Monday, November 12, 2012


Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of The Walking Dead from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Magus: With the larger band of survivors having secured the prison, attention comes back to Andrea and Michonne for more than five minutes increments. This is an episode where a lot happens with the focus once again not on the walkers as the villain of the show. There's the return of the long lost Merle Dixon, we learn that Michonne's other skill is a wicked side-glance that would kill lesser men, and we meet The Governor.

We catch up with Andrea and Michonne on the move investigating a helicopter crash out in the middle of nowhere. Their search of the wreckage is interrupted by another group of survivors. Soldiers that have become walkers are dispatched, a survivor is pulled from the wreckage, and Michonne and Andrea are captured in hiding by Merle. One blindfolded car ride later, the ladies are in Woodbury with Andrea being treated for her mystery illness and Michonne deploying her best distrust and aforementioned side-glance. She is not terribly subtle when it comes to this and it's really kind of surprising that The Governor wouldn't off her. However, he is a much more nuanced character than the prisoner Rick offed in the previous episode.

After a tour of Woodbury, it becomes apparent that The Governor is going to do his best to convince the ladies to stay of their own accord for now. He comes up with reason upon reason they should stick around for the time being and maybe join the community. It's not until later that we see he probably isn't going to let them leave regardless.

The Governor goes out to rendezvous with the reserve unit the surviving helicopter pilot came from. He then has his men in hiding gun them down and take their equipment. The Governor is a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to secure his power and community and then some by eliminating a potential threat to his authority. Unlike Rick's action at the prison, The Governor moves before anyone has a chance to take a swing at him. He sees the soldiers as an immediate threat to his power that needs to be neutralized. Merle is among the men he takes with him, but it's not entirely clear if Merle is completely in. There's the impression that Merle does what he does as repayment for being taken in by the community at a time when he needed help. The ultimate test of this loyalty will probably come when there is the inevitable reunion of him and Daryl.

Upon his return, The Governor informs the people of Woodbury that the soldiers had already been killed by biters (walkers) and that they took the equipment to help fortify the town. There's more side-glance from Michonne as he continues to work on Andrea and it looks like she's ready to sign up. In fairness to her, The Governor has presented a community with little difference to the one put together by Rick and his group. It's behind the scenes where we discover that The Governor has some skeletons (heads) in his closet and a sampling of his madness is revealed.

Jon: Simply put, this was the best episode of The Walking Dead in well over a year. Getting a little time out from Rick Grimes and the gang was long overdue in my opinion, not to mention starting to finally flesh out other corners of this zombie-filled world.

As Magus expertly describes above, this episode starts out following Andrea and Michonne as they are taken captive and brought to the idyllic community of Woodbury. How this little town has maintained a Pleasantville-like atmosphere isn't immediately revealed, but the heavily fortified boundary and a strict curfew would not be possible if it weren't for the commands and direction of the mysterious Governor. As "Walk With Me" progresses, the narrative focus shifts to The Governor and his cronies. They're up to something, and while that something isn't clear yet, what is obvious is that he'll be a force to be reckoned with once the ladies decide to leave Woodbury and the inevitable clash between he and Rick later on. Tough times are ahead, for sure.

But, hey not all bad! There's also Merle! Daryl's supercharged racist, redneck brother has returned to us as a poor man's Ash Williams complete with a metal stub and a detachable bayonet. And while I don't know that I'd go as far as to say I missed him, I do welcome his special brand of maliciousness back to the program. You gotta wonder whether or not he'll back away from his allegiance to The Governor when he and Daryl find each other once more, or if he'd be able to sway Daryl to the dark side (at least temporarily).

Again, this was a fantastic change-of-pace episode and I believe has set the remainder of the season up for some great revelations and bombastic action when all our players finally converge.

Previous roundtables for The Walking Dead season 3: 
Week 1 - "Seed"
Week 2 - "Sick"

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of The Walking Dead from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Magus: After last week's somewhat disappointing season opener, "Sick" picks up where "Seed" left off with Rick having chopped off a portion of Hershel's leg followed by the discovery of inmates still alive in the prison cafeteria. This pulls the show's attention back to the real threat following the walker apocalypse, human beings. Sure, the walkers are a threat to survival, but they don't plot or betray like humans can. The prisoners give Rick and the survivors their first set of truly hard decisions to make this season and unlike during the second, resolution comes quickly.

There are the naive power plays on the parts of the prisons that reflect their own ignorance to the severity of their situation. At first Rick and the group wants to kick them out but an agreement is eventually reached and the prison and its supplies are to be split. It's an arrangement that doesn't last long as the prisoner leader decides that he's going to try and take out Rick. It's a decision that doesn't end well for him or another of his fellow inmates. With their number reduced, the remaining two prisoners strike a new deal and are given a cell block of their own.

The other story of this episode could be a survival horror medical drama as the group works to save Hershel's life as no one is sure if he'll survive losing blood, his leg, and the walker bite. It's touch and go but he eventually makes it through. However, during his downtime,which thankfully is paced nowhere near as painfully as Carl's gunshot wound and recovery, the survivors are portrayed as possessing a great deal of medical knowledge, far more than I think Hershel would have been able to purvey in so short a time. Also during this downtime, the practical questions of what they would have to do without Hershel and his medical knowledge, especially with Lori and her pregnancy.

It turns out that Carol has become a sort of medic and prepares herself for the possibility of having to perform a C-Section on Lori to deliver the baby without Hershel. In a stroke of brilliance, she comes up with the idea to practice technique on the body of a female walker to get better acquainted with the anatomy. It's an interesting solution to a very practical problem. During Carol's sequence with the walker, we see that someone else is watching the survivors from the other side of the fence.

Some nice trimming to this episode is Carl proving himself to be worth more than just walker bait as he manages to find the infirmary and bring back medical supplies that ultimately save Hershel's life. Of course Lori is there to chastise him for his recklessness. Lori gets hers in the end as she and Rick have a private one on one where she says things that makes me believe she's been reading the memes about her on the internet. Rick leaves her with some confusing lines, not clarifying just where their marriage stands.

This episode moved in a much better direction than the opening and I'm happy with how they're stepping up the pace. I was worried Hershel's leg was going to become this season's Sophia, eating up time that could be better spent with the characters. Rick got some time to shine as a strong leader by proving he'll do what it takes to keep the group alive and safe. This episode was much stronger for the characters and hopefully the show will keep moving in this direction.

Jon:  Sorry, everyone. I'm running behind this week. My two cents will be added on this episode soon though! (updated: 10/29/12) -- Magus, you nailed it. The real horror of The Walking Dead-verse are the other survivors, not the zombies plaguing the land. And it makes me so happy the show is getting back to that concept, one it didn't ignore last season but surely did not emphasize either. As, as we'll see soon enough, a handful of isolated prisoners are the least of their worries.

"Sick" was pretty action-laden episode (as Magus described above), and because of that there's only so much I'm able to delve into.

What we do need to talk about for a few moments, however, is Rick's continued slide into dictator mode. That's probably not the best term to use for it since "dictator" comes along with such negative connotations, but the forceful decisiveness is exactly what this group of survivors needs right now. And, at least for the moment, the others seem content with deferring to his judgement. After the experience on the farm where he tried to let others have a say, one can hardly blame him for wanting to take control when his decisions led to far better results than the others' had.

All that said, I was still very surprised by just how quick and resolute his decision-making has become. The lead prisoner was certainly going to be a problem, but based on the show's precedent, I figured he'd be causing trouble for another week or two. However, after a hard seven or so months on the run since last season ended and the refocused Rick emerged, that now appears to be a foolish assumption on my part. This version of Rick has no time to let a bad seed flower.

His ability to make a hard choice definitively finally bled into his marriage with Lori, which at this point, seems all but officially over. If something is to happen to Carl, you gotta wonder if there'd be any way to bring Rick back from the brink. It's the right mode for him to be in in order to survive while out among the walkers, but I fear it'll be a very lonely place for him to stay in.

Aside from Rick's further journeys into isolation, I also loved the little off-camera adventure Carl had to acquire some medical supplies elsewhere in the prison on his own. Last year, that jaunt of his probably would've eaten up about a third of an episode while just barely avoiding getting bitten at the end, so it's nice to see the show learning where to focus our attention on the plotlines that are actually interesting.

Since I was behind this time, I've already seen episode number three on the season at this writing and, man... ya'll are in for a treat. Be sure to hit us up later this week; it was my favorite episode of the series in a very long time, so there'll be plenty of great discussion to go around.

Previous roundtables for The Walking Dead season 3: 
Week 1 - "Seed"

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of The Walking Dead from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Magus: I was fairly underwhelmed by the third season opener of "The Walking Dead". While the episode offered a great deal of action and gore, all of the interesting character development and reactions to Shane's death took place over the winter that was completely glossed over. From the opening, it seems that the survivors have been keeping on by jumping from house to house. Somehow they completely missed the prison we saw just behind them in the previous season's finale. Also, Lori is incredibly pregnant now. Also, T-Dog has more dialogue in the first fifteen minutes than he had in all of seasons one and two.

When they finally find the prison, they find it occupied by walkers but not so many that they can't formulate a plan and take the prison yard in short order. At this point we also learn that everyone has been taking target practice over the winter as each person delivers one head shot after another. Having cleared the yard they take a night to gather themselves and give the show what it has so desperately needed; a musical number. We are also treated to a scene of Carol's and Daryl's budding romance, or at least the closest thing either of them are capable of doing to resemble romance. There is no rest for the weary though as Rick informs them that the prison could be a veritable treasure chest of supplies and so now plans are made for taking the interior of the prison. After that, Rick goes off to take watch at the perimeter, alone.

What do you mean all they had was Extra Strength Tylenol?

Before that we learn the fate of Andrea and her mysterious rescuer, Michonne. During the winter they apparently have been doing the same as the other survivors and moving from place to place. However, Andrea has picked up some mysterious illness that is slowly turning her into deadweight and complete bitch to Michonne. But before we can learn too much, we're back at the prison as Rick and a small group take one of the cell blocks. Here we're treated to walkers in riot gear. Considering how difficult they are to take down with weapons, it makes me wonder just how they managed to get bit in the first place, unless they got bit first and then put on the riot gear.

In any case, with the cell block secured, everyone begins moving in and Carl shows some affections in the direction of Hershel's youngest daughter, Beth. Glen and Maggie, covered in gore, can't seem to keep their hands or mouths off of each other in their cell. As everyone else gets settled in and Lori has a conversation with Hershel about her fears of an undead baby, Rick wanders off to find himself a lone nook where he can be alone. We're back with Michonne as she delivers some much needed mystery medicine to Andrea and the two of them get moving, Michonne's walker pets in tow.

Now Rick has decided to lead a group into the interior of the prison in search of food and supplies. What follows is a standard maze with flashlight sequence that ends in Glen and Maggie getting separated from the group by walkers and a walker getting a leg up on old Hershel. After some impromptu surgery by rick with a hatchet, it's revealed that the dead aren't the only ones in the prison as we see several inmates behind chain-link.

God, I miss cable TV.

I know all of this sounds awesome and it was certainly an action-packed episode with lots of walkers and walker slaying, but it feels like we missed a lot of interesting character stuff with the winter having been skipped over. Also, it seems problematic that they were just wandering around in the same area without running into the prison sooner considering how close they were to it. The big thing for me is that the discovery they are all already infected, that they are all walkers just waiting to happen, should change the way these people relate with each other and the larger world. "The Walking Dead" are not the walkers, they are the humans left to live and eventually die. Maybe they'll get around to that this season. Here's hoping.

Jon: I may be in the minority on this one, but I'm gotta admit that was the most enjoyable episode of The Walking Dead since season 1. Magus, you're 100% correct in your assessments of where the show missed the mark, but I still have to give this episode props for turning in one hell of an upgrade over what we had most of last season. Gone is the farm, home of the long-winded, repetitive conversation. Now as they roam the open road, we check in on the gang on what we later learn is just another unsuccessful home invasion they engage in as they remain just one step in front of the zombie herd. Hopefully this season will give the smaller band of characters more conflict from without and within. Look, I have to admit I don't particularly like any of these characters on a personal level, so I really enjoyed the wordless cold open as much as for not having to listen to them blather on too long about something uninteresting as I did the general bad-assery.

Okay, that's not true. I like the Maggie/Glenn pairing and root for the two of them to not get mauled by walkers. Plus, I'm very happy the show has allowed Maggie to graduate in it's time jump to bad-ass woman of the group now that Andrea's separated from them. I found her to be far more effective as the ass-kicking female of the team this week than Andrea ever was. But we also saw she's plenty unsure of herself still and scared of these zombies as much as ever.

Meanwhile, after a steady downward spiral in character choices, I really like the direction Rick is taking. He's not completely in my good graces yet, but I for one respect his tyrannous leadership of the the group that he implemented at the end of season 2. When all they scrounge up to eat is a skimpy owl and two cans of dog food during that abandoned house raid, Rick hurdles the dog food away from Carl. Even as desperate as they are for food, he's not ready to reduce them to eat that food source yet. Impracticable? Sure. But that's the kind of attitude they need to keep their spirits up, not that any of the rest of them really seemed to be inspired by it in the moment. Meanwhile, he's finally listened to America and has completely become fed up with Lori as the rest of us are. Bravo, Rick!

Speaking of Lori, I enjoyed her conversion with Hershel in the prison cell. Just the mere mention of a zombie baby devouring her from the inside was enough to give me the serious willies for rest of the night. So much so that I didn't even realize how preposterous that scenario would be until a couple of days after the episode premiered. I know it's possible, but it's certainly rare for a newborn to have teeth at birth, not to mention the lack of muscle strength and Freddy Kruger-esque fingernails, necessary to enact the type of damage Lori was freaking out about. But I sympathize with her in this case; she's surrounded by death and Rick no longer appears interested in comforting her any longer, just securing her safety. But she's placed no higher on the safety list than any one else in the group.

Having not read past the first trade of the comics, I have no idea what's in store with Micchone, but if the massive freakout on my Facebook feed after her introduction at the end of last season was any indication, it's going to be fantastic. How Andrea plays into things with Micchone and when the two of them meet up with the remainder of the group are high on my list.

So even though there are still plenty of flaws with The Walking Dead, I think we're seeing subtle changes from the new creative team (post-Frank Darabont) that point to some serious improvement over last season. In any event, we'll be here each week recapping the show, so stop back in for a reminder of what happened the previous week before you sit down to watch the new episode each Sunday.

If you liked our The Walking Dead review this week, we've also been taking a look at the most recent seasons of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Check them out!

Aw, hell naw!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Say My Name"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Jon: Okay, first things first. This episode will be etched in my memory forever. I've never thought I could be so moved by a television show. But, OMG, you guys! Bacon-banana cookies? GOOD LAWRD, those sound delicious! How have I lived life for this long and never been mentally stimulated by such wonderment?!?! Oh, yeah. There was that other thing -- our favorite hitman, Mike, went to the big meth lab in the sky (c'mon, there's a freaking spoiler warning right at the top; don't complain). More about that in a bit.

Mike and I have talking a lot these past few weeks about just how downright unlikable Walter White has become this season. He's manipulated Jesse for his own gains at every turn. He seems not to have anything beyond superficial remorse for the death of the young 14-year-old dirtbike kid two episodes past.
He's essentially imprisoned Skyler in their home. He made poor Saul cower in fear in his own awesome office! And while blowing up a druglord of the level of Gustavo Fring is easily viewed as a triumph on Walt's part, firing a gut shot at an unsuspecting man in moment of blind fury is hardly anything to gloat over.

But in my view, his impromptu assassination of Mike Ehrmantraut was not when Walt blossomed into a straight-up villain. No, that happened during the cold open of this very episode, as he brazenly battled wits in a desert showdown with Declan, the Phoenix-based meth dealer we met last week and who was illustrated to be anything but a pushover (all that was missing was a backing score from Ennio Morricone). That was not Declan going up against Walter White, however. As he made clear to everyone present, Walt was in full-blown Hiesenberg mode. And what made this edition of his Hiesenberg persona so interesting was he wasn't wearing his patented black porkpie hat, which I believe was a first. In earlier seasons, Walt has don the hat whenever he needed an extra little spark to psych himself up through whatever crazy situation he was diving into. This season he's been wearing it much more frequently, often while doing little more than strolling in or out of the lab to get his cook on. In other words he's basically been master physicist Hiesenberg more often than cancer survivor Walt White lately. And now he's become so comfortable in that guise, he no longer requires the porkpie hat to thrust himself into character. He is Hiesenberg now, pure villain. And with LowBrowMedia's roots being a comic book review site, I'd argue that he's now transformed himself into a supervillain. We've seen what that manic mentality has wrought when Mike pushed him too far. There's no telling what atrocity he commits next. And I sincerely doubt he'll be using that massive machine gun we got a glimpse of in the cold open of the season premiere for good. It shall be interesting what unfolds next.

Anyway, plenty of other stuff happened in "Say My Name," but I think you'll find Mike C's recap of events below to be plenty thorough in this post and I'd really just like to get back to Mike E. It was a tragic, furious end to an existence predicated upon detailed planning, calculated action and measured patience, but you'll go up in flames if you allow a supernova like Walt soar into your orbit. Admittedly, Mike's ending was a little obvious once Walt peered into Mike's go-bag and found the gun, but that final sequence was so expertly executed, I have no complaints on how events unfolded. It was beautifully filmed, near-perfect send-off for a beloved character. His blunt one-liners and usually stoic demeanor were a welcome presence any time he appeared on screen ever since. Jonathan Banks' performance of the hitman for hire was masterful ever since we were introduced to him at the tail end of season 2, but I'm not sure he had a more powerful moment on the show than when he had to decide between leaving his granddaughter alone on the playground in order to save himself from assured doom.

RIP, Mr. Ehrmantraut. Breaking Bad won't be the same without you.

Mike: Now, here's what I thought!  I'll more or less keep it sequential:

- So, that was Walt's big plan?  Actually, it was a pretty good one.  Using pure ballsy chutzpah, and costing him only 35% of the take, Walt took care of the business end so he can focus on the science and cooking and manipulation and lying.  After all, Mike's retirement was impending, and they needed a new business partner.  (Little did we know that the aforementioned retirement was going to be so permanent.  Well, we had suspicions at least.)  And Mike even got a severance package to help keep the Gus Fring Nine out of the DEA office confessional for at least a little while longer.  If I were Walt, I'd be careful not to play the "I killed Gus" card too often, or else he's going to find himself with an identical target on his back.  He'll probably need some pretty heavy artillery to back himself up in that kind of situation, huh?

- Walt being so dismissive of Jesse at every turn this episode was just awful.  For one thing, Jesse is the closest thing that he has to a friend -- that is to say, he is a good friend to Walt, not the other way around.  If you allow a friend's girlfriend to choke to death, guilt them into breaking up with their next girlfriend, force them to kill, and otherwise constantly put their life and livelihood at risk.  Jesse, to a dangerous degree, has forgiven Walt every time he has pushed his luck too far.  After all, we need to remember that Jesse's family has disowned him, especially after the whole buying his aunt's house out from under them thing.  So, his heartfelt, familial respect for "Mr. White" and "Mrs. White" as well is one of the only assets that Walt has to work with these days.  But as is typical for Walt, there is a line, and he pushes Jesse right past that like when be brushes aside Jesse's wishes to get out of the meth business one too many times.  What could possibly bring them back together?  It doesn't take long.  It's probably the only thing that could do it, and that's Mike Ehrmantraut needing something.

- But first, how about that burgeoning meth chef, Todd?  I knew that Walt either can't or won't cook alone.  And by all appearances, Todd seems to be an eager, bright young man who has a good head for the amphetamine biz.  He even refuses to be paid until he gets it right!  Walt is eating this up, and even tries to share his delight with this new team-up at the dinner table with Skyler.  (She leaves the table in the middle of his sentence, huge glass of wine in tow.)  I keep going back to Todd's comment last week about his relative in prison for some reason, though.  It was probably nothing, but really, Walt doesn't even know this kid.  He's only training him because he has no partners left.  They didn't come up through chemistry class together like he and Jesse.  Todd doesn't have a firmly developed criminal code like Mike.  He's a cipher so far.  A cipher with a little notepad that contains the instructions on how to cook 99% pure blue meth.  We'll see if Todd ends up helping or hurting Walt in the end.  For now, though, he's been extremely useful in at least three situations that I can think of.

- I'm loving that every time we listen in to Hank's office bug, he's dealing with the boring minutiae of high-level police work that isn't often glorified -- filling out forms, making fundraiser calls, griping about food.  It was too bad that Walt had to pull the weepy brother-in-law act again and remove the tap from the office.  At which point he witnesses something that is probably the beginning of the end: Gomie telling Hank that they flipped Mike's lawyer.

- Losing millions of dollars to the DEA once has got to sting.  Twice, though?  OUCH!

- Jon's covered Mike's death pretty well already.  I'll just say this -- Mike was dead the moment he threw his hat in the ring with Walt.  At first it was definitely for a better cause, but as time went on, he had to know that he was just digging his own grave.  I guess this can be a lesson for all of us.  Especially when embarking upon criminal avenues, but also in other situations too, I guess, stay true to your hard-fought and long-held principles or that piece of garbage you aligned yourself with will put a bullet in your gut and leave you to die semi-peacefully along a river.

- Walt stalking back into the frame and across the screen, gun in hand, towards Mike's car was pathetic but also chilling.  These are not the actions of a criminal mastermind.  These are the actions of a child who has not gotten their way.  There aren't too many drug lords out there who engage in this type of behavior.  The reason for that is, they are all either in jail or dead in the desert somewhere.

- I am fascinated to see Walt's followup to this in next week's finale.  Will he take responsibility for what he has done?  Probably not.  But did he have an actual self-realization at the water's edge?  I'm sure he'll find some way to top his actions this week.  Either way, we are going to have a really unhappy Jesse on our hands.  Perhaps we will see a Jesse/Skyler team-up as a result.  Only one way to tell -- see you next week!

Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"
Week 3 - "Hazard Pay"
Week 4 - "Fifty-One"
Week 5 - "Dead Freight"
Week 6 - "Buyout"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Jon: After the shock that "Dead Freight" ended on last week, it was fitting that we began with a wordless, really creepy scene to open this week's episode of Breaking Bad. The atmosphere surrounding Walt, Mike and Todd as they barrel-ized the poor 14-year-old and his dirtbike was somber and complimented by a excellently crafted piece of droning music to emphasize the dreary business they had to complete. Meanwhile, Jesse is outside the garage having a smoke, presumably still so shaken from the shooting that he's excused from clean-up duty. Eventually Todd joins him, and acts like murdering a kid is no big whoop. He promptly gets clocked in the eye by Jesse and elicited a fist pump from me (fuck you, Landry!). When we come back, Todd's pleading his case to still be a part of the team. It's no surprise that Jesse wants him gone, but for once Mike and Walt agree on something and vote that he stay since he knows too much and they're not too keen on killing anyone else that night. So, we haven't seen the last of  psychopath Todd or the kid's taranchula in a jar that he's now claimed, probably as a memento of a productive day (and only a bit incriminating with it still being covered in the kid's prints).

Meanwhile, the next day Mike hilariously spots and loses another tail by Gomey and a DEA grunt. He checks in on the bug still broadcasting from Hank's office and realizes there's still a lot of heat on him, channel's Danny Glover, and decides to arrange a buyout of his share of the methylamine by a rival from the Phoenix area to get out of the business all together with a cool $5 million. He gets Jesse on board with his plan and the two try to talk Walt into joining them, but predictably he stubbornly refuses (more on that below). Mike and Jesse have one of those middle-of-the-desert business meetings Breaking Bad loves so much with this new drug lord. He quickly susses out that they have a third partner who isn't selling his share of the 1,000 gallons of methylamine, which means the infamous blue meth will still be out on the streets. This guy is no pushover and only has an interest in purchasing this stuff to get the blue meth out of circulation, so there's no deal until Jesse and Mike can get Walt to sell as well.

Jesse seems to be completely finished with the meth biz at all costs at this point, and goes over to Walt's house in an attempt to change his mind about selling. Now, all this season Walt has been manipulating Jesse into doing what he wants seemingly at will. But not this time. No, he just guilts him into it.

You see, Walt has been highly distressed by this whole methlymine-selling scenario, reduced to sulking in his living room easy chair with little more than a glass of scotch, a houseful of silence and a lifetime of regrets. And those regrets have manifested themselves into where we are today. Walt is haunted by the buyout he took for Gray Matter decades ago; you know, the company he started with Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, who we met way back in season one. You might remember them as the billionaire scientists who offered to pay for his chemo treatments? Well, the details are still unclear but we now know Walt left the partnership for personal reasons. The short-term financial gain then pales in comparison to the torment he puts himself through each week by forcing himself to look at Gray Matter's worth each week. Walt doesn't want to make the same mistake again. Plus, it's become more than that now. Since his family is broken (and that was the whole reason he started down this path in the first place), he claims his motivation to continue cooking is not financial. So if he's not in the money business and not in the meth business (per se), what the hell is he doing it all for? In a bold speech, Walt proclaims he's actually in the EMPIRE business, aka the power biz as we discussed last week. He is trying to build an empire that would rival the one he presumes he would have had if he hadn't taken that buyout all those years ago. The man is going to overdose on power quicker than Jane OD'd on their blue meth.

But then Skyler walks in through the front door, and we're quickly treated to what turned into an awkward dinner of epic proportions. For all the heaviness this episode waded through, this scene was a welcome sight and a great reminder at just how hilarious it can be when it chooses. At the close of the dinner, Walt reveals to Jesse just how bad his home life has become. He knows that's a sad tale but it might not be enough to sway Jesse back to his side, so tells him, "This business is all I have left. And you want to take it away from me." That's probably enough for the good-hearted Jesse, who thinks so highly of Walt still, to get back on his side.

Later, Walt arrives at the gang's headquarters to swipe his share (if not all) of the methylamine. Mike anticipates this and holds him hostage in the office for the rest of that night. However, Mike has an appointment with Saul and Hank at the DEA and leaves Walt zip-tied to an old-school radiator while he attends it. This gives Vince Gilligan and company another opportunity to flex their creative science muscles as Walt hatches an escape plan by using the live wires from a coffee pot to melt the plastic cuff holding him down. (A quick side note: I usually am all for the utilization of crazy science to help Breaking Bad characters get in and out of their pickles, but this time the lack of common sense in lieu of creating drama bothered me a bit. I'd think placing the wire on the other side of the zip tie against the radiator would be the safer option, preventing him from burning himself. But electrocuting plastic that also will hurt your main character exemplifies just how desperate he was to free himself, so for drama purposes, the higher stakes made sense. The only reason I can come up with as to why this wouldn't have worked is the metal coils would have conducted the electricity and thus become an even greater hazard than the severe burn on Walt's wrist. Obviously, I have no idea if this is the case, and the show made no attempt to explain Walt's decision, so all I'm left with is speculation.) And just like that, Walt is back on the streets causing mayhem once more.

So while we watched Saul work his magic on Hank and Gomey, our newly freed Walt managed to move all the methylamine in addition to talking Jesse into backing him up once all is revealed to Mike. And we'll just have to tune in next week to see if everyone wins, as Walt asserts with Mike's pistol pressed against his temple.

All relatively straight-forward stuff, don't 'cha think? Speaking of which, that's been one thing I've noticed this year -- there's not much to analyze on this show. Maybe I just got spoiled with Mad Men a few months ago, but I really expected to be able to delve into BB with more gusto. Obviously this is our first crack at examining the show week by week here at LowBrowMedia, but I've always felt previous seasons were overloaded with talking points. This being the final season may explain that since everything has to start coming to a conclusion, but everyone's motives are basically laid out for us right now and I'm finding it difficult to drum up subjects worthy of great discussion. It's still an excellent show, but perhaps it's not rife for deep analysis as I had led myself to believe it to be.

So, what say you, Mike (and fellow blue-meth heads)? Is everything merely as it seems, or is your old pal Jon just missing something incredibly obvious in these first eight eps?

Mike: Well, in answer to your last paragraph, I think a lot of the problem lies in the fact that, although they do have certain things in common, in that they are both extremely high quality shows on the same network, "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" are two completely different shows.  I think the case could be made that "MM" is more of an English major's paradise, pregnant with undercurrent and symbolism, while "BB" is a little more of an open book.

That said, as I often say, I hope I never have to choose, at gunpoint, whether "MM" or "BB" is the better show.  For as much as I love the unpredictable, black-humored, breakneck crime noir that "BB" has become, I also hesitate to say that I enjoy it more than the pointillist, character-focused short story narrative that is "MM" at its best.

Which also isn't to say that I don't enjoy writing about both shows!  Speaking of, here goes for episode six of this season:

- I agree, it was a great cold open this week.  I knew what was going to happen next, but I still gasped a little bit as the small, cold hand was uncovered in the dirt.  That's some pretty great all-purpose acid they've got access to, huh?  Disposes of a metal and plastic dirt bike just as cleanly and completely as human remains. 

- Todd, Todd, Todd.  What are we going to do with you?  Oh, cool.  Sure, that works -- we'll just keep you on.  Yeah, he deserved that punch from Jesse, and also that neck grab from Mike, but I still maintain that he made the best, most pragmatic, business-positive decision last episode.  (What I should probably underscore is that, of course, it really doesn't make it morally right in my book.)  But that's not the business they're in.  Every stage of this thing, from precursor fluid to blue meth in some poor junkie's bloodstream is based on hurting someone.  There are no winners here, as Walt is getting closer and closer to finding out.  I mean, he is, right?  That's the only way that we can interpret the opening sequence from the season premiere?  Right?

- Okay, a pretty obvious thing I'm going to say anyway: I think this meth competitor/precursor buyer is going to be nothing but trouble.  And would it have killed Mike to doctor the numbers a bit so that it wasn't so obvious that Walt was being a stick in the mud?  Well, it will probably end up killing Mike in the end, one way or the other.  I hope it doesn't happen, but I have had a theory since the season premiere that Mike won't survive this half-season.  He had a good run.

- I agree with Walt.  I think a year, maybe a year and a half is a reasonable amount of time before doing any soul-searching.

- Some great Skyler stuff this episode, which also continued to make my stomach ache for all the tension in just about every scene she's in.  I mean, can't she just chill out for one minute?  Yeah, it made for some pretty impressive, and -- again, agreed! -- much-needed comedy during the meeting Jesse again for the first time and dinner party scenes.  Was the last time Jesse was even on Skyler's radar when she came over to his house and yelled at him for being Walt's pot dealer in the first season?  Either way, I just loved when Jesse was bug-eyed, taking the longest sip of water ever captured on film.  And whatever DID happen to truth in advertising?  It's interesting to see that, as I've mentioned before, Walt is essentially living a lie in most aspects of his life, which is in turn enabling him to be more truthful in his relationships with Skyler and Jesse, however painful that might be.

- Speaking of the lines he's feeding Jesse about building his empire, as I've just implied, I think he's being more or less completely truthful for perhaps the first time with Jesse.  (It just hit me -- in a reversal of the usual scenario, it's Jesse that needs to convince Walt to do something that he wants.)  I wonder when the not-so-subtle shift from simply providing for his family to nascent emperor Walt happened.  If I had to hazard a guess, it would probably be around the time the last emperor had half his face blown off and this kind of thing became even a distant possibility.

- Jon, if memory serves, I'm pretty sure in the episodes with Gretchen had at least a pretty heavy implication that she left a personal relationship with Walt for one with their business partner, and that was what resulted in him leaving the company.  So, of course, it wasn't quite as cut-and-dry as he's making it seem to be here, but just using a bit of the truth to make Jesse second-guess himself.  A classic Walter White-brand manipulation!

- I also loved the interaction between Mike and Walt at the end of the episode, and then Walt's "MacGyver"-esque escape from radiator confinement.  Though it was on a much smaller scale than last week, I was left just as breathless after this scene, and winced right along with Walt as he singed his wrist with arcing electricity.  After yet another hilarious meeting with Saul, Gomie, and Hank, Mike has 24 hours with the law off his tail, so he can get out of this mess for good.  What excellent timing that the now free, and now-precursor possessing Walt has a plan to get everyone their money and also keep everyone happy.  What could possibly go wrong?

- Favorite one-liner of the week: "I've never seen anybody work so hard not to get five million dollars."

See you next time!

Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"
Week 3 - "Hazard Pay"
Week 4 - "Fifty-One"
Week 5 - "Dead Freight"

Monday, August 20, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Fifty-One" & "Dead Freight"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Mike:  First off, my thoughts about “Fifty-One”:

- Walt’s trademark Aztek is now history!  Well, as I was just researching it, I see that various internet authorities list the Pontiac Aztek as either one of the 100, 50, or 10 worst cars of all time.  But because we had such a blast in Walt’s increasingly cruddy vehicle, it’s easy at least for me to overlook its hideous shape and brand-destroying reputation.  I mean, remember when Walt got in an auto accident on purpose so that Hank wouldn’t find out about the drug lab?  Good times.  In moving on from his clearly cheesy and uncool vehicle, in his mind he’s putting aside the “old Walt” and living his life -- what's left of it, at least -- to the fullest.  But what happened to being cautious of even having an expensive wine bottle in the trash?  Certainly, the whole leasing angle is one way to deflect suspicion, but Hank the bloodhound is at the height of his powers here.  The car wash may be successful, sure, but all it should take is a stray thought or two.  After all, this is the guy who suspected Lydia, correctly, solely on the basis of her mismatched shoes.  Hank hasn’t made a mistake yet in his investigation of the mysterious Heisenberg, except perhaps being a little too trusting of his curmudgeon of a brother-in-law, but then again, neither has Walt.  (Yet.)

 - To go along with that, Walt Jr.’s Charger is back!  And this one probably won’t get detonated in a parking lot, either.  I’d say that getting the two sports cars is a bold move, and one that more or less shines a huge spotlight on the fact that Walt doesn’t really care what Skyler thinks anymore.  Sure, he’s creepily putting the moves on her every night, and is playing the part of the loving but put-upon husband with their relatives, but at least for now, she is no longer a player in this game.  I’ll get more into this in a bit, but I’ve got to say that this week I was thinking a lot about the vial of poison that Walt has hidden in the walls of his family’s house.  If, God forbid, Holly doesn’t somehow ironically stumble upon it, then I have a feeling a certain person who has recently taken up indoor chain-smoking will soon be the recipient of a very special cigarette indeed.

- Oh, man, Skyler breaking up Walt’s birthday bacon.  I really hope that I am never the focus of the level of spousal disgust that our birthday boy received from his dead-faced, barren-souled wife the morning of his fifty-first birthday.  Though he is painting himself as the victim here to anyone and everyone who notices, with Skyler as the birthday party-ruining future mental patient, the thing is, it’s more or less factual.  Skyler is at the end of her rope here.  As Walt accuses her, and she agrees, there is no plan.  At the end of her and Walt’s little discussion in this episode, she has more or less given herself over to him, to be used as he wishes.  The only stipulation is that their children are no longer in the picture.  If Walt was as shrewd and calculating a businessman as he thinks he is, he would see what a great, pragmatic deal this is.  Not to mention that Skyler is correct about the danger of either of their children being allowed anywhere near their house.  At least, of course, until the timer ticks down and Walt’s cancer finally does him in.  What a brilliant, cold as ice, nightmare-inducing scene this last one was for me.

- With Hank’s new position as head of the ABQ DEA, it remains to be seen if he will still be able to indulge himself with his search for the elusive Heisenberg.  The agent who temporarily replaced Hank’s boss seems to think that it’s case closed, or if not, it should be soon.  Of course, since Hank will essentially be the boss now, I suppose that he could find some justification for a task force to be formed if he looked hard enough.  The return of blue methamphetamine to the streets is one pretty solid clue that Heisenberg wasn’t Gale Boetticher after all, but Hank is risking a lot reputation-wise if he puts himself out on a limb with a huge investigation at this point.  If Hank is good at anything, though, it’s pulling at loose strings and seeing what comes to light, so there will be more to come on this point, I'm sure.

- A personal note: when this episode was over, I went upstairs and gave my wife a hug.  The plan was for me to watch both episodes the same night, but I just needed a break.  I didn’t sleep too well that night.

And here’s what I thought about “Dead Freight”:

- Anyone else think that Walt’s new watch, though certainly an extremely thoughtful gift from Jesse, could end up being the thing that does him in?  If he brings it up one more time with Skylar, that only brings to the forefront yet again how he’s bragging about people wanting to kill him all the time.  And the eagle-eyed detective Hank definitely took notice in their meeting at the beginning.

 - I didn’t mention this in the first half of my write-up this week, but I’m really intrigued by the position that Jesse keeps finding himself in, between the two powerhouses of Mike and Walt, and often in relation to the unreliable, radioactive Lydia.  When Lydia discovers the GPS unit on the bottom of the precursor barrel, Jesse buys her story, but Mike sees it as the result of a long-running pattern of behavior that he now intends to put an end to.  Walt could go either way, it turns out, but both men are men bending their colder instincts as a result of their association with Jesse.  And even though it turns out that Jesse is right after all, I get the distinct impression that the elder partners in this business relationship would rather that they were done with Lydia once and for all.  And business-wise, that definitely makes more sense.  She’s just a liability right now.  Her usefulness, after any train heist inside info is no longer relevant, is negligible at best.  And I think as time goes on, a lot of things are going to have to be decided solely on the basis of their validity, business-wise.  And that’s the smart, if not humane, way to play it.

- Which is actually a pretty nice segue to what everyone is surely talking about this week: the ending of this episode!  We know that Todd, the young go-getter from the pest squad, has shown dedication and promise.  What we didn’t know was that he has the uncanny ability to assess a situation, and act in the most prudent, efficient manner to take care of that situation.  (Side note: who else was so on the edge of their seat from the big heist setpiece of this episode that they forgot about the enigmatic teaser at the beginning of the episode?  Well, me, for one.)  Now, as a result of Todd acting on his own here (or, as, I’m sure, Walt and Jesse are going to be explaining to Mike) there are going to be some pretty serious consequences.

- All of the sudden, Jesse, the idea man, and Walt, the brilliant strategist who’s always got a plan, are presented for the first time (post-Fring, at least) with a true x-factor, completely outside of their control.  If some homeless vagrant wandering the desert disappears, that’s something that might get some media attention, and then it will blow over, assuming that the body is able to be disposed of with enough care.  But this is an otherwise innocent kid who is, I assume, going to be going missing.  There are going to be search parties, and community vigils, and police involvement.  This is a huge deal.

- In the coming episodes, we are really going to see the stuff that our favorite meth crew antiheroes are made of -- what kind of leader Walt really is, if Jesse is really going to have a conscience, if Mike is going to tolerate this kind of garbage for one more second before wisely hitting the bricks out of town.  And what will happen to Todd?  Again, looking at it from a practical perspective, he made the right call.  There is literally no other way to handle the situation that would make sense and maintain the anonymity and tracelessness of their plan.  You can’t pay a kid off and get him to leave town.  You can’t kidnap him or scare him off.  I mean, it’s possible that the kid might have gone on his way and thought nothing of what he may or may not have just witnessed.  But in the meth game, there is no room for that kind of variable.

 - Jesse isn’t necessarily going to agree with that line of reasoning, though.  I have a crazy feeling that the next episode is going to pick up seconds after the end of this one.  I’ve got a sick feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.  I can’t wait to see it.

Jon: Since Mike's already did a wonderful job of laying out all the key events in "Fifty-One" and "Dead Freight," plus we're super late with this recap (totally my fault!), I'm just going to dive right in and talk about the good stuff, of which there was plenty. Together, these two episodes encompass what I love about this show: nuanced character development excised with stage-worthy performances and intense, well-crafted action that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Week 4 brought us an hour light on action, but bursting with individual character moments and evolutions. Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper and last year's great Breaking Bad episode "The Fly") returned to the director's chair for"Fifty-One" and his fingerprints are all over it. There are top-notch performances from everyone, but special kudos must go to Anna Gunn for her scenes this time out because this was a Skyler episode. I've never been much of a big fan of her work on the show, but her dead-eyed blankness of late is perfectly rendering Skyler's feelings of dread to the audience. The pool sequence was a highlight for both Gunn and Johnson, and having reached her breaking point, Skyler has at least for the time being given in to much of Walt's demands. But she'll not have the kids near him or the house until things changed and she's declared an open rebellion on him until further notice. And, oh my, has that been fun to watch thus far or what? Gotta love it when she sits in the living room puffing away on cigarette after cigarette and starts ashing in Walt's happy 51st b-day mug.

Meanwhile, the highlights the following week were all action and suspense, and some of the very best Breaking Bad has ever delivered. The homefront scenes with Walt Jr... er, Flynn were a little on the weak side, but when your antiheroes decide to rob a train in the most fantastic locomotive heist scene in television history later in the episode, you can let that slide a bit.

I love that Jesse once again is the impetus for another crazy, science-based caper (liquid, bitch!). And Walt's continuous ability to push the envelop into the danger zone was maddening. Really, every moment of that long heist was amazing; total edge-of-your-seat work by all involved. And then that last scene. Man. There's just no way not to be totally devastated by that, is there? But that too was great on many levels. Just another example of why this show is such a must-watch each week.

And, Mike, here's where you and I differ a little bit. Yes, Todd may have arrived at the same conclusion the group would've ultimately come to in his split-second decision in the episode's closing moments, but shit, bro -- that's cold! Jesse may have a mild reaction compared to what I was going through after watching that. I can't go as far as you and chalk that little guy up to a mere casualty of the meth biz. I was completely floored when it happened; blood boiling and all. It was the most shocked I'm been by this show since Jane's sudden demise back in season 2. Now, a lot of that had to do with my perception of Jesse Plemmons from FNL (here was my initial reaction), but it was still shocking nonetheless. How the group deals with Todd's actions is going to be fascinating because I have no clue how it will all shake out. Does Todd meet a quick end? Will Jesse turn him in to the authorities? Does Walt protect him, keeping him as his new little henchman? So many possibilities.

Speaking of possibilities, I don't think I've made any wild predictions for things to come later this season thus far in our recaps, but I'm in the mood to do so in another area this time around. I was especially intrigued by Walt and Lydia's exchange as Jesse and Mike waited up above. I'm probably grasping at straws here, but with his marriage souring by the hour, Walt seems poised to make for a romantic push at some point soon. He got into cooking in order to provide for his family, but that's falling apart and he's clearly more interested in obtaining more power than he is merely profiting from his criminal activities these days. If Skyler is able to keep brushing his advances aside, I could totally see him making a move on Lydia. She'll obviously only have any interest in him in terms of saving her own skin, but if she continues to play the "brilliant chemist" card she flashed in "Dead Freight," I can see Walt taking the next step toward her. Sexual conquest is one of the few power trips Walt hasn't realized as he's descended further into his Heisenberg persona. Like I said, I'm grasping at straws; but a boy can dream, can't he?

Anyway, we'll be back soon and plan to return to the old schedule for the last handful of eps for the first half of this final season. Til next time...

Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"
Week 3 - "Hazard Pay"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust [2011]

Choke Hold is the follow up to 2008's Money Shot (probably my favorite of the many Hard Case Crime titles I've devoured), in which we met Angel Dare -- an ex-porn star perpetually mixed up in an underworld loaded with shady lowlifes, gruesome violence and rampaging sex. That alone may sound like this is just a piece of hollow trash, but it's anything but. Faust's creation of Angel Dare is nuanced with compelling inner turmoil and surrounded by virtually non-stop action.

(Before I go any further, I implore you to check out Money Shot first; not only will it make this book more enjoyable, it is unquestionably one of the most-fun page-turners I've consumed in the past five years.)

We pick up Angel's life a couple of years after the events of the last novel, and she has been forced by those rascally Croatian sex traffickers to escape her dull witness protection existence in the wake of her testimony against them. While working as waitress to secure a high-quality fake ID in an Arizona diner, one night in walks "Thick" Vic Ventura, an old boyfriend and former co-star, for a meet-up with his long-estranged 18-year-old son. Shortly after Angel and Vic briefly reacquaint themselves, a gaggle of seemingly random punks pour into the diner and litter the joint with bullets. Vic is hit in the mayhem, and Angel and his son, Cody, jet him out of there. She and Cody enlist the help of his washed-up MMA champion and current mentor in the further adventures as they enlist the help of a host on unsavory characters and try to out-run various other murderous thugs, European mobsters and no-good wenches.

This is a bleaker novel than the first, but I don't mean that as a criticism. Gone is the glitzy (at least on the surface) porn world setting of Los Angeles. It's replacement is the underbelly of the mixed martial arts circuit, and the dilapidated Southwest and northern Mexican landscape. Angel is at a lower place throughout this novel than in much of Money Shot, and her surroundings mirror that state. Faust never gives the reader time to pause for long in Choke Hold, as any quiet moments are fastidiously dispensed with by some sort of new and unexpected danger. But those lower-paced scenes give insight to an individual seeped in insecurity and intimacy issues, making lasting relationships hard to come by. By the end, you're left wanting even more Angel Dare. Here's hoping this isn't the last we've seen of her.

By the way, in case you're unaware, Hard Case Crime is a cool publisher that debuted a few years back. Their titles are a mix of reprints of old, often-obscure pulp novels (from people such as  and new releases (like ones from Faust). All are chosen for a reason -- they're really fucking good. However, tough times in the publishing world have led to challenges for the imprint, and they went on hiatus from releasing new books for a while. Choke Hold was among the first released after they had reorganized, and some obvious changes for readers occurred, namely the book is physically larger. Admittedly, I prefer the old mass-market size and format of the books (not to mention the slightly lower cover price), but at least the trade paperback offers a larger display to show off that amazing cover art. All-in-all, they provide a really nice package for a reasonable price. Check out more of them if you dig this one as much as I did.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Hazard Pay"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Jon: Another solid installment of our favorite chefs this time out, but in terms of episode recapping, nothing enormous happened in week 3; mostly this was just table-setting for what I'm sure will be typical Breaking Bad craziness later on this season. What I mean by that is there was lots of minutia on how Walt and Jesse will be cooking their blue meth for the foreseeable future. Great to watch, but not that interesting to talk about, really. The gist of it is they're going to forgo having a traditional laboratory, and instead will employ a roving lab temporarily set up in pest-infested homes with the help of shady Terminx-type dudes. Frankly, it's a pretty ingenious plan and severely reduces the chances of their getting busted, but there does seem that it's only a matter of time before a cockroach or other vermin may contaminates a batch at some point. I'm sure hilarity will ensue if that comes to pass.

One moment of significance did occur during the cook, when Walt continued with his manipulative ways while the two were waiting for the meth to finish cooking. After seeing how close Jesse and Andrea were becoming again earlier in the episode (a scene that also contained the most awkward stare imaginable between Brock and his poisoner), Walt convinces Jesse under the guise of fatherly advice about commitment to break it off with her to further his own interests, all while making Jesse believe it was his idea in the first place. The cook turns out to be a successful one, and the two seem pleased with themselves after they leave the tented house.

Getting back into production has generated their cashflow once more, but the total is not to Walt's liking. Mike divvies up the mullah in plain sight  of all and, by the end, there is less than half left of what Walt thought he was going to get to take home. He and Jesse's product yield is lower than it was while working out of Gus' lab, plus they have tons of overhead now in paying off Saul, dug mules and "legacy" members (aka the 9 of the 11 guys left Lydia was trying to off last week), which lowers their payday considerably. Walt had not considered either of these factors when their payday arrives. After making his displeasure known, Mike responds with the line of the season thus far: "Just because you shot Jesse James, doesn't make you Jesse James." It looks as though Walt will try to find a way to usurp Mike's authority once he figures out a method of replacing what he brings to the group, which is basically everything aside from the actual product.

Meanwhile, on the homefront, Skyler continues to veer off the deep end of sanity. Just when she thinks things can't get any worse than they already are, they do. The culprit this week? Walt's moving back into the house unannounced. This leads to a scene at the car wash at Marie (hey, remember her?) where Skyler officially snaps, screaming "SHUT UP!" repeatedly. This had the rare effect of actually getting Marie to stop talking for 10 seconds. She takes Skyler home to sleep off her panic attack and waits for Walt to return from cooking. When he finally arrives, she's ready to let him have it and get to the bottom of what's going on with her sister. But Walt turns the tables on her quickly. I don't think he actually lied about anything during this exchange. He just dropped a hint here and there, and let Marie's imagination do the rest. Next thing you know, he's out of her line of sight and she'll focus her well-intentioned but ultimately misguided wrath at Skyler instead.

Of course the big news of the week was introduction of Lance... er, I mean, Landry from Friday Night Lights! Better known in the real world as Jesse Plemmons, he'll be playing Todd, who will... well, I don't know yet, but he'll do something memorable before long. And for those you unfortunate folks that have not treated yourselves to FNL, you are going to be pleased by what he's able to bring to a scene. He's one of the pest-control burglars, capable of spotting and disabling nanny cams. In other words, he could be useful to Walt.

For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to books, movies, shows, etc., where the criminal is, if not the hero of the story, the focus of the it. It's one of the many reasons I enjoy Breaking Bad as much as I do. But one movie I have never gotten around to seeing is Brian De Palma's Scarface with Al Pacino from 1983. And even though I haven't seen it, basically everyone knows it's the story of the rise to power and thunderous collapse of a drug lord. So deep into this week's episode when an increasingly horror-stricken Skyler walks into the living room to find Walt watching the end of the movie with their two children (yes, including their little baby girl), I couldn't help but connect Walt and his big bad machine gun we saw in the season premiere's cold open to a coke-infused drug kingpin Tony Montana blowing the shit out of everything in his sight. Obviously their paths are incredibly different, but each season we've seen Walt come closer to becoming the top dog in the southwestern U.S. meth landscape. Judging by his continued displeasure with his current situation, it stands to reason he'll keep cutting through anyone in his way until he's able to call all the shots. Any guesses as to which person will Walt's little friend be saying hello to in the coming weeks?

Mike:  Here’s my take, in conveniently hyphenated bite-sized bullet thought points!

- Mike Ehrmantraut, the hardest-working man in “loss prevention,” is really hustling this entire episode.  That’s the thing about him, though.  He knows exactly what needs to happen, and he’s got a plan as to how to accomplish that.  This is, of course, due to his many years on the job doing things that required some pretty fancy footwork in order to keep everything running.  So, if I was in business with him, I would pretty much let him do his thing.   Walt’s already got a problem with letting Mike handle the business, simply because he apparently thinks that he can do better.  Well, he’s done fine so far, but only through an incredibly disproportionate dumb-luck-to-smarts ratio. If he takes Mike out, as he’s getting ready to manipulate Jesse into getting behind by the end of the episode, we’ll just have to see how smoothly this whole operation will run.

- That said, I’ve got to wonder about the whole process of making the former employees of Gus Fring “whole.”  To me at least, it seemed as if it was presented to Walt like an ongoing concern.  I can’t help but wonder if Walt might have handled the bad financial news better if they looked it as a loan that needed to pay off, and then profits would be back up to a higher level.  Now, something like $20 million in makegoods (by my calculations, there are 12 people on the list including Mike’s granddaughter, minus the two dead guys from last week, multiplied by $2 million a piece) is nothing to sneeze at.  But at least it’s a goal to move towards.  I can imagine that seeing those stacks of bills get decimated as each piper gets paid has got to hurt.

- But Walt has to keep the long view.  (OR DOES HE?)  It just doesn’t make sense that Walt wouldn’t see the wisdom in Mike’s business sense.  (OR DOES IT?)  Maybe, just maybe, Walt doesn’t really see much of a future for himself.  But then, if his cancer is back, as I honestly and truthfully do believe it is, what is he working towards?  It can’t be as “pure,” relatively speaking, as it was when he started out.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing and hearing more on this during that big 51st birthday celebration that his wife and sister-in-law are planning for him.  We’ve all seen how Walt likes to celebrate poolside with his family -- drunk, swaggering, and belligerent.

- Man, oh, man.  Though Walt and Jesse’s plan for using a series of about-to-be-fumigated houses to cook meth is pretty brilliant, the image that has stuck with me all week is the fumes being ventilated right near the kids’ swingset.  Wasn’t Jesse in trouble a few seasons ago because, essentially, once you use a house to cook meth in, it leaves poisonous residue, and renders the house unlivable, or at the very least extremely dangerous to live in?  Just another way that Walt infests and kills everything around him.  Just think, who could have foreseen that just because he watched a young woman OD/choke to death, a devastating plane crash would occur which would affect the entire community?  The dominoes, I believe, are stacking up and are going to fall down hard.

- The series of scenes where Saul took Jesse, Mike, and Walt to all the prospective meth cooking sites was wonderful.  Poor Saul, he’s working so hard for these guys.  Would it be so bad to say “thanks” once in a while?  Just look at these knuckleheads, working together for the common good:

 - A lot of favorite incidental characters reappared for the first time this season, too.  Skinny Pete shows some business acumen, while Badger seems to have been correctly nicknamed, if badgers are lumpy, dense, and oafish.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure they’re not.)  I still haven’t mentioned the return of Saul’s bodyguard Huell!  You gotta love all the noise he makes when he breathes.  Finally, as Jon mentions above, we’ve got Jesse Plemons joining the cast this week as an up-and-coming fumigator with an eye for security systems.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what he adds to the mix.

- Also, a lot of movement this week with Jesse's personal relationship, as well as Marie and Skyler butting heads and Walt continuing his truth-telling and gameplaying.  I'm not going to get into them too deeply right now, but these are important things that are going to have huge consequences this season.  Though this was another one of those table-setting episodes in a lot of ways, I’m cool with the table-setting.  I can wait.  I know it’ll be worth it when it all blows up in Walt’s face.

See you next week!

Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"