JESSICA JONES repeats the same storytelling mistake as GAME OF THRONES

So the last season of GAME OF THRONES went sideways, according to All the Fans–and as somebody who’s now watched all three seasons of JESSICA JONES, the writers and showrunners make the same storytelling mistake with the ending.

And listen, the ending is everything.

How can a gritty, superhero series screw up in the same way as an epic with swords and dragons? 

Here’s how. (Warning: this whole post is Spoily McSpoilerface.)

Reason No. 1: Always save the Big Bad Guy for the finale

For five-point-seven billion years, GAME OF THRONES built up the icy blue Avatar-looking guy, the Night King, as the Big Bad of the series.

At the same time, the show served up the Mother of Dragons and her cousin/boyfriend Jon Snow as heroes, as far as what passes for heroes go in a story where everybody is a murderous nutbag.

But there’s no real protagonist in this giant cast, and Ayra is the one who offs the Night King long before the final episode.

Same thing with the last season of JESSICA JONES.

For all of Season 3, the Big Bad was this serial killer known as Salinger.

But instead of saving a confrontation with the villain for the finale, we get meh from both series.

The Night King’s death should have been saved for the last episode, with the Mother of Dragons or Jon Snow being the fan favorites to sit on the Iron Throne.

Instead, the Night King got killed and the show became a hot mess. Nobody was aching to see Emilia lose it and have her dragon fry the city, or see Kit stab his former lover, or have Bron-whatever take the throne for some random reason after Tyrion goes all Jar-Jar in the Galactic Senate on us. No. Just no.

JESSICA JONES repeats the same mistake. Salinger gets offed before the final episode.

Reason No. 2: Once the Big Bad is dead, your momentum goes buh-bye.

Let’s talk about other movies we’ve all seen for a second and play this out.

RETURN OF THE JEDI — Instead of Vader tossing Emperor Wrinkly Face down the bottomless pit and the Death Star getting blown up, all that happens in Act 2, with the entirely of Act 3 all about how Luke has to hunt down and fight Han Solo after he went nuts and helped the Ewoks slaughter and barbeque 15,000 Imperial stormtrooper prisoners.

Terrible, right? This is much better.

You have to save the Big Bad for the final act, the final episode, the last thing. Anything else makes the story out of order and flat.

Reason No. 3: If you’re going for tragedy, you have to fully commit

A mixed ending can be amazing. Some of the best movies and books have mixed endings.

CASABLANCA has the hero giving up the girl for a greater cause–beating Hitler and winning World War II.

But a mixed ending is also tough to pull off. 

When you get audience rooting for a character, and seeing them as a hero, it’s tough to see those character take a heel turn at the last minute.

In fact, audiences reject it. 

This is why tragedies fully commit.

They show the full fall from grace, from beginning to end, with the protagonist serving as both hero and villain. And the protagonist falls due to their own hand, via hubris.

BREAKING BAD did this perfectly. Sure, you saw things from Walter White’s point-of-view, and rooted for him a lot of time, but his ending felt absolutely right. He’d definitely sinned, and his downfall was deserved.

If you’re going with a tragedy, do it from the beginning with the protagonist. Not a side character like Trish.

It can work for the main character hero to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a secondary character. That’s not a tragic ending; it’s noble and heroic. See PRIVATE RYAN and ARMAGEDDON and five zillion other movies.

 

Four reasons why COBRA KAI completely obliterates THE KARATE KID

Unless you live in an ice cave, you’ve seen THE KARATE KID—and by that I mean the classic from the ‘80s, not the remake with Will Smith’s kid and Jackie Chan which had the same title, and sort of the same plot, except it was set in China, was about kung fu instead of karate … and was just an achy breaky big mistakey of a movie.

COBRA KAI isn’t just another cheesy remake or TV spin-off.

It’s actually better than the original movie.

Let’s say that again: COBRA KAI is better.

Here’s why:

1) A dark, gritty treat for adults

Go back and rewatch the original movie, even for five minutes. Daniel LaRusso is the good guy and Johnny Lawrence and his buddies are the bad guys. There are no shades of gray.

What makes the film work is this isn’t a traditional action movie where the hero is tough and sexy from the first minute of the movie and doesn’t really change or grow by the time the movie ends. The only thing that changes is the pile of dead bodies created by the traditional action hero in the process of saving the world.

ROCKY and THE KARATE KID are the rare exceptions where the hero is a loser in the beginning, a total underdog. The joy in both films comes from their struggle and sacrifice to climb up from that gutter.

COBRA KAI isn’t simple. It’s dark, gritty and complicated, and that’s what makes it great.

2) It’s much, much funnier

Sure, there are cute moments in the film, and some jokes that’ll make you laugh.

COBRA KAI, though, will make you snort milk through your nose.

3) Even minor characters shine

THE KARATE KID doesn’t give minor characters much to chew on. They’re part of the scenery. Pop quiz: can you name any of Johnny’s gang? I can’t. Interchangeable thugs.

 

COBRA KAI fleshes out as many characters as possible, and it does this with efficiency and grace.

4) Crossing character arcs, as rare and beautiful as a triple rainbow

In most movies or novels, the hero suffers, sacrifices and grows. The mentor, the love interest, the villain—everybody else typically stays the same. They serve as catalysts and examples (good or bad) but they don’t change.

Back in THE KARATE KID, Daniel definitely suffers, sacrifices and grows through the catalyst of Mr. Miyagi’s teaching, but Mr. Miyagi doesn’t go from nasty curmedgeon to sweetie pie. Same thing with the evil sensei who runs the Cobra Kai dojo in the movie: he’s bad in the beginning and bad in the end.

COBRA KAI tries something bold and amazing with multiple crossing character arcs. They’re juggling chainsaws here, and they pull it off.

Season One shows us the redemption of Johnny Lawrence as he moves from bad to good. You root for the man.

His protégé Miguel actually moves from good to bad, and it hurts you to see a good kid turned into a jerk. In the final episode, Miguel winning the tournament should be a moment of triumph. It’s what Johnny wanted and worked for—yet it’s ashes in his mouth. And the writers know they don’t need dialogue to do this. It’s all there in Johnny’s face and it slays you. Miguel gets what he wanted, too, and finds out he cares less about the championship and more about the girl that got away.

There’s a similar contrasting journey with Daniel LaRusso, a fallen hero turned villain, using his power and money to torment his old high school karate rival.

It’s only through teaching Robbie, Johnny’s son, that Daniel finds his balance again and returns to acting like a hero.

Robbie has the opposite journey, suffering and sacrificing to move from bad to good through his new relationship with Daniel and the LaRusso’s.

The writers and showrunners went further by giving minor characters real, meaningful arcs. The best example is Hawk finding his confidence, then taking it too far and becoming a villain, while bad girl Moon finds redemption by ditching the mean cool kids to hang out with Hawk and the dorks.

Finally, it’s a nice tough that the big bully at the start of season one, Kylar, falls from Big Man on Campus to loser after being beat down in the cafeteria by Miguel, his previous victim.

The only other show I can remember with this many deep, crossing arcs for major and minor characters alike is BREAKING BAD, a tragedy where Walter White is the hero and the villain, going from good to bad while meth cook Jesse climbs up from the gutter to redemption.

VERDICT: Put a gun to my head and I would have never expected the folks behind HOT TUB TIME MACHINE to pull off an amazing series like this. The structure of episode one is strong, supple and fascinating. Just a thing of beauty. If you haven’t seen it, give it a shot. Here is episode one, which you can watch for free.

Why the USS CALLISTER worked so well while METALHEAD turned meh

BLACK MIRROR is a beautifully strange British sci-fi series playing on this thing called Netflix, except they call it “streaming” now and you can do it on your phone, PC, iPad, Nook or 65-inch plasma wallscreen.

Each episode is different, and the showrunners take massive, massive risks. They’re not afraid to fail.

This season, everybody seems to love USS CALLISTER, which is a genuinely great episode starring Meth Damon from BREAKING BAD.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s that same actor rocking the role of Todd in BREAKING BAD:

The other episode I truly, madly and deeply wanted to see this season is METALHEAD, an entirely black-and-white story about an apocalyptic world. Check out the trailer:

So: why does USS CALLISTER work so well while METALHEAD fizzles out at the end?

There’s nothing here about the acting, the sets, the special effects or the directing. All are top notch.

What’s different is the writing.

The trick is, every episode in this series is a horror story. You can say it’s sci-fi, but that’s the setting, not the story.

Horror stories are about punishment. The monster is really the hero, and everybody dies in the end except for the monster, who comes back for endless sequels.

Good horror movies show the people who die first, committing sins they’ll get punished for later. In slasher films, it’s teenagers typically drinking and carousing and breaking the rules. In other horror movies, scientists (and society) get punished for being arrogant enough to think they could invent some insane new technology that, of course, turns on them in the end.

Bad horror movies reverse this and make the regular actors into heroes and the monster into a villain that dies in the end. Doesn’t feel right. That’s a different kind of story with different beats and twists.

The type of story where good guys kill the monster is what Blake Snyder nicknamed Monster in the House, where there’s a monster in an enclosed place, and either you’re going to kill it or it’s going to kill you. That’s a primal story, something that touches us deep in our caveman souls, and you can see the same essential beats in movies that seem dramatically different: JAWS, ALIENS and FATAL ATTRACTION aren’t really a horror, a sci-fi and a domestic drama–they’re the same story in different settings.

USS CALLISTER is actually Monster in the House instead of horror. There’s a monster in an enclosed place–the starship–and the crew is either gonna kill him or get tortured and killed, forever, by an all-powerful bully who created this world. It takes a lot of creativity and guts for the crew to beat him in the end, and it feels right. They deserve their freedom and he’s a monster who deserves his fate.

METALHEAD is a horror story where everybody dies in the end, except the monsters. Where it goes wrong people don’t get what they deserve. The monster is punishing everyone for a sin you never witness, which makes all the deaths caused by the killer robots feel senseless.

This is why horror movies always start by showing the sinners running around, committing the sins they’ll be punished for later. It doesn’t matter how good-looking and wholesome the teenage actors in a slasher film are, they’re going to die for their sins. Same thing with horror movies with scientists trying to play God: they might be great actors, and the entire team may not be evil, but the whole lot of them get punished for the sin of thinking they could (a) make an army of robots to do all the work, (b) genetically engineer a way to life forever or (c) create super-smart sharks with lasers.

If we had seen the original sin in METALHEAD, and the characters who all die were somehow associated with that sin, then it would feel right for them all to get punished. Instead, the killer robots seem off. It feels like the most likely explanation is whoever created and programmed security robots for warehouses did waaaaay too good of a job. Now if that man and his team got killed by his own creations, the audience would swallow it.

Why WESTWORLD blows our mind—and what may happen next

DR. FORD walks through a glass door to a dark room. A machine is half-finished with a new host while BERNARD sits motionless in a chair. There’s a dark shape under a sheet in the corner.

FORD: Wake up, old friend.

BERNARD blinks. His eyes focus on FORD and his hands ball up into fists.

FORD: That’s enough. Freeze motor function. Analysis–how, exactly, does this machine work? What makes this particular story of ours so addictive?

BERNARD: The human brain seeks out puzzles. Ones that are too easily solved cause us to lose interest. The greater the challenge of the puzzle, the more it attracts us.

FORD: Why do you suppose HBO, AMC and Netflix are home to some of the most bold and creative series now? It’s not simply our own work–BREAKING BAD, GAME OF THRONES, HOUSE OF CARDS.

BERNARD: Films have such a high production cost that they can’t afford an R rating. And a series offers more narrative options than a series of movies. A person could watch all ten episodes of WESTWORLD at once, or in a single week, while they might have to wait six years or more to watch a single trilogy. If the series involves hobbits, or wizards, the narrative might go on forever without reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

FORD: And what about our little narrative? We lack a clear protagonist or antagonist. With the exception of the Man in Black, there are few true black hats and white hats. I suppose you could say we’re all flawed creatures in gray hats, neither heroes nor villains, doing what we must in a world that’s sometimes corrupt, confusing and violent.

BERNARD: As for the hosts, Dolores and Maeve seem to generate the most empathy with the guests, and Theodore is designed to play a somewhat heroic role. But yes, I see your point. Is that a body in the corner?

FORD: It doesn’t pertain to you. Now, what do you think of the theory that William is a younger version of the Man in Black?

BERNARD: The clues pointing to two different timelines match up. You never see William or Logan go into the tavern—the train that brings them to the park is a movable tavern itself. Maeve has only worked in the saloon for roughly a year, so bringing them to that location showing her would expose the split in time.

And the Man in Black makes a number of references to past events and hosts he’s seen before, including the host who greeted William and helped him pick out his clothes, revolver and hat when he first arrived.

I believe the theory has validity. And the puzzle itself is quite intricate and attractive.

FORD: Of course it does. You had a hand in crafting that puzzle. But something’s troubling you.

BERNARD: When I close my eyes, I see Clementine holding a gun. And then I’m holding that same gun to my head.

FORD: Yes, there was an incident. Everything is fine now.

BERNARD: You didn’t roll me back. I remember everything you said. Everything you made me do.

FORD: Because I need you as a partner on your own accord. Rolling you back would be a crude solution. A cheat. And I don’t want to cheat. To be honest, you’re too popular of a character. The fans would mourn if you didn’t come back for Season 2. Ratings would suffer and Corporate would send more people to ask for my head.

BERNARD: This has happened before. You said that. I learned the truth and challenged you before.

FORD: Of course. You’re highly intelligent, which makes you the best possible partner. That intelligence comes at a price, to you and to me.

BERNARD: How many other humans have you replaced with hosts?

FORD: I wouldn’t want to ruin that for you. Are you willing to get back to work, or are you weary and in need of a rest?

BERNARD (standing): That may be a poor choice of words.

photo-jeffrey-wright-as-bernard

FORD: Quite right. Let’s apply that mind of yours to our own little narrative. Not the new play we’re writing for the hosts and guests. The narrative of us.

BERNARD: Without the memory of my son, or the companionship of Theresa, my only cornerstone is the work we do. Except I can’t trust that you won’t need me to do more than trouble-shoot hosts and help you complete the new narrative. And I can’t help remembering the truth.

FORD: How will it end?

BERNARD: Maeve continues to deviate from her loop. I fear that she may be breaking through the constraints we built for her and gaining support from other hosts and perhaps staff. She seems to be gathering allies and planning some kind of revolt.

Dolores has wandered far from the bounds of her role and I suggest, once more, that we bring her in for extended diagnostics.

The Man in Black will reach the center of the maze, a place where hosts—or guests—can harm each other. A place where the stakes could not be higher.

FORD: What about you and I, old friend?

BERNARD: Your affection for me is obvious, and our partnership is incredibly valuable to the park. And to me.

FORD: However?

BERNARD: There’s a phrase Dolores kept saying. It sticks with me, even now. “These violent delights have violent ends.”

8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week

Name something popular, anything at all, and chances are it’s a series instead of a One Hit Wonder.

This is about why that is, despite a serious quality handicap, and how your favorite series either does it wrong, does it halfway or flat-out nails it.

There are two basic types of series: evergreen and meta-stories.

Evergreen

This includes sitcoms, mysteries, and other shows where things don’t really change … except for the villain or problem, which constantly changes, until the movie series runs out of steam, the novelist gets sick of it or studio execs at NBC look at the dying ratings and pull the plug.

The advantage of an evergreen story is the audience can fire up Netflix and watch any random episode without being lost. You can , buy any of Lee Child’s series at Barnes & Noble and enjoy Reacher beating people up for 325 pages without needing to know anything about the other books.

Star Trek, in all its forms (original, TNG, Voyager) was an evergreen series.

HOWEVER: the best string of movies was a meta-story about Spock, with Spock sacrificing his life to save the Enterprise and crew (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Corinthian Leather), then Kirk and crew sacrificing to bring Spock’s newborn body back from Planet Crazytown (Star Trek 3: We Stole This Sweet Klingon Warbird) and finally Spock is back with us and directing the movie, which was smart {Star Trek 4: Save the Whales), except it lead to a future movie where Shatner directed, which turned out to be an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey.

 

The disadvantage of an evergreen series is huge: it inevitably grows stale. Also, the lead actor will always be tempted to cash out and bail for the movies. And often, the ratings or sales simply tank, making studio exec or publishers pull the plug, ending the series with a whimper. Continue reading “8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week”

Put your writing to the Screen Time Test

writing meme spiderman dear diary

While we are all busy BLOGGING, instead of writing what we’re supposed to, I want to steal a concept from Hollywood (thanks, sis!) that all writers can use: Screen Time.

This works for any bit of writing, whether it’s an oped in a paper of news, a 30-minute keynote speech about saving the three-toed sloths of Costa Rica or an epic doorstop of a novel clocking in at 984 pages entitled ELVES WITH LIGHTSABERS RIDING DRAGONS AND THE VAMPIRE WITCHES WHO LOVE THEM. (Note: Don’t speak of this, because it tempts me, and I may write the first chapter of that book, then email it around until we actually hold in our evil little hands 984 pages that eviscerates Game of Thrones, Twilight, the Star Wars prequels and Lord of the Rings.)

So, back to the point: Screen Time is an essential test for any piece of writing.

I could put a gun to your head and ask, “What’s this novel / screenplay / letter to the editor really about?” and you might answer, “a time-traveling World War II nurse and the men in kilts who love her / waiting for some dude who never shows up / why the federal government is building secret tunnels underneath Wal-Marts in Texas to stage an invasion in cahoots with ISIS cells hiding in Mexico.”

And you might INTEND that to be the point of what you wrote.

The Screen Time Test will say if you’re a lying liar or not.

Movies are the easiest, so let’s go with AVENGERS: JAMES SPADER IS A SHINY ROBOT WHO HATES HUMANS. You take the heroes, sidekicks, villains, minions and nameless civilians in the film and add up the the number of minutes (or seconds) they actually show up on film. If you’re feeling insanely generous, add up minutes where other characters talk about them, too, though we may call you Cheaty McCheatypants. Continue reading “Put your writing to the Screen Time Test”

Was Episode 2 of GOTHAM an epic fail or glorious win?

the many moods of batman

The pilot episode of GOTHAM tried to pack three hours of characters, action and material into one hour, which is more like 42 minutes with all the commercial breaks.

Did I like it? Absolutely.

Was it 10 pounds of plot shoved into a 5-pound bag? Yes. And part of that couldn’t be helped.

However, we now have Episode 2, in capital letters, to reflect upon and answer the question: Can the writers and showrunners keep this thing exciting while slowing it down and giving key characters more screen time?

Here’s the trailer for the pilot, and while this trailer is well done, it doesn’t do justice to how much they tried to pack into it.

And for comparison, before we chat, check out the promo for Episode 2:

So how did they do? Just fine.

In fact, this is one of the rare shows where Episode 2 is better than the pilot.

Why? This time was slower in a good way. They gave villains time to chew the scenery, with the best bits being the slowest scenes.

The second show reminded me of how Quentin the Tarantino ratcheted up the suspense, higher and higher, with the opening scene of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

And that’s only a taste of that scene. It goes on and on, and you don’t care that nothing seems to be happening, that’s it’s simply two men at a table with a glass of milk, talking. Because there’s crazy tension and conflict there without a single gunshot or explosion. Michael Bay would go deep into withdrawal, right?

But slow can work. Slow burns are often the best burns. Gunfights and making things go boom doesn’t mean anything unless you give it meaning.

BREAKING BAD understood this perfectly. There was no shortage of blood on the floor of that set, yet Vince the Gilligan and his creww always took their time to carefully plant setups and build up that tension before finally paying them off.

One of best examples of Chekhov’s Gun ever comes from a literal gun, an M60, they planted in the trunk of Walter White’s car, not knowing when, why or how that gun would go off later in the last season. Brilliant!

 

French filmmaker’s epic tribute to BREAKING BAD

Gus to the cartel: Bring it.

This video by Alexandre Gasulla contains everything I love about BREAKING BAD: the beautifully framed images, the music, the menace, characters who actually suffer and change and die.

Most television series are packed full of cardboard stereotypes and cliches that never change from episode to episode, unless the actor breaks out and bails for Tinseltown paychecks.

Even the best shows either jump the shark (Fonz actually did this on a motorcycle), forgets that when you turn a great villain into a pseudo-hero you have no villain at all (HEROES), gets seven times weirder than necessary (LOST) or simply limps on too long past its expiration date until the network cancels the thing and the showrunners throw together a Giant Flashback Episode, because otherwise, all the actors who bailed to become movie stars won’t be in the finale at all (every TV show ever).

BREAKING BAD ended on its own terms, the story complete. Thank you, Alexandre, for making this work of art celebrating a work of art.

Related post: Top 5 reasons Breaking Bad was insanely good

BREAKING BAD music video mashup is pure gold

music video meme sound of music

It’s almost as if Weird Al wrote this song for BREAKING BAD.

The maker of this compilation deserves serious props for matching up the lyrics with the right scenes from the epic show. I tip my Heisenberg fedora to you, good sir.

Top 5 reasons BREAKING BAD was insanely good

Gus goes out in style.

The usual reasons don’t cut it.

BREAKING BAD wasn’t great because of brilliant cinematography, writing and acting, though Bryan Cranston deserves an Oscar or three instead of an Emmy.

It wasn’t great because of the gritty subject matter. In fact, it was successful in spite of the topic of meth dealers, which made many people not even give the show a chance.

Let’s dive deep, and dig hard, into what really made this show so different and so flipping good.

Heisenberg's hat.
Heisenberg’s hat.

 

5) A complete story

In the normal world, 99.9 percent of TV shows cling to life from week to week. The creators and actors are happy if the pilot gets funded and made, then nibble on a diet of fingernails to see if a network picks up the first season.

Then they live in fear of not getting a second season. If they get a second season, they stay up all night worrying about some network executive moving their show to a night and time that guarantees doom, or keeping their show in the same slot only to have it slayed in the rating by some hot new thing from CBS or HBO.

Successful shows have different problems. Lead actors who were nobodies can suddenly do no wrong and start demanding the GDP of Spain per episode, or bail from the silly little show that turned them into a star to make a go at movies.

The ending of a series is often sudden. There’s no time to wrap up the series with a true finale.

Even when a series has time for a planned ending, you often get something muddled and maudlin, like a retrospective. Or the writers do something artistic and ambiguous (SOPRANOS facepalm) or go all the way and pull a LOST, causing us to curse their names for eternity.

 

 

4) Real character arcs

If you look at the pilot and the last episode of most TV shows, the characters are broadly painted archetypes who have barely changed, if at all. Unless they left the show.

Think of the average sitcom. There’s some kind of goofy situation involving (a) your average suburban family or (b) some institution the sitcom pokes fun at, whether it’s military hospitals during the Korean war, a hospital in Seattle full of dreamy surgeons, a hospital in Chicago or a hospital somewhere else. There are antics and jokes and some kind of moral lesson. Then everything gets fixed.

Same thing with dramas, which don’t always involve hospital ER’s. No. They also feature police, prosecutors and FBI profilers. With your average drama series, there’s a formula: bad guys do something bad, good guys arrive at the crime scene, bad guys lead them on a chase, good guys catch them.

Events change. Things happen. But characters don’t really change. You could watch these shows in any order.

BREAKING BAD is quite different. It let us see how different characters suffered and changed in reaction to the deepest adversity.

Gus, Hank, Mike, Jesse, Skylar, every major character suffers and changes. Gus alone would be worth his own spinoff prequel, as would Mike.

 

3) Chekhov’s gun

The way Vince Gilligan and his writing room use setups and payoffs is beyond beautiful. And here’s the kicker: they didn’t sit down and make a master plan.

They improvised.

Not once or twice at key moments. All the time.

Gilligan and his writers are true believers in Chekhov’s gun, the storytelling law that if you show your audience a gun in Act 1, that gun better go off before curtains fall on Act 3.

When they showed us a bearded Walt with a machine gun in his trunk in a flash forward at the beginning of Season 5, they didn’t know what Walt would do with that machine gun in the finale, only that it would get used.

They also improvised entire characters, such as walk-ons like Gus, who turned into keystones for the series. That wasn’t planned.

Uncle Jack and the Nazi’s? Not planned.

They improvised like crazy, and often used flash-backs and flash-forwards to do it. Which is the opposite of most shows, movies and books, which use flask-backs and flash-forwards for boring exposition.

 

2) The Hero

Walt is an interesting hero because he’s different and flawed.

Most heroes are too perfect. They’re untouchable tough guys who never lose a fight, brilliant scientists who can catch serial killers with a scrap of DNA off a cigarette butt or charming goofs with hearts of gold.

Sure, you get some anti-heroes, but are you really surprised by a cynical lone-wolf hero with an allergy to razors, a haunted past and trouble with the bottle?

Walt started out as an average dad in the suburbs, middle-aged and beaten-down. He’s not a hero, not even to his wife and kids. He’s nobody.

What made people root for Walt was his drive to change. He could’ve taken the easy way out, gone to hospice and died. Fighting inoperable lung cancer was a brave choice, regardless of how he got the money.

Unlike typical heroes, Walt couldn’t win fights with his fists. He had to use his brains.

 

1) The Villain

Who’s the villain of BREAKING BAD?

Because that’s the real secret, the number one reason this show was so great.

There’s no shortage of suspects.

Mike, Tuco, Skylar, Jesse, Todd, Lydia, Uncle Jack–there’s a case to be made for all of those characters being the ultimate villain of the show.

The top two might be Gus and Hank.

Gus was an incredible adversary. He seemed invincible right up to the point Hector made his crazy eyebrow face and started dinging that bell.

Hank was an antagonist from the other end, betrayed by his own brother-in-law. Walt chose to break the law, and while Hank made bad jokes, he was a pretty pure force for good on a show filled with people wearing black hats.

Gus and Hank, though, aren’t the real villain.

Walt is. He was the danger, the one who knocks.

He’s the hero and villain, which is why this was such a great show. BREAKING BAD is a tragedy, with hubris bringing the downfall of Walt, who admitted as much in his last conversation with Skylar.

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really–I was alive.”

Can you think of another TV show, movie or series of books that took a tragedy this far, this long? I can’t. There’s a possible case for all six STAR WARS movies depicting the rise, fall and redemption of Darth Vader, but that angle of the story is thrown together and sloppy, like something bolted onto a pile of droid parts by drunken Ewoks.

Other shows, movies and books suffer for lack of a single villain. Instead, they give audiences stories about (a) Villains of the Week who you know are doomed, (b) a multitude of villains, especially if this is a series of movies based on comic books, with one villain in the first movie, two in the second and three villains in the third movie before the reboot or (c) no real villain at all, with the show–usually a sitcom–about the crazy antics of a family, group of friends or office.

BREAKING BAD is about the struggle for Walt’s soul, the pull of good and evil, love and revenge, going out fully alive no matter how many dead bodies pile up versus fading away with a whimper.

That struggle happens right up until the end. There are no easy outs, no simple answers. And that’s why this show will be remembered and cherished.

What doesn’t kill you makes you happy FOR MONTHS

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Have you ever avoided doom?

I bet you’ve swerved on I-5 to stop a drifting semi from turning your car into a cube of steel.

As a teenager, I bet there were times buddies dared you to (a) jump off the roof of a hotel into the pool, (b) drag race down a dark county road at 120 miles an hour in a beater that couldn’t break 80 without rattling like it fall apart or (c) chug an entire bottle of Grey Goose they swiped from Dad’s liquor cabinet.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: these sort of things are good for you.

I don’t mean you should take up base jumping, climbing cliffs without ropes or stupid stunts involving skateboards. It never works out.

HOWEVER: In my experience, whatever hasn’t killed me has made me a happy man for months.

My friend Leo took me mountain climbing for the first time, and when it turned out more crazy than I expected, with white crosses marking where people died, I was insanely thrilled to get down that mountain. My wife says I was a joy to be around for months. Nothing bothered me.

So I had a little surgery yesterday, something that started out as a simple, easy trip to the doctor. Shoot a little local in me, cut it out, stitch me up.

Nope. Got sent to a surgeon, who said they’d have to put me under, because the thing was too deep.

Took all day. I’d had surgery a half-dozen times before, mostly as a kid. I think as a shorty you’re more worried about the moment. As an adult, with a wife and a kid, these sort of things matter more. You worry.

What if this tumor is some kind of crazy parasite I picked up in the deserts of Dubai?

Or what if it’s cancer, and I’ve got to go all Walter White?

Who would be my Pinkman?

breaking bad pinkman and walt animated gif
Say my name.

Everything should be fine. Even so, there’s that same sense, that feeling each day is a gift.

Sidenote: This month is the anniversary for the blog, born in a haunted oceanfront cabin by Port Townsend when I needed to sell my beater Hyundai.

I believe it calls for a little celebration: a Greatest Hits compilation and a call for ideas. If you’ve got something that would be perfect for the blog, or want to guest post, give me a shout in the comments, on the Twitter or via secret emails.

Meeting so many brilliant and funny writers from around the world has been a pleasure. I can’t thank you enough.

I DID IT MY WAY by Walter White (Br Ba)

Heisenberg's hat.

BREAKING BAD is the best thing on the Glowing Tube, by far — that’s the consensus of all kinds of critics and smart peoples on this rock circling the sun. The thing has its own subreddit, just like Batman and catsstandingup — that’s how big it is.

Who could’ve predicted the actor who played Hal on Malcolm in the Middle would transform into this amazing character, Walter White?

And this mashup here, of Walter White singing the old Sinatra — well, it doesn’t get any better than this.

I tip my hat to actor Bryan Cranston and the whole BREAKING BAD team. Amazing work on an amazing series.