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TV ramblings spoiling a few shows in a fairly general way:

... )
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Something else about The Americans that deserves crediting: no character seems superior to another. All are designed to give the sense of being somebody we don't fully understand, who knows things we don't, has lived through what we haven't. Probably less true in season 1, but once it got its feet that was something it was careful about. Breaking Bad was good at that. The Wire became good at it. And The Walking Dead - even the bad showrunners attempted this, they just sucked at it, but it's essential to what Gimple's trying for. (Though on that one we're always given some plausible reason to not see that those other characters have their own side to the story. It's very careful to push us into the in-group mindset of the protagonists, where actions understandable or ambiguous become opaquely hostile simply because of who's performing them. According to that Wall Street Journal Facebook analysis, WD's the 4th most popular show among Trump supporters, so maybe it does it a little too carefully...)

Yeah, The Americans eventually really did catch some of what made Breaking Bad work. Season 4 was maybe on the level of BB's S2, or often enough was. Perhaps 3 on the level of BB's 1? Mostly on the strength of Martha, if so. But each Breaking Bad season is maybe twice as masterful as the one before, so there's still not really any comparison. It's nice to see some of its lessons being picked up, though.

Kind of seems like the candy shop scene in Better Call Saul was borrowing from the computer shop one in Mr. Robot, now I think of it, so it's not like all the learning's one way.
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Twenty sixteen doesn't have a bad ring to it, but maybe that's just because twenty fifteen served as primer for most of its sound features. 2017 I'll get used to fast - it sounds like a chant at a rally or ballgame. 2018 I think I'll just have to find out how to be in from inside it, the way I did with Breaking Bad's title. I love a show whose title is awful isn't something you can admit to yourself, so instead you look hard for ways to see it differently. Walter White, Breaking Bad: alliteration and stresses in the same spots. Following its jean-baptiste Mad Men's but opening it like an accordion, showing the squish behind one of the punches, the face beneath the mask that flattens the face to masklike noface even as it is grown over by it and becomes truly face. Bad brothering Mad as Charlotte Lamb ambivalate-rhymed Byron, Swinburne Villon, making of ambivalence itself a form of semblabification, since the privilege of being complicated, self-contradictory, accepted despite unacceptability, innocent regardless of crime but also guilty absent proof we usually reserve for ourselves alone. The show breaks down how bad happens, shows how silly bad must still undo itself till broken, breaks apart bad into its guileless component atoms to see if there is evil somehow additive or if it's but a name for one more shift of things of earth. Or shows a man gone bad beneath so many pressures no one was the one. Or perhaps as in pool, that molecular game, there's no telling just who will go where till it does, so a ball might be honored as ball even if it flies clear off the table and fractures some nun's funny bone. And if no shark but only some wave did the breaking, that break is mere swerve. Pre Mad Manly pedigree alliter-luded also: Walt Whitman, White Whale, Great Gatsby, less likely (Bartleby Benito) Billy Budd (Magic Mountain maybe not; and Absalom Absalom! absolutely out). Just as no one is truly white etc. And of course the setting makes us think of the other Man-hattan, in some sense twin to Don Draper/Dick Whitman's exploding about the same time. Breaking the atom - did thst orove the atom bad? Destruction, fire, death the destroyer of worlds beneath any world's mask? Or merely that energy's all, Billy Blake's sweet delight, Hell the fun half of Heaven. And just as we watch to seek conflict, love conflict, we swearers by peace, the mere materials murdering turns-out-it's-man may meet their match in what's within, what leaps to shape the minute and inert to great and ghastly stormforms waking envy in the sky. And once the car metaphors show up and he finds he can't stop, then he's bra-- et cetera. Even a glob of crap can stick to interesting things.

Twenty nineteen may feel like a discount or a countdown, though a tick less urgently than nineteen eighteen. Twenty twenty I see clearly will be something else again. Twenty twenty-one a loss at cards. Twenty twenty two a multiple personalitied one man-woman romantic comedy show. Twenty twenty three evokes a contrarian guesser or unlucky straw-drawer. 2024 - Two steps two steps back in order to gain either linear or exponential momentum. Twenty twenty five every third thought will be thirty (every second of three of that not quite appropriate song, every first whether man will survive). Twenty twenty six I haven't met.
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It's looking like Adventure Time has fallen back to being just a kids' show like I feared. My guess is they went too far out to make money and were lectured by the network that they exist to sell merchandise and (eventually) movie tickets.

Season 6 had some of the subtextiest tv episodes of all time - Walnuts and Rain, Graybles 1000+, Chips and Ice Cream, Friends Forever - as well as some less guardedly profound ones, like Astral Plane, Jake the Brick, Breezy and The Tower, and the thoroughly insane Is That You? and Food Chain. It was basically wall to wall fantastic till that somewhat silly last week - continuity has rarely been their strong suit, with the season 6 2-part opener maybe excepted.

The Everything Jake episode was more intertexty-metatexty, tearfully so for Futurama lovers unthrilled by the Simpsons sendoff, and in a way which may have inspired the even more intertexty-metatexty Rick and Morty episode where Rick dates a parody of the Borg named Unity (because Com-). Chips and Ice Cream was both subtexty and metatexty and may have been an inspiration too, but of course Harmon has been at meta- for years. Not reliably entertainingly, but mostly.

I'm never sure if subtexty is valuable in itself or just comes to feel that way to those catching it. Probably that depends on the justification - for how well hiding allows important but elusive, unpalatable or hard to digest truths to slant into the unsuspecting.

The Leftovers did this nonstop. The Walking Dead has since season 4, though more heavily (often maximum heavily) in "town" episodes and bottle ones. I think Better Call Saul caught me completely by surprise with its - you find out the whole thing amounts to a damn near pure allegory. I'm not sure if you could quite say Breaking Bad was aggressively subtextual - I mean, it totally was, but in ways complementing its overt message. It was sneaky about how well and exactly it was saying what it was saying, I guess you could argue, but it was more expanding on a plainly conveyed mission statement than Trojan Horsing anything in. Could this be part of its greatness? Erasure of the line between allegorical content and vehicle? An efflorescent relation of micro to macro? I love it too much to not sound ridiculous when talking about it.

Game of Thrones carried off just the one significant subtext strain - the bug stuff and that to which it pertained. I mean, it tries, but mostly either trips over itself or falls into the eye-rollingly obvious in paradoxically moralistic ways.

Not a big fan of how Fargo employs it - the movie basically didn't, after all, beyond the plain message that criminals are selfish and short-sighted, those keeping justice alive patient, kind and methodical. Season 1 was riffing off No Country's message but added nothing crucial. 2's trying to left-wingify it, but doesn't seem to know how beyond an avalanche of standoffs and massacres. Hopefully it's up to something long-term sneaky like Saul and I'll eat those words.

The shows that do it best tend to either do it foundationally or exist in universes where pretty much anything can happen (restricting the latter to one-episode triumphs, mostly). Recent Walking Dead is maybe the one exception, but finds ways to seem retro-foundational (maybe drawing on something foundational in its source material mostly tv-ed out of seasons 1-3?).

For the foundational ones the tough trick is to stay character-based in an engaging way. I think The Leftovers ran into trouble with that, at least as a whole - too much fun bled out, and I don't think sadness was the issue (sad can entertain best of all, in the right hands) but the stretches and repetitions needed to bridge the stories of overly-similar or allegorically unrelated persons. It takes remarkable deftness to keep these gaps and arbitrary crossings thereof feeling natural, though it's clearly doable. I think a lot of the solutions found in that show are pretty ingenious, even. But enough small acts of papering-over require a full-room sheet to paper over THOSE - you need the epicycles to have to exist, not just laboriously and technically get to. Better to restrict things to just a few characters, like Saul, or find ways (and space) to allow the characters to be more than what they represent like in Breaking Bad. Jesse barely represented anything, after all, past helpfully keeping onscreen from the first a reminder that badness can be thrust upon us, to compare how we take each new version of Walt with. But within that wide set of bounds Jesse could be all kinds of other things - like an audience surrogate, comic relief, moral compass etc. And the arc of better-and-better he's allowed to follow isn't necessary like Walt's contrary one, so gets to happen in a more relaxed way. Keeping Walt both human and arc-bound I don't even know how they did. Well, I do: they hide his real bad decisions behind fake ones, ones where we agree they look bad deontologically but which we can't quite condemn - the real ones in fact never happen, but their results do. So at every point he gets to be an Everyman who happened to wake up in an impossible position. That's the main arc, anyway, but in the meantime he commits a number of sins that look small but that in fact are much worse, little stretchings-out into each new role he didn't ask for but is clearly stuck in so why not enjoy it. Yeah, masterstroke one was blur out the first decision point; two was the long garden paths where each last bad major faux-decision locks him into multi-episode, at one point multi-season damage control; three was to have the real breakings (cracks?) occur on a politeness, sometimes nearly an aesthetic, level. Four was to have him seem worse than he in fact was, once actually and (seemingly, amazingly) suddenly "bad" - so that we're with everyone else in hatred of him (him included!) hence have to be won back. Which he does, and not by actually becoming less bad than he's been! Seriously worthy of study, how they did all that. The Saul move was worthy of those. It's hard to imagine how Gilligan and co. will manage to pull off a second with Saul, but at this point I don't think we can doubt *that* they will.
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Appropriately, it looks like we'll be getting to Granite State by 2/18 if we keep watching about 1.5 per night. Which we often haven't been - took us three days to get through twenty minutes of one episode last week. But endings pull you toward them, especially on this show. So maybe even tomorrow night.
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So 2.2 is now famous as Breaking Bad's breakout episode, its entry into the big leagues, but 2.3 strikes me as its first subtle one. I mean, the first season wasn't stupid but it was pretty overt - closest to suggestive it gets is Walt's wardrobe evolution. Which presumably makes sense from a financial standpoint, as no one wants to cold fund the filming of an entire season of experimental drama - unless you're coming off Blue Velvet or howver thst happened. It's when you start to feel more secure after renewal, and to realize that what's keeping you afloat is critical goodwill, that script depth can look like a worthy risk. The first season had script height, though, and some elements get some shading retconned into them, like the Krazy 8 decision.

2.3's repeated mechanism metaphors get picked up in the finale awesomely, but I'm now wondering if I've overlooked them elsewhere. I've been looking for the start of the car business, which is prominent in 3 and recurs afterward, but so far nothing. The Aztec predates his break so the green means nothing, except insofar as it's an extension of home out into the wild - a camping vehicle. Its exit is a great scene.

Through to 2.2 the show's more about how much can plausibly go wrong when you do crime, and how since you don't have any institutional or community support your only way out of such tangles is further tangling. Which isn't absent from the rest of the series, but 2.3's where it gets clear that each untangling leaves some piece of you behind.

It's interesting how invested it is in unmissable anti-drug war argument and in dwelling on gross images near the beginning, too. I guess it has to be - the underlined asterisked bolded "don't try this at home" reassures that it's not actually advocating any of this. But it also lets it give the obvious non-trial reasons first, and then when we know that the writers know these they can start in on the other ones. The ones that maybe take some setup, some more extensive introductions into story of reality-over-time. We see reality but we don't see much of the full version. Just enough to know that change exists without believing it.
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Looks like consensus has coalesced around Fargo as show of the year - I guess those of us unthrilled with the True Detective ending managed to successfully deflate its enthusiasts via tactical whingeing? Fargo was mostly amusing and I'll watch its relaunch whenever, but it was more weird than good, and it meant less than it seemed to think. There were some memorable shots, maybe a few up there with the consistently amazing visuals of True Detective and Hannibal, and as usual Mad Men, but in the end nothing can replace story.

True Detective ... happened. The direction, art direction, McConaughection were undeniably top notch. And the credit sequence was just thrilling, even surviving retrospective self-seriousness given what happened with the show. I could watch cars run across Woody Harrelson's face for hours. And I mean that in a nice way.

That the ending plagiarized a comic book was weird. And consequentially, unlike the even weirder (if less certain and more likely unconscious is real) plagiarism of Donald Duck in Inception. Premises can and should be stolen, significance never. And if you do, Jesus - change something, anything. That the last damn seconds were unoriginal sharpens my suspicions that the ending was written while the show was in production. It's desperate and at a bizarre veer from all that came before. But I'm probably just protecting my dumb theory. Fail's doubtless on me.

Perhaps asking a single person to write so many episodes of one show, even with bits of help here and there, isn't as good an idea as we've been assuming? Or at least leads to some problems we weren't prepared for. Penny Dreadful and Louie, one-man shows also, had some neat high points but also some very draggy ones, much like Fargo. But Fargo was sufficiently invested in a serial plotline that the ending needed to matter. It wasn't as much of a burnout as True Detective's (seemed that it) was, but it was enough of a shrug to make the series itself retroactively shruggier. Julie and I argue about whether the "neat! What next!" feeling is valuable in itself or only as a promise of the feeling that a whole experience has been neat, and I'm on the asking-for-disappointment side. But she was a lot madder than she admits at the latter quarters of True Detective and Lost. Enduring love is possible, is the problem with the never loved vs. loved and lost dispute. Breaking Bad is possible. It's just not here this year. But secretly we're watching all this television looking for it.

Hannibal and Mad Men were good, though, and both of them despite our assumption that we've seen all this before. And maybe requiring that starting point for full appreciation? If the assignment is to find ways to keep Hannibal and Draper even vaguely fresh they both aced it. With the zombie team not far behind them, this year. Just like Game of Thrones becomes a lot more impressive when you ask yourself what you could have done better given those constraints. Heroic writing staffs, all.

Comedy we all differ on, though with some universal overlap, and that's fine. I wonder why it's fine, though? What makes it more like music or old movies or genre fiction where if you grew up with some strain of it or took a random liking-to at some early point it's valuable to you forever, while everyone else is pretty much justified in shrugging? Or maybe "drama" works the same way and we all just assume it doesn't? Maybe it's just how we react to the pain of seeing someone not laugh or not respond to our tunes - if they could get it they'd have got it at once, so we just give up. Whereas maybe with this serious stuff that at some point connects up with ethics or politics or spirituality or something they'll come to get it if they keep trying, just like those who disagree with us about all those matters are only tolerated by us for their potential to someday change and agree with us, a potential surely proved by their ability to tie their shoes. Or perhaps just some of us, but enough to keep the Academy Awards and similar provocations going. Perhaps there's no accounting for accounting for taste.
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Rewatching all Lost was mostly a horrible slog. Rewatching Breaking Bad is a nonstop delight. We started with season 3 but immediately regretted it. With Lost, even on the rewatch, each episode felt like empty calories - what little value there was was projective, and of course the projective value turns out to be near nil since the deferred satisfactions don't arrive. Hard going once you know it. There was value to it once, it's true. But there can't be again, at least for me.

With Breaking Bad the disappointment of each episode ending, of having no time for more, is dwarfed by our gratitude for what we've been seeing. For being made full. It's great to be noticing new things, but everything that was great last time is there undiminished too, because none of it was mirage. All was load-bearing, and the load borne wasn't simplistic or late Lost's sixty-five tons of bullshit.

And how it improves as it goes is one of its impossible secrets - somehow you start to feel that's happening episode by episode, not just season by season or even cluster by cluster. And not as an average of each episode's scenes - it's just that each time a scene or character or situation that's been away for a bit recurs it's a better shot and written, more thought through version of itself.

Some of this has to be illusory - where critical mass, pun intended, is reached you start looking for new ways to love what you love. You work on its behalf. And you fucking love doing that.

Though while I'm one of the fierce finale-lovers I will say that there were stretches that didn't give the sense of being better versions of (whatever) than had appeared before. Victim of its own success, in that sense, though there's room to be grateful even there, since a send-off as beyond perfect as Ozymandias or beyond new as Granite State would have made withdrawal anguish, which I for one am still feeling acutely, even less bearable. Here's how acute it was: I'd been feeling restless and heart-achy a few weeks ago and couldn't figure out why. Then noticed it had been exactly one year since we'd watched the finale. I'm feeling withdrawal while watching and loving and responding with full fresh awe to each minute of season 5 again.

Another secret, maybe the secretest, seems to me to be knowing exactly what "grain" to aim for. TV shows' worst sin is not attending to, often because not knowing, the place any part has in the show as a whole - which matters because our brains look for such wholes. Obviously other shows, and certainly seasons, have had completed arcs, but since individual episodes have these, scenes within them do etc. there's a tendency to return to some Platonic set of norms and just inflect key moments and/or endings. The time-stamp's on pretty much everything in Breaking Bad. Maybe it has the writers' strike to thank for that, for throwing it off of season-sized arcs so early? Or the garden path aspect of the middle (Gus) third, where two motivations are presented for all of Walt's choices, forced and elective, such that our minds are taken off of his (d)evolution? Probably that progress itself is what keeps the show understanding how close to its ending to feel. Things will get as bad as they can and then - do another thing. And for some reason we do know how long doing another thing takes, even if Kennedy didn't. It takes one twenty-fifth as long. Forget this and we'll be annoyed at you forever - I'm looking at you, Ghost and A League of Their Own.

I think this is one of the reasons style is so important, too. We want artworks to look and feel distinct, not just conceptualize distinctly, so that they can more easily stand out as memories - the way memories do among other memories, in fact. Even within artworks we want that to be the case. A change in location, in pace, in the sorts of things one sees happening; all twinned with continuities, recurrences. That's all very basic, but when you understand it well enough you can do a lot of it at once, and simultaneously do it more subtly. Having it all seem natural while at the same time nudging every stray or confused thought of the appreciator back to where it should be. Intelligible nature, that nuttiest of paradoxes, or anyway hardest lightning to herd.

This may be mere serendipity too - steadily growing viewership leading to a higher budget for sets, sound editing, cameras, art directors etc., which change the ambience gradually enough that the changes seem organic, purposeful. And of course the writers and actors also are likely enough to know what they're doing better the longer they're at it. That's the silver lining to the relative chaos of the early days of any show, even Breaking Bad: the natural shift toward order and self-consciousness will feel like the movement toward mystery from out of the-mystery's-what-the-mystery-is of a good story. But eventually someone starts to suck, is how it mostly goes. That there was a sense of an oncoming ending, and not just a stopping that could be made to look like one, must have discouraged sucking as powerfully as positive attention incentivized new awesomeness.

This post has lost its own sense of where to end and has in general fallen into intolerability, so I'll wrap up. Three cheers for Breaking Bad!
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Thinking some thoughts about the show that maybe I can convey without spoiling much. Not much but some, so take that as a warning.



Do we need to think of fiction characters as having free will, or just the same general relationship of ignorance we do with our own future actions? Are protagonists separable from minor characters in that we'll forgive, excuse and/or forget their sins like we might our own, or quite the opposite?

The non-spoilable, because present from the beginning, procedure of Breaking Bad is to lure you into identification with a person doing genuinely bad things by a) its adopting some of his own casuistry in how he and the events he sets in motion are at first presented (the better to scorpion sting you from the back with deferred revelations, consequences), b) by having those bad things start much less bad than they gradually get, c) by getting you grateful to him for creating such exciting, involving situations, and d) by blessing him with the magical luck (though of course the good's usually activated by bad, by the reliability of the unforeseen) and other storytelling supports traditionally reserved for the welfare of heroes. It's made so obvious that the show's doing all that that you're shocked, are supposed to be routinely shocked, that its tactics work anyway.

So we're supposed to weave in and out, maybe as he worsens increasingly out but in our cumulative investment in his story increasingly in, close to him then far away. We watch his excuses for his actions fall apart, such as they are, note the full tally of evils he has caused, observe the luck at last fall away. Even our gratitude for diverting us is attenuated - secondary characters start to drive more of the plot, whether they can survive their clashes with the increasingly villainous main character becoming the emotionally interesting matter as much as, perhaps finally more than, whether he can. And of course matters are more cerebral now: the writing, the presentation start to take the center stage. We've been tricked into caring what all this means, our involvement has opened out into a wider space of concern.

You couldn't call it Brechtian - the distance that startles us into thought doesn't bore us away because it soon closes again. But it may have some of the virtues Brecht was shooting for. We can't help thinking about disjunctions between what we'd like to see and what we ought to. We start to see how the lies Walt told, that we in a sense helped tell on his behalf, are a bit like those we tell ourselves. The things we want easy in narrative bear a certain relation to what we'd like to find easier in our own lives - the way we welcome the frictionless paths there isn't unlike how we're tempted to embrace and excuse ready shortcuts here.

That much of the design becomes crystal clear, and most of it is from early on. But it's less clear if we're to blame him. Avoid doing what he does? Sure. Avoid people like him if we meet any? Of course. But is he at last responsible?

We're good at absolving ourselves for what we've done wrong, and where this isn't possible are good at ritualizing, hence minimizing, self-castigation, but I think we're astonishingly harsh with our future moral selves. There are things we must simply not do - there needn't be a specified punishment, just horror at the thought of finding oneself the one who'd do that. That horror preemptively punishes. We blame Walt the way we blame a hypothetical future self, it may be. Because in a sense he is one.

Maybe we don't even need him to have free will, just to have had it at some previous point. Do I even mean free will, though, or just the wrong will. It's insane to blame someone for what they can't control (hence insane to blame anyone, anything, as compared to attribution of cause or delivery of threats or other warnings); there can be no free will beyond the copout senses - e.g. free from external constraint, random, part of the one unified self-movement of existence. But there's one circumstance where it might be that we can't help being insane: when we try to dissuade our future self from doing wrong. A magical toggling point between entire unacceptability and full absolution is helpful, here. "I must not do X because all will become bad" seems too weak - arguments that make sense are too easily dimmed as desire brightens. But the thought of being cast out of oneself, that undercuts the logic of even desire - for who would feel that desire then? Blame, evil, may be a metaphorical extension of death into life so as to limit our terrifying self-persuasive abilities. It's wrong (inaccurate, though in many cases useful) to do it to others, to our present self. But I wonder if we need it to be open season on our future self, if absolute rhetoric's needed to sustain non-drifting action. Maybe "bad" - not just badly informed, badly raised, badly off-kilter - really is a way a fictional person can be. Because some inalienable aspect of our own, our inflowing/outspilling fictional front, our onward extension in time, always is.

And yet this too is a person. I wonder what the experience of fiction can do to our heuristic insanity. Perhaps it allows a momentary forgiveness of everyone we will be, might be. At times. But if so how is it we forget. Our ability to forget scares me more than even blame - and I blame blame for all religion's evils.
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Rian Johnson just won whatever you win for that.
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Speaking of too something to something, I completely understand anyone ceasing to watch Breaking Bad after 5b-5. No one ever will, but I'd understand if they did. Last exit to Kierkegaardian evasion of suffering.

Because I love all the characters, the significant newcomers (who we're very much not supposed to) excepted. This close to the end of Lost's run I had one live iota of interest in Desmond, dull loathing for everyone else.
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We just finished season 4 in our Breaking Bad rewatch.

I didn't remember Elizabeth Bishop's picture popping up at the end of season 2, but I guess it's been a while. And while I loved her poems three (?) years ago maybe I hadn't seen many images of her yet, enough that it could have glided by.

potential spoilings of seasons 1-4 )
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I'm more excited about Breaking Bad right now than I've been about any show since Lost at its peak. Which was far more exciting than this even, but probably not in a way that was good for me.

The Wire (and probably only The Wire) was, is, will be a better show overall, I admit it. But Breaking Bad is more enlivening for wretches for whom watching only avails, never the having watched, and I'm one of those.

Maybe it's also that there's something very '90s about Breaking Bad. And I don't mean Odenkirk, who's nothing without Cross (who's nothing without Odenkirk). Like certain '90s movies, I guess I mean, the sort we associate with Tarantino but that he largely spun out of the Coens and Goodfellas and (proto-'90s) Badlands and Lynch. And that he may have trivialized by making the criminal life a norm rather than the violation of one, thus dropping the complex of feelings about whether the normal life deserved violation, might itself constitute one. The annoyance of not knowing either way, surely that was behind the famously infinite irony spiral as much as anything else was. Breaking Bad isn't '90s (in this sense) in its sympathies, but consistently is in its procedures. It's a bit like the careful post-mortem of a flawed earlier mindset by someone who's truly moved on. Which maybe will be symbolically addressed if Jesse ends up having I'M VERY EXCITED

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