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Breaking Bag: Paste's Breaking Bad Mailbag

August 23, 2013  |  4:12pm
Breaking Bag: <i>Paste</i>'s Breaking Bad Mailbag

Starting today, Josh and Shane will be running a Breaking Bad Mailbag each Friday so we can all get our BB fix before the new episode airs. To get in on the action, send your questions, theories, rants, and whatever else to BreakingPaste@gmail.com—or leave them in the comments—and stay tuned for the email exchange recaps on Mondays.

Thanks for joining us for this pre-show mailbag bash. Since we put this one together at the last minute, you may notice that Josh and I “filled out” the questions with some of our own. All of which means that there’s room for your participation. Hit us up next week! Let’s start with a thought on last week’s episode before we jump ahead to Sunday’s episode…

First of all, I’ve greatly enjoyed the reviews I’ve read so far from both Josh and Shane, positive and negative. Your judging “Buried” as spinning its wheels till next episode is, I feel, unwarranted. One of the key episodes of the entire series, is when Walt, due to his wounded pride and ego, denies money from the Schwartz’s in season one. It forged his path. Skyler’s meetings with Hank and Marie (who nailed it on the head in her parting remarks, Skyler does think Walt will get away with it, for now), helps her draw the battleground for which side she will side with. Her scene with Walt in the bathroom, which included the bitter and heartbreaking exchange, “Are you happy now?”, is the echo/mirror of Walt’s exchange with Hank. “The best course would be to tread lightly”, is Walt’s respopnse to Hank’s threats. “Our best move here is to stay quiet” is Skyler’s response to Walt giving up. Sides are taken. Battle lines are drawn. No one is backing down. Since the first post-break episode focused on Walt, the second on Skyler, look for Jesse to dominate the third. Perhaps we’ll find out what side of the fence he falls toward…Oh, and love Dave Porter’s use of the creaking roundabout sound in the closing music. The creaking wheel of justice..?..
-James S.

Thanks, James. “Spinning wheels” is probably too harsh. There was necessary development in “Buried,” but it was more of a breather in between the Walt-Hank confrontation and all the inevitabilities heading towards us like a freight train. “I don’t remember the last time I was happy” may be the best line given to Skyler, and Anna Gunn actually delivers it wonderfully with less blame in her voice and more just an exhausted, resigned remorse. “Battle lines being drawn” is a good way to put it. It was a quiet episode until Lydia led her army into the meth camp and Todd’s men fired the first shots of the oncoming war.—Josh

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Shane, I haven’t found any commentary anywhere on the likelihood that Saul’s bodyguard’s have seized most of the booty—”Mexico, just sayin’”—and merely topped up the bins for the benefit of Walt’s misplaced trust. Their knowing glance after Walt runs his hands through the wads is telling. That means the bodyguards are now players and Skylar’s ongoing motivations are now misplaced. That the bins are probably full of rubble is of major symbolism to those chasing the fruits of Walt’s deeds.
—Norman, Trafalgar, Aus.

Yes! An email from Australia! Norman, I love the idea that Huell and Kuby (had to look his name up) are going to get mixed up in Walt’s business and go from secondary, nearly silent characters to desperadoes trying to betray all the main characters and throwing a wrench into all our expectations. Is it a far-fetched and possibly deranged conspiracy theory? Absolutely. Will it come true? Almost definitely not. But I like the way you think, and for all the Internet’s manifold conspiracy theories, the one thing nobody is doing is looking at the minor characters for a crazy twist ending. We already know Vince Gilligan is a bold storyteller, but it would take some major cojones for him to subvert everything we’re expecting and re-direct at least part of the climactic conclusion to the exploits of two bit characters. I welcome it.—Shane

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I’m curious to get you on record, with six episodes remaining on the looming life/death question. Which of the following characters will be left standing when the series ends, and which will be kaput? Explain as little or as much as you like: Walt, Skyler, Jesse, Saul, Walt Jr., HUELL, Lydia, Landry Clarke, Hank, Marie, Me, You. All of those are tough for me, except for one: I think it’s 100% that Landry is a goner.
—Shane from Carolina

Walt? Goner. Vince Gilligan has hinted that this won’t be another ambiguous Sopranos ending. I don’t see anyway the last scene isn’t a shot of the fallen king. Skyler? Goner. I think it will probably be unintentionally caused by Walt. The Internet is abuzz with theory’s about where this is headed, but most convincing to me is the idea that Walt takes on the characteristics of his victims (Wired calls this “The Hunter-Gatherer Theory,” but I’m going with “The Borg theory”). He cuts his the crust off his sandwiches like Crazy-8. He drinks his bourbon on the rocks like Mike. During the flash-forward in the cafe, Walt turns his bacon into a 52 for his birthday, a year after Skyler made the 51. He’s been doing this all for his family, but he’s going to have to face up to the fact that he destroyed his family.

Jesse? It pains me to say this, but goner. Not just because Future Walt wears an army jacket that looks a lot like Jesse’s, but because I’m not sure Jesse can move forward at this point. Death would almost be a mercy, but I’d love to see him redeemed and whole if it could be accomplished in any believable way. Saul and Huell? Fine. No one can pin those guys down. Plus there’s been talk of a spin-off. Walt Jr.? Fine. Or I’ll punch my TV. Lydia and Todd/Landry? Dead and deader. To the strains of Crucifictorious. Hank & Marie? Alive and as well as can be. Someone’s got to raise little Holly—and attend Skylar’s funeral. You and me? Again, that might depend on Walt Jr. and Holly. How’s your heart?—Josh

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Breaking Bad has often been compared to a morality play, but the final act of a morality play is the redemptive one—the protagonist seeing the folly of his ways, repenting and making amends. That would be far too neat a bow to wrap this with to be in any way satisfying, but do you expect (and are you hoping for) any kind of redemption in these final episodes?
—Same Josh, Georgia

Honestly? I hope not. This show has always been about the gradually worsening lives of the main characters after they make poor choices, and if there was any overt redemption ahead for Walt, Skyler, or even Jesse, it wouldn’t feel quite right. In terms of minor redemption, I think we could see Jesse going down in a blaze of glory as a last act of trying to set things right, at least in his own moral universe. And maybe there’s a pot of gold at the end of the gray rainbow for Hank, even though I get the sense that he’s doomed too. It seems like what redemption exists in this world should be minor at best…but then again, they’ve surprised me before.—Shane

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I really don’t get the Anna Gunn hate. I find her quite good at portraying the intense conflictedness of the situations the writers keep cooking up for her. Strange that opinions on acting can vary so diametrically. As to the plausibility of her character—that is something I’d have to study. I have to admit allowing myself a certain amount of amnesia from season to season—kind of trusting that somebody is in charge of the whole thing and that when I have time to catch my breath and examine the larger structure of the series, it will hold together. Maybe I’m too trusting…
—Tom A.

You guys are kinda hard on Gunn. My issue with Skyler has always been the writing. I understand that Skyler is guilty of complicity and other things, but this show continues to ask viewers to suspend belief as Walt walks between the raindrops season after season. Skyler is victim not only of her drug-dealing husband but of writers that have used her character to help validate their protagonist and the unfathomable events around him. I’m not buying this recent “ride or die chick” persona either. Skyler’s educated, capable of working to care for her kids and not so bad on the eyes. Is Walt packing some powerful junk/mojo to keep this woman under control that we don’t know about? He’s certainly not Brad Pitt, charming or brimming with swagger. This is the same woman that cheated on and loathed this loser for his activities previously. After so many years of marriage to Walt and accepting a moderate lifestyle, is she suddenly now going to risk everything for greed? Sorry but this character does not and never has made sense. For me Gunn’s doing a pretty decent job in spite of it.
—Felicia K.

Whenever I go negative on Anna Gunn and Skyler, as I did in last week’s email exchange review, there’s at least a little bit of backlash. The emails above are two of the most even-keeled examples. Starting with Tom, the truth is we’re going to have to agree to disagree. As you note, opinions on acting vary, and it’s really an aesthetic thing. I can’t stand watching Gunn on screen. It’s the melodramatic facial expressions, the mood swings, and the rest of what I see as obnoxious mannerisms, like the wide-eyed shock she uses every time Walt does something evil. But others like you think she’s great, and neither of us will ever prove the other wrong (until some kind of acting deity descends from the heavens and says yes, Shane, I am the ultimate judge and you were right all along…Gunn is the worst).

Felicia’s email, though, struck a chord with me. What if the writing is just really bad for Skyler? What if she’s the one character the writers have misused, and Gunn is actually a really good actress who is just working with sub-par material? Even worse, she’s working with sub-par material on a show full of excellent material? There’s not a ton of logic to Skyler’s character, and maybe I shouldn’t be judging Gunn so harshly. Maybe the material, not the actor, is to blame. Also: “Walks between the raindrops” is my new favorite phrase. Thanks, Felicia.—Shane

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I’m really, really curious whether Hank is going to reveal his suspicions about Walt to Ramey and Gomez. That was certainly the implication at the end of last week’s ep, but we know we’ve been fooled before. Two-part question: Will he do it, and if so, will they believe him more quickly than they did when he was onto Gus, or will they give him the same dismissive, condescending attitude because they think it’s too far-fetched?
—Shane P. Ryan, North Carolina, longtime reader

I think Hank eventually takes this to the next level, and this next episode seems as good a time as any. It’s as clear as the writing on that dining-room wall (or the look on his neighbor’s face) that Future Walt has been made. Walter White is a wanted man, so these final chapters aren’t just playing out in the shadows. Hank has earned the trust of his men, so I don’t think anyone will take convincing once he’s shared his suspicions.—Josh

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They’re now coming at the king from all sides—Hank, Jesse and Lydia seem to be his three biggest problems right now, and he admits that it was his own carelessness that got him here. Who will wind up as his downfall?

We have a pair of Checkhov’s guns in Act 1 of this final stretch—the vial of ricin and the literal M60 in his trunk (I guess using Scarface’s M-16 would be too on the nose). Who are each of those for?
—Both from Josh J., huge Paste fan, Decatur, GA

I’m grouping these together because I can kill two birds with one stone: I’m on record as saying that Walt is saving the vial of ricin for himself. He looks so desperate and the situation seems so lost in that final scene that I can only imagine he’s returning to the house to take a last dose of medicine—his own. And it’s strange, but to me it feels like only Walt can kill Walt. Over and over, we’ve seen his crazed egomania lead to disaster for everyone around him—Gus, Mike, Hank, Jesse’s girlfriend, and countless others. And while Walt certainly leads a life of stress, the bullet never finds him. It’s almost like once he beat the cancer, he earned immunity from any other kind of death. I see that pattern continuing until Walt brings about his own end.

As for the M60? That’s tougher, but my initial gut feeling is that we’re going to see an OK Corral-style showdown between Walt and the Todd/Lydia faction. I can’t wait.—Shane

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Skyler’s Ophelia moment in the pool may be the most beautiful image in the whole series. And it sets up a parallel not only with Ophelia, following the Hamlet reference earlier in the episode (everybody dies in this one); but also with the poor beautiful doomed Marliyn Monroe (happy birthday, Mr. President), as her dress billows around her in the water. Ophelia and Marilyn both committed suicide.
-Theodore T.

Marilyn Monroe ALLEGEDLY committed suicide. We’re talking about a show that lends itself to conspiracy theories, so I’d be remiss in not pointing out that more than a few people think Monroe was murdered. If you want to get technical, there’s also some ambiguity about whether Ophelia truly committed suicide, or whether, as Gertrude tried to claim, a branch broke and she drowned. But in that case, the clear implication is suicide.

MOVING ON: Great call remembering the scene where Skyler sings “Happy Birthday” to Beneke, which I found super uncomfortable. Then again, I found the Ophelia pool scene uncomfortable. What’s interesting to me, though, is that while Ophelia was a desperate person looking for escape, Skyler’s pool scene was a play at insanity designed to get the kids into safe hands with Marie and Hank (a position she had reversed completely by last week’s episode). Skyler is tougher and more calculating than Ophelia, and isn’t about to go down without a fight. Unlike Ophelia, the dirty world doesn’t kill her spirit; she can roll with the evil, at least for a little while.—Shane

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Is Jesse too indoctrinated to hate authority to play ball with Hank in that interview room? Or can Hank muster the soft touch needed to actually get him to talk and/or turn on Walt? Is there a chance he’ll turn Jesse into a double-agent and send him back out into the lion’s den? Can you imagine how impossibly tense that would be, watching Walt sniff him out while Jesse tries to pretend that everything is normal?
—Shane R., Durham, NC, President of NC Chapter of Paste Fan Club

I don’t think Jesse has the energy to resist Hank once Hank says the words “Walter White.” All Jesse needs is a way to try to make things right. He wouldn’t have gone to the police with Walt’s name, but the boy badly needs a cause.—Josh

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I want to start by admitting that as a male viewer I tend to view female actors (actresses?) as eye candy and window dressing. When BB started I instantly identified with Walter White and categorized every major character putting Skylar into the window dressing category with one major difference: She immediately got under my skin. I believe that the reason for this is that at the beginning of BB Skylar is so controlling of Walt she influences his every decision. Many male viewers relate to this scenario because in many couples the female is the voice of reason and the male is the impulsive risk taker that has to be reeled in. In BB though Walt is so SMOTHERED and controlled by Skylar and by extension her sister Marie and brother in law Hank. I thought the pilot episode illustrated this perfectly by having Walt wandering around his birthday party looking for someone to talk to and instead being treated by Skylar as a butler serving the other guests who mostly ignored him. This brought out an instant dislike for her and made me hope for an abrupt end for her character. But Skylar continued to wrap her noose around Walt and pull his strings. I was ready for this character to GO! but then I saw the episode when she confronted Hank about Marie’s shoplifting and sympathized with her need to put things in perspective. I began to see the brilliant storytelling of Vince Gilligan take shape. Skylar’s world would crumble when she understood she had no control of Hiesenberg. She desperately attempted to gain control by confronting Jesse then by having an affair but ultimately she soon realized that the world around her was not affected by her actions at all. She regressed into a shell and knew that she could only hang on to the hurricane that was Heisenberg. I have come full circle and now defend Anna Gunn’s portrayal of Skylar White as one of the most compelling characters in the series. Comparable to Claire Danes portrayal of Carrie Matheson in HOMELAND, Anna Gunn has forced me to see how important Skylar is to Breaking Bad.—Carlos G.

I run this lengthy email (which, believe it or not, has been shortened) because the author admits that he approaches television from a sexist perspective, that Skyler pushed all his sexist buttons right from the start, and yet Anna Gunn was so good that she actually overcame his prejudice. I’m flabbergasted, Carlos. I like to think I don’t approach television with any negative bias, and yet Skyler has worn me down and earned my disdain for both actress and character. All of which means that you and I are on polar opposite trajectories.

Also, a final thought—has there ever been a more typo’ed character in tv history than Skyler? Everybody, including myself at times, wants to spell her name as “Skylar.” One reader even took the “Schuyler” route, earning points for creativity. Isn’t that the perfect metaphor for this character, though? She’s even divisive from an orthographical standpoint! Bless you, Skyle(a)r.—Shane

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