Breaking Bad breaks all the rules of TV storytelling. Normally, if the big reveal you’ve been building toward the whole series — say, that the brother-in-law of a meth kingpin discovers that he has a meth kingpin for a brother-in-law — happens, you delay the resulting conflict for as long as possible. Not on Breaking Bad. One episode after Hank’s (Dean Norris) toilet revelation about Walt (Bryan Cranston) being Heisenberg, we got…a confrontation between Walt and Hank. Likewise, when a flash-forward has been teased at length, you expect that to be a tease of events in the far distant future. Well, the destruction of Casa White (Casa Blanca?) actually seems to be nigh.
Jesse (Aaron Paul) has officially lost it. And instead of getting blazed with his seemingly bottomless stash of weed, he’s going to set a blaze: a fire that could leave Walt’s house in the state we’ve seen it in those post-52nd birthday teases. Who wants to bet that he’s also going to spraypaint “Heisenberg” on the wall before striking that match?
“Confessions” continued to tighten the noose around Walt’s neck. Jesse’s on a pyromaniac spree, Hank’s going to be out for blood more than ever — even if he’s been momentarily stalled — and Todd, the scariest character on the show, has done something that could have major repercussions. We saw him follow up the massacre of Declan and his men by spilling all to his companions about the train heist. He even revealed Walt’s name. His companions seemed impressed, especially since that jump off a moving train was like the Burt Reynolds movie Hooper. (First, Star Trek. Then, Scrooge McDuck. Now Burt Reynolds movies!) Now, I’m not saying that his companions will come gunning for Walt, or that they’re secretly undercover Feds or whatever, but they will reveal what Todd told them, mark my words. Anyone who laments the continued presence of ashtrays in airplane armrests, since smoking itself is no longer allowed, is going to talk.
As far as Hank’s interrogation of Jesse went, that wasn’t nearly the explosive showdown we were expecting — another subtly subversive twist. Hank immediately leveled that he knew Jesse had been working with Heisenberg, his brother-in-law. Jesse didn’t deny it, but he said Hank would have to beat a full confession out of him. He may not have much love for Walt, but he’s still not a rat. He may be looking for redemption but the spiritual cleanse he seeks won’t necessarily come from the Law. Saul then showed up, raised hell, and got Jesse out of there in a heartbeat. I mean, giving money away is hardly a crime.
Marie continued her bid to kidnap Walt & Skyler’s kids. This time, Walt Jr. was her target. Notice how she exclusively calls him "Flynn now." Before he could go to his aunt’s to help her with “some computer thing,” his dad told him the cancer was back. Yep, that was the way to keep him nearby. Instead, he would have Skyler tape his “confession,” then the two of them would meet Hank & Marie at a Mexican restaurant for lunch: Gardunia’s Taqueria. Oh, the awkwardness that is interacting with a relentlessly sunny waiter when you are anything but. “Hi, I’m Trent, I can take your drink order. And how about some tableside guacamole?” They make the guac right there at the table! As bad of a mood as Walt and Skyler were in, Hank and Marie were far worse off. Marie is so uncertain about the truth of anything her sister has said that she even wonders if her affair took place — something I’m not certain Skyler herself revealed to Hank and Marie, but Walt may have. (Funny that would be the one thing her sister would rattle off, as if she’s almost jealous of Skyler if indeed the affair took place.) Basically, Marie took over the whole lunch, just as she did her conversation with Skyler last week. She even suggested that Walt should just kill himself, since he’s going to die anyway, and then all their problems would be solved. Skyler did not go for that. Nor did Hank, who thought that would allow Walt to get off too easy. He also suggested that he would see to it that Skyler pays too, if she sticks with her husband. So Walt slid a DVD over to him and quietly left. It seemed he’d decided to turn over a full confession and, his family’s financial future secure, accept the consequences of his crimes.
Except that’s not what he did. Not by a long shot. What followed were three of the most harrowing, truly disturbing minutes I’ve ever seen on television. Hank and Marie popped in the DVD and watched Walt’s confession. A confession that he was indeed a meth cook and had made a fortune cooking the blue stuff…but that he really worked for Hank, who’d learned the know-how to build his own meth empire while working for the DEA. When Kingpin Hank crossed his partner Gus Fring, he was attacked by two hitmen. Hank plotted with Hector Salamanca — who, remember, came to the DEA shortly before blowing himself up — to kill Fring in retaliation. And Hank even demanded that Walt pay $177,000 for his medical treatment. The fact is, there’s just as much evidence on the table currently to “prove” that reading of events as there is what really happened. What’s amazing is how this revealed the complacency and utter stupidity of Marie: to accept that money and really believe that it was from gambling. I mean, who makes $177,000 from poker or blackjack? She’s one of Walt’s accomplices too, really. And Hank knew it. “You’ve killed me here,” he said to his wife. “That’s the last nail…that’s the last nail in the coffin.” He may hate his brother-in-law more than ever now, but he has no choice but to call off the investigation and even tell those men of his to stop tailing Jesse.
This “confession” may have just been about the worst thing we’ve ever seen Walt do: a relentless threat of such calculation that the family he’s tried to protect will now be sundered forever. I’ve never felt such abject loathing for him as I did watching his go-for-broke performance sobbing to the camera that Hank was the true villain. And that came just moments after hoping he actually would stick it to Hank and Marie following their display of banal moralism at the Mexican place. That kind of narrative calibration, that ability to snap our identification from one character to another that quickly, is a sign of master storytelling. The term “Hitchcockian” is bandied about so readily these days and rarely with any true justification. But this toggling of our loyalties, of being able to cause us to root for both Walt and Hank at the same time — as Hitchcock did in making us cheer on both Farley Granger and Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train, Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins in Psycho — is truly Hitchcockian. It’s suspense so relentlessly, so tightly coiled we don’t even know how it can be relieved at this point.
And none of this has even involved Jesse! Walt finally did meet him out in the wilderness and told him to visit Jim Beaver, the guy who can create a new identity for him, a new life. Jesse just wanted Walt to level with him. “Can you stop playing me for just five minutes?” He knew Walt wanted him to get out of town or he’d be killed just like Mike. Walt’s only response was a hug.
Jesse went to Saul, who advised he should start over in Florida, get a tan, hang out with the “Swedish bikini team.” Nah, Jesse wanted to go to Alaska. The complete opposite of anything these people were suggesting for him. (Didn’t you love Huell’s “’Scuse me” when Jesse squeezed past him?) He indeed went to meet with Jim Beaver, except he couldn’t go through with it. He noticed that the ricin cigarette in the pack was gone. Walt must still be planning to use it. Other people might still get hurt. This isn’t over. After all the platitudes, all the reassurances, they were still stuck in the cycle of violence. And Jesse wouldn’t stop until it was truly broken. He may have broken into Saul’s office, beaten him silly, pointed a gun at Huell, and splattered gasoline around Walt’s home to torch the place, but all of this may actually have been the sign that he’s broken good. This violence would end with him.
How has Jesse broken good? Well, every other character on this show thinks that forgetting the past, by moving forward and trying to do better in the future, is a viable, defensible goal. They rationalize, justify, or outright forget or censor their terrible crimes: Lydia saying she doesn’t “want to see” the carnage she unleashed in having Todd’s crew kill Declan’s; Walt choosing to whistle away the pain of that young boy’s death. I mentioned a couple weeks ago Budd Boetticher’s idea in Ride Lonesome that forgetting the horrors we’ve unleashed is humanity’s default position: “A man can do that.” But if you do forget, how can you ensure the cycle is broken? You can’t. Jesse is asserting the morality of remembering, that carrying around guilt, and making sure others do the same, can prevent history from repeating itself, can end the violence. Moving to Florida and getting a tan isn’t going to do that. Remembering is the first step toward living a more just life. It’s the opposite of Walt trying to act like everything is copacetic with Skyler when he’s really going to retrieve his snub .38 from the vending machine to protect himself. Remembering is in itself a moral act. It’s why “admitting you have a problem” is the first step in 12-step programs. Walt is still in denial.
Maybe a cleansing inferno will help wake him up.
More: ‘Breaking Bad’ Recap: Skyler Stands By Walt, But Will Jesse? Recap: Walter White Vs. Hank Schrader Huell: Stop Rolling Around in Money Jonathan Banks’ Casting Shows ‘Community’ Is Where ‘Breaking Bad’ Characters Go When They Die
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The film and television nominations for the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards have been released, recognizing achievements in both individual performances and the strengths of ensemble casts. This year's television award nominations are listed below, including many worthy recipients, but there are also a few surprising absences. Among the hard-hitters listed below are dramas like HBO's Mildred Pierce and Boardwalk Empire, AMC's Breaking Bad and comedies such as ABC's Modern Family (which swept the Emmys this year) and NBC's 30 Rock. However, some might be surprised not to find the new Showtime drama Homeland or NBC's secret weapon Parks and Recreation.
The 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will air live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Jan. 29, 2012 on TNT and TBS.
Click here to read the list of this year's film nominees.
18th ANNUAL SAG AWARDS NOMINATIONS: PRIMETIME TELEVISION
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Laurence Fishburne - Thurgood (HBO)
Paul Giamatti - Too Big to Fail (HBO)
Greg Kinnear - The Kennedy (Reelz Channel)
Guy Pearce - Mildred Pierce (HBO)
James Woods - Too Big to Fail (HBO
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Diane Lane - Cinema Verite (HBO)
Maggie Smith - Downton Abbey (PBS)
Emily Watson - Appropriate Adult (Sundance Channel)
Betty White - Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Lost Valentine (CBS)
Kate Winslet - Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Patrick J. Adams - Suits (USA)
Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights (DirecTV)
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Michael C. Hall - Dexter (Showtime)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Kathy Bates - Harry's Law (NBC)
Glenn Close - Damages (DirecTV)
Jessica Lange - American Horror Story (FX)
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife (CBS)
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer (TNT)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock (NBC)
Ty Burrell - Modern Family (ABC)
Steve Carell - The Office (NBC)
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Eric Stonestreet - Modern Family (ABC)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julia Bowen - Modern Family (ABC)
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Tina Fey - 30 Rock (NBC)
Sofia Vergara - Modern Family (ABC)
Betty White - Hot in Cleveland (TV Land)
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) - Steve Buscemi, Dominic Chianese, Robert Clohessy, Dabney Coleman, Charlie Cox, Jose & Lucy Gallina, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, Anthony Laciura, Heather Lind, Kelly Macdonald, Rory & Declan McTigue, Gretchen Mol, Brady & Connor Noon, Kevin O'Rourke, Aleksa Palladino, Jacqueline Pennewill, Vincent Piazza, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Van Wagner, Shea Whigham, Michael Kenneth Williams, Anatol Yusef
Breaking Bad (AMC) - Jonathan Banks, Betsy Brandt, Ray Campbell, Bryan Cranston, Giancarlo Esposito, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, Bob Odenkirk, Aaron Paul
Dexter (Showtime) - Billy Brown, Jennifer Carpenter, Josh Cooke, Aimee Garcia, Michael C. Hall, Colin Hanks, Desmond Harrington, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Rya Kihlstedt, C.S. Lee, Edward James Olmos, James Remar, Lauren Velez, Peter Weller, David Zayas
Game of Thrones (HBO) - Amrita Acharia, Mark Addy, Alfie Allen, Josef Altin, Sean Bean, Susan Brown, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Ron Donachie, Michelle Farley, Jerome Flynn, Elyes Gabel, Aiden Gillen, Jack Gleeson Iain Glen, Julian Glover, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Conleth Hill, Richard Madden, Jason Mamoa, Rory McCann, Ian McElhinney, Luke McEwan, Roxanne McKee, Dar Salim, Mark Stanley, Donald Sumpter, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams
The Good Wife (CBS) - Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, Alan Cumming, Matt Czuchry, Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Archie Panjabi, Graham Phillips, Makenzie Vega
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
30 Rock (NBC) - Scott Adsit, Alec Baldwin, Katrina Bowden, Kevin Brown, Grizz Chapman, Tina Fey, Judah Friedlander, Jane Krakowski, John Lutz, Jack McBrayer, Tracy Morgan, Maulik Pancholy, Keith Powell
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) - Mayim Bialik, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Jim Parsons, Melissa Rauch
Glee (Fox) - Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Ashley Fink, Dot Marie Jones, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Mike O'Malley, Chord Overstreet, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, Harry Shum Jr., Iqbal Theba, Jenna Ushkowitz
Modern Family (ABC) - Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, Julia Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nolan Gould, Sarah Hyland, Ed O'Neill, Rico Rodriguez, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara, Ariel Winter
The Office (NBC) - Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Creed Bratton, Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, Kate Flannery, Ed Helms, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, Angela Kinsey, John Krasinski, Paul Lieberstein, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Craig Robinson, James Spader, Phyllis Smith, Rainn Wilson, Zach Woods
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.