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Monthly Archives: August 2013

BB-2

 

*****Includes spoilers… sort of******

Like any good American citizen, I’m currently in the process of rewatching Breaking Bad. The dark and intense story of Walter White’s transition from mild-mannered to evil drug kingpen has been an incredibly satisfying and grisly development to sit through.

Upon rewatch, the show is even better but no less uncomfortable; the drug business, after all, is not for the faintest of hearts. While this is indeed the story of “Mr. Chips becoming Scarface”, it’s also a show about the relationship and evolution of Jesse Pinkman: the foul-mouthed brat that started the show taking cues lifestyle cues from XXL and the juggalo lifestyle.
But let’s discuss Walt. It’s hard for me to identify with the thought process behind still rooting for the guy. He’s killed, lied and stolen for selfish reasons (the family excuse is most flimsy), he’s always been an arrogant and condescending asshole who talks down to any and everyone and he’s really just incredibly insufferable and has made everyone’s lives worse (especially Pinkman’s but we’ll get to that). Yet on some level, I get it. Many have pointed out that from the beginning, Walt has never been much of a good guy. He was never evil either, he was just the prototypical embodiment of the spineless “Falling Down” white male constantly frustrated by the life unfairly bestowed on him. It’s the story that’s been told a million times, only here it’s done in a more engrossing way.
Walt’s story may have started as the tale of a man who wanted to provide for his family before his death from lung cancer, but it became the tale about a man’s thirst for power and control. The tale of a man who got to finally profit from his genius the way he always felt he should have. Pretty much every murder or pain he’s taken part in–that wasn’t about protecting himself–has been about holding onto control. The only unselfish murder he committed was to protect Jesse in season 3, otherwise he’s made being a terrible person look natural.  But man has he been fun to watch. All love and respect to Brian Cranston, he went from Malcolm’s dad to Heisenberg and he’s been perfect the whole way through.  The only time Walt was ever unbearable to watch happened in the middle of season 4 but that seemed to be purposeful. Walt may not be someone to root for but he has been a great foil and madmen to watch.
Now Jesse is truly the heartstrings of this show. From his beginnings as a scrappy little punk, Jesse has been through hell and back and has truly shown himself to be nothing more than a kid who’s fucked up a few times and has no real direction in life. From the day he partnered up with Walter he’s been shot at, beat up and on the verge of death or depression multiple times.  He’s a kid who probably needed just a few more hugs in order to have lived life as a doctor instead of a junkie dealer. He’s in constant search of a father figure or family; he tries to find it in Walter who, to his credit, has stuck by his side thus far but really Walter only needs Jesse because he trusts him and he’s easily manipulated by his bullshit. Any moment where Walt has the chance to treat Jesse like a peer and deal with what’s troubling him is almost always blown so that Walt can instead focus on himself.  After the events of seasons 2 and 3, Jesse realized what kind of person this life has turned him into and it eats at his soul. It’s heartbreaking because Aaron Paul sells it and it’s tragic because it’s an all too familiar tale of ill-conceived loyalty to anyone who’ll give a damn by someone who just wants to be loved.
And that’s where we’re at as we near the end of the series. A man who’s gone into the darkest spaces of the human soul and embraced it and another man who’s gone to the same spaces and just wants to be held. It’s not completely clear how this story will end exactly but it barely matters. What does matter is who these people end up as by the time it’s over and whether or not the things they’ve done will come back to bite them or just haunt them. These last 8 are sure to be intense but when it’s all said and down I’ll miss these characters because of the richness and tragedy of their stories. The dad and the street punk have come a long ways.

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It dawns on me that I haven’t really spent much time talking about Fruitvale Station, the tragic story of Oscar Grant‘s last day before getting killed by the BART officers in Oakland, CA. It’s a hard movie to watch; it’s eerie, grim and will bring anyone with a conscience close to tears. It’s not exactly perfect: there are scenes that feel shoveled in that may not be accurate and a lot of the emotions it elicits have more to the with the actual story (and its relation to the similar death of Trayvon Martin) but it is important, and sometimes an important movie is enough to overcome any shortcomings. Fruitvale Station opened on the weekend George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon. It’s a eerily familiar reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The problem isn’t with the verdict really–based on the mess that is Florida law, there wasn’t really enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of a crime–the problem was the case itself. Rather than address the killing of Trayvon Martin, the case became the story of the scary black teenager who threatened the nice neighborhood watchmen and how, despite being an unarmed kid who weighed less than the MMA-trained watchmen, you would be just as scared too.

What makes Fruitvale important are all the things that shouldn’t make it important. It’s a story that happens too often and will continue to happen. It’s the story of kids who are born suspects and aren’t allowed to make mistakes or grow up to be better men because of the world they live in. A world where a jury declares a man innocent not because of evidence but because they understand his fear.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is interpreted as the story of delving into sin and suffering the repercussions of it. Fair enough; to me though, it’s the story of knowledge. The story of sinking your teeth into what’s really happening in the world around you and finally seeing it for what it is: a complicated, hypocritical mess steeped in violence and power. In Florida right now, you have the Dream Defenders making their voices heard at the governor’s office. You have a post-internet world that deals with racism in the most confrontational, ugly way and you have opinion writers and news personalities engaging and attacking each other in order to prove that their worldview is right. People often say we need to have a discussion on race, but we’ve always been having a discussion on race–and it’s getting louder and louder. It’s rough and hard to swallow at times, yes; but it’s the convo we need. There are people who will justify what’s wrong as there always tends to be but the good will always outweigh them. We are no longer pretending the apple isn’t there hanging from the tree, we’re grabbing it and finally deciding whether to eat it or not (and this is with everything, not just race). There is no place anymore for people like Don Lemon to pretend that being “good negroes” will save us from death. There is no more tolerance for people like Richard Cohen to talk about the justified fear of young black men. Your Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys are nothing more  than passe’ racists yelling at clouds. It’s no longer ok for successful black men like Jay Z to embrace their privilege with arrogance and call their time “charity”. We see the world around us and we can no longer pretend that we don’t.

That’s the world we live in at the time of Fruitvale Station. While this film, by the young, first-time director Ryan Coogler, is a lot of things–warm, lovely, disturbing and actually pretty funny–it’s first and foremost important. It’s the film we need right now to remind us of how much farther we have to go. Who’s bad enough to take a bite.

 

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