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

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Prelude (Elucidating Flashbacking and Flashforwarding)

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal these words appear...
             -Bryan Cranston, as alter-egos WW/Heisenberg, reading P.B. Shelley's "Ozymandias"

Before you start unquestionable internalizing the spoken poetry used in that amazing promo...

...quickly skim this article from Slate. The multiple and fourth-wall breaking elements of that  (debt to former teacher David Rosen for teasing through the Mobius Strip logic of the poem's syntax). Shelley did his deed with a Sonnet, Vince Gilligan is doing it with a  television serial.

(SEE "Abstract" and "Crucial Threads" to understand better what this site is all about).

If you aren't caught up on Breaking Bad (BB), please don't look at this site. This isn't an elitist, "no cretins allowed" proclamation; but rather a caveat to ensure that it doesn't steal the amazing psychological experience of trying to piece the puzzle together from episodes 1x01 (Pilot) to 5x16 ("Felina"). And yeah, at the time of this post we are only up to 5x08; any predictions are based on either uncertain conjecture or an understanding of the amazing finale that Gilligan and crew have been scheming (either through intentional clues made in recent seasons, or through retroactive use of the shows numerous red-herrings and preexisting components).

See Final Acts for further stuff on this type of shit (...let me clarify, many of these hyperlinks will contain material in-media-res; in other words, expect a hopefully-temporary schizophrenic text dump, or some strange terms that may mean nothing at this point).

BB is the pinnacle of visual storytelling. The finest, most enthralling, most unique-yet-deeply-rooted-in-mythology, most fully realized work of art that I've ever seen. Yeah, there are still 8 episodes left, but I would be shocked if they weren't even better than what came before (...only being as captivating as they should/will be to a viewer that has been tracking the series' "lot of angles" religiously).

But, you ain't need no Comp. Lit. PhD or familiarity with highfalutin theories to feel the show's grasp on your psyche/soul/cognition. Being a TV-freak helps a lot, but BB is the type of show that could convert television-serial-nay-sayers into people that genuinely realize, "I am in the middle of the rarest of things; a cultural craze that is every bit as worthy of the critical praise. This show transcends all that I ever thought a 'TV show' capable of."

Many believe that its a show that will only seem brighter once the fury has died down. Let's not wait for stuffy academics to lay claim to the show's truth content. Let's figure it out here. For free. No loans necessary (just a whole lot of worthwhile time, watching, thinking, reminiscing, intense conversations with friends, re-watching, and overall obsessiveness)!

But trust, this is a show that will make you a better person (if you learn how to tread the waters of its aesthetic maelstrom); or at least make the whole life-is-beautiful-ugly-terrifying-satisfying-confusing-coherent-heavenly-abyssal-perfect-flawed-WE'RE-FUCKED-but-maybe-in-the-best-spot-for-salvation thing about human-experience-these-days way easier to swallow. 

SEE "Everything is Contaminated" for more "information" about the Breaking-Bad-universe that arose in the "real world."

BB is a show of such amazing craft, that an average viewer thrust into it at any given point can figure out a lot of the magic. Recent example: I was playing some songs featured in the show to a close friend who has never seen an episode [he's also one of the few of my buddies that I haven't really spoiled things for]. I played the great Nat King Cole song "Pick Yourself Up" that plays during the Godfather-esque montage near the middle of 5x08. I say something like, "Oh man, if you saw the scene this was played during, you'd love it." Based on the lyrics, he guessed that it was a scene of someone just getting brutally beat, Close enough to the prison-slaughter that occurs. The fucker even made great guesses about the crux of action, based on the songs tempo.

To be fair, my friend has a knack for immediate deconstruction, but immense credit goes to Gillian and Thomas Golubic (music supervisor that helps Vince select preexisting songs that are essential to the show), for having this unfathomable capacity to find tonally-perfect songs that don't seem like the usual "HEY LOOK HOW RELEVANT THE WORDS OF THIS SONG ARE TO THE ACTIONS YOU'RE SEEING THE CHARACTERS PERFORM IN THIS MONTAGE." quality seen in even the better quality TV serials; even if in hindsight many of the songs describe exactly what the scene and show are about.

SEE Music section for further inquiry.

Much of the initial fun of watching the show is due to having no idea what will happen next. A viewer unavoidably makes constant predictions about the narrative. In the earlier seasons, Vince and crew would intentionally set up scenarios where narrative expectations are upended (e.g. the cold open of 2x11 "Mandala," where the cross-cutting made me convinced that the child riding the bike would be shot in a drug-deal-gone-bad; of course, much like Combo, the audience quickly learns the error of prejudice). This type of gift is due to the intense writing and cinematography.

SEE Photography section if you want to see the juxtaposition of sublime images and clips, and dig into the ways that the show makes almost every shot an instant icon. Hypothesis: the cinematographer and mise-en-scene are able to exist in multiple "planes of experience."

I still don't know what I'm "talking" about with the previous hypo., but I think the following may hold a clue to the overall "thesis"

It seems as if the crew of BB, mainly its show-running mastermind, have seen every visual narrative (television shows and movies) worthy of investment (running the gamut of pulp entertainment, Looney Tunes carnivalesque carnage, middle-class satire, and high-brow artsy stuff). Both the best and the worst (determined by Gilligan and crew's tastes) are chewed up vigorously. What is spat out is shockingly more appealing that the sum of food parts that Gilligans eyeballs were crunching on (yeah, real stupid metaphor...sorry).

SEE Shadows of the Past for more on the plethora of artistic homage

The show seems to know what you're thinking, even before you think it. It usually twists the expectations, but in a way that-either immediately or in hindsight-fits perfectly within the internal logic of the series. When I watch the show, I don't feel like an innocent that is judging Walt (and "bad" company) from afar; I feel the real/constructed paranoia that Walt lives through when he realizes that Gus is the ultimate mastermind. As Walt says to Gus during their last shot-reverse shot meeting, when he realizes he must humble himself while still holding onto his hubris, "I can't pretend I don't know that person is you. I want there to be no confusion. I know I owe you my life, and more than that, I respect the strategy."

To continue to let BB's astounding screen-writing speak for itself, (I guess this would be a deluded fantasy of a BB fanatic talking about Gilligan to doubters, or apostrophizing to "Breaking Bad" itself), "He has been ten steps ahead of me at every turn...No, he's known everything all along..Don't you see...Think about it! It's brilliant!" (4x12, "End Times)

Best part about the show (and the reason it grew as organically as it did), though, is that a lot of the nuts and bolts of Vince's "best laid plans" were due to collaborative improv and the unswayable hands of fate!

So yeah, this is a site meant for the fanatic, or aspiring fanatic that has seen every episode at least once. Once the surface nature of the plot and characters are understood, we can try to figure out the specific formulas behind the unbelievable and unprecedented chemistry. Relevant analogy provided by the show: Walt's lesson in the pilot, where he knew that his apathetic students would give a shit if he explained the mathematical underpinnings of chemical reactions; so he has to rely on razzle dazzle and showmanship to have them at least glimpse the light of his passions; this scene is also "seen" as the show's initial fourth-wall-breaking mission statement.

That was a teaching quality that he has clearly lost when he teaches Todd the trade in 5x08. At that point, he's just pure ego blathering to the deaf ears of his projected good-soldier-id. I'll need the contributions and check-and-balances of y'all to ensure this project becomes more than just esoteric, monomaniacal babble. Help!

SEE sections Internalized Works and Previous Scholarship, to see the specific shoulders of giants I'm desperately trying to balance myself on.

Aside from critical responses and observation reactions, please feel free to comment on ways to improve this site's form and content; even my quirky rhetoric and writing style is up for lambasting (the inner internet troll in us all can be used for good, when contained). 

SEE Posting Structure for more specifics.

With this show, a site that tries to encapsulate its elusive genius is gonna have to get complicated, but I need to avoid it remaining convoluted. In the spirit of the show's shift from seeming structural chaos to crystallized purity, this site's context (the stuff clunked down in the non-blog sidebar links) will be constantly self-correcting and collaborative. No one mind is capable of complete omniscience; even when interpreting a television show that, through a cosmic umbrella of interconnectiveness, succeeds in making every separate thing at least seem like it means something.

What would happen if a single mind thought it could understand fully and without error even the tiniest grain of sand?

Path to the answer...remember all the scenes where Walt attempted to see the devil in the details...attempting to control the tiniest things when everything in the pool, uneven table leg at the hospital, the entire episode "Fly," the loose thread in his hat after his wife wishes that he die faster, and pretty much everything he stares at after he kills Mike.

What happens in real life when an individual contains himself from all human contact and humble interaction is what happens to the Dramatis Personae in Breaking Bad.

What would happen if someone let a progressive obsession develop into regression, living through the cognitive dissonance of engaging with a show in a method counterproductive to it's very essence?

The answer to these questions will probably be best seen and heard in whatever the final shot  (hell, you never know, maybe we already did see the final shot of him chronologically). Expect subliminally sublime symmetry!

Here's a pop culture analogue that could also shed some light on these questions, and at least would show the state I'd be in if I ever thought I could wrap this little site up anytime soon...

So yeah, with that caveat, let's jump down the rabbit hole(s). Who's coming with me!?

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