Memphis Paul: A Defense of ‘Trophy Wife’ and A Critique of ‘Breaking Bad’ finale

Trophy-Wife

My colleague Paragraph Dan looks to be out on “Trophy Wife”.  This feels like a good choice for Dan.  But I would say this does not mean that “Trophy Wife” is necessarily bad.  One, I would say Dan is less interested in family shows than say comic book adaptations or shows with decapitations.  Two, Dan likes to be entertained from his entertainment whereas I like mind entertainment that takes chances or has a different approach at the risk of being entertaining.

“Trophy Wife” is like “Treme,” a quality show that does not entertain.  A family show that Dan likes, “Modern Family” is entertaining but is not “different”, it is a classic 4 camera sitcom, the jokes are mainly right on the surface and Phil Dunphy mugs at the camera like Carol Bennett.  Rare is the show that entertains and differentiates. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” probably comes closest of the new network shows.

Dan mentions the soccer ball to the groin as being a standard sitcom style joke that occurs in Episode 2.  A similar incident occurs in the pilot, new wife Kate (Malin Akerman) guzzles some vodka to spare new step-daughter from punishment from her mom and acts drunk the rest of the episode.  These plot points are sitcom standards but I feel like the show is putting those incidents out in front to show how this show is a little different in how they are dealt with.

In the “Dads” pilot, there was a phallic text sent to the Asian American character dressed as “Sailor Moon” by a visiting client.  The four male leads gather around the phone to make standard sitcom jokes of what the phallus looks like, a walrus wearing a bowler hat or similar nonsense.  On “Trophy Wife”, when child takes a soccer ball shot to the groin, it is addressed but in the way an embarrassing injury to a child would actually be addressed, with concern, slight mocking and an air that this happens weekly as part of child-rearing, the realistic reaction, not played for laughs.  “Trophy Wife” is not laugh out loud funny because life isn’t…it can be occasionally but more than that and the show would not feel realistic.

Breaking Bad‘ finale

You may say, “I want to be entertained, not observe something realistic.” That is for the best but occasionally a lack of realism can throw a wrench into something that is otherwise thoroughly entertaining…like “Breaking Bad’s” finale.  I would not say it was bad, far from it.  But it was another case of Dan and I having different sensibilities.bee823a69ea045ebb80c92f374051488

Dan really liked the finale.  I had some quibbles that Dan brushed aside.  Basicly, I really liked how the penultimate episode ended things; for me, it would have been the dark feel I would prefer for the end to the show.  It felt bleak but real; while the drug war is unending, the career of the drug dealer is short and violent and ends unhappily.  The “Breaking Bad” finale moves the story to a better place for all the main characters than where the narrative ended in the penultimate episode.

Marie gets to bury her husband, Finn will get money on his 18th birthday, Skylar is given a card to play with her prosecutors, Jesse drives away from the neo-Nazi slave pit with an emotion that Aaron Paul describes as “freedom” on “Talking Bad” and Walt dies but gets to do it his way a la Sinatra.  Walt sees his family, is honest to Skylar, outwits Lydia, kills the Nazis and lovingly caresses his meth lab setup before dying.

The ending was great fan service (and in opposition to the selfish attitudes of the “Difficult Men” showrunners) but the lack of realism combined with a flawless ending got in the way of the enjoyment for me.  The show has always been honest in the storytelling aspects of this action leads to this, and this consequence, and on and on but the lack of realism (Jesse comments on Walt’s incredible luck) bothered me a bit in the finale, where Walt’s plans could crater catastrophically with no more episodes to follow.

5-paragraph review of ‘Breaking Bad’ series finale

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Season 5, Episode 16: “Felina”

Original air date: Sept. 29, 2013

  1. The “Breaking Bad” finale tone is set subtly. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the former high school chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, flees police in New Hampshire and returns to New Mexico to wipe out what he started. He steals a car. He fumbles. He collects himself. He turns the engine over. He pounds the snow-covered driver’s side window. The snow falls off. Heisenberg’s final repose begins now. We next see Walter in the shadows outside the home of his former business partners, Elliott Schwartz (Adam Godley) and Gretchen Schwartz (Jessica Hecht). Elliott raises a knife toward him. Walt gives him a cold, tired stare: “Elliott, if we’re gonna go that way, you’re gonna need a bigger knife.” Walt is near death, but his menace is at maximum effect. He give them an assignment: Deliver the remaining $9 million of his drug money to Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) or be killed by assassins. The assassins are the bluff, but his revenge on those who cut him out of the tech startup is complete.
  2. Walt says goodbye to his estranged wife, Skyler White (Anna Gunn). Cinematography in scene is terrific. Walt and Skyler are shot from afar. A wooden pillar separates them. It is a heavy-handed metaphor, but it works. Walt gives Skyler the lottery ticket with the GPS coordinates to find the bodies of two DEA agents, including his brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). Skyler can use the ticket to get a deal with prosecutors and make the hell that is her life end. No character has suffered more from Walt’s turn to the darkness than Skyler. Walt gives her a final gift. He tells Skyler he became Heisenberg for himself. The whole terrible chain of events was an act of his own arrogance and wounded pride. Walter White is going to kill a lot of people before day’s end. But he is defeated in that moment of honesty. He watches Walt Jr. return home from school. The family for which he claimed to do everything is gone. He destroyed it.
  3. Walt confronts the white supremacists led by Jack Welker (Michael Bowen) and his nephew Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons). He drops in a meeting between Todd and Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser). He offers a new formula for meth. Lydia orders Walt’s death. Walt goads them into bringing Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) into the room. Walt outsmarts them. He rigs the machine gun to pop out of the trunk of his battered car and strafe the supremacists’ clubhouse. Jesse chokes Todd today with his handcuff chains. Walt hands Jesse a gun. He asks Jesse to kill. Jesse refuses. Lydia calls Todd. She’s sick in bed. She wants to know if Walt is dead. Walt lets her know they’re all dead, including her. He slipped the ricin in Lydia’s sweetener. Jesse drives away. Walt is wounded in the final shootout. He walks into the meth lab. He pats one of the vats with a blood-spattered hand. Police lights flicker in the distance. Sirens wail. Walt falls to the ground dead. Police surround his body. The story of the fall of a small, petty and broken man who used his extraordinary mind to do evil ends.
  4. Series creator Vince Gilligan brilliantly finished his television masterpiece. Some call it the greatest television show in history. Certainly it compares favorable with other fine dramas, such as “The Wire” and “Mad Men.” Gilligan is a master storyteller. He had command of a cast at the very top of their craft. Cranston perfectly rendered Walter White’s turn to darkness. Paul brought to life a lost, ignorant boy who was always out of his depth. In one of Jesse’s final scenes, he dreams of building a wooden box in a workshop — a good craftsman. He awakens to find himself finishing a cook. It is a glimpse of what he could have been if he had just made one or two better decisions.
  5. I was once a night police reporter. Several of my cop friends complained that “Breaking Bad” made heroes out of the bad guys. There is some truth to that, but that is a superficial reaction. There are no heroes in “Breaking Bad,” only the guilty and the innocent. Walt began as a metaphor for a middle class man without options. He worked two jobs to support his family. His students did not respect him. He gets terminal lung cancer. He can’t afford the insurance. His family will struggle financially upon his death. He is put to the ultimate test. And he failed. Skyler learned of his evil and covered it up. She became complicit. She was guilty. Hank was a cop, but not a very good one. He resorted to base violence rather than shoe leather and intellect in effort to solve cases. He only discovered Walt’s identity as Heisenberg by a fluke. Even then, he did not follow procedure. He and his partner ended up dead in a hole in the desert. That this happened is most certainly Walt’s fault, but Hank’s own hubris contributed greatly to his death. Jesse was an addict and low-level drug dealer when we met him. Certainly Walt turned his former student down a bloodier path. But Jesse started making bad decisions long before he became a meth kingpin. In this story, the innocent — Jesse’s girlfriends, Walt Jr. — suffer and die. If this is to be seen as a moral tale, than good ultimately triumphed over evil, though not so much by the machinations of the just but the great failings of the evil. Walter White is dead in the desert. He never turned the gun on himself, but he most assuredly killed himself.