"The thing is, if you just do stuff, and nothing happens, what's it all mean?"

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shakespeare and Breaking Bad

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”
-Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Of all the over-arching themes within the increasingly expanding network of Breaking Bad criticism, the series' connection to the plays of Shakespeare strikes a strong cord in the cacophonous symphony of my preexisting literary obsessions.

To limit my high highfalutin ramblings (there's already enough Shakespearean rhetoric tossed throughout the site,...and at the bottom of this post I'll keep a series of links to other articles about the connections), the post will be reserved as a running reserve of pertinent Shakespearean epigraph(ic)s.

While it may take a bit to do this properly, I'll begin listing each episode, and will provide a passage from Shakespeare that seems pertinent and elucidating. In sketching out the connections, this section will serve a dual purpose in by also exploring the meanings behind each episode title. "The Name of the Rose" being a refutation to believing that flowers would smell just as sweet under arbitrary classifications; the titles serving as narrative encapsulators, with just as much craft behind them as with the other aspects of the writing.

Season 1

-1x01 "Pilot"

-"To be, or not to be, that is the question: 
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles"
 - Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

To cook, or not to cook....?

This oft tread beginning of Hamlet's famous existential soliloquy seems a good place to start, since the primary questions of Breaking Bad dealt with the choices Walter White made when faced to the immanency of his own finite mortality mortality.

Like Hamlet, Walt weighs his angst and sorrow against the passivity of uncertainty (Walt's ambivalence becomes Heisenbergian; but still often maintains the theological deepness of Hamlet's ponderings). Hamlet was literally considering suicide, whereas in the pilot episode Walt has to consider a choice that may destroy his soul. Hamlet's choice was about death over life (as Camus famously treated, this is the only real philosophical question), but Walt's a choice about transformation in the face of his demise; yet both concerned with what develops after decay.

 Hamlet holds a bodkin and gives his speech while alone in the hollow caverns of a castle; while Walt's analogous moment occurs silently by the metaphoric swimming pool of a backyard. Each burning matchstick a potential catalyst to his choice to resist "outrageous fortune" and attempt to oppose his "sea of troubles."



Season 2

2x08 "Better Call Saul" 

-The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
(2 Henry VI, 4.2.59), Dick the Butcher to Jack Cade

2x09, "4 Days Out"
2x10, "Over"
2x11, "Mandala"
2x12, "Phoenix"

-My ashes, as the phoenix, may bring forth
A bird that will revenge upon you all: 
And in that hope I throw mine eyes to heaven,
Scorning whate'er you can afflict me with.
3 Henry VI (1.4.35-8)

2x13, "ABQ" 

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
-Richard III

Season 3

-3x08 "I.C.U. "The world is still deceived with ornament. 
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt, 
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice, 
Obscures the show of evil? 
(The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.80), 

3x10 "FLY" Gloucester:

I' th' last night's storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport.
King Lear Act 4, scene 1, 32–37

Season 4 


Season 5

"Rabid Dog,"
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: 
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, 
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At game, a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in't;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn'd and black 
As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays:
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. 
Hamlet (3.3.77)

5x15, "Granite State" 

"Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To cheque time broke in a disorder'd string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me"
-Richard II, V.v5.5 43-49

5x16 "Felina" 

-"Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 

As I foretold you, were all spirits and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed.
Bear with my weakness. My old brain is troubled.
Be not disturbed with my infirmity.
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose. A turn or two I'll walk
To still my beating mind." 

-Tempest, IV.i, 146-162

"Breaking Bad's Shakespearean Final Act," Salon 
"How Shakespeare would end Breaking Bad," The Atlantic
How Breaking Bad Broke Free of the Clockwork-Universe Problem," The A.V. Club

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Name of The Rose is A Musical Underture: Caballo Sin Nombre

“Get back on the horse and do what you do best.”
    – Saul Goodman

Ross: And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and certain— 
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race, 
Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out, 
Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would make 
War with mankind.
Old Man: 'Tis said they eat each other.
     -William Shakespeare, Macbeth, II.iv

Song Used

"Horse With No Name," by America, 1972.

Complex's feature on "13 Great Songs from Breaking Bad'" mentions "Horse with No Name," but doesn't really elucidate much content. Here goes anyway:

"This band had the audacity to call themselves America, but we'll hand it to them because "A Horse With No Name" is as Americana as deep fried chili cheese nachos and a 44 ounce Coke. From the band's eponymous debut record, "A Horse With No Name" is tale, a desert odyssey of sorts. Folksy acoustic guitar strumming and drum circle percussion provide the instrumentation. But, the most notable aspect of the tune is the "la, la, la la la la, la la la, la, la" refrains throughout. Even four decades after it was composed, the song is instantly recognizable with drunk-at-the-bar-sing-along capabilities."

Song's Meaning within Context of Episode

Episode 3x02 has one of the several Spanish language titles that crop up throughout the series.  

Song's Greater Meaning within and throughout Series

Not speaking to authorial intent, but this particular song is very appropriate for the series and the nature of proving "The Meaning of Breaking Bad is the Meaning of Life" (I'm getting to it...). Divergent readings and elusive meaning shroud America's song, as is the case with much of Breaking Bad's aesthetic.

ShinyAeon writes, "However...there's another metaphorical horse that fits the lyrics of this song even better than the creaky old drug interpretation: the shaman's horse, which is another name for the sound of the drumbeat that carries the shaman into a trance state, into the otherworld on a visionary experience. Such a horse has no name because it isn't flesh and blood, it's a spirit horse made of sound.

To me the song is about a kind of vision quest in the desert...or else a mundane trip that (due to a little too much sunlight or too little water) became a visionary experience to the traveler, and caused a spiritual awakening."


America's song fits into the broad Western Genre iconography

Another song used in this episode is "Magic Arrow," by Timber Timbre. This plays during the scene where Mike bugs the White household, as Walt simultaneously breaks back into the home he'd been in exile from (by eking through the crawl space, a location that gained symbolic resonance in 2x10 "Over," and will later before a transformation nexus at the end of 4x11 "Crawl Space")

"And you saw it from that vantage point
Perimeter scratched on the nation's native hide
And we saw those christian clippers glide
Over white caps and white sails high
Over white knuckles
And you were fine till you saw the pale horse ride
Open up it's gait across the ocean floor
You were fine till you saw the white rider take
And take some more"

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come and see!" I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
— Revelation 6:7-8

I doubt this was planned, but there's more connections that can be made (more like "forced"), According to Wiki, "The color of Death's horse is written as khlōros (χλωρός) in the original Koine Greek,[15] which can mean either green/greenish-yellow or pale/pallid.[16] The color is often translated as "pale", though "ashen", "pale green", and "yellowish green"[13] are other possible interpretations (the Greek word is the root of "chlorophyll" and "chlorine"). Based on uses of the word in ancient Greek medical literature, several scholars suggest that the color reflects the sickly pallor of a corpse.[3][17] In some modern artistic depictions, the horse is distinctly green[18]"

Bringing all these fragments and hypothetical assumptions back into it, what does the song say .

When Saul tells him 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Breaking Bad's Karmic Cosmogony - Let the Schizoanalysis Unravel!

Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.
-Sigmund Freud

In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.
                                                                                          -Carl Jung

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky. 
― Carl Sagan

Alright, I had some space. Loving something is like grasping a butterfly; at a certain point you have to let it fly away from your fingertips...lest you risk immediately destroying some beautiful. Sometimes the motivation to write about it flutters out of your visual field (maybe the creature dies off in the distance, and is reborn as an occasionally manic sloth...imaginary spirit animals are weird like that). my last post, the final images of the finale ("Felina," in case instituional memory loss has taken hold...a Breaking Bad Bender can occasionally lead to fragmentation of consciousness and hazy memory recollection...occasionally) accidentally sparked some trippy theories and mind-melting patterns.

I still stand by them, and will even use the quantum-spiritual-meta-spiral as a solid spring board for some even more out there interventions and divergent diddlings. I've tried my hardest to always stay faithful to the content of each episode, but there's so much transcedent gold on the surface that warrants some grand schemeing. We may accidentally get at the truth. And if it's weird, than remember a famous mantra from the show that gave Gilligan his powers...
Whoa...far out, man!

Time to step back and view the series as a complete entity. Gestalt it up, and see what the grand patterns mean. Things are going to get stranger, and I don't want to confuse some of the impending theoretical onslaught with purposeful narrative intent. I tend to go back to Gilligan as the deistic auteur of the series, but the collaborative nature of television creates a series of interconnected yet divergent clergy and prophetic pieces.

Like the head-in-the-clouds idealist that I often am...I made a lot of lofty and seemingly unrealistic promises after I first  created this site. There were countless mystical fragments and fanciful meanderings. To use an idiom Gilligan's dropped before, the chickens will come to roost. This is a sloppy process, but I'm working on piecing together an incomplete puzzle to show that "the meaning of Breaking Bad is the meaning of life."

No worries, those that could care less...there will still be some less-alienating hijinks and more-coherent content added...but it's pretty much been improv-ed from the get-go.

Some seemingly random yet seam-ingly related academic (i.e. alienation-epidemic) frameworks to haphazardly establish...

Subtitle: Haphazardly Established Frameworks.

*Constellation Structure*
-Theodor Adorno.... to warrant such a heady and fragmentary way of interpreting the show (and to justify it as more than just sloppy exposition), the very holisitic structure of the show must necessitate this kind of divergent pattern.

Breaking Bad initially begins to weave this fabric through a strict adherence to science as a metaphor (again...think of the issues of purity and decay within the crystal product as a meth-aphor for grander questions of existence and minute representations of everyday life). With the third season, the show crystallized its thematic undercurrents, using the cosmic cluster-fuck of the plane-collision as a springboard to more surreal scenarios and on overly operatic order.

*Postmodern Spirituality*

"It's certainly possible to lead a solipsistic life, one that boasts, 'Hey, I'm making it real. Who's it going to hurt?' This mentality allows us to think that our actions and inactions take place in a vacuum, but even the faitnest conscious sense of our infinite interconnectedness makes that almost impossible...Whatever we do, there is another generation waiting to learn from our legacy. It is they who must live in the world we make." -                                      -Derrick Bell, Ethical Ambition; Living a Life of Meaning and Worth 175

I've got a smattering of posts and references that have tried to deconstruct the perverse religious

The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths.
It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. 

― Carl Sagan,

*Eternal Return Mythos.*..

Remember that Jungian bastardization of Eastern philosophy I pasted in the last post? It's still in play

Some of this is stuff I dug before delving into Breaking Bad, but a lot of this I stumbled upon recently. I tried to avoid a top-down approach with these philosophers, feeling like the show itself should guide me toward the appropriate conceptual nexus...rather than forcing profound-seeming-but-shallow theories into the text

*Schizoanalytic Boundaries* (this is a real thing; not one of my obnoxious Seussisms).*

-Discontented Content and Disordered Context

A more well established metaphor that should make things clear is structural paranoia in literature.

I'll pull favorites here, and point to Thomas.

Frederic Jameson has written an interesting essay on of ... (Geopolitical Aesthetic being one of the many outside sources that inadvertently influences my approach with the "BrBaBlog")

(thinkers like Franz Fanon have gone as far as to psychoanalysis large and complicated social units, seeing institutionalized racism as a mental that contaminated both a colonizer and the other...regardless of the biological realities of melanin and cultural nuance).

Freud civilization and it's discontents....

What is Breaking Bad. What does in mean. Structural.
I'm sorry to drop this esoteria, but it's important, and despite it being inavoidably mind boggling, I feel a call out to some old time radical philosophers will make it slightly less heady than my  jumbled jargon.

Deleuze and Guittari

I'll use a single conceptual "thread" to follow through on attempts to "deconstruct the intertext of the show's aesthetic iconography" (I'm dead serious about this, luckily pictures/clips and digressively foolish hyperlinked puns will help make the "show" more fun than my "tell").

Monday, September 30, 2013

Deranged Yet Not Demented Denouement: Breaking Bad's Final Shot

Tonally, the ending of Monty Python's Life of Brian really reminds be of the final scene in Breaking Bad...seriously

I don’t know if we’ll remember Walt’s fate with as much resonance as we remember the last shot of Vic Mackey in The Shield, still the gold standard for an antihero's dramatic catharsis. And “Felina” won’t be controversial the way the ambiguous last moments of Tony Soprano were. But Jesse survives. More than that—he’s alive, screaming with shock and joy as he drives away, the kind of alive Walt used to feel when he pulled off a victory. Those other shows didn’t have room for that kind of win, and so the best they could give us was vengeance or our own imagined possibilities. I’ll take the very tiny nods Walt and Jesse share as an erasure of the awful, cold nods with which Walt, months ago, sent Jesse to his fate. It’s too late to ask for anything more.
-Donna Bowman, Review of "Felina," AV Club

People always asked me, did you know how Breaking Bad was going to end from the get-go, and I'd always say 'No, I didn't," and that's the truth. 
But I kind of always did know that Walter White should not survive this series. 
How that was to was gonna come to pass was very much up in the air until we broke this final episode. 
The cancer was not what got Walter White at the end. 
He went out, pretty much on his own terms. 
And he is killed, trying to save Jesse. 
It just feels right to me. 
It feels poetic. 
There's almost a perverse feeling of victory to it, for me
 -Vince Gilligan, "Inside Episode 516,"

First, a spoiler-laden assortment of snippets from previous finales of series in the genre "incredibly-well-respected-dramas-with-anti-heroes-that-ended-with-an-intentional-series-capstone-episodes." I can only speak feigned authority on The Shield and The Wire, since I've religiously watched ever episode. I've watched the first few seasons of The Sopranos, so really I'm just getting spoiled rotten myself, as well.

  • The Shield...
  • The Wire...
  • The Sopranos...
Breaking Bad does something brave and risky, in comparison to these other provides Walter White redemption. Not just redemption, but the final sequence--when taken into relation with the symbolic-order of the series as a whole--pretty much suggests that even Walter White could be forgiven for his sins (his earlier admittance to Skyler in the finale was the most undiluted confession he ever articulated)...or that perhaps the yin-yang struggle of good and evil impulses eventually achieves a glimpse of nirvana. 

The final sequence taps into both Western and Eastern ideas of forgiveness; coding the death of Walter White as a moment that suggests he is moving toward heavenly grace. Gilligan doesn't get too heavy-handed with a specific theological reading; since the scene can also be read as a type of Buddhist moment of profound enlightenment. This final shot of enlightenment doesn't change how twisted Walt had become; but it forgives him in that very moment.

Cynics may see this as contrived, or some implicit affirmation of male escapist fantasies; but I see it as soul-achingly beautiful. Vince Gilligan orchestrated a coda that literally sang to the heavens. Gilligan showed for Walt the kind of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness that Heisenberg completely lacked. However, since Walt was on a perverse Blues-Brothers-esque "mission from God" (as the cold open painted), and in rapid-fire swoops atoned for his sins the best he could (I think Step 5...Badger and Skinny Pete would know), he was granted transcendence and complete inner-peace in his final moments.

The whole episode had a sense of evil eradication, the colors draining completely; as if the karmic balance of the universe was to start again...even-stevens. 

We are nothing like God, not only are our powers limited, but sometimes we are driven to become the Devil himself.
-Nicholas D. WolfWood, "Hang Fire," Trigun

Breaking Bad Coda

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

Maybe I should’ve done something different. 
The thing is, if you just do stuff, and nothing happens, 
what’s it all mean? 
What’s the point? 
Oh, right, this whole thing is about self-acceptance
So I should stop judging, and accept?...So no matter what I do, hooray for me because I’m a great guy? 
It’s all good?
 No matter how many dogs I kill, 
I just what, do an inventory, and accept?
-Jesse, 4x07, "Problem Dog"

What I want, what I need, is a choice.
...Sometimes, I feel like I never actually make any of my own.
Choices, I mean.
My entire life, it just seems I never you know, had a real say about any of it.
Now this last one, cancer all I have left is how I choose to approach this.
...These doctors talking about surviving.
One year, two years, like it's the only thing that matters.
But what good is it, to just survive if I am too sick to work, to enjoy a meal, to make love? For what time I have left, I want to live in my own house.
I want to sleep in my own bed.
I don't wanna choke down 30 or 40 pills every single day, lose my hair, and lie around, too tired to get up and so nauseated that I can't even move my head.
And you cleaning up after me? Me, with some dead man, some artificially alive, just marking time? 
...And that's how you would remember me.
That's the worst part.
So that is my thought process, Skyler.
I'm sorry.
...I choose not to do it. 
-Walt, 1x05, "Gray Matters"

Later on in the episode the above epigraph is from, Walt makes a choice, one that fully cements his fate, and intertwines he and his son/student/friend/enemy/destroyer/savior into a "downward spiral" (planting the seed for one "loopy" deconstruction, get ready to plunge down a rabbit hole...)
Wait, it it just me, or is Jesse's long-forgotten and shot up (by less bullets than Uncle Jack's compound took on, though) CAPNCOOK mobile very similar to the vehicle he used to make his escape at the end of "Felina"?

This song, played after Walt and Jesse witness Tuco brutally beat-to-death one of his cronies (despite how abusive Walt got to his underlings; he never got that physically brutal), at the end of the 1st Season. The answer for Walt...begins immediately to the left.

Here's the sequence that I consider to be the finishing touches to the series; the final moments that encapsulates the narrative/thematic crucible-cruxes of the series (beginning right after his phone conversation with Lydia, and ending at the finishing note of Badfinger's song and Vince Gilligan's executive-producer inter-title credit). Clearly, the whole sequence at the Nazi Compound builds up to this (the sequence-in-large is dissected-via-words in the episode "unravelment").

Gilligan did damn good here; in ways more profound than detractors may give due, while also in ways less overt than supporters cheer for...

I'll start with this provocative primary-tao for the sequence, and work backward in a sloppy proof-path.
  • Despite his narcissism being full-bore (though, it has now transformed into an honest narcissism...100% purity; a type of existential-perfection that was impossible within the samsara of the methamphetamine industry), Walter White's last moments are darkly heroic and other-directed.
Even if he wasn't always conscious of it, Walter White loved Jesse Pinkman in a far more authentic and earnest than any of his other family members; and in some way--even after being completely demolished by the monstrous machinations of Heisenberg--Jesse still cared for and respected Mr. White.
Here are the final shots...

Please Don't Sue: Fair Use, Since I'm Clearly Using this for (Mis)Educational Purposes
  • Walter White is, by fate and paternal instinct, able to achieve what he bemoaned in "Fly"...the perfect moment to die.

"Breaking" down the scene:

  • -
  • The sputtering sounds of the machine guy are heard in the background, my ears at least...sounds often heard in the soundscapes of the BrBa-verse...particularly the click-clacking of the close-up bicycle tire shots during the cold-open of "Mandala" (2x11). 
    • Oddly, the rider of this bike (the killer of Combo, a moment that sent Jesse into a drug "spiral" that contributed to a downward spiral toward grander cataclysm), eventually reverberates into the third season.
  • Continued "cycles" of the series, the 11th episode of Season 3 "Abiquiu", where Jesse finds out who killed Combo, and comes up with a plan (the finale has this intense tracking shot of Jesse walking to the camera, with Dave Porter providing a very distinct atonal score...keep this in mind)...a plan that leads to Walt taking drastic measures (his instinctual protection of Jesse occurs in the 12th episode of the far cry from what he did in 2x12 
    • an episode that opens with an extended flashback, featuring Jane's discussion of Georgia O'Keeffe's repetitive method of approaching a perfect moment (this sort of renewal and rebirth of a single concept reminds me of  phoenix symbolism..."Phoenix" was the episode (that 12th second season one I just referenced) when Jane died, overdosing on a drug she and Jesse relapsed on in a key scene in "Mandala"...episode 11)
      • Andrea, another crucial character that cycles back, is introduced in 3x11
    • ...and also features Gus telling Walt, "Never repeat the same mistake twice"...oh yeah, Gus was first introduced to the series in "Mandala," where he also gave a pithy life lesson, "Never trust a drug addict." For being so good at seeing "things in people," couldn't Gus gander that Walt himself was already addicted to the drug of control?
        • 11 is a palindrome...palindromes are structural and conceptual motifs on the series...I promise things will be revealed in time.
  • Skip season 4 for now. The 11th episode of season 5 is "Confessions"...the episode where Jesse finally figures out that Walt poisoned Brock (the atonal score that has been used in "Abiquiu," and "Half Measures" comes up during his revelation). 
    • Brock was introduced in 3X11
    • Walter White was finally driven the a rock-bottom point of desperation in the 11th episode of the fourth season, "Crawl Space"...a rupture that lead to his decision to utilize the Lily of the Valley.
  • The zoom up tracking shot from literally dead Mr. White resembles the symbolic death scene of Walter White in 4x11 "Crawl Space." One represent the demise of Walter White's decency and transformation into full-bore Heisenberg preservation instinct; the final spoke to a prelapsarian glimpse at a man reclaiming peace of mind and the tattered remnants of his soul.
  • The encroaching Police officers and spiral orientation of the upward tracking motion echoes the long take of the shoot-out aftermath in the climax of Taxi Driver (stay tuned, there's a post in the works comparing Breaking Bad and Taxi Driver, beat-by-twisted-beat).
Believe it or not, near their respective climaxes, Walter White is far more put together and sane than Travis Bickle; both utilize their alienation to be unintentional redeemers in a fallen world

More intriguingly, the final shot of Walter echoes a sequence from far back in the show's chronology....

Hint: Jesse Pinkman is Baby Blue
  • Jesse's heroin-induced ascension wasn't as clearly metaphysical or spiritual as the final track up from Walt (the differences in movement may speak to a body-mind duality difference), but both scenes represent a sense of overwhelming peace and interconnected well-being (heroin...albeit...a false sense of womb-like salvation).
    • The episode in which Jesse first does heroin (this moment, as much as Walt's decision to let Jane asphyxiate, was the main origin point for most of the operatic retribution and deistic-disaster that occurred from the end of the second season on).
      • By the way, this sequence is the centerpiece of..."Mandala."
What does Wikipedia have to say about what a "Mandala" fragmentary terms of Westernized Easternism....

According to art therapist and mental health counselor Susanne F. Fincher, we owe the re-introduction of mandalas into modern Western thought to C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst. In his pioneering exploration of the unconscious through his own art making, Jung observed the motif of the circle spontaneously appearing. The circle drawings reflected his inner state at that moment. Familiarity with the philosophical writings of India prompted Jung to adopt the word "mandala" to describe these circle drawings he and his patients made. In his autobiography "Memories, Dreams, Reflections," Jung wrote:

"I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing,...which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time....Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:...the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious." pp 195 - 196.

Jung recognized that the urge to make mandalas emerges during moments of intense personal growth. Their appearance indicates a profound re-balancing process is underway in the psyche. The result of the process is a more complex and better integrated personality. As Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz explains:

"The mandala serves a conservative purpose—namely, to restore a previously existing order. But it also serves the creative purpose of giving expression and form to something that does not yet exist, something new and unique….The process is that of the ascending spiral, which grows upward while simultaneously returning again and again to the same point. [26]

Creating mandalas helps stabilize, integrate, and re-order inner life. [27]

According to the psychologist David Fontana, its symbolic nature can help one "to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises."


While I'm getting into the zone of being recklessly close to blowing my own mind, why not just randomly toss this out there...
Embrace the random...and it will all make sense

So, let's say I want to make this claim:
  • Breaking Bad, as a series of episodes (i.e. epistemological-odes) seems structured like a sort of high-concept spiral...hence all the motifs of mirrors and shadows and repeated images/framing composition/leit-motifs within the score/themes/...reverberations in a zany intertext echo-chamber/hall-of-mirrors. 
    • Hence the fifth seasons focus on an overwhelming sense of "eternal return" and "infernal regress"
      • Parallelisms abound, and the finale provides a paradoxical resolution...full-circle closure that draws attention to the drastic changes from 1x01 to 5x16.
If such a theory is to be taken serious, the episode(s) that occur in the direct middle should be pivotal...grand symbolic moments in which the intertwined destinies of Walt and Jesse come to a head...where they get closest to achieving a relationship built on complete trust and honesty...before it recedes into a downward spiral of increasingly intense manipulation, betrayal, and confrontation...

I wonder what the middle episodes are (I'm being a rhetorical asshole, right now)? They'd need to also have a lot of symmetry, and contain symbols and images that had and will reverberate through the shows interwoven stylistic and narrative threads.

I stink at math....wait a sec...62 episodes...damn, even split...let's just select the middle three (an unholy trinity...enough separate coordinates to form the foundation of a Fibonacci-esque sequenced spiral...). 

Here are clips and quotes from each of the three core epistemological-odes (i.e. episode)...

 I told him that I had a daughter and he told me he had one, too. And he said, "Never give up on family." And I didn't. I took his advice. My God, the universe is random, it's not inevitable, it's simple chaos. It's subatomic particles in endless, aimless collision. That's what science teaches us, but what does this say? What is it telling us that the very night that this man's daughter dies, it's me who is having a drink with him? I mean, how could that be random?
  • and
Yes, I already used this...I'm "doing things more than once"
You are a wealthy man now. And one must learn to be rich. To be poor, anyone can manage.

What advice do you have for me?

Never make the same mistake twice.

Hmph. Of course. Just trying to do the right thing. But two weeks later he killed her. Of course. Caved her head in with the base of Waring blender. We got there and there was so much blood you can taste the metal. The moral of the story is I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way. I'll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.

Since "Fly" was like a cross-breed between Beckett and Shakespeare, lets drop some preexisting knowledge...

There's also this song that mentions "living is a dream"...

Hmmm, "deja vu...huh"

Appendix (...Madeline!)

Guess I got what I deserved
Kept you waiting there too long, my love
All that time without a word
Didn't know you'd think that I'd forget or I'd regret
The special love I had for you, my baby blue

All the days became so long
Did you really think, I'd do you wrong?
Dixie, when I let you go
Thought you'd realize that I would know
I would show the special love I have for you, my baby blue

What can I do, what can I say
Except I want you by my side
How can I show you, show me the way
Don't you know the times I've tried?

Guess that's all I have to say
Except the feeling just grows stronger every day
Just one thing before I go
Take good care, baby, let me know, let it grow
The special love you have for me, my Dixie, dear.
     -Badfinger, "Baby Blue"

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
All your reindeer armies, are all going home
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue
-Bob Dylan, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

Hold up, check out the above Dylan Lyrics for a second...

"Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun"

"The vagabond who's rapping at your door..."

"Is standing in the clothes that you once wore..."

Unraveling 5x16 "Felina" (i.e. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue")

While I did get a kick out of the use of Badfinger's "Baby Blue" in the last scene, I think this would of just really hit the metaphorical nail on the head

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
     T.S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity
            Prospero (i.e. Shakespeare); The Tempest; Act IV, scene i


  • In which Walter White becomes Dr. Heisen-White, performing skillful and delicate surgery; with the grace of a ballerino and the brutality of a prize-fighter. He eradicates all tendrils of his cancerous influence, including the etymological source... himself.
  • With his progeny either slaughtered or set free, there is no turning back time. No erasing the scars, literal and emotional. No manipulation of his reputation through charlatanry and verbal gymnastics.
    • No, all that is left is the damaged world he left behind...and freedom. Freedom to at last be honest about the person he became. To once again capitalize on the "nothing-left-to-lose" mentality that inspired him back when his intentions were better (but still paving toward damnation).
      • Freedom to accept what he has lost, and to use his outlaw criminal-mastermind to no longer avoid responsibility for his actions.
  • Walter White learned too much from his limbo in New escaping the shackles of self-deceit and avoidance, he then lived free and died (it was never an either/or thing with the choices made or inaction taken).
  • The spectral presence of Walter Hartwell White destroys the ghosts of Heisenberg.


I think many people won't fully get what the finale was going for.

Initially, I was impressed but not blown away like I was after first seeing the finale of The Shield...but after some earnest thinking and rewatching a few scenes, I think that Gilligan's denouement is far more complex and twisted.

These are some bullet points that I'll content with (courtesy of Strawman and co.)
  • Things seems to wrap up with a tidy, unambiguous bow.
  • Walt gets a redemption that may come across as inauthentic.
  • The final sequence is too rushed and "unrealistic".
  • Too much closure; not enough resolution.
  • The show is sexist, since male secondary-characters Skinny Pete and Badger get one more chance to strut the stage; but fan favorite female secondary-characters Wendy and Skank are nowhere to be seen (...okay, I don't quite think this complaint can be found on the interwebs...though, maybe...)
This is an episode beautiful in tone but intentionally ugly in appearance. A part of me was initially disappointed with the lack of sun soaked and sublime desert vistas in the concluding moments...since that iconography was a pivotal part of the show.

But once I thought a little bit about why Gilligan would made that choice, I realized the beautiful meaning behind the method.

In hindsight, there are many upended expectations and "easy-outs" within "Felina" that seem to be done with a clear artistic purpose. Even the predictability of the plot likely let-down many that were expecting some unexpected mind-fuck...but the show is respecting it's own chemistry, and Gilligan helmed an episode that stayed true to the series' notion of dynamic change, while still bringing full-circle many elements of the shows iconic atmosphere. 

Keep in mind that Gilligan pulled this same trick with the more overtly operatic season 4 conclusion "Face-Off," since Gus's demise was foreshadowed with a tongue-in-cheek level of explicitness; yet audiences were still blown away when Gus was actually...well, y'all get the point.

Even the final shot (I'll get to it...) seemed more claustrophobic than I expected. The series began with a frenetic chase through the desert, capitalizing on the open vistas of the New Mexico setting. The final location featured in he last episode is an enclosed bunker...


Well, to answer that one-word question, let me start with a sporadic analysis of the entire episode, before taking a bit of effort at unraveling the subtly masterful final sequence at Uncle Jack's lair.

Episode Bullet Point Fusillade (mostly chrono-logical)


  • On the less-abyssmal-than-usual "Talking Bad" that followed the episode, Aaron Paul repeatedly cheered about the retribution Jesse got through strangling if it was an act of colloquial and biblical righteousness. I don't think that moment plays that way, at all. Cathartic and inevitable, yes; but it is a very pitiful and unredemptive moment. No beauty or cosmic justice; just pure animalistic bloodlust. Crawling on the floor, beseeching both his Uncle and then Mr. White, as he 

  • Phone call to Lydia....

Still don't realize how profound Gilligan's use of sun-lighting-as-literal-and-symbolic-signifier as thematic day/night duality is?

Time to jog the memory banks, with a retroactive jaunt through the series' symbolic motifs and metaphoric iconography (this project will begin to get chock-full of these kinds of things).

Profound Photography Title: 
     Here Comes the Sun...go gently into that Good Night.

Funny, the "sun" seems to be like a "son". Light of the sun, and the mercy of his surrogate son, relates to a glimpse of redemption for the now colorless Mr. White. Sun/Son as figures of mercy also brings up an association of....gasp, Jesus Christ the redeemer (no worries, as I'll get at in my separate analysis of the final shot, there's some Buddhist stuff going on here, too).

What, Jesse...associated with martyrdom...oh yeah!

  • Passing of a paternal figure, and it's relation to an uneasy relationship with dusk as a metaphysical concept of dusk...

Alright, I'm speechless now...

Sun, shine on me today
Sun, dry my tears away
How I need your warm embrace
To shine upon my crying face
…Sun, give me a little light
Take me, out of this darkened night
You know what a little light can do
You change the sky from black to blue