not pre-planned from the get-go. It was kind of a living, breathing thing that took on a life of its own as the season went along.
Is this inherently good, or just fortuitous? Is it better for a story to develop in this way, quasi-organically? I suspect this was how Dickens wrote, each episode published and hence not revisable. Not very common in any medium nowadays though. It explains the way this season seemed to be feeling its way, and then occasionally triumphantly slapping down a genius move ('Check mate!') when the writers found a way through the puzzle.

I'm sometimes impatient of writers who say they let the characters lead them. I think it's lazy and it abdicates their responsibility to their readers or viewers, but in this case I think it works, because the writers are totally invested in the integrity of the final product. I also hate talk of soul and damnation, but this image keeps coming back to me, perhaps because the writers believe in it. Like I say, it's like Faust or The Fly, a man becoming inhuman.

In my opinion, as with season 2, the penultimate episode was the most brilliant, with the final episode serving to twist the knife and deliver the metaphysical coup de grace - so sickening it's almost uplifting. Watching on a computer I keep stopping the playback because it is all so upsetting, as the characters destroy themselves.
Walt seems to lose little bits of his soul week in and week out. He's a man chipping away at his own soul... The real shame, morally speaking, at the end of our season three now, is that Jesse - who in many ways has been the moral center of this partnership - has now... (spoiler redacted) out of loyalty and perhaps even love perhaps damned himself, sold his own soul.
For Walt. Literally, love will tear us apart.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
I am frustrated because so far I have seen only the first episode of S3, and I love this show so much that I am willing to *pay* iTunes for the episodes. Nevertheless, because a hilarious series of events has led to pre-pay Netflix for the next 11 months, I am valiantly trying to wait until the DVDs have been released so I'll have something to Netflix.
[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I am loath to recommend anything not completely legit (and you the legal mind) but my feeling is that there are stop-gap measures which might be undertaken by those who will be paying to view the show in the long run. Not least that the expanding pool of enthusiasts spreading the word has contributed to the increased audience for this season, and hence the survival of the show.
[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
It's not the money, or even the principle of the thing, it's amortizing my Netflix investment.

BTW, you are approximately the entire audience for my Firefly/Breaking Bad crossover, so I will have to beg your indulgence for whatever extent the story is jossed by my non-viewing of most of S3. Assuming, of course, that there is some kind of fully canon-compliant way of hammering THOSE two canons together.
[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
If you have posted it I have missed it; my lj reading is sporadic at the moment. I would like to read it.
[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
> I'm sometimes impatient of writers who say they let the characters lead them. I think it's lazy and it abdicates their responsibility to their readers or viewers


I'm a plot-based writer. Only once or twice have I had the experience of a character who came alive and wouldn't do what I had intended for them (and, typically, they were planned as walk-ons), so I'm guessing here, but my assumption has been that you let the characters do what you want, until you get to the end of the first draft, and you find out what they've been up to. And then you edit the thing into submission. With a hammer, if necessary.

There's an interview with Alan Moore, where he talks about writing and just trusting that things will work out; he'd been relating chunks of the novel to real-world events, and says (apologies for the long quote):

"…so it was leaving an insane amount of stuff to chance. I knew in that last chapter I knew I had to have turning up within my field of vision within Northampton spectral black dogs, I had to have a severed head, a real, human, severed head turning up somewhere in Northampton, because these were motifs running through the entire narrative. Since all the other stories had taken place in November, this was right that I had to write about things that happened to me during the November when I was writing this last chapter. And I think on the last night of November I'd taken a bunch of mushrooms, I'd done a ritual, I was basically asking the gods: “For fuck's sake, help me find a way out of this novel, before I go mad. Give me an ending”.

"And that was the night I came downstairs and saw on the telly the details of this murder case that had been held at the County Court behind Sceptre Church at Campbell Square there, and it was the details of a murder trial that had happened previously but had just come to trial in November. In Corby an old man had had a home invasion, someone had broken into his house and he'd been murdered. The detail that hadn't come to light at the time was that his head wasn't there, at the crime scene. It was found, later, by a black dog, under a hedge, which…perfect. I mean I'm sorry for the guy and all that but I mean I'd got stuff in the 11 th century chapter about how the head of St Edmund was found being guarded by a big black dog, so to have this conjunction of black dogs and heads – and it was the first decapitation I could remember happening in Northampton during my lifetime. They're not that common, so the fact that it should happen right when I needed it to happen to finish my novel…yeah, you've gotta trust – when you get to a certain point, the best advice I can give to any writer is: trust the process. The process by which you write is a mysterious thing that is separate to you – it is a magical thing, it is a mysterious thing that doesn't really follow conventional laws of physics or logic. It guides you, it tells you to do certain things, sometimes irrational things. If you trust your instincts, if you trust your feelings, if it feels right, then trust the process, even if it looks hopeless. If something in your instinct tells you that this is possible, and if you just do these things you can get to that point, then trust it.

"You have to kind of surrender yourself to the art, which is bigger than you are and more important than you are. If you can surrender yourself utterly – which takes some nerve – then there won't be very much you can't do. In my experience, there's a certain amount of surrender involved, in forgetting what your career plans are or what your literary plan is, sort of: “I'm going to have written the great British novel by the time I'm…”. Whatever. Forget all that. Trust the process. If the process says you really really should write a 200-page work on dogshit, then don't worry, if it feels right, don't worry if it make senses or not, it will be a great book about dogshit, it'll sell a million copies, it will…even if it sounds unlikely but that's what the process tells you, go with it. It's bigger than you are, and it knows better than you do. At least in my experience."
--Alan Moore, interviewed by Daniel Whiston.
[User Picture]
Date:June 22nd, 2010 08:22 am (UTC)
That is a great quote, and it's operating on a much more profound level than my throw-away remark about letting the characters lead. Incidentally, my son works with someone who was at school with Moore, and he used to prophesy in the class room. Like William Blake.

In some cases 'letting the characters lead' can be quite a trite approach, where you are delegating control to a slightly-buried part of yourself, with simplified 'characters' which operate by conventional rules. But another kind of surrender is hard rather than easy, and is about going down into the underworld, and bringing something back up. Great quote.
[User Picture]
Date:June 22nd, 2010 03:24 am (UTC)
Hi there! Kind of randomly butting in here. I've just recently fallen head-first over the show and followed your post from back when on the breaking_bad community. You write so beautifully and eloquently, and I've enjoyed your comments on the show. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

And I definitely agree with you here:
I think it's lazy and it abdicates their responsibility to their readers or viewers, but in this case I think it works, because the writers are totally invested in the integrity of the final product.

Usually I prefer a story to have a masterplan, and yet with this show, the writers do seem to spend hours and days trying to read the characters and to head towards the direction that actually speaks to them, and the story just works so well that I'm beginning to think maybe it could work better this way after all. The storyline seems "organic" (as they often put it) and fluid without rigidity and yet the season ender episodes were better than most things on TV that may have been planned to the last dot.

Literally, love will tear us apart.

[User Picture]
Date:June 22nd, 2010 08:29 am (UTC)
Thank you. I have been on holiday so I missed the episode and the discussion when it aired. I think that sort of organic development has got a bad name, because of some shows that kind of petered out, and it was obvious they didn't really know what they were doing. The difference is that this show is invested in the characters, and each season deepens them, and that gives it integrity.

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