Spoiler Alert: The End of “Breaking Bad”

Jesse strangling Todd with his chains was the perfect ending for that particular plot thread. Todd survived the machine-gun assault so he could die in more righteous fashion, at the hands of the show’s good(ish) guy. Certainly Jesse was the character we rooted for hardest, right? He raced away from Walt at the end, laughing and crying at the same time. Yes.

I’m so glad “Breaking Bad” is over. A story well told, beginning to middle to end. Was the last episode the show’s greatest? Maybe. Or “Fly,” maybe, or when Walt watched Jane die. “Face Off.” The third-to-last episode, “Ozymandias,” gave us Hank’s death, and Walt’s family knifing him and calling the police, and that heartbreaking phone call for everyone to listen in on. That might be the best episode, too.

It was nice watching Walt watch his son there after the final conversation with Skyler. You didn’t want them talking, or I didn’t, but it was good he got to see him. Hopefully Skyler stops smoking.

“The Shield’s” ending was my favorite, but here’s the difference. “The Shield” has this insane catharsis directly referencing all the evil that’s occurred in seasons previous. Vic Mackey says out loud all the terrible stuff he’s done. Then there’s the very last shot of the show—Vic dashing away with a gun and a grin. Still alive, it’s worth noting.

It kills finales (“X-Files,” “Seinfeld”) when they try to be about everything that’s already happened. It means they’re caught up in the show itself much more than telling a story. “The Shield,” brilliantly, managed to make the rehash an important element within the actual story and all its dramatic reckoning.

(“The Wire” finale, for me, was all about Marlo taking that corner. It was no big event.)

“Breaking Bad” didn’t rehash. It turned in the final chapter. Walt used his scientific know-how (classic) to make exactly the weapon he needed to kill a dozen armed Nazis. He improvised on-the-spot (classic) to save Jesse. The poison was for Liddia. I didn’t see that coming, but loved it. Why leave her out? Poisoning is also classic Walt.

Instead of lying to Skyler, he told her he liked being Heisenberg because he was good at it. Being bad made him feel alive. And she got it. She nodded and looked up at him and it wasn’t hate in her eyes. They’re family.

The last shot of Walt is him dead in a lab. Through all the events of this show the cops never came close. Even Hank, when he finally figured it out at the end, couldn’t get official law enforcement involved. When the red and blue flashing lights finally found Walt, it happened because he had no reason to run. They never took him alive.

You want a big theme for “Breaking Bad”? Wanna know what it’s really about? The last episode tells us in its send-off for the beloved druggie duo of Badger and Skinny Pete. They’ve just helped Walt threaten death on old business partners. . . .

Badger: “You know, I don’t exactly know how to feel about all this.”

Skinny Pete: “For real, yo. The whole thing felt kinda shady. You know, like, morality-wise?”

Walt holds up a bundle of cash for each of them. “How do you feel now?” he asks. They’re over it immediately, because money makes breaking bad feel fine.

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“Breaking Bad”: Heisenberg’s Bloody Requiem

A chemistry teacher has become bigger than Scarface, attaining the rarefied infamy his dark soul craved. Alone and dying, hated by the people he loves, Walter White burns with pride-fueled rage. The last chapter sees Heisenberg returning from wilderness exile to paint the Land of Enchantment red by the Nazi blood of his enemies. In the universe of “Breaking Bad,” Walt has become mythological. And he’s out for revenge.

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SPOILER ALERT For Walt to kill Gus Fring with a bomb tied to their mutual enemy was a master’s move in a life-size game of Last Gangster Standing.

The bomb went off at a nursing home (two seasons ago). It killed Gus and Gus’s bodyguard, Tyrus, who looked and moved like a Treadstone assassin in the “Bourne” movies. We watched the blast from the hallway. The door blew off. The camera held. Out walked Gus. The camera curled around to show us his whole face. Half of it was blasted off, down to the skull. He straightened his tie and fell down dead.

Yes! I love that scene. “Breaking Bad” dabbles in pulpy surrealism, becoming comic-book crazy when it wants to. Punches land huge on this show. Walt practiced quick drawing a revolver. There’s been bike-lock strangulation and poisoned burritos. He led a historically lucrative train robbery, and killed 10 men in prison at the same time. “Breaking Bad” once crashed two airplanes together.

The last episode of “The Sopranos” was shitty because it went for high art, doing something strange and dense. “Don’t Stop Believing” plays loudly over Tony sitting in a restaurant booth being boring with his family. There may be a killer in the background, but you have to watch the scene 10 times to even start forming an opinion. Nothing is happening, and then the show just stops. People thought their cable broke.

The Flip Side’s editorial stance has long been “There is power in ambiguity.” “The Master.” “Cloud Atlas.” But I’m finding I prefer the unambiguous goal of “Breaking Bad” to blow our minds with crazy events, staging one wild scene after another as the stakes raise to barely bearable heights. This is definitely art, but the primary goal is satisfying an audience. That’s why Todd can’t possibly survive—it’d be too esoteric, like a message about the unfairness of life.

One hour left. A prediction: There will be no ambiguity; there will be blood.

Walt went deep into hiding with worsening cancer and a barrel of $11 million cash. Months have passed. He’s dropped weight, grown a beard, experienced shattering loneliness, and armed himself with a huge machine gun and a caplet of poison. “I’m going to kill Jack and his entire crew,” he vowed before he disappeared. Jack and his crew are a gang of cop-killing Nazis.

Walt’s become famous for his criminal empire in Albuquerque. He is an ultimate outlaw, Billy The Kid with an even better nickname. “Heisenberg” is spray-painted on the walls of his trashed abandoned house, where no one else can live because it’s notorious and thus cursed. “You are the target of a nation-wide manhunt,” he’s told as he tours the snowy New Hampshire cabin where he’s forced to hide out. “Your face is all over TV.”

This is subconscious victory. He’s ego-maniacal—”Say my name,” he once demanded of a rival in the desert—and he’s dying. Heading into Sunday’s final episode, Walt has been told by his son to drop dead when he sits at a bar and happens to see, on television, his old business partners getting grilled by Charlie Rose about their history. They say Walt had nothing to do with the founding of their billion-dollar company. It rips open an old wound. It hits his pride. Gretchen, a lost love, tells Rose that Heisenberg may be out there but the sweet, kind Walt they knew is gone.

That was the push. Saddened Walt changes in his eyes into furious Heisenberg (like when he watched Jane choke and chose to let her die). He was gonna turn himself in, but fuck that. “Live Free or Die.” They killed his brother, stole his money, and worst of all cooked his blue meth. HOW DARE THEY! He’s “the devil,” by far the killing game’s best player. He wants revenge and he’s got nothing to lose.

Dead-eyed maniac Todd and the Nazis are waiting. So’s Jesse, angrier than ever.

The ending to the great New Mexico fiction of my lifetime is finally here, and anything goes. It’s been a blast. Cue madness.

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The Meaning of Life

Whelp, we watched the Browns. My daughter mostly slept. Instead of her Cleveland Browns dress (see last post), she wore a gray-and-white onesie with two smiling koala bears—little bear clinging to the back of a bigger bear. It says “I love hanging out with mom.” Check it:

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I watched the Browns with hate in my heart. Not for the football team and its players. I hate Browns management for trading turbo-truck Trent Richardson last week for a draft pick. These are old white men with huge egos. They decided it was OK to give away an entire year of football, because they’re so smart they can fix the team with draft picks.

They made the team worse on purpose. Who the fuck are these guys—Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner—that they don’t think they should be judged for the product on the field right now?

Against the Vikings yesterday, the team started quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has started one NFL game (a loss) and been cut by three teams. His first possession was a one-yard three-and-out. His second possession, Hoyer faded back and threw the ball directly into the ground, like a spike. It slipped. Landed a foot in front of him.

But then something crazy happened. The Browns started playing pretty well. Two plays after the spike, Hoyer threw a deep touchdown along the left sideline to Josh Gordon, a beast receiver newly returned from two-game drug suspension. Gordon is 6-foot-3, 225, and fast. A touchdown! More followed.

With one minute left, the Browns were losing by three points. They had the ball seven yards away from the end zone. Trent Richardson was far away, getting ready for his first game with the Colts. His replacement on the Browns, Willis McGahee, had nine yards on eight carries.

One minute. Ball on the seven. Down 3. Hoyer’s first pass goes out of the end zone. Hoyer’s second pass goes over the end zone. My wife, sitting beside me with baby in her arms, says “And they have no one who can run it, right?” Right.

Hoyer’s third pass is a perfect lob, over the defender and into the big waiting hands of tight end Jordan Cameron. TOUCHDOWN! The Browns won, 31-27. Their inexperienced quarterback threw 54 passes. Trent Richardson’s first carry for the Colts was a touchdown.

So, yeah, I couldn’t quit the Browns. Sue me. It’s in the blood.

I sent the previous blog, about the Richardson trade and my three-week-old daughter wearing a Browns dress, to Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto. His response was this:

All I can say is someone with a good wife, family and daughter has a lot to be thankful for..

As I get older, I have learned that the hard way…dealing with my dad’s stroke, and then him dying…my mother died instantly of a heart attack. I My wife of 36 years is one of God’s great gifts to me…

Family is there long after whatever the Browns do or don’t do.

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Jesus, dude.

I guess that’s true. The Trent trade’s done, right? Over. And anyway we’re talking about guys playing a game.

They make these beer commercials about whether fans can do superstitious little things to help their teams win. If it is possible to harness Universe Power for our favorite teams, it can’t happen through complaining and being angry. And If I’m pissed off and rude and negative about football, my daughter is probably going to wind up disliking the sport because it made daddy’s eyes bulge.

If you’ve been around sports fans who scream or smash stuff when plays go badly, you know how terrible that can be. Little children are sensitive to rage.

It turns out this year’s Cleveland Browns can win. Now they just need to find a running back. I’m sure they will. Laah.

Those assholes managing the team better hope they nail next year’s draft. Somewhere in their arrogant souls they know they’ve got basically a coin flip’s chance. Maybe the picks will be so good they win the Super Bowl.

 

Jon Hamm for Emmy

SPOILERT ALERT When Walt watched Hank die in last week’s “Breaking Bad,” he fell sideways into the dirt with his mouth wide open in a gaping sob. The mouth looked like a black hole, like it might be a digital special effect. The darkness went on forever.

Don-Draper-Jon-Hamm-creat-004Bryan Cranston will win an Emmy for the current, final season of “Breaking Bad.” It will win everything, deservedly. But tonight’s Emmys are for the previous “Breaking Bad” year, when Walt did the “Say my name” scene and killed Mike. Absolutely great stuff. But Jon Hamm, as Don Draper, was better.

He couldn’t get over thoughts of death and how he deserved to go to hell. The episode when he got high on speed and flashed back to the motherly hooker who took his virginity was an all-timer. His eyes are slammed red and he loses an entire huge gap of time. We lose it with him. Peggy gets flabbergasted.

That wasn’t his best scene, though. His best scene was riding the elevator after Sally caught him with the neighbor. Desolate. So ashamed of himself. So sad. Don Draper is made pathetic by the extreme drama of his personal and professional lives, with a past to thank for weird self-esteem and sexual issues. Jon Hamm makes him real. I really hope he wins tonight.

Kevin Spacey, incidentally, was totally memorable as Evil Congressman Frank Underwood. But he didn’t really disappear into the role like Hamm does. That’s not completely his fault. Spacey’s been in so many good movies we’re a little too familiar with his tricks now. (Creepy charm included.) Hamm was an unknown when he stepped into the Don Draper role, but he had chops from years as a working-class grinder paying bills via quick supporting parts. That helps Hamm, but he’s also playing a better character on a better show.

I got Mandy Patinkin from “Homeland” for Supporting Actor. Very masculine sort of sensitivity he exudes, like the ultimate dad-boss. The beard helps. Aaron Paul’s gonna win next year because, again, “Breaking Bad” will deservedly win everything.

If “Game of Thrones” comes back, though, that’ll be a major deal.

The bandwagon-jumping “Game of Thrones” internet fans who are anti-Song of Ice and Fire won’t like this, but fuck them: The Tyrion story is about to get really insane. The next “Game of Thrones” season will be owned by Peter Dinklage as the cunning dwarf. Dinklage is definitely winning an Emmy next season for doing what the show is about to call on him to do.

Dinklage Vs. Paul will be a good one. This year? Go Hamm.

 

Cleveland Browns Management Hurts

For a lot of reasons, I wasn’t gonna put pictures of our baby on the internet. But when the Browns traded Trent Richardson today it made me so mad I can’t really control what I do. God dammit, the Browns are bad to their players and fans, including my adorable daughter. Just look at her.

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My badass Cleveland aunts got her those clothes. The photo’s from Sunday. First football Sunday with dad. The Browns lost 14-6 to the Baltimore Ravens, who are the original Browns because the team Jim Brown played for moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens and won Super Bowls.

It isn’t the Browns players’ fault this team loses. I truly believe that. It’s the fault of stupid managers putting players at a disadvantage. Even Brandon Weeden knows he shouldn’t be playing NFL quarterback. Weeden’s thrown three interceptions and one touchdown in this young, 0-2 season.

Weeden graciously hurt himself last game and won’t be playing this Sunday. That was the news before the Richardson trade. The team has two backup quarterbacks. One is Jason Campbell, an eighth-year veteran who has played in almost 80 games and thrown 24 more touchdowns over his career than interceptions. The other is Brian Hoyer, who has thrown one touchdown in his two career games and been cut by multiple teams. They picked Hoyer. BECAUSE THEY’RE IDIOTS!!!

It is not easy to find a great running back in the NFL, where a solid run game is still a sweet weapon. Trent Richardson is a truck. He can bench press 500 pounds. He’s fast. He can tenderize a defense and open things up for the passing game. The Browns need to fix the quarterback. It’s so obvious. We liked Trent Richardson. We liked Trent Richardson. His rookie year, last season, he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. With broken ribs. He’s 22 years old. We liked Trent Richardson.

Why do you keep doing this, Browns management? Why do you keep hurting the team? Just make a nice team. You have good young players. Help them win. Try to win. Stop making the team worse. Try making them better.

I don’t want my daughter beholden to the whims of arrogant assholes. I don’t think she’ll be wearing her Browns dress again.

Can I stop rooting for the Browns? I feel like I’ll care no matter what. It’s in my blood. But if it is possible to quit your team, I’m done. My family renounces the Browns. We wish their players the best; I love some of those guys. But their bosses are evil. They do wrong by everyone, including themselves.

They do wrong by the cute little baby fans. Just look at this one. . . . There’s even a Dawg Pound photobomb happening. . . . This is who you’re hurting, Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner. You politicians. Shaaaame.

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. . .

Here’s my doodle of Richardson from before last year’s draft:

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It was fun while it lasted, Trent. Good luck in Indy. You’re in much better hands. Your old teammates are probably jealous.

I cannot believe the player they kept out of those two first-round picks from that year is Weeden. This is bullshit.

“Breaking Bad” Breaks Up Walt and Jesse. Also: Todd

The birds Jesse saw when he looked up with that gun to his head . . . spoiler alert . . . that was the part of the last “Breaking Bad” episode (titled “Ozymandias”) that hit hardest for me. Walt and Skyler’s knife fight was excruciating, especially when Walter Jr. jumped onto his dad’s back. Watching Walt fight sobs as he played a psychopath on the phone was heartbreaking—and one of those occasional “Breaking Bad” moments where you remember Bryan Cranston’s acting belongs in rarefied, transcendent company.

But those birds. Were they eagles? Jesse and Walt. They’d flown together.

walt-and-jesseWalt had been Jesse’s boring high school chemistry teacher. Their relationship would grow endearing despite the violence. Sweet, even. The flashback at the beginning of “Ozymandias” had Jesse bitching about Walt’s nitpicking; Walt rolling his eyes at what a dumbass Jesse can be. (Walt: “Yeah, like you’re an idiot.” Jesse: “Dick.”) The chemistry between these characters (and actors) has been beyond special. They’ve fought with cunning desperation to keep each other alive. When Jesse killed Gale he gave away his soul to save Walt’s life. And before this final season, my favorite “Breaking Bad” scene, even above the death of Gus Fring, was Walter’s Aztec appearing out of darkness to plow those two corner dealers as Jesse was preparing to gunfight them, outnumbered. And then Blam! and “Run.” It was Heisenberg embracing extreme measures. It was to save Jesse’s life.

bricking-badSacred “Breaking Bad” lore says writers initially intended to kill off Jesse Pinkman early. The actor, Aaron Paul, was so good with Cranston they kept him alive. Paul grew into the role and won Emmys. He had to do so much. A favorite Jesse Pinkman scene saw him in Mexico, cussing out a cartel meth cook in front of vicious killers. He’d been rendered suicidal junkie over killing Gale to save Walt from Fring. “Bitch” was Jesse’s catchphrase. He called Walt “Mr. White.” My-First-Science-Set

Walt betrayed him so many times. The final betrayal was handing Jesse to the Nazis to torture and kill. “Found him.” Hank’s death was the last ladder rung down into hell. Walt’s family life was incinerated. Jesse could die too.

Eagles. Jesse looked so beat-down and afraid as he looked up at those eagles.

We saw another animal at the end of “Ozymandias.” When the episode ended, Walt rode away in a minivan with someone who can wipe away identities. After the van left the shot, a dog scampered across the road. End credits. They’d been eagles together, soaring. Now it’s just Walt, a lone dog on the street.

The-Legend-of-HeisenbergWe know he comes back with a machine gun and poison. A prediction: The next two hours of “Breaking Bad” will be an ultimate postmodern spaghetti Southwestern, with the hard violent dark New Mexico edge of Santa Fean novelist Cormac McCarthy (“No Country For Old Men,” “Blood Meridian”).

This is better than the movies. I hope Jesse, somehow, finds Walt and kills him.

He bragged about Jane dying. He fought his wife and kidnapped their daughter. Hank’s dead. C’mon, man. Walt’s gotta go down.

. . .

Quick thought on Todd

Todd should be getting a share of that $70 million in cash they just dug up in the desert, so it doesn’t really make sense for him to keep cooking meth. He seems to be doing this because he has a thing for Lydia, the corporate side of their drug operation. They shared a creepy scene with close talking and her lipstick smeared on a mug.

The part of “Ozymandias” when Todd pulls Jesse out of the ground to chain up in a meth lab plays like raw horror.

Todd is so nice, his face always so calm. On “Friday Night Lights” that same actor played lovable sensitive nice guy Landry. Todd is similar, except for not hesitating to pull a gun and shoot a kid. At the beginning of the To’hajiilee shootout, there’s a moment of Todd shooting a pistol from behind a car door. He is comically disinterested. This adorable nice guy feels nothing over killing, which makes him the opposite of Jesse, who can be so brash and rude yet feels killing’s consequences deeply.

He’s the most compelling supporting weirdo since Bob Benson on “Mad Men.” After Todd shot the kid, he sat in his car looking at a spider in a glass jar:

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Two more episodes. Jesse’s got bad guys to beat.

TV and Movies and “Breaking Bad” Again

An “Entourage” movie was to begin filming in May, according to reports, but was postponed because cast members including The Guy Who Plays Vince, The Guy Who Plays Ari, and The Guy Who Plays Turtle want more money.

“Entourage” was about a handsome movie star named Vincent Chase (think Leo or Gosling) living in Hollywood with his three best friends. It was also about his psychotic, brilliant agent. The show was great for a while in the middle of its eight-season run, when compelling movie-star stuff was happening. Vincent Chase was working deals to star in an “Aquaman” movie directed by James Cameron, who appeared as himself. He was also trying to make a movie about Pablo Escobar called “Medellin.” The behind-the-scenes stuff was fantastic; my single favorite episode was a fake documentary about the filming of “Medellin.” Their young director loses his mind. It wound up bombing spectacularly.

Sadly, like other classic HBO shows including “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” “Entourage” kept going after it ran out of good story. By the end, the show thought its audience cared if Vince and his little buddy E found love. We did not. Maybe it’s a good thing “Deadwood” ended before it was done.

“Entourage” has totally colored the way I think about movies. An example: Bradley Cooper recently was announced to have bought the film rights to “American Sniper,” an autobiography by the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. Multiple news outlets described it as a “passion project” for Cooper. He even got Steven Spielberg to sign on as director. I heard this and thought of “Medellin.” Maybe Bradley does movies like “Hangover 3” because it gives him power within the movie biz to make projects like “American Sniper.” Very Vincent Chase.

Spielberg has since been replaced by Clint Eastwood. The sniper, Chris Kyle, was tragically killed this year by a veteran Marine with, at least, PTSD. Because real life is crazier than fiction.

Peter Berg once appeared in a story arch in “Entourage,” directing Vincent Chase in the action flick “Smoke Jumpers.” Berg was portrayed as angry and a little nuts. It turns out, again, that real life is crazier than fiction.

In an interview with superstar sports-and-pop-culture writer Bill Simmons, who runs ESPN’s Grantland.com, Berg speaks of cussing out “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan from a Laker game. Gilligan wrote the original script for “Hancock,” the film Berg directed starring Will Smith as a drunk superhero.

“You wanna hear about my Vince Gilligan fight?” Berg asks Simmons. “Sure,” Simmons says, even though he actually wants to talk about his own comparisons and rankings for things. He doesn’t follow up any of Berg’s great stories with questions. Simmons was much better as “The Boston Sports Guy,” before he moved to Hollywood.

“Hancock” was originally called “Tonight He Comes,” Berg says, “It was about a superhero alcoholic who could not make love because if he . . . climaxed he would kill a woman with the power of his climax. It was this really dark, twisted script. . . ” written by “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan.

“I had heard Vince had this TV show he wanted to go and do, and I was like ‘Whatever, you gotta go and finish this script.’ . . . He finished the script and said ‘OK, that’s it, I’m outta here. I’m gonna go do this TV show.’ I called Vince, and I was like ‘What the hell? You can’t run out on us!’ I was at a Laker game, actually, so I was talking kinda loud, and I was, you know, a bit intense. I was younger and more immature than I am today. And I was raging on at Vince, and probably dropping a few F-bombs at him. There was a long pause and he kind of accused me of being drunk. He was like ‘Pete, are you drunk?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not drunk. How can you leave us to go do your television show, it’s this stupid idea.’ I basically said ‘Fine, F you,’ and I hung up.”

This story demonstrates an important theme in modern pop culture. Gilligan has a dark script about an alcoholic superhero. It gets watered down by movie makers into a generic, forgettable, PG-13 Will Smith vehicle. Gilligan leaves to make “Breaking Bad,” but not before getting cussed out from the front row of a Laker game by a big-shot Hollywood director. Without interference from demanding producers and stars, Gilligan creates a TV show that is more compelling on every level, including action-wise, than the films coming out of Hollywood.

I keep coming back to “Breaking Bad” on this blog because I just love it. I’ve never seen anything like it. The ending of last week’s episode was brilliant in the way it built suspense, held it, and then unleashed a hail of bullets. We watched Hank slap cuffs on Walt and read the Great Heisenberg his Miranda rights! He’s got him, and he’s so proud, and now he’s probably dead.

The show ended with two sides—lawmen and Nazis—blasting at each other in the desert. I don’t see how this next episode doesn’t open with Hank’s death. He and Gomey are too outnumbered. Hank’s phone call to his wife made it seem as though he is doomed. Then again, Vince Gilligan knows that phone call made it seem like Hank is doomed, and he doesn’t do predictable.

Ack! The wait is killing me. Real life is crazier than fiction, except for “Breaking Bad.”

A painting by Thom Ross, who sells out of Due West Gallery in Santa Fe, is hanging in Hank's house. Ross paints a lot of tough, old-school lawmen.

A painting by Thom Ross, who sells out of Due West Gallery in Santa Fe, is hanging in Hank’s house. Ross paints a lot of tough, old-school lawmen.

The End of “Breaking Bad” and “The Shield” (and “Lost”)

Here’s what Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, told Rolling Stone about this final season of “Breaking Bad”:

No, all I know is, it’s the craziest eight hours of television anyone will ever see. It’s an intense, violent sprint to the finish line. The final eight shows get progressively better and progressively darker.

There’s this notion on TV of a “cliffhanger.” They happen at the end of a season. Some event will occur that’s so dramatic it makes the viewer desperate to know what’s next, only we have to wait months for the next season’s premiere.

“Grey’s Anatomy” ends its seasons with devastating crashes—an ambulance one year, a plane full of cast members another. My wife yells. When I was a kid, a season of “X-Files” ended with Mulder climbing into an underground tanker that subsequently exploded. It was all I thought about for much too long. My favorite cliffhanger ever was the season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that ended with Capt. Picard appearing as an assimilated cyborg on the Enterprise’s bridge screen. He told his crew, in horrifying robot voice, “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service . . . us.” locutus

“Mr. Worf,” Commander Riker said, “fire.” Cue the booming horn section and “To Be Continued.” The show’s hero had been turned into a bad guy, and his first officer had ordered his death, and there wouldn’t be another new episode for a long, long time.

Chilling stuff.

We are five episodes into the eight final chapters of “Breaking Bad.” Every week we’re left with a soul-rousing cliffhanger. The premier saw Hank punch Walt in their garage, and ended with them faced off toe-to-toe. Then it was Hank going into that interrogation room with Jesse. Then it was Jesse, in a drug-crazed rage, dumping gasoline all over Walt’s house. The scene cut to closing credits as Jesse was growling and pouring the gas directly onto the camera. Like he meant to light us on fire.

And then there was this last Sunday’s episode. I’m writing this Monday night, and I’ve thought of little else over the last 20 hours. (What baby daughter?) To’hajiilee. Hank tricks Walt and busts him dead-to-rights. There’s a single tear as Walt realizes his partner and brother have teamed up to end him. Hank slaps on the cuffs. Walt calls Jesse coward. Jesse spits huge in Walt’s face. Hank’s touching phone call to Marie. Then the Nazis show up, a shootout ensues, and before we can tell if anyone’s been hit the show fades out with bullets flying.

Hello, cliff.

So Aaron Paul might be right. This really may be the craziest eight hours of television ever. I thought there was no way “Breaking Bad” could top Season 4, when Walt was warring against Gus Fring to see who could kill the other first. This last season has already surpassed that.

Which brings us to “The Shield.”

If you’re interested in how great TV shows end—maybe you’re still mad about series enders for “Lost” (I loved the end of “Lost”)* or “The Sopranos” (I’ll always hate it)—I think it’s important to consider “The Shield.” As we’ve covered here before, my personal opinion is that “The Wire” is the best TV show of all time. “The Shield,” though, had the best ending I’ve ever seen.** (“Best of all time” and “best I’ve ever seen”? Now I’m doing it. This is how it works when you write about TV these days.)

I doubt anyone who missed “The Shield” when it was new is going back to catch up. It’s a long show (seven seasons) and in the HD-TV age its gritty hand-held style is uncomfortable for our spoiled eyes to behold. So I’m just gonna tell you how “The Shield” ended.

In the first-ever episode, sociopath detective Vic Mackey welcomed a new member to his “strike team” of specialized gang cops. The new member, Mackey correctly deduced, had been planted by a politically minded police captain to dig up dirt on the strike team. And there was deep dirt to mine—the strike team was effective, but it was also dirty as hell.

Mackey killed the planted cop. That’s how the pilot episode of “The Shield” ended.

Now let’s fast-forward past a lot of crazy shit. There was a season built around an Armenian money train heist. There was the Forest Whitaker season I’ll remember forever and the Glenn Close season featuring hall-of-fame bad guy Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson crushed that performance), and endless betrayal and murder. RIP, Lem.

Michael Chiklis, as Mackey, owned this show as a shocking anti-hero and won some Emmys for his raw and brutal lead performance.

Mackey is heavy with all the evil he’s committed by the end of the show. He’s lost his family to witness protection. The strike team is ravaged, its members either dead or prison-bound. He cunningly manipulates his way into immunity from all his crimes; he just has to confess. The deal makes sense to department lawyers . . . until he starts talking into the tape recorder.

He confesses everything, saving the killing of the cop for last. Everyone is shocked. We are shocked watching it, despite already knowing what he’s done. It’s amazing.

His punishment is a boring desk job, a fate close to death for this gang-stomping street animal. They can’t arrest him, so they force him to work in an office for three years. His coworkers seethe with hatred as he lopes through the hallway in ill-fitting suits.  vlcsnap-72510-300x224

We watch Mackey sitting at his desk late one evening, hating life. Then he hears a siren outside. He reaches for a box under his desk. He opens the box, pulls out a gun, smiles, and steals off into the night. He disappears from the camera shot with that mischievous glint in his eyes, and the closing credits roll for the very last time.

I don’t know whether they planned that ending from the very beginning, or if they simply knew a cop killing would provide enough potential narrative destinations they could just figure out a resolution when the time came. It was such a great conclusion. We watch a murderer get a punishment he deserves. Then we see, in that final shot, the incorrigible personality who kept us spellbound all those seasons.

It was perfect closure. Justice giving way to a hit of devil. It’s a complicated thing to end a show about a bad guy. We know what Mackey and Walt have done, and we understand they deserve to pay. But we also like them. “The Shield” found sweet middle ground. Will “Breaking Bad”?

We know Walt survives this desert shootout. We have seen him in the future, armed with a huge machine gun and a caplet of poison. The show has referenced “Scarface” and “Heat,” each of which ends in a wild shootout showdown.

If Hank dies in the opening moments of the next episode, might Walt need the gun to exact revenge on the Nazis for killing his brother-in-law? What if the Nazis kidnap Jesse and force him to cook blue meth? Maybe Future Walt is gunning to save his partner.

Neither of those ideas feels right. They don’t fit. They wouldn’t be perfect. Not every show, though, can end like “The Shield.”

* There was no grand explanation for the island, just a strange story about immortal brothers—one in white, the other black—and one riveting hour of television after another. “Lost” was such an interesting, exciting show throughout its whole run. That finale may not have had a satisfying, unifying explanation, but it did have Jack superman punching Evil Locke, and dying as he watched the plane fly away. Beautiful.

It’s not the destination, people, it’s the journey.

Except on “Breaking Bad,” where it appears to be both.

** This will all be obsolete in five years when “Game of Thrones” ends with Tyrion flying into King’s Landing on Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons and wiping out his whole family.

Fantasy Football: What the Hell Did I Do?

Seven NFL seasons ago, my fantasy team Pee Hole Fisters went winless. My only victory was in the consolation bracket of the playoffs. Friends say that doesn’t count, because the consolation bracket is flushed piss. Consolation-bracket rosters rarely get managed.

The embarrassing 0-fer was compounded by my job that year. I was copy chief of the sports section at The Albuquerque Tribune, a bastion of creativity and aggressive journalism much missed in New Mexico. (The Tribune, an afternoon daily, closed in February 2008. Tough time.) I would work every day with designers and photo editors to make a sports section, but on the side I wrote features, blogs, movie reviews, and a fantasy football column.

So I wrote a weekly fantasy football advice column the same season my team went 0-13. I can’t find any of those old clips, or I’d pick the most humiliating one and paste it here. I did find this critique of a fantasy draft blog I wrote during my Trib days. I agree that I am “criminally unfunny”—the team was called “Pee Hole Fister,” after all.

As mentioned here before, Yahoo judged my draft this year as our league’s worst. It projected me to go 0-13. I thought that unlikely until the first games started. My No. 2 tight end Zack Sudfeld, in the flex spot (that’s right), had zero catches for zero points. Starting running back Giovani Bernard managed 30 yards for the Bengals. My No. 1 overall pick, Calvin Johnson, had a touchdown waived off and scored 3.7 fantasy points.

Matthew Berry told me not to take Megatron! So what if he’s wrong more times than he’s right? At least you’re following something if you follow Matthew Berry. Hubris annihilates empires; of course it can destroy a fantasy season. Who am I? A Santa Fe goofball. I have no business ignoring the sage advice of professionals.

I drew a cartoon depicting my fantasy opponent as a crying baby. Hubris! Now I need RG3 to score 10 touchdowns on Monday Night Football.

In non-fantasy-football-related news, Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden threw three interceptions and lost a fumble against the Miami Dolphins. The Browns’ improved defense played fantastic for a while, but then it got unpleasant to work so hard only to see their quarterback come in and hand the ball right back to the other team.

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Weeden makes football miserable for his teammates. And fans. This isn’t entirely his fault, though. Even he probably thought it was crazy for the Browns to draft him over Russell Wilson. Even he probably thought it was crazy to throw 53 times and hand the ball to their opponent-punishing running back Trent Richardson 13 times. 53 throws, 13 runs.

Uhg. Fuck football. Two 0-13 seasons would be pretty amazing.

Spitting Ignorant Broncos Fans — RG3 — Cowboys — Quitting the Browns

A Broncos fan spit on me last Christmas in Denver. On the plus side, I’d been praying all game for pass-rushing Beast Von Miller to injure Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, and in the fourth quarter it happened.

Security saw the spitting and told the guy to get control. My wife (our first football game) told me I’d been spit on. I put my hand on my back into sticky goop. A dipper. Nice.

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The dip-spitting Broncos fan apologized and said it was an accident. I was angry. “It’s cool,” I said. “We’re just here to have fun.” Earlier one of his friends had given me shit for my jersey. “Number 32? Who is that, anyway?” This Broncos fan who didn’t know who Jim Brown is got straightened out by my wife in humiliating fashion.

She’s a Broncos fan, my wife, because she loves Peyton Manning because he’s funny in commercials she likes. She eagerly anticipates Von Miller’s return from a drug suspension.

. . .

I wanted Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for my fantasy team. He’s my second-favorite NFL player.* It didn’t work out and I ended up with Redskins QB Robert Griffin III.

RG3 is more fun. He’s the biggest story in the NFL this season, and you’ve got a front-row ticket if he’s on your fantasy team. As a rookie last season he was the fleet, laser-armed savior of a proud franchise that’s been mired in mediocrity for years. His jersey was the league’s top seller.

The Andrews on the left

That’s Andrews on the left

Then his knee blew out, and he kept playing. The highest-profile sports doctor in the county was on the sideline of a playoff game, hidden in a special shed with RGIII. RGIII was limping but the coach called quarterback running plays. The knee was wrecked.

Cam Newton is huge. He’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. RGIII is young Bruce Willis. He’s who I wanna run with this year. It all depends on the surgery Dr. James Andrews performed on that knee.

. . .

Questions for Thunder, my hard-core-Cowboys-fan friend:

1) Can Miles Austin catch 14 touchdowns this year?

2) Will the rookie center from Wisconsin, Travis Frederick, be able to buy Romo precious time?

The end of close NFL games can get crazy. The defensive linemen, already some of the fiercest animals out there, start spitting and twitching and get insanely intense for their rushes at the quarterback. The offensive linemen must elevate their play to hold the animals back.

This is when the Cowboys lose games. Romo hasn’t been clutch because he never has time in the clutch. Maybe Frederick will make a difference.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Rookie Minicamp

Thunder’s reply:

No way Austin catches 14 TDs.  Maybe 8-10.  Dez will catch 15+.

Rookie center looks good but they have shit Guards. They just signed Brian Waters 2 days ago who sat out last year but was sick for Patriots – if he can play at that level then they could be decent.

I’m already preparing for a heartbreaking loss Sunday night.

. . .

I don’t want Weeden, the Browns quarterback, to get hurt. I just want him out of the games. Cleveland looks like it might finally be fun to watch on defense. And Browns running back Trent Richardson plays like The Thing in Fantastic Four—a hero made of stone.

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It sucks being a Browns fan. My friends and family see the pain it brings and ask why I don’t switch allegiances to another team. I don’t know. . . I just can’t.

Maybe they’ll win the Super Bowl this season.

. . .

* My baby daughter is a week old right now. I’m pretty sure I can get away with watching as much football as I like this season, since she’s so small she doesn’t have any interests I need to indulge. It’s just boob and that’s it. By the end of this one last glorious season, I vow her first word shall be uttered in funny baby voice: “Megatron.” Or “Medatwon.”

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