By Chauncey Telese
Good morning and happy Friday everybody, and this was intended to be about “Captain America” but the only midnight show offered was in 3D and I didn’t want to do that. You’ll get “Captain America”, “Friends with Benefits”, and some other stuff in a big package Monday and you’ll get “Cowboys and Aliens” next Friday, so that’s something right?
Today, however I give you a piece that was supposed to run Monday but I had to go back and to fix a myriad of grammar and logic issues. I reread what I wrote after Carol told me that it was too much to edit, so I did and she was absolutely right. It looked like something I would’ve had on my MySpace in high school. It was very embarrassing and not something that I’m particularly proud of so here is the bigger better version of Monday’s column.
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After one of the best games I’ve ever seen in my life in any sport, the US couldn’t overcome the miracle on grass team of Japan. It was hard for me to be entirely upset about that loss too because, in all honesty, Japan earned it and considering what they went through as a country, good for them. Still, we had a chance to be the best in women’s soccer (though we’ll probably win the gold medal next year in London) and couldn’t do it. Aside from World Cup Soccer let’s see what else captivated America’s attention.
Let’s see; Harry Potter obliterated any and all records that it had to face and will probably beat “Captain America” in its second weekend. Our two biggest sports are still locked out (though the NFL one is ending very soon, our economic quandary is only made easier by the fact that we’re not Greece), and our justice system has had two embarrassing black eyes this month. Casey Anthony (who is most likely going to spawn a few Lifetime movies and maybe one “ripped from the headlines” episode of SVU) got off because the jury didn’t feel like deliberating for longer then 11 hours without going over any evidence because God forbid they miss fireworks or the hot dog eating contest. The other was we wasted a lot of tax payer money trying to bust Roger Clemens for perjury and the prosecution just didn’t feel like paying attention to the judge’s orders enough for the judge to declare a mistrial and probably scream into a pillow after witnessing that level of incompetence. By the way, on the SVU front this week, TVLINE just announced that Law and Order: SVU will be doing an episode inspired by Arnold’s indiscretions earlier this year.
We also invented a crisis called “Carmageddon” and actually became upset because, in exchange for having some infrastructure and job creation, we have to have some traffic. But the story that just killed me was the report that for the first time ever, every state (except Colorado) had an obesity level over 20 percent. C’mon America! While all of these stories have captivated the attention of Americans everywhere, the best story is the one that captivated the attention of the whole world - the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s empire will be brought down by Hugh Grant. That’s right folks, one of the key players in bringing down Scotland Yard and News of the World was none other then the charmingly befuddled British Charlie Sheen. This story just continues to get more and more fascinating and I can’t wait to see what the FBI comes up with in its investigation of Murdoch’s practices in America. If nothing else “The Simpsons” will get some good mileage out of this because they’ve been picking on him and Fox for 22 years now and they just got some more ammo.
Lastly, let me ask those of you my age or within my age bracket, did you listen to Blink 182’s new single? They are a band that I’ve loved since forever and while I understand that a band can’t do the same thing creatively forever or else they become stale but c’mon! I realize Tom DeLonge didn’t want to do pop punk forever which is why in 2002 he created Box Car Racer to satisfy his desire to make songs that were more emotional. They broke up after their sixth album (which was awful and sounded like an awful Cure tribute album). I assumed once they got back together they’d go back to their roots like No Doubt did, but no, they decided to just keep straying further and further from the band that was so much fun to listen to (and their live album “The Mark Tom and Travis Show” is one of the funniest things I’ve heard). I hope the whole album isn’t reflective of that single, but I’m pessimistic. They are now in the same realm I put Green Day in after “American Idiot” where I have to put a qualifier on my fandom (I’m a fan of old Green Day, for instance). It is possible to stretch yourself creatively without losing who you are fundamentally as a band, i.e. Radiohead, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers (whose new single is great, by the way) but Blink 182 doesn’t want to do that.
Alright, enough getting on my pop culture soap box lest I become a total blowhard which is my number one concern with every column I post (though I’m sure I’ve done it a billion times by now). Let’s begin in Bon Temps!
“True Blood: I’m Alive and On Fire”
We’re about one-third of the way through Season 4 and as Jim Ross used to say, “business is about to pick up.” There hasn’t been that major tipping point in the season yet but I’m sure that it is most likely to come up within the next two weeks or so, and it is becoming clearer and clearer where this season’s going. Last Sunday’s episode began with Eric having killed Sookie’s fairy godmother and then sensing the fairy blood in Sookie and attempting to feed on her, but she stops him and tries to get him to go into his cubby to sleep it off. Eric basically becomes a split between a kid hopped up on sugar and that friend that drinks too much and all of a sudden becomes hyperactive and difficult to manage. It is a hoot watching Eric using his vampire speed and having Sookie (or as he called her, Snookie) chase him before he discovers (and reminding me, because quite honestly, I forgot) that fairy blood allows vampires to temporarily walk in the sunlight.
Eric plays in the river and Sookie must get Alcide and his abs to fish Eric out of the river before he roasts like a marshmallow. I wasn’t sure exactly how this amnesia thing would play out other then it would allow an excuse for Sookie to fall for Eric (and most likely Alcide) by the end of the season. Also, while Eric is recovering from roasting in the sun, he hears Alcide and Sookie arguing about him like he was their kid. It was kind of heartbreaking to hear him realize that he is a bit of a jerk even though at this point he’s more like a 12-year-old.
Sookie got to hang tough this week and those are the moments where the show flourishes, because every so often they forget Sookie is the heroine of the show and it loses the audience a little. The other goings-on were more focused, so let’s start with the stuff I haven’t liked this season. Jason finally escapes with the help of the youngest girl in the werepanther clan (their conversation about love was sweet but pretty funny because Jason told her she should be romanced by presents and candy even though I sincerely doubt he’s ever done any of that). He not only escapes but he kills Crystal’s cousin/husband “Predator” style, much to her delight, but he tells her he wants no part of that clan anymore. It’s clear Jason is going to become a panther soon, but for now Hoyt and Jessica take care of him after finding him passed out on the roadside. Not sure where that’ll end up, but I think Bon Temps will have an actual human left by the end of the series run.
I’m beginning to like Tommy less and less and wonder why the hell they kept him alive, but they now have him back with his parents. This means he’ll be fighting other shifters again and once again Sam will have to come to the rescue. Speaking of Sam, his relationship with Luna (who will be around to save Tommy I’m sure) took a predictable turn. Luna has a werewolf daughter (of course she does, right?) and Sam gets to be a sweetheart which is exactly what he does best (that and his dry sense of humor as evidenced by his taking down of Maxine’s parenting). Luna kind of insinuates that the werewolf is a jealous type (possibly Alcide) so obviously we’re headed to Sam having a throwdown with this guy in the next few weeks. I guess that could be good but I don’t know yet.
Arlene’s creepy baby finally did something overtly creepy that Terry noticed. The baby wrote “baby not yours” in red crayon which was a legitimately creepy moment to say the least and now I’m interested to see where this goes. Bill and Portia’s relationship is over because, while meeting with her mother (and I didn’t realize she was related to Andy) he found out by that the Bellefleur’s and the Compton’s mixed blood and that Portia is his great, great granddaughter, which is troubling given how close they’ve been. I loved how Andy is the town sheriff but is basically Principal Skinner when he’s at home. Bill is also visited by Nan regarding the witches and she doesn’t see them as a threat and cites Eric’s disappearance as nothing to worry about. It’s funny whenever a character in an action or horror movie says that, it usually means worry more.
Bill however, has decided not to search Sookie’s house out of respect to her, which is obviously against his better judgment, but what’s Bill to do, its not like he can exactly impose his will as king on her. By the way, I forgot to mention how cool it was for Bill to have that vampire executed for ending up on YouTube last week. The witch stuff kicked up a little more as Marnie sees the witch that she has channeled being burned at the stake and then wakes up not knowing what the hell is going on. She tries to find a spell with the help of Tara, Jesus, and Lafayette and Pam’s growing impatience causes Marnie to freak out and turn her skin inside out.
Pam is forced to look grotesque for the first time in her life and there can be nothing but comedy to be mined from that, because now she’s without her trademark swagger (like Eric). The only other complaint I have is the lack of things for Tara and Lafayette to do. Other then that, it was a great episode and one that sort of went back to the show’s hokier roots and one of the funniest episodes they’ve done in some time. In the preview, they show that Goddrich comes back and while I’m guessing it’s a dream, anytime he’s on screen only good things can happen.
Moving on from Bon Temps, let’s travel to Albuquerque and follow the continuing descent of Walter White.
“Breaking Bad: Box Cutter”
If you ask the majority of the people who cover television, they will tell you that either “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” is the best show on TV (which must make AMC feel great, because it’s a win-win). The opinion vacillates depending on which show is on at the time and when both end, there will be numerous dissertations comparing them to each other and trying to figure out which was better. In my opinion, if I had to group the best dramas in tiers I’d but “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” as one and one A, “Boardwalk Empire” and “Sons of Anarchy” in tier two, then “The Walking Dead,” “Justified,” “Parenthood” and “Game of Thrones” in tier three and “Dexter,” “True Blood” and “Treme” following after.
Anyway, last Sunday was the Season Four premiere of “Breaking Bad” and, unlike “True Blood,” this is a tough show to cover, not because of content or anything, but it’s kind of intimidating because they are so good at subtlety and doing things that most shows don’t do that I don’t want to screw up and miss something character- or plot-wise.
Last season saw Walt (played by Bryan Cranston, who will probably win his fourth Emmy this year, I’m sure) held hostage in the lab by Mike while Jessie (played by future two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul) crosses a moral line and kill Walt’s possible replacement Gale, who didn’t deserve to die but had to.
Season 4 starts with a flashback of sorts - Gale using a box cutter to open the packages containing the industrial equipment used to make meth in Gus’s factory. Gale is like a kid on Christmas (and wearing Bermuda shorts with tourist sandals, which just cracks me up) when he opens the boxes and he tells Gus that, at best he can make the product 96%, and wants to know who the chemist is that made the sample he was given 99% pure. Gale is in awe of how this chemist was able to make the product so pure and can’t replicate the blue color and asks Gus to meet this man. Gus (who to me looks like Obama if Obama didn’t have the stress of having to negotiate with Boehner, Kantor, and McConnell, but I digress) assures him that his 96% will suffice and then we see the box cutter sitting ominously as we hear the guitar riff and the main titles appear.
Cut to Gale lying dead on the floor and his neighbors looking at the crime scene. Gus’s associate Victor is seen by these neighbors who try to get him to leave, so he does and finds a silent and solemn Jessie sitting in his car in shock. Victor takes Jessie hostage and takes him to the lab where Mike still has Walt at gunpoint. They are seated next to each other, Jessie still in shock and Walt trying to convince Mike to let them work because as angry as Gus is about Gale getting killed, he’d be much angrier at having his batch behind schedule. This prompts Victor to start following Walt’s recipe as he sees it, even getting so arrogant as to say “That’s right, watch me genius.” Walt mocks him until he sees that Victor knows the steps but still tries to overwhelm Victor with technical questions, which leads Victor to tell him he doesn’t need to know about all of the answers, it’s just a recipe.
Meanwhile, Skyler is visited by Marie who drops off Hank’s bills which are starting to mount even as he is recovering and asks Skyler why Walt’s car is in the driveway and she assumes that he and Skyler have reconciled. Skyler is confused, but she decides to move it three blocks away so as to not confuse Walt Jr. She is concerned and calls Saul, who has no clue where he is, but assures her he’s okay. Saul also has a new sidekick that looks a little like a combination of Biggie Smalls and Warren Sapp. Though we got a small dose of Saul, it was great how he checked his office for listening devices and how he handled Sklyer’s phone call on a pay phone and even though it was brief, he still almost stole the show.
Marie continues to help Hank recover from last season’s “One Minute” and she tries to remain optimistic and is thrilled he can now walk 16 feet, but he is far more pessimistic. He buys minerals online and when Marie calls them rocks, he quickly corrects her. Other than that, most of the time is spent in the lab as Walt tries to save himself and Jessie.
Walt tries to remind everyone that, while Victor is cooking, it would be a good idea to wear masks, but no one listens. This leads to what is one of my favorite moments of the series actually because it is such perfect combination of writing, acting, and directing, which on paper, five or so pages should amount to five minutes on screen, but the scene lasts 10 minutes and is full of so much tension.
Walt and Jessie see Gus enter the lab and slowly stalk down the spiral staircase. Walt begins to plead his case by saying that Gus is too smart to kill him and Jessie because he needs them to make his product. Gus says nothing while undressing and putting on the lab gear as he watches Victor prepare the meth. Walt tells him that it was a shame Gale had to die but that he’d do it again if he had to and that Gale’s death was on Gus’s hands.
Gus still says nothing as he finishes putting on the lab gear and as Walt keeps pleading his case and telling him that he is important, because Victor is acting like a short order cook and degrading the product. Gus goes over to Victor and, using the same box cutter that Gale used in the flashback, slits Victor’s throat and just holds Victor as he bleeds out to the shock of Walt, Jessie, and Mike. Again, Gus says nothing as washes his hands, gets dressed, and slowly walks back up the spiral staircase and stops. He just looks down at Walt and says five words: “Well, get back to work” and leaves. That was one of the many “Breaking Bad” moments that leaves audiences going holy s---, not just because Gus kills Victor but because of the way the tension built slowly and the reveal of how ruthless Gus really is. Before, we just thought Gus was an intelligent drug lord, but he’d never really been directly brutal to this point. Here we see why he is so much more feared then, say, Tuco was.
Granted it wasn’t a shock to see Victor get killed, considering he was seen by neighbors and he was very arrogant about cooking, but still. Walt realizes that he can’t outwit this guy or use his knowledge to wiggle out of this situation. For the first time Walt and Jessie are actually in a corner that there is no hope of escaping. Jessie even says it later that they are basically prisoners now when he tells Walt: “At least we all understand each other We’re all on the same page, the one that says, ‘if I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead.’” By the way, even though Jessie says nothing for 40 minutes, it is very clear where he is mentally and how, even though Walt saved him in “Half Measures,” he still calls him Mr. White.
I loved the call back to the second episode of the series when they dispose of Victor’s body in a manner slightly more organized then their chaotic attempt to dispose of Emilio. There was some humor here too, as Walt and Jessie have to wear matching Kenny Rogers shirts with white jeans and red Converse shoes because their clothes got messy from disposing of Victor (I loved how Walt didn’t even bother to take off the “large” sticker from the shirt).
Walt now realizes that even though he ironically started making meth to pay his medical bills and to sort of get away from his imprisoning jobs of teaching high school and working at a car wash, he is now in another imprisoning job, complete with uniforms. He also is now even more stuck because, not only does he have to listen to Gus, but now Skyler is looking over his shoulder as well. I loved how Walt is alive only because Gale raved about how Walt’s meth is as close to pure as you’ll get and telling Gus that he could never do that, making him disposable. That was tied in well with Walt feeling expendable after Victor was able to follow Walt’s recipe. It was a very interesting little moment to say the least.
Also, it is intriguing to see how the police investigation plays out after the cops found Gale’s notebook detailing the makings of Walt’s blue meth. What makes this show so great is that I can’t really tell where its heading and every week is like a roller coaster because of how good this writing staff is at creating twists that you don’t see coming until you really think about it and it makes total sense.
There is a great interview on Grantland with series creator Vince Gilligan about last night’s episode by the way. Season 4 is shaping up to be an incredible ride and one that I’ll be glad to report on every Monday (grammar and logic permitting) and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride along with me.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as next week Tommy Gavin’s adventures are further chronicled, Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis and I are “Friends with Benefits,” I salute “Captain America,” we spend the summer in Bon Temps with “True Blood” and we keep on “Breaking Bad.”