Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 7 Recap

One of my favorite debates is whether or not Breaking Bad or Mad Men is the superior television series.  I’ve always argued for the latter because while Breaking Bad might be a better show in terms of the form and execution, the content being delved into on Mad Men has always been, in my opinion, far more important. Whereas Breaking Bad always seemed to just be one of my favorite ways to spend an hour, Mad Men was busy deconstructing the myth that America used to be a better place in the 1950s or proving why the revolutions of the 1960s were so necessary for the social fabric of our country.  Last night was the first time I ever felt Breaking Bad might be trying to make a statement about the United States of America. 

Stick with me on this. 

For whatever reason, our country and our pop culture in the US is obsessed with the folklore of organized crime.  Almost all of the stories tap into the idea of the American dream and the criminal achieving the own version of it by rising to be the overlord of some type of criminal empire.  Tony Soprano, Vito Corleone, Tony Montana…all were in search of the idea that it means something to be somebody in this country and that anyone can achieve wealth and success if only they put in the effort.  And you know what, audiences loved it.  All of these men are still worshipped, despite their many character flaws.  It’s not surprising given the lavish and glorious fashion in which they were presented.

So last night I had this idea as I watched the latest episode “Say My Name.”  Is it in any way possible that Vince Gilligan’s is submitting a five season criticism of the American dream?  Furthermore, is he making it a point to show Americans just how ugly a man would really have to become in order to run an organized crime outfit?  Whereas the predecessors sort of gave a romantic quality to these dons, I think it’s time we start considering the possibility that Gilligan is lashing out at the very culture that helped create Walter White.

The last thing I want to say about all that is that when discussing Mad Men against Breaking Bad I often brought up what I call the Oliver Stone problem.  Stone famously directed the movie Wall Street back in 1987 with the hope that personifying greed in Gordon Gecko would inspire a generation to clean up our financial system.  In fact it had the opposite effect and actually inspired a generation to try to imitate Gecko’s greedy ways.  I feel Mad Men has a similar crisis on its hands in that many of its biggest fans enjoy the show because they actually desire the world presented by the show, totally going against the point of the show in the first place.

Well, the Oliver Stone problem might just have touched a nerve with Gilligan.  Scarface, you might remember, was written by Stone.  Like Wall Street, it has inspired a generation of wannabe Tony Montanas.  To this day the character is glorified in song and art.  It’s like Vince Gilligan just finally had enough of all the romanticism about criminals and decided to show us what it’s really like to be that delusional.  And last night’s episode was the perfect example.  Onto the recap…

“Say My Name” opens up with Walt asking the Phoenix meth king Declan to do just that while debating the terms of a proposed business deal.  One of the themes of any great crime boss is that a name must mean something.  It has to ring out in the streets and command fear and respect.  You can’t help but love the irony that in Walt’s case it’s not even his real name (lending more credibility to my theory that Gilligan is blowing up the romantic qualities of organized crime–there will be no sympathy or love for Walter White when it is all said and done).

We then find out Walt’s hiding place for the methylamine.  He left it in the freaking car wash and heads over with Jesse to remove it.  Skyler, looking troubled as ever attempts to ask Walt questions about it.  Walt quickly dismisses her in dickish, alpha dog fashion showing the crazy levels his ego is reaching.

My personal favorite scene of the episode then unfolds as Walt and Jesse finally have their falling out.  Jesse makes it clear that he wants out and Walt foolishly believes he can manipulate him into staying again.  He then launches into a tirade when Jesse proves to be impervious to his assault.  Walt tries every possible manipulation on him and Jesse dismisses them all, his wide eyes an indicator of just how open he is to the monster in front of him.

It turns out Mike uses a different lawyer than Saul to distribute the money to the famous nine members of “the list.”  The man heads into a bank where he deposits predetermined amounts of cash into safety deposit boxes while leaving the majority of the cash to Mike’s granddaughter.  This will turn out to be problematic.  The scene is followed by Walt doing a new cook with Landry instead of Jesse after the break up.  One can’t help but feel this will end up being problematic as well, what with Landry taking a novel’s worth of notes and all.

Mike’s world then gets blown to pieces.  First the DEA busts his lawyer friend for shelling out the dirty cash.  The lawyer then agrees to flip on him.  And finally, the cops show up at the park in an attempt to arrest Mike.  He’s forced to make an extremely painful decision in that he must leave his granddaughter behind without ever having said goodbye.  It’s a cruel fate but in the moral world of Breaking Bad it makes sense.  Mike did horrible things.  Mike must pay the consequences.  Action. Reaction.  Breaking Bad.

The final sequence has been a bit of contention among television critics.  Many believe that Mike relenting and allowing Walt to bring him his getaway bag was simply too unrealistic, given how flawless Mike has always been in his execution.  It’s understandable that it came off as a bit unbelievable that Mike would make two mistakes in two weeks with regards to Walt, most especially because he loathes him so badly.  This week’s mistake costs him his life.

When Walt shows up an argument of course ensues and Walt absolutely blows his gasket.  He catches Mike off guard and helplessly strapped into the front seat of his car and shoots him with his own gun, a shot which proves to be fatal.  Ever the minimalist, Mike tells Walt to shut the f— up when he tries to apologize for how things turned out.  The episode leaves us with a gorgeous shot of Mike falling over next to a flowing river.  RIP to one the best characters in the show’s history.

The bodies are stacking up though, and as of yet Walt hasn’t paid the consequences.

Best Quote(s):

1. “Shut the f— up, and let me die in peace.” -Mike to Walt (after the latter shoots him)

2. “Say my name.” -Walt to Declan (in proving his alpha dog-ness over his rival druglord)

Best Scenes(s):

1. Walt and Jesse’s breakup

2. Mike’s death

3. The opening meeting between Walt and Declan

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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 6 Recap

In what has been an awesome season thus far, even by Breaking Bad standards, it’s hard not to feel disappointment with “Buyout,” the sixth and latest episode.  It had nothing to do with the acting and more to do with the fact that it felt like the show was trying to push too much into a single episode.  Because the first eight part mini-season culminates in just two weeks, it seemed like Vince Gilligan and company wanted to rush through some issues so that we can get to a climax soon.  I’m not complaining.  I personally can’t wait for a showdown or an ultra lavish purchase to take place, but for a show like Breaking Bad that is usually so methodical with the details, it didn’t feel right.

The episode opens with the crew cleaning up the mess brought about by Landry in last week’s “Dead Freight.”  Without a single word being uttered, the crew disposes of the dirt bike and dead boy.  The cleaning solution of choice is hydrofluoric acid which the guys are more than familiar with.  It’s a sad look at just how far into hell these souls have gone.  The whole process is mechanical.  They know exactly what to do and exactly how to go about it in the fastest way possible.  There is no wasted effort in the whole sequence.  Walt and Jesse have come a long way since that first acid bath incident.  While well executed, this is the kind of event that used to have an impact for several episodes, whereas now it only takes an opening sequence.

The DEA is then watching Mike watching his daughter play at a local park. The two agents are taking the whole event way too seriously and easily fall for Mike’s prank of leaving a note under the trash can.  The agents go into a frenzy believing he’s just made a drop of the product.  In reality Mike delivers a simple note. A simple four letter word is involved.  It’s all pretty hilarious.  It reveals two key things though.  The DEA is getting zealous in their pursuit of Mike but also that Mike is extremely aware of this fact.

At their latest cook, Walt and Jesse kick back after completing another batch.  Because Jesse still has a soul, he flips over to the local news where they are discussing the missing boy.  Walt launches into yet another monologue where he convinces Jesse that they’re not really monsters and yet again Jesse seems to buy it.  I have to admit even I am impressed with Walt’s acting abilities these days.  Unfortunately for him, he blows the whole charade by immediately delivering a whistling concerto just moments after consoling Jesse.  It’s very clear that Walt doesn’t much care for anything but dominating the drug business anymore.  Jesse may finally be opening up to that possibility after catching him doing his best seven dwarfs impression.

And then things got really, really rushed.  Mike and Jesse arrive early to the weekly meeting of the partners and when Walt gets there they tell him they’re retiring.  They have a buyer in Arizona who will pay $15 million for their methylamine.  This is the kind of decision that usually would take episodes and episodes to build up but here it happens matter-of-factly in a couple of seconds.  Walt isn’t pleased but tells them they can do what they want but he will push on with his third of the stolen chemicals.

Mike later has Saul pull off what might be his last funny stunt of the series.  While there is no doubt that we all love the crooked lawyer, there might not be a place for his relief and humor in Walt’s personal vision of hell.  Saul provides Mike with a 24-hour window to avoid tails by actually filing a restraining order against the DEA on behalf of his client.  It’s then when we meet the meth king of Phoenix, named Declan.  He proves to be wise in making it very clear that he isn’t just buying the methylamine, he’s buying to have Heisenberg’s blue off the streets.  One condition is made though: it’s all the methylamine or no deal.

The best extended scene of this particular episode takes place when Jesse goes over to Walt’s house to try to convince him to take the buyout.  As is mentioned many times in the last weeks, the lighting (or: lack of) at the house is beyond ridiculous at this point and is becoming so blatant that it’s worth exploring.  Breaking Bad might have made it very clear that they intend to create a suburban New Mexico version of Scarface, but the lighting at the house is a very clear tribute to a very different organized crime drama.  I’m of course talking about The Godfather trilogy.  Take a moment and watch this brief interview clip where the cinematographer Gordon Willis explains his use of lighting in the movies:

Further research reveals that the lighting is clear nod to the darkness of the characters. Michael and Vito in particular are almost always shot in dark settings when discussing matters of the family business. And thus the inspiration for the White household’s lack of interior lighting.  You may remember in the movies that Michael was once a dapper war hero full of optimism about life and marriage with Kay.  He originally made a point of saying he would never join his father’s business.  He eventually turned to the dark side though just like Walt.  And hell, why not even throw in a Scarface reference while they’re at it by having Walt sinking deep into his chair and a glass of Whiskey while explaining himself.  It’s very reminiscent of a coked out Tony Montana sitting behind his desk as everything crumbles around him.

Jesse is shocked when Skyler then returns home and Walt refuses to allow him to leave without eating dinner.  There are so many ulterior meanings going on at the dinner scene, it’s hard to keep track.  First you have Jesse standing in as a surrogate son.  Next you have Walt and Skyler seated on opposite ends of the table, clearly at odds with one another.  And on and on it goes.  Jesse, helpless in the uncomfortable silence of the married couple, attempts to mumble his way through the experience before Skyler ends the dinner by putting Walt in his place and retiring with her wine.  Only after her departure does Walt reveal to Jesse that he really has nothing left besides the meth empire.  His wife hates him and willingly admits she is waiting for cancer to come back and kill him.

Armed with the knowledge that his potential future business is about to be cut by two-thirds, Walt attempts a heist of the methylamine from partnership HQ.  Mike of course is way too smart for such a misguided attempt and catches him in the act.  He then forces him to sit there all night and uses an industrial tie to chain Walt to the radiator while he steps out to take care of something.  Walt then shows his most animalistic side in a daring escape.  He uses an electrical cord to melt the tie, severely burning and scarring (!) the flesh on his wrist in the process.  He seems unfazed by it all though and proceeds to steal the goods.

The episode culminates with Mike having to be convinced not to kill Walt upon discovery of the theft.  Walt makes a daring promise to him and Jesse that: “everybody wins.”  It’s hard not to believe that “everybody loses” when dealing with something as cancerous as Walt though. The next episode should be outstanding now that the rest of these plot points were dealt with, but it definitely came at a cost to this episode.

Best Quote(s):

1. “Is a meth empire really something to be that proud of?” -Jesse to Walt (in trying to convince Walt to take the buyout)

2. “Jesse, you asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.” – Walt to Jesse (in explaining his rational for refusing the buyout)

3. “My wife is waiting for me to die. This business is all I have left now … And you want to take it away from me.” -Walt to Jesse (telling the truth)

Best Scene(s):

1. The dinner

2. Walt’s escape from the industrial tie

3. The evidence disposal in the beginning sequence

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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 5 Recap

One of the more fascinating developments in recent years with regard to television shows is the rise of genre fiction. By this I mean shows that are dedicated to a very specific type of story that appeals to a very specific type of consumer. The Walking Dead (zombies), Hell On Wheels (western), and Game Of Thrones (fantasy) are all perfect examples of this. Whereas in the past a channel never would have given these types of stories the time of day, much less a fully funded television program, shows like these are among the most popular on cable now. Who knew that appealing to the tastes of the audience and creating original stories would be so successful? Apparently not everyone. I’m pretty sure five cop dramas were just green-lighted for pilots in the time it took to right this sentence. This is me face palming myself.

I bring this up because Breaking Bad delved into a bit of genre fiction of its own last night in “Dead Freight,” choosing to go with the heist story, a sort of sub-genre of action films. It was wildly entertaining and tense throughout, even before Landry Clarke went back to his old murderous habits.

The episode opens with a previously unknown child riding his dirt bike through the New Mexico desert. He pulls over when he discovers a tarantula and immediately picks it up and marvels at it. As the audience braces for the inevitable poisonous bite, the boy reveals a glass jar in his coat pocket which he uses to trap the spider as a new pet. Crisis seemingly averted with said deadly creature now locked away in hiding.

Walt then shows up at Hank’s office to go over the extended sleepover plans for his children. Using acting skills that Bryan Cranston would be proud of, Walt reveals to Hank that Skyler no longer loves him and thinks he’s a bad influence on the children. He breaks down in tears and Hank, caught up in the awkwardness of the subject matter, demands to go get coffee for them both. While Hank steps out, a suddenly emotionless Walt places a bug on his computer as well as planting a listening device inside a picture frame.

My guess is that this is a clever bit of foreshadowing. It likely hints back to the season opener when the magnet scheme, while destroying the computer, actually caused them more problems by breaking Gus’ picture frame that revealed the foreign bank accounts. Could a picture frame spell disaster yet again?

The partnership of White, Pinkman, and Ehrmantraut then gets together for their weekly meeting, this time bringing a hostage in Lydia. Mike announces to her that she will complete a phone call to the DEA to find the source of the bugs she “discovered” last week. Hank isn’t sure but promises to look into it at which point Mike announces that it’s time for Lydia to die. She is saved only by the recently planted listening device which reveals that a sloppy DEA agent planted them in a rush. Lydia survives yet again and in a bargain for her continued safety promises to reveal an ocean of methylamine.

The episode returns to the White house which is still in desperate need of a visit from an electrician. The lighting has all but disappeared. Skyler and Walt engage in their latest back-and-forth regarding the state of their marriage and family and a sort of truce is reached. The kids will stay at Hank and Marie’s and Skyler will continue as Walt’s accomplice in laundering the money. And oh by the way Skyler, did Walt mention he was planning a train heist? He did? Good.

Because god damn if we don’t talk about the great train robbery of 2012.

Lydia tells the three guys that while getting barrels of their favorite ingredient is now out of the question, she can reveal a whole train car carrying the stuff. Wouldn’t you know it but the train just so happens to go through a dead area near Albuquerque which leaves them pretty much impervious to police involvement and external communication. Huge action movie plot assumptions aside, the heist scene was one of the more enjoyable scenes on television all year.

Mike advises the guys that their best course of action is to kill the two railroad employees that will be driving the train and in the biggest shocker of the season, Walt doesn’t challenge him on it. Jesse, ever the pacifist, urges them to pull off the robbery sans murder, coming up with his second brilliant “plan” of the season. The guys will create a diversion that forces the train to stop, at which time they’ll pump out the methylmine and pump in water, so as not to screw with the weight of the car. It seems they’ve thought of everything!

Like any good action fan knows though, it’s impossible to account for every variable involved with a good old-fashioned robbery. In this case, who knew another driver might want to use the public roadways that the crew used to clog the railroad crossing? And furthermore, who knew he’d be driving a Texas-sized pickup truck (super high lift and bumper guard included!) that could push the work truck out of the way? Well, everything can’t go smoothly. There is no such thing as the perfect robbery.

While the audience sweats out the good Samaritan and the eventual re-starting of the train, Walt refuses to quit pumping until he meets his quota. The gauge of their pump is cut in between shots of the massive locomotive coming to life. He pushes it to its absolute limit, forcing Landry (real name in this episode is Todd, apologies for the continued Friday Night Lights references) to jump off a moving vehicle and Jesse to wait it out laying flat on the tracks.

Celebration time! They pulled it off and no one even noticed their thievery! Right? Right? Right…

Wrong.

Poor spider-wielding dirt bike kid rides up to say hi. Landry pulls out a pistol. Jesse screams. Landry kills dirt bike kid, the latest victim of the poisonous cancer of Walter White.

The ending was shocking and completely unexpected. It was hard not to feel some sort of joy for our villains after they pulled off the heist successfully. That’s the point of every heist flick after all. Despite knowing that what the characters are doing is wrong, there’s some sort of awesome thrill in watching a complex plan get executed flawlessly. Vince Gilligan then immediately flipped this emotion on its head with the shocking death of the child. Cut to credits. Wow.

The powerful ending unleashes yet another series of problems for the guys to deal with. What to do with the body? What to do with Landry? Can Jesse hold together his emotions or is he about to go on a binge Chris Farley would be proud of? They all can’t continue to run from the consequences of their actions. Science and nature demand equal and opposite reactions.

Best Quote(s):

1. “No one, other than us, can ever know this robbery went down.” – Jesse to Landry, I mean Todd (not knowing just how zealously Todd would follow the order)

2. “Robbing a train” -Walt to Skyler (replying to her sarcastic inquiry into what he’s been doing lately)

3. YEAH BITCH! -Jesse (his latest celebratory chant, this time after they pull off the robbery)

4. “There are two kinds of heist. Those where the guys get away with it and those who leave witnesses.” -Mike to Jesse and Walt (while they plan the train robbery)

Best Scene(s):

1. The train heist

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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 4 Recap

Immediately prior to Breaking Bad‘s coming on TV last night, AMC was showing Goodfellas.  I found this fitting because 1) Walter White is building his own resume in the conversation for best gangster ever depicted in television/film and 2) because the movie ends with the main character Henry Hill becoming self-aware of the audience and addressing them in a monologue.  This device, called meta reference, is clever and unique and it’s basically akin to a wrestler breaking down the fabled “fourth wall.”  Watch it here, in case you’ve forgotten it or somehow have yet to see the movie:

I bring this up because I can’t remember a show ever having characters that seem so self aware of the audience. The list of meta references in Breaking Bad is piling up a startling rate right now, so much so that I can’t help but feel that Vince Gilligan and company are developing a new genre of television fiction that will become increasingly popular in years to come.  This of course was first experimented with by the cast and crew of ABC’s Lost which used the internet and message boards as a way to shape (and sometimes, salvage) the direction of the show. Breaking Bad is perfecting the art.

How else to explain the show’s insistence on visiting familiar settings in this show like Walt Jr. only being involved in breakfast scenes, or the show clearly admitting it knows why people were critical of Skyler’s character, or Walt’s laughably invincible SUV?  And that’s just in this episode.  This meta referencing is worthy of an entire discussion all together (which I might just have to tackle later this week), but onto the episode itself…

“Fifty-One” opens with Walt and Walt Jr. again picking up his Pontiac Aztek from the mechanic after the latest round of repairs.  Upon finding his infamous black Heisenberg hat in the backseat, Walt promptly sells the thing for fifty bucks in a show of arrogance only then outdone by his purchase of not one but two new muscle cars, including a replica of the orange Dodge Challenger that was purchased once before for Jr. and later fire bombed.  The whole sideshow leaves the men morphing into pigs and mom without a parking spot for her humble wagon.  It’s worth noting that the black hat is a staple of Walt’s wardrobe now rather than something he dons as a disguise.  Transformation complete.

The pig metaphor is then thrown directly into the viewer’s face at breakfast when Skyler fails to shape the bacon into a “51” on Walt’s plate, a tradition from back at Walt’s 50th birthday in an earlier season.  It’s again referenced in the teaser from the beginning of this season in which Walt shapes them into a “52” on his plate at Denny’s. The depiction of men as pigs is reinforced when the two White men treat Skyler like a servant and force her to make the bacon shape herself while they watch on and smirk.  Skyler somehow is able to get the last laugh though when she steals a larger piece of bacon off Jr.’s plate to complete the “1” on Walt’s plate.  So many meanings, such a good scene.

The continued revisiting of scenes like the White family breakfast is never more apparent than this one and is used to show just how polluted the family is now.  What was once the symbol of safety and health for the Whites is now extremely ugly and uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, Hank is on such a role since returning to the DEA that he is awarded a promotion as the head of the Albuquerque field office.  The scene shows the remarkable maturity of Hank’s character since the cocky agent we first met at the beginning of season one.  It’s a parallel to Carver on The Wire in which both characters start to realize that their arrogant first instincts aren’t always right and that the best approach usually involves taking in as much information as possible to come to reasoned conclusions. Good on Hank.  Given the logical nature of  Breaking Bad as a series, it seems more and more that it will be him who first outs Walt as a drug lord.

What happened next will likely be one of the “I-should-have-seen-the-signs” moments for Hank after Walt’s empire lays in ruin.  Skyler organizes a get together to celebrate Walt’s birthday, if it can even be called celebrating, with Hank and Marie as the only invited guests.  As the four sit on the back patio discussing how much their lives have changed over the past year, a memorable scenes develops. 

Walt launches into a disgusting monologue about his life over the past year in which those who are unaware (Hank and Marie) think he’s talking about overcoming cancer while those who are aware (Walt, Skyler, and the audience) know he’s actually referencing his rise to drug lord.  Skyler can’t take it and seemingly tries to drown herself in the back pool.  It’s beautifully shot so that Walt’s back is facing Skyler as it all unfolds and he’s 100% unaware of the damage going on behind him.  Blatant metaphor number 485 of the episode. 

Whether this plunge was meant to signify a cry for help or a symbolic attempt at washing away sins doesn’t really matter.  The haunting shot of Skyler floating in the water refusing to save herself will not be forgotten.

Business must go on though.  Mike and Lydia are forced intro improvising after the DEA picks up another one of the 11 members of their former crew.  Lydia is so distraught over the state of affairs in her life that she can’t even wear matching shoes to work.  She then hatches a plan to try to get out of the game.  When Jesse arrives to secure the latest barrel of methylene, Lydia plants a fake tracking device on the barrel and points it out to Jesse.  Mike quickly sniffs out the BS move at a meeting of the partners at which it is decided that business goes on, no matter what the cost.  Whether this references Lydia surviving a Mike assassination attempt yet again or facing death soon remains to be seen.

The episode will best be remembered though for the confrontation between Walt and Skyler after the pool incident.  In that spat, Skyler reveals that she will no longer let their children into the house while Walt is still there.  She demonstrates an awareness that she is beyond saving but that she will do whatever it takes to keep her children out of the mess.  Walt attempts to mock her failed logic by using his superior brain power, and only then is he made aware of her real plan.  She’s going to wait out his inevitable death from cancer.  It was probably the best-ever scene for Skyler in the series history and very reminiscent of the scene in Godfather II where Kay reveals to Michael Corleone that she had an abortion to prevent him from continuing to spread his evil seed on the earth. Powerful, to say the least. 

Although she seems to be right that the cancer will return, it no longer seems that she’ll be the one to bring down the empire.  Her mental state is too unstable and the bacon trick seems to reveal that she won’t be around for Walt’s 52nd birthday.

Walt clearly is the personification of cancer at this point.  He pollutes, uses, destroys, and disposes of every person he comes in contact with, so much so that the only logical conclusion is death.  Unlike more minor forms, there is no chemotherapy or radiation treatment to temper the cancer that is Walter White though.

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the show’s incredible amount of references towards famous mob scenes in television and film.  Whether this was a great conspiracy (AMC ran a “Mob Week” theme the past seven days) or a grand coincidence is unknown as of now.  However, it was hard not to recall that famous scene with Kay and Michael from Godfather II I already mentioned.  Additionally, the pink Cadillac scene from Goodfellas (the muscle cars in this episode), the plethora of Scarface nods, and even the fade to black at the end of this episode which obviously seems to be a reference to the notorious ending of Sopranos.

Like the ticking on Walt’s new watch from Jesse, everything is coming to an end, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t happen like the explosion of a bomb as Mike predicted.

Best Scene(s): 1. The confrontation between Walt and Skyler

2. The pool scene

Best Quote(s): 1. “For the cancer to come back.” -Skyler to Walt (revealing what she’s waiting for and her plan to defeat Walt and save their children)

2. “He changed his mind about me, Skyler. And so will you.” -Walt to Skyler (explaining the watch gift he received from Jesse, not realizing he can’t control Skyler’s mind like he does Jesse’s)

3. “But then someone, or something, would come through for me.” -Walt to Hank and Marie (in the double meaning scene at the pool)

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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 3 Recap

Fans of Breaking Bad are aware that the show’s famous pitch line is that they’re going to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface.  It’s with avid curiosity then that many have started to look for references that Walter White is in fact turning into Tony Montana.  While season five’s premier “Live Free Or Die” gave a subtle reference with a future Walt purchasing a massive machine gun reminiscent of Montana’s, episode three decided to be completely blatant.  Skyler White is awakened from an afternoon nap by machine gun fire from Scarface’s most famous scene, playing a slight meta trick on the viewer.  She heads into the living room to find her family watching the film. While walking away Skyler hears Walt tell Walter Jr. that, “everyone dies in this movie.”  It’s likely the most cringe-inducing foreshadowing in the series history.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you how it got there though.  This is Breaking Bad, afterall.  Every element that’s responsible for “getting there” must be explained.

“Hazard Pay” begins with a lawyer going to visit one of his clients in prison.  Immediately it becomes apparent that he’s brought Mike with him, telling the guard that it’s his own personal paralegal. They’re brought into a room while Mike discusses his business plan with the inmate.  The lawyer intentionally tunes out the conversation with an iPod.  Mike ensures the man that old promises will be kept.  Keep that in mind.

The episode heads back to the White household which at this point may as well be renamed to the Black household given the poisonous relationship of the married couple.  The set crew is making a very intentional attempt to give the house less lighting, an obvious tell that the happiness of the house has packed it’s bag and skipped town, something the Whites should have done a long time ago.

Skyler finds Walt moving his things back into the house, without her consent, and she realizes how helpless she is to stop the monster of a man that used to be her husband.

Moving back to business, Walt, Jesse, Mike and Saul set out to find a new place in which they can conceal their operation.  It’s a classic scene in which each of the characters is free to exhibit their personality quirks.  Saul cracks bad jokes about how uncomfortable he is.  Mike speaks little but is keenly aware of his surroundings.  Walt lets everyone know how smart he is by dismissing each of the potential cook sites with the precision of a master scientist.  And Jesse proves that he’s way more intelligent than anyone in the operation gives him credit for, while hilariously swiping a free tortilla.

Walt eventually hatches what seems right now to be a brilliant plan whereby the new trio will cook at houses that are being treated for pest control.  Logistics are coordinated and later they’re introduced to the pest controllers which just so happen to include Landry from Friday Night Lights.  As if I needed another reason to love this show.  It seems Landry dropped out of Rice and is now working as a member of the pest crew that fronts for a burglary operation.  Matt Saracen’s grandma would be so disappointed.

After a successful cook, Walt and Jesse sit down for what can only be described as a father-son talk in which the former advises the latter on relationships.  Although his advice to Jesse is true and based on experience, it’s so very clear that Walt is toying with his young accomplice again, implying that he needs to get out of the only healthy relationship he’s ever had.  It’s also an eerily similar shot to a scene earlier in the episode when Walt is forced to share a couch with Andrea’s son Brock that he poisoned last season. 

Back to Skyler now.  Mrs. White is quite simply caving under the stress of their new life.  At a lunch with her sister, she has a complete mental breakdown in which she breaks the New Mexico state record for most times saying “shut up” in succession.  While she does bear some responsibility at this point, it’s hard not to feel for Skyler.  Many a critic has pointed out that one of the most satisfying endings for the show would be if it was her who ends Walt’s reign of terror by turning state’s witness, rather than the equally expected shootout death. A radical decision like a suicide can’t be ruled out either.

It’s after all of this that the most tense scene takes place.  The fruits of doing business aren’t as plentiful as Walter White originally calculated.  Everyone in the supply chain must be compensated, only there’s bunches more people this go around, given that none of the trio have a fast food chain to cover their distribution network.  Mike also reveals to his partners that he’ll be compensating the infamous 11 who had their nest eggs seized by the US government last week.  And thus begins the first of what will surely be many stare downs between the two gigantic egos of White, Pinkman, and Ehrmantraut LLP.  Jesse is so broken by the two father figures fighting that he offers to cover all the costs himself.

While the gesture does soften the mood, Walt is clearly pissed that Jesse didn’t take his side.  He ends the episode comparing the now deceased Victor to Icarus of Greek mythology fame.  The intention of this parable is as of yet unclear and no one can really agree what it means.  There seems to be only two potential meanings though.  The first is that Walt is trying to plant a seed inside Jesse that Mike will need to go, somewhere down the line.  The other possibility is that Walt is pretty much telling Jesse to never cross him in public again, less he also go the way of Victor (which, if you need reminding, was to have Gus Fring slit his throat).

Walt’s ego is so bruised by the betrayal that he doesn’t even notice Jesse attempting to talk out his emotions after breaking up with Andrea, based on Walt’s advice on the couch.  Seems like this was a huge miscalculation by Walt, which will surely have severe repercussions down the road. 

A rather tame episode that was all about setting up what is to come.  The viewer by now trusts Gilligan with what he’s doing, but as a whole “Hazard Pay” can only be described as a time filler.

Best Quote(s): 1. “I think everyone dies in this movie.” -Walt to Walt Jr. (while watching Scarface, a possible reference to the White family’s future)

2. “Shut up, Shut Up, SHUT UP….” -Skyler to Marie (while having a nervous breakdown)

3. “Yes, he handles the business. And I handle him.” – Walt to Saul (about his new partnership with Mike and also as a potential foreshadowing)

4. “Just because you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.” -Mike to Walt (and yes I realize I mistakenly included this last week, my apologies)

Best Scene(s): 1. Skyler’s panic attack

2. Walt’s couch scene with Jesse

3. The distribution of the cash to the three partners

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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 2 Recap

Let’s say hypothetically that you’re an aspiring filmmaker.  Then let’s say that whatever college you attend has an entire course devoted to the art of making a successful television episode.  There is no doubt that at some point in class significant time would be devoted to the art of how to begin an episode.  It is at this time that your professor would introduce you to Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and the way in which he has nailed the opening scene down to a precise and beautiful science.

The second episode, titled “Madrigal” begins with a seemingly harmless police investigation taking place in what we can only assume is somewhere located in Germany.  A desk photograph and a shocking bathroom scene later we learn that the man in question was an accomplice of former New Mexico meth lord Gus Fring. Rather than face the repercussions of his decision to participate in the drug game, the German commits suicide in his posh executive bathroom, using no less than a defibrillator.  Irony, one of Breaking Bad’s many favorite devices.  It’s a beautiful sequence.

As mentioned last week, Breaking Bad is allergic to leaving plot points unexplained.  Thus, a lot of time is spent in this episode cleaning up the loose ends.  The matter of the ricin cigarette is put to rest.  Walt partakes in a false strip search of Jesse’s home where they ultimately discover that the infamous robot vacuum is where Walt has chosen to plant the fake evidence.  In addition to making a false cigarette to fool Jesse, Walt has chosen to keep the real ricin by stashing it away in his bedroom whereby he literally and figuratively poisons the place that he and Skyler sleep at night (kudos to Andy Greenwald at Grantland for pointing that out).  In another great scene that shows just how cruel Walter White has become, he consoles Jesse after a mental breakdown upon discovery of the cigarette.  It’s obvious that Jesse is now completely and utterly devoted to Walt.  He’ll likely follow him to whatever end Walt faces (this is the author weeping for poor Jesse).

The fallout also reveals that despite getting rid of the computer last week, the magnet plot opened up a huge world of hell for the associates of Gus Fring’s former drug ring.  All of their money is now frozen by the US government and only Mike was wise enough not to dip into his accounts, in addition to placing it in his granddaughter’s name.  The DEA now has a list of the entire operation, all because of Walt’s seemingly harmless decision to crank up the juice on the magnet.  Yet another hazardous chemical reaction in a long series of them dating back to the first season.

The DEA brings in each of the associates one-by-one and Hank basically tells them they can either give up everyone involved or go down with the already sunken ship.  Mike, being the stoic former cop that he is, refuses to bite on any of Hank’s tactics in the interrogation room, despite realizing that his granddaughter’s nest egg is now gone forever.  His sarcasm, dry wit, and cool head completely steal the episode.  From this point forward we should just refer to “Madrigal” as “The Mike Episode.”

The audience is also introduced to another member of the drug operation in the fast-talking, presumably book smart Lydia.  In the funniest scene of the episode she attempts to place a European cafe style order in a rusty New Mexican truck stop and settles for a hot water with lemon instead.  All this while trying to remain secretive about her intention to meet Mike there, which is easily sniffed out by the no nonsense waitress.  Mike refuses her request to assassinate every member of the operation with knowledge that could put them behind bars.  Lydia then resolves to kill him instead.

By this time Breaking Bad fans know that Mike is the complete foil to Walter White.  For all of Walt’s bookworm genius, Mike has a PhD in street smarts.  He figures out Lydia’s assassination plot in about two seconds and ends up having to kill a valued member of his squad as a result of the betrayal.  He shows up at Lydia’s to finish the job. It is then that the ice king of New Mexico has his Cindy Lou Who melting the Grinch’s heart moment.  Lydia, in begging for mercy, manipulates Mike’s weakness for children which causes him to remember that his own beloved granddaughter is now owed zero dollars in his will.

Rather than kill her, he asks Lydia if she might be able to help him get his hands on the meth ingredients necessary to go back into business.  Mike places a call to Walt and it is clear that the great state of New Mexico is now about to be ruled over by a former chemistry teacher, his dropout drug addict pal, and a former Philly cop.  Whether this reign will be more Joffrey from Game Of Thrones rather than Robert Baratheon remains to be seen.  Walt and Mike do technically provide a great yin and yang to each other.  Somehow methinks Walt’s ego will have a catastrophic part to play in their newly found partnership though. The wise bet is obviously on everything going horrificly wrong in the end.  Murphy’s Law sounds scientific, after all.

And somehow, after all of that, the Pete Campbell memorial award for creepiest scene of the entire episode goes to Walter White who is putting up remarkable numbers in this category.  For the second consecutive week he ends the episode trying to convince Skyler that they’re moral position is in fact on the positive end.  This time he goes with a justification only Michael Corleone could be proud of, telling Skyler that he’s done everything he’s done because of “the family.”  Walter White’s transformation into Tony Montana is now nearly complete.  It seems a small matter of time before he starts risking lavish purchases and taunting his opponents.  It’s another beautifully shot scene where the viewer can’t see Walt’s face meaning a) he’s gone completely dark in the soul or b) he’s not human or c) both.

A job well done again by Gilligan.  Personally it ranks as one of my favorite episodes of all-time, all credit to Mike for that.

 

Best Quote(s): 1. “He was somebody else completely. Right in front of me. Right under my nose.” – George to Hank (who seems to finally realize Walt might not be who he says he is) about Gus  

2. “You are a time bomb, tick-tick-ticking, and I have no intention of being around for the boom” – Mike to Walt

3. “Just because you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James” -Mike to Walt (in a possible prediction for things to come)

Best Scene(s): 1. Every scene with Mike

2. Jesse’s breakdown after the “discovery” of the ricin cigarette 

3. Walt’s chilling final scene with Skyler

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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 1 Recap

Breaking Bad’s fifth season begins like many of the ones before it, with an unexplained opening scene.  In this instance we find Walter White playing with his food at a Denny’s, head and face both unfamiliarly hairy, and half-pretending to be interested in a conversation with a waitress while keeping his thoughts and eyes glued to what comes through the front door.  A shady business transaction and a generous tip later and it’s clear that things in Walt’s life have turned for the worse.  He’s using a fake identity, he is presumably taking medication for cancer again, and he needs a massive machine gun to confront whatever new problem lies ahead.

I’ve joked many times to friends that for Walt to complete his transformation into Scarface’s Tony Montana, as Vince Gilligan claims is the goal of his show, he was going to need a gun similar to that used in the movie’s most iconic scene.  You can imagine my excitement then when it become increasingly clear last night that Walt is going to get his “say hello to my little friend” moment, and very soon.

For all the jokes and lines about turning Mr. Chips into Scarface, Breaking Bad has really been about one of the greatest character studies in the history of television.  We watch the show because we want to see just how far Walter White is willing to go to preserve the illusion he has constructed in his mind.  Walt justifies his deeds by saying he would do anything for his family.  In his case it includes cooking drugs, making money off the drug trade, being indirectly responsible for an airline crash, letting the girlfriend of his best friend/partner die, poisoning an innocent child, and multiple instances of brutal murder.  And it seems we have more to go.

Despite many opportunities to “get out” and preserve the safety of his family, Walt’s ego just won’t let him walk away.  It’s now clear that there is simply no going back.  The repercussions of Walt’s actions have spread too far and not even his brilliance can get him out of this great mess.  It fits in perfectly with the show’s motif of science.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Everything must be explained.

Shortly after the opening scene we find Walt in the moments after his successful bomb plot on Gus.  He frantically cleans up the mess at home (including the lily of the valley he used in the poisoning).  He attempts to savor the moment with a glass of liquor but is quickly interrupted by the return of his family and eventually the realization that Gus had a camera on him the entire time he cooked meth. 

The epiphany causes Walt, Jesse, and the recently healed Mike to embark on one of the more enjoyable plots of the entire series.  It turns out Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank beat them to the laptop that stored all of the video from the cooks and the computer has since been locked up in storage at a local Albuquerque police evidence bank.  They hatch a crazy plan to use a powerful magnet to destroy the computer’s memory rather than heed Mike’s advice to skip town, like yesterday.  Amazingly the plan seemingly works but not before inviting a whole host of new problems including a ditched truck possibly filled with forensic evidence and causing  the police to find access to Gus’ offshore bank accounts.  Action. Reaction.

Meanwhile Skyler is left doing her best Walt impression during a hospital visit to former boss, lover Ted Beneke.  Despite obviously being emotionally affected by indirectly causing Ted to break his neck, Skyler puts up a front and acts tough when he pleas with her to leave his family alone.  It’s a haunting reminder of just how far the impact of Walt’s decision-making has gone.

My lasting memory of this episode though will be three specific scenes that show just how far Walt’s ego has come since the days of the meek chemistry teacher/carwash attendant in season one.  First was his scene with sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman in which Walt simply refuses to let Saul end their relationship.  Saul is so terrified he can’t even muster a response.  Second is the way in which Mike, who once kicked Walt’s ass by the way, is softened throughout the course of the episode into buying what Walt is selling.  We see him go from nearly murdering Walt in the desert to accepting his “because I said so” retort that he left no evidence at the scene of the magnet truck.  Roles officially reversed.  And finally is the haunting image of Walt in the final scene “forgiving” Skyler.  The size of the balls that it took to say that in that moment, after everything that’s happened, is something only Tony Montana could relate to.  It’s also a reminder of how things must end.

One could easily argue that Walt has already broken bad numerous times over.  While this is true, let this serve as a simple reminder that we still have 17 episodes to go before this series concludes.  It’s hard to imagine that Walt could conceivably do anything worse but there is no doubt that’s where we are headed.  Who else is he willing to leave in his path of destruction? Will he sacrifice his own family to get what he wants?  Anything is possible at this point. 

My own heart tells me that the great tragedy of this show will be if Walt causes Jesse to die.  It’s so clear that despite all of the bad that Jesse has done, he desperately wants a shot at redemption.  Whether through rehab or his new girlfriend, there is a voice inside Jesse Pinkman that wants to get out of the drug game and be a good person.  Walt always pulls him back in though.  Something tells me that Jesse will come ever so close to coming up for air before it all goes horrifically wrong though, with Walter White being the one that weighs him back down.

It’s good to have Breaking Bad back in our lives. 

Really anxious to find out just how bad Walter White really is.

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Synopsis Of The First Season Of HBO’s Girls

HBO’s Girls wrapped up its first season about a week and a half ago and an overwhelming majority of people agree that the second season can’t come soon enough.  The show was initially marketed and packaged as the next great HBO show and, as seems to be the case with any new television show in the age of Twitter, was originally met with backlash, which of course was met with a backlash to the backlash and so on went the battle of the backlashes.  It seems you can’t start any television critique these days without mentioning the words “backlash” and “backlash to the backlash.”  Objective accomplished (x2).

There are two major criticisms that dominate any starter conversation about the show.  The first is whether Girl’s creator Lena Dunham is the beneficiary of a unique brand of artsy nepotism (Dunham’s parents are well-known within the New York art scene). The second, and more worthy criticism, is whether the show can really be taken seriously given the painful lack of diversity in the first season (the New York City of Dunham’s main character Hannah is occupied solely by privileged, young college graduates who are all white).  We’ll get to these eventually.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned about the show is that to understand it at all, the viewer must have a basic grasp of the worldview of the members of Generation Y.  More specifically, viewers need to be aware of the way in which social media has altered the way in which millennials experience the world.  Explaining this in full is worthy of an essay all by itself.  A short version is that Generation Y has grown up in a world where technology aims to make each individual user feel like the center of the universe.  It should come as no surprise then that many of these individuals’ perspectives on life place them at the center of said universe.  It is then often shocking to many millennials to find out that in actuality, they are not the center of the universe.  And it is that theme which dominates the first season of Girls and provides for all of its best moments, both comedic and emotional.

The viewer first meets main character Hannah (played by show creator Dunham) as she is being cut off financially by her parents. Hannah is a recent college graduate trying to make it as a writer in New York City by working an unpaid internship which she hopes leads to…actually she doesn’t know what it will lead to.  She lives with her best friend Marnie in exactly the kind of apartment one would expect two young, delusional twenty-something females to occupy. 

Marnie is cast as a very structure-oriented creature that seems to have every aspect of the next fifty years of her life mapped out hour-by-hour in her planner.  She’s the perfect foil to the very aloof Hannah who struggles to show up on time for a simple dinner date, much less figure out where her life is going.  The show introduces both of their love interests as well.  Marnie is dating a painfully nice young guy by the name of Charlie while Hannah sneaks off in the middle of days and nights to see and mostly just sleep with a young man named Adam.  Adam at first comes off as a brutish pig but morphs into the most fascinating character on the show over the course of ten episodes.  He’s strongly opinionated, passionate, spontaneous, and mostly unpredictable.  Good luck trying to explain him as a whole, it’s only the biggest debate of the first season.

The show then presents the other half of the quartet that makes up Girls’ main cast.  Shoshanna initially seems stereotyped into a girl whose entire life has been defined by her semi-paranoid manner, almost certainly learned through years of reading Cosmo and reciting Sex And The City quotes.  She seems to be living in the innocent New York City bubble the Friends cast occupied.  It is then somewhat remarkable that she morphs into one of the two most likable characters on the show by the end of the season despite letting her existence be defined by the fact that she is a virgin.  The final member of the crew is Shoshanna’s English-accented cousin Jessa.  Jessa is attractive and confident and gives off a sort of neo-hippie vibe.  She seems to find satisfaction only by consistently proving to herself that she has power over the opposite sex.

But enough about the cast and the plot.  It would be too easy to bore you to death with details about both and that’s not really the point of this piece.  Suffice it to say that the show examines various dilemmas, fights, and controversies that develop as a result of each of these characters trying to have healthy relationships with each other while practicing their own unique brands of extreme narcissism. 

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Many would make the obvious comparison that Girls seems to be a sort of post-modern version of Sex And The City (SATC), being that is infinitely less sexy and glamorous.  While it certainly owes a certain debt to SATC, the real predecessors that Girls traces its roots to are FX’s Louie and NBC’s Seinfeld.  The main theme that they all share is that they examine the awkwardness of real life.  It allows the audience to relate to television in a way most show’s don’t allow. 

As an example, consider that Dunham gets nude for several sex scenes throughout the first season, many of which turn into awkward encounters that show sex for how it actually exists in real life rather than the unrealistic act usually depicted by the industry.  As you can imagine, a lot of humor and emotion ensues and it makes for one of the most honest and refreshing representations in all of television.

Girls is also very much like Louie and Seinfeld in that many of the episodes and storylines are based on actual events in the life of the show’s creator.  Stories abound on the internet of Dunham showing up on set with an idea for a show based on an experience from the night before.  This is a very Larry David thing to do, except imagine those Seinfeld kind of scenarios for awkward people scraping out a living in their mid twenties.  It’s a unique, unexamined topic in television thus far and HBO deserves credit for having faith that viewers actually would want to watch this in the first place.

Now to address the criticisms.  First, let’s not even waste time mentioning the charges of nepotism.  It’s highly unlikely you’ve ever heard of either of Dunham’s parents unless you’re plugged into the New York City art scene.  Do the names Laurie Simmons or Carroll Dunham ring a bell? I didn’t think so.  While Dunham’s upbringing surely influenced her ability to get a show more than the rest of us, let’s all agree that no one can control who their parents are and move on to the more pressing issue.

Girls doesn’t feature any minority characters.  At all.  Like zero total.

To anyone who’s ever spent five minutes there, this is obviously a painfully inaccurate representation of the greatest city in the world.  It’s hard to imagine that any human being living there could possibly sustain that long of a time period without meeting and interacting with a person of color, or at least someone without a WASPy background.  It’s almost insulting to the viewer how white Girls’ depiction of New York City comes off in the first season.

With all that said, it’s worth offering a brief defense.  One of the points of the show is to depict the narcissism and delusion of its characters in a Seinfeld-ian way that is so extreme, so insulting that it can only possibly be perceived as being humorous.  With that thought in mind, it’s not that hard to imagine characters like Hannah and Marnie believing themselves to be true New Yorkers while interacting only with the white people they knew from college.  It’s actually a rather clever device of humor.

Furthermore, another point of the show is the way in which the characters are forced to reconcile their obscure worldviews with real life.  It’s accurate to say this is how the majority of the world learns to “grow up” and become adults.  Thus, a first season without a minority can survive, assuming the show makes it right in further seasons (which the creators have vowed to do on several occasions in the wake of the criticism).  In fact it’s very likely to provide for many more awkward and humorous situations.  On this front, Girls gets a pass, for now.

Look, I’m not going to beg you to watch it, but here’s my small pitch on why viewers can’t afford to miss out on this show.  Girls is important.  It’s important in the way Seinfeld was 15 years ago, only it’s not limited in the content it can explore because it airs on HBO.  It’s important because of its honesty.  It’s important because it is so damn hilarious.  In addition to being maybe the first show to accurately depict this new generation of adults only now entering the work force, it’s really, really, really funny.  Have you ever wanted to absolutely rip the people who fill your Facebook and Twitter feeds with a picture of the drink they just consumed at happy hour?  Girls does all that, and quite well I might add.

I’ll finish with a story on why I like it so much.  I don’t know how many of you saw The Truman Show, but I was about ten when it first came out in theaters.  The movie depicts Jim Carey playing a man whose entire life has been made into the ultimate reality television show.  The twist is that everyone is privy to the show’s concept except for Carey’s character Truman.  He honestly believes that he is living a real life.  Unbeknownst to him, an entire artificial world has been constructed filled with cameras that let viewers see every minute of his existence.

After seeing this movie I somehow convinced myself that I was the real-life version of Truman and that my life was being filmed for world’s viewing pleasure.  I became extremely suspicious of my surroundings, spent inordinate amounts of time searching my house for cameras, and took care to never do anything embarrassing in public, lest the whole world be able to share a collective chuckle at my expense.

Obviously this idea is insane.  It’s impossible.  It’s unrealistic.  But I’m being completely honest when I tell you that it took me two to three years to get this obnoxious idea out of my head.  Most of all it’s narcissistic though, narcissistic in a way that I believe exists in some small manner in the back of every individual’s mind.  I don’t believe that it’s completely normal for all humans to believe at some point that they are the star of the world’s most popular reality show, but in some way or another we all want to believe that we are the center of the universe.

Girls gets this and it’s why I totally relate to a show named for the opposite sex despite being male.  It understands that every one of us is secretly a shockingly selfish creature that thinks about themselves entirely too much.  It lampoons and destroys this idea in a way that can be extremely beneficial in a world that is moving ever closer towards removing face-to-face interactions entirely.  It’s a helpful reminder that despite what Facebook and Google and personalization lead each of us to believe, no one is any more special than anyone else.

And that is a good thing.

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