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Aaron Paul (#110 of 29)

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 16, "Felina"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 16, “Felina”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 16, “Felina”

Breaking Bad’s series finale, “Felina,” fulfills the implications of last week’s “Granite State,” which restored Walt (Bryan Cranston) to us as a proletariat avenger, and the truly shocking element of this episode is its sentimentality. Writer-director and creator Vince Gilligan, who occasionally appears to forget how far Walt has drifted over the years into the realms of the self-absorbed, crazy, and downright cold-blooded, strives to toe a line that waffles between providing heartwarming closure and often formulaic catharsis. “Felina” offers an abundance of riches despite its flaws, but if fans feel a little hung over this morning after the intense speculation and anticipation, it’s for two reasons: Firstly, the usual unfair reasons with which a series finale has to contend with failing to embody the whims of our private imaginations, and, secondly, because Gilligan briefly boiled much of the ambivalence out of his wonderful series. Or simply: Walt became a good guy unencumbered by the rich ironic context with which Breaking Bad has so often excelled.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 15, "Granite State"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 15, “Granite State”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 15, “Granite State”

As Breaking Bad nears its final episode, viewers have become preoccupied with who will live and who will die—an inevitable way of processing a series as it draws to a close, as we can’t help but wonder how a beloved pop cultural institution will consciously account for its ultimate mortality. So it’s probably worth reaffirming that Breaking Bad is less a tale of accumulating death than a despairing study of a character who succumbs again and again to the temptations that arise from his feelings of having been betrayed by a world that can never appreciate his talent and genius. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a pathologically egotistical man, and all of the atrocities he’s wrought have their origins in this mania.

2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

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2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions
2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

What you’re about to read is a fool’s errand, as without a plethora of precursor awards leading up to television’s biggest night, predicting the Emmys will always be less of a science than predicting the Oscars. But while less energy, hype, and expense may go into buying an Emmy, Neill Patrick Harris won’t exactly be hosting a purity ball on September 22nd at the NOKIA Theatre in Los Angeles. This is an industry show after all, so expect much back-patting, if not to the magnitude of AMPAS’s anointment of Argo as their latest Best Picture winner, essentially an award to Hollywood itself for making movies that affect politics. Case in point: American Horror Story: Asylum, which ended its initially dubious second season on a frenzied high note, as a distinctly Lynchian elegy to the suppression of women. It enters the Emmy race with 17 nominations, more than any other show, yet it will lose the award for Miniseries or Movie to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, a predictable and emotionally flat retelling of Liberace’s life that was deemed too gay for the big screen. TV better than movies? Not really, but at least television will let you see Michael Douglas stroking Matt Damon’s leg hair.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 14, "Ozymandias"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 14, “Ozymandias”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 14, “Ozymandias”

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and his team of writers have proven yet again their facilities for subversively manipulating the familiar narrative contours of the crime melodrama. After all the anguish and duality, the parallels and rivalry that have been carefully established over the years between Hank (Dean Norris) and Walt (Bryan Cranston), the former is ultimately shot in the head like a winged dog, in a manner probably befitting any number of people who’ve gotten on the wrong end of Uncle Jack’s (Michael Bowen) path.

Walt’s expectations, which cannily mirror the audience’s, are such that he assumes a member of his inner circle can never truly buy it unless he wants them to, and last night’s “Ozymandias” toed a powerful line in providing Hank a death of real stature that still somehow managed to feel poignantly random. Hank’s death was tragically puny, and the pairing of those seemingly contradictory words goes a long way in explaining the impressive range of emotions that “Ozymandias” stirred. Many of us assumed, and probably hoped, that the final series showdown would be between Walt and Hank, a way of ironically maintaining the sanctity of family while simultaneously destroying it. But our lives rarely provide us with carefully orchestrated waves of pleasure and closure upon our demand.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 13, "To’hajiilee"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 13, “To’hajiilee”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 13, “To’hajiilee”

A becoming narrative cleanness is settling into Breaking Bad as it nears its conclusion. While the show’s exceptional writers have proven themselves ahead of me at every turn, it’s probably safe to say that Walt (Bryan Cranston), Hank (Dean Norris), Jesse (Aaron Paul), and their various respective significant others are probably about to have their lives flipped open and torn apart once again, this time by Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen), the malevolent specter who represents the shadowy cartel of gangsters that Walt turned to in order to orchestrate those prison executions earlier in the season. Is Uncle Jack the man that Walt may eventually visit with that huge phallic piece of weaponry we saw him buy from an arms dealer at a cafe in the season’s first flash forward? It’s anyone’s guess, but Jack fits the image of the kind of Big Bad that such a weapon would appear to be suited for, as it obviously invites associations with gangster films, particularly the legendary climax of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, in which Al Pacino’s titular hood mowed down seemingly hundreds of killers with a similar gun.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 12, "Rabid Dog"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 12, “Rabid Dog”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 12, “Rabid Dog”

“Rabid Dog” explicitly broaches a question that Breaking Bad fans have probably been pondering for a while: How far will Jesse (Aaron Paul) have to push Walt (Bryan Cranston) before the latter tries to kill the former? In “Confessions,” Walt’s ability to corral Jesse back into his fold of influence appeared to have been definitively shattered by Jesse’s discovery of the truth behind Brock’s poisoning. Jesse was last seen dousing Walt’s living room with gasoline, and “Rabid Dog” picks up immediately where that sequence left off, with Walt stalking Jesse through the corridors of his own home. The plastic gas canister is sitting on the living room carpet, and Walt draws the gun he fished out of the carwash vending machine last week, clearly ready for his association with Jesse to reach the ultimate breaking point.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 11, "Confessions"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 11, “Confessions”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 11, “Confessions”

“Confessions” returns to the theme of the dangerous fragility of crushed American masculinity, which has always been Breaking Bad’s grandest concern. Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Hank (Dean Norris) are both struggling working-class men who’ve recently experienced unexpected surges of great power with Walt’s advent of the “Heisenberg” master criminal, but the latest episode in the series appears to pave the way for a circular narrative structure that will return the men to their stifling humble origins while potentially destroying everything and everyone else in their wake.

For Walt, of course, his cancer’s return began this humbling, which culminated last week with the image of Skylar (Anna Gunn) cradling Walt like a child in their bathroom after he collapsed. Well, maybe. Walt appears to be growing confident again, particularly when his titular “confession” is revealed to be a brazen threat to frame Hank. Viewers can be forgiven for initially falling for Walt’s deception, as his steadying weariness over the course of this season, while always exploited for its maximum capacity to manipulate others, has also often appeared to be legitimate. Walt’s original suggestion to Skylar that he turn himself into the authorities, which he voiced while sprawled out on that bathroom floor, appeared to carry real notes of exhaustion that weren’t just physical, but mental, spiritual, and emotional. The Heisenberg monster appeared to be running out of guises to assume.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 10, "Buried"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Buried”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Buried”

Last week, battle lines were irrevocably drawn in “Blood Money.” Hank (Dean Norris) knows that Walt (Bryan Cranston) is Heisenberg, and Walt now knows that Hank knows. This week’s installment, “Buried,” opens with a quick update on Jesse (Aaron Paul) that telegraphs the episode’s final zinger and then returns us to Walt as he’s leaving Hank’s garage. The western motif is even more explicit this week, as there’s a prolonged image of the men sizing each other up in the tradition of a classic gunfighter duel. (Hank’s garage remote even cheekily resembles a six-shooter from a distance.) Hank lowers the garage door, which serves to literally and figuratively divide the men with an unavoidable degree of finality.

Breaking Bad Recap Season 5, Episode 9, "Blood Money"

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “Blood Money”

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Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “Blood Money”

“Blood Money” kicks off the second half of Breaking Bad’s final season with probably the most startling pre-title sequence in the show’s history, which, as fans will know, is saying something. A car idles along a suburban street as skateboarders glide and swoop up and along a steep curved, paved surface. A gaunt, bearded Walt (Bryan Cranston) climbs out of the car and opens the trunk, revealing the huge gun he purchased at the beginning of the season. The audience knows, then, that they’re witnessing another provocative glimpse of the near future that directly anticipates whatever end awaits American TV’s most dangerous and formidable ex-chemistry teacher. Walt enters the hollow shell of a home, and the camera follows him as he makes his way through the rooms, which are littered with trash and riddled with graffiti. We see that someone, most prominently, has spray-painted “HEISENBERG” across what was once a living room wall and it becomes clear: This was once Walt’s house, and the skateboarders are enjoying themselves in what was once his pool.