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Posts Tagged ‘Breaking Bad’

In the final scene of last night’s season finale of Breaking Bad, Hank Schrader apparently experienced an epiphany on the toilet after opening a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass.  Of course, this was far from the only historic moment involving toilets and literature:

October 31, 1517:

Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church. Scholars attest that Luther’s acute constipation caused him to spend many hours on the toilet, where he researched and wrote the text that started the Protestant Reformation.

December 11, 1747

In a letter to his son, Lord Chesterfield discusses the virtues of reading in the necessary-house:

I knew a gentleman who was so good a manager of his time that he would not even lose that small portion of it which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets in those moments. He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained, and I recommend you to follow his example…. Books of science and of a grave sort must be read with continuity; but there are very many, and even very useful ones, which may be read with advantage by snatches and unconnectedly: such are all the good Latin poets, except Virgil in his Æneid, and such are most of the modern poets, in which you will find many pieces worth reading that will not take up above seven or eight minutes.

March 8, 1857:

Joseph Gayetty is the first to market toilet paper, sold for 50 cents per 500 sheets. In a press release, the product is dubbed “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper for the Water-Closet,” and is said to be purer and safer than more commonly used printing papers, which contain “fearful poisons” like Oil of Vitriol and Oxalic Acid. Newspapers and other printed materials, however, continue to be the t.p. of choice in America because they’re cheaper, more readily available, and more fun to read than Gayetty’s papers, which only feature the inventor’s name.

September 30, 1890:

Sears publishes its first catalog, which soon becomes rural America’s preferred toilet reading material/toilet paper.

September 23, 1930:

Sears publishes its catalog on less-absorbent glossy paper, and receives a number of complaint letters from rural America.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac, with its more absorbent texture and hole punched in the corner for easy outhouse hanging, remains a popular alternative.

circa 1936:

In Black Spring, Henry Miller extols the glory of toilet reading:

O the wonderful recesses of the toilet! To them I owe my knowledge of Boccaccio, of Rabelais, of Petronius, of The Golden Ass.  All my good reading, you might say, was done on the toilet.  At the worst, Ulysses, or a detective story.  There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet- if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content.  And this is not to denigrate the talent of the author.  This is simply to move him a little closer to the good company of Abelard, Petrarch, Rabelais, Villon, Boccaccio- all the fine, lusty genuine spirits who recognized dung for dung and angels for angels.

February 23, 1940:

Celebrated Argentine author/reviewer of non-existent books Jorge Luis Borges imagines reading Pierre Menard’s Quixote while pretending to poop.

August 16, 1977:

Elvis Presley falls off his toilet and dies in Memphis. Rumor has it that at the time of his death, he was reading a copy of Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction, smeared with fried banana-and-peanut butter fingerprints.

circa 1994:

Pulp Fiction‘s Vincent Vega (John Travolta) reads Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise while on a coffee shop toilet, and fails to hear Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) loudly committing an armed robbery. Later, in the last moments of Vince’s life (but earlier, in the middle of the movie), Vince is so captivated by Modesty Blaise while using Butch Coolidge’s toilet that he apparently fails to hear Butch (Bruce Willis) enter the apartment, retrieve the gold watch from the bedroom, prepare a Pop Tart and pick up the assault rifle that was left on the counter. (Though the theory that Vince may have been expecting Marsellus Wallace [Ving Rhames] and therefore thought nothing of Butch’s noisemaking is a widely accepted hypothesis among internet geeks.)

April 16, 1998:

George Costanza (Jason Alexander) is forced to buy a book on French Impressionist art which he brought into a bookstore bathroom.  Subsequent attempts to sell the tainted book prove futile.

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Season 5 of Breaking Bad has been as captivating as ever so far, even though they’ve mostly been moving chess pieces for now.  The chemistry’s simmering, and when those chess pieces transform into bazooka-wielding battlebots, shit’s gonna get bonkers.  Will Walter finally bump off Hank?  Will collateral damage claim Skyler, Walter Jr., or heaven forbid, Holly?  Will it be Jesse, Mike, or both- or more– hunting hairy Walter as he hops from diner to diner a year in the future?  And where does Exterminator Todd, played by Jesse “Landry” Plemons, fit into this combustible crucible?  Surely it’ll be a dangerous little nook.  That dude can kill you if you’re not careful.  I’ve seen it.

But for as awesome as Breaking Bad has been and, by all reasonable assumptions, will continue to be, did it really need that scene last night where Walter and son actually watch Scarface with giddy enthusiasm, while broken-down Skyler looks on and wonders if this is the movie where everyone dies?  Even for fans less geeky than myself- fans who haven’t seen the phrase “Mr. Chips to Scarface” mentioned roughly 50,000 times in Breaking Bad-related articles– this particular juxtaposition must seem absurdly heavy-handed.  It almost makes me fear the show will end as Walter White lay dying, crying out, “Oh how far hath I fallen!  For once I was but a mild-mannered, good-hearted school teacher, and now my ambition hath eaten away at my soul, much like the cancer that hath stricken me back in Season The First!”  

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Most of the crimes in Frank Bill’s Crimes In Southern Indiana are crimes of passion, though even the premeditated crimes tend to go awry and lead to more crimes of passion.  All seven deadly sins are accounted for, if you count meth addiction as a form of gluttony.  Villains outnumber heroes by a wide margin, and many of the heroes are heroic simply by default.

A number of these short stories are simply pistol-whipping pulp, or blood-spattered snapshots of the American nightmare.  And more often than not, these vicious vignettes are intensely gripping.  Yet a few stories dig in deeper, richer soil.  “The Penance Of Scoot McCutchen” has one of the book’s most sympathetic characters coping with his wife’s deteriorating health, and his own crushing guilt.  An unfortunate mishap in “The Accident” leads to a surreal and unforgettable descent into madness.  “The Old Mechanic” starts out looking like a one-dimensional portrait of an abusive husband, but soon explores the complications of redemption and forgiveness.

Crimes In Southern Indiana will probably remind you of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak hellscapes, or less comedic versions of the Coen Brothers’ darker tales, or Breaking Bad‘s tweaked-out brutality.  However, the book’s portrayal of Southern Indiana also reminds me of Stephen King’s Southwestern Maine- if only all the references to supernatural forces had been edited out.  In Frank Bill’s world, humans are monsters just because– which is usually way more terrifying.

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The Sopranos is Francis Ford Coppola, duh.  Martin Scorsese‘s a little too flashy for The Sopranos so he gets to be Breaking Bad, with all the shovel-POV shots and such.

Steven Spielberg has to be LOST: heaps of gee-whiz! with a dollop of schmaltz.

I’ve never seen Battlestar Galactica, but I want to say that one’s George Lucas.  Of the shows I have seen, the closest George Lucas might be Heroes– though in fairness to Lucas, Heroes started sucking in way less time.

Friday Night Lights is Robert Altman, particularly Nashville, where country music is high school football and the acting is unbelievably natural.

Louie is obviously Woody Allen, only I think I could actually hang out with Louie’s alter ego without wanting to slap the neuroses out of him.

Mad Men is Stanley Kubrick, I think.  Clinically sterile on the surface, but still very human at its core.  Also because they both feel like Americans who love America but wish they were British so they could see America from a British perspective.

If all those Discovery & History Channel reality shows about dangerous, nature-battling jobs (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers) procreated with all those A&E and TLC reality shows about mentally-disturbed weirdos (Hoarders, My Strange Addiction), the offspring would be Werner Herzog.

If all those tacky, tasteless MTV & VH1 reality shows (Jersey Shore, Flavor Of Love) fucked each other, the offspring would be John Waters.  (This is meant as a compliment to John Waters, and as an insult to the reality shows.  I’m not sure how that works, but that’s how it is.)

If Wes Craven and John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper and Brian DePalma and Dario Argento had an orgy and the offspring got mostly recessive genes, that offspring would be American Horror Story

Carnivale is David Lynch, because of the genuinely eerie Americana and all the unanswered questions.

The Walking Dead is George Romero if he took his sweet, sweet time a la Terrence Malick.  Though of course Terrence Malick is more Planet Earth. 

30 Rock might have to be Mike Nichols, though of course it has plenty of Mel Brooks too.  But with all the genre-spoofing, Mel Brooks should probably be Community.  And I guess that would mean Arrested Development is John LandisThe Office (US Version) is Hal Ashby (unless Parks And Recreation is Hal Ashby).  The Office (UK Version) is more realistic and uncomfortable to watch, so that’s John CassavetesHow I Met Your Mother is meta-Arthur Hiller (the guy who directed Love Story as well as a couple of Neil Simon scripts).  I can’t think of who It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia would be.  Who’s the most mean-spirited and irredeemably obnoxious 1970s filmmaker?

I have yet to see Homeland or Rubicon, but they’re Alan Pakula, right?  Because conspiracies and shit?

The Wire would have to be Sidney Lumet, with the criminals and the scathing social commentary of modern urban…OK, I’m just guessing on this one too, since I’ve only seen like 4 episodes of The Wire, and I’m ashamed to admit this.

Deadwood is either Walter Hill or Sam Peckinpah, since it takes the brutality inherent in early-20th Century Westerns and reconfigures it through modern…

…all right, I’ve seen zero episodes of Deadwood.

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Who needs yet another “Best Of” list or “Year In Review” when we have this scene from Breaking Bad to sum up everything we need to know about 2011?  (Spoiler warning: this is the final scene of season 4, episode 11.)

There we are, squirming through the cobwebs in the crawl space under the house.  Clawing through vacuum-seal storage bags for half a million dollars we could’ve sworn was supposed to be here.  Yelling at Skyler, WHERE IS THE MONEY? and she says she gave it to that oily skidmark she had an affair with a short while back.  Then it hits us: karma’s a harsh mistress, and the gods are motherless punks with merciless senses of humor.  So we scream, but then we laugh like lunatics, because what else could we possibly do?  Then, for a minute, we go very quiet.  Time to figure a way out of this mess…

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