Wednesday, October 16, 2019

‘EL CAMINO’: THE ‘BREAKING BAD’ EPILOGUE THAT CELEBRATES JESSE PINKMAN

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie closes the Jesse Pinkman chapter, in a way that may not seem necessary to many, but even as an epilogue that the show could do without, it makes an interesting tribute to a character we loved

When BREAKING BAD came to an end, it was written about (and still is considered) as one of the best series finales of all time, and it is. That’s saying a lot even for a ‘peak TV’ show, given that such iconic shows as LOST, GAME OF THRONES and even MAD MEN have had less than satisfactory endings. This in part was because even though BREAKING BAD had a five-season run, there was a finite story to tell, and creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan didn’t stray from telling that story in order to feed the show’s popularity. The show saw a proper closure to a majority of the characters’ stories, even though it was mostly tragic. Walter White died, while he left behind a damaged family. Jesse Pinkman, on the other hand, got his chance to escape from the neo-Nazi camp—where he’d been enslaved to cook crystal meth—but with only the implication of a potential happy ending. That is a major reason why Gilligan wanted to give an absolute end to the Pinkman factor. “I thought it was up to the audience to figure out how Jesse got away, but that it was enough to see him driving off into the night victorious,” Gilligan told Entertainment Weekly. “But then as the years started to pass, I found myself wondering at idle moments, ‘How exactly did he get away? Because that’s no easy feat! And what if he didn’t get away? What if he got busted right around the next corner?’” 

This explains why, some six years after BREAKING BAD ended, Gilligan chose to release a follow-up movie. It also explains why El Camino is exactly what it is and no more than it is. The truth is that many of us were expecting the gripping, complex and engaging essence of what BREAKING BAD was, with a tight plot to capture the magic of the series in a two-hour feature.

[Spoiler alert: details of El Camino’s plot are revealed as you read on]



Instead, what we got was an extended epilogue that was only about how Jesse eventually did get the happy ending, which was only implied earlier. And that essentially boiled down to showing us how he obtained the money he needed to pay to pay Ed, the guy who helped Saul Goodman disappear, in order for Ed to do the same for him. And when you simply say it this way, the plot carries very little weight. Furthermore, the storytelling approach included a lot of slow-moving, silent moments, which were a big part of BREAKING BAD, and which we see a lot more of the still-ongoing prequel series BETTER CALL SAUL. However, in just two hours, it may have seemed like such choices in the narrative were too much of a luxury. We’re talking about scenes such as Todd offering soup to Jesse, or singing on the highway, or the extended telling of the fact that Jesse didn’t have enough money for Ed to take him on as a client. Even with a very limited story to tell, such decisions may have seemed a tad indulgent. 

That being said, it was still necessary for us to know details such as the lengths that Todd would go to in order to keep his money a secret (the fact that he murdered his trustworthy housekeeper simply because she found out about the money). And while Todd’s neighbor Lou was quite annoying, the exchanges of his that we saw added some humor, and they even helped Jesse to some extent. Additionally, a few flashbacks that seemed simply like reminders, were definitely required. The one where we see Neil being made to install the physical restrains for Jesse in the lab at the neo-Nazi camp was necessary in order to draw the connection. Yet, it did feel like it was quite a stretch for the welder to become the main adversary for Jesse. The result was that it left us with an antagonist that was weak, especially if you do compare him with the Tuco Salamancas and the Gus Frings of the franchise, and even Todd for that matter. The truth is that all (or most of the) worthy adversaries of the past were dead, and it must’ve been a struggle to create a new one that would still make for a gripping tale. In fact, without the Todd flashbacks and the previously-unseen struggles that Jesse faced during the time before the end of the series, El Camino would have been quite flat.



However, the movie epilogue did have moments where it really did shine. One of the best parts for me was revisiting Jesse’s bond with Badger and Skinny Pete. It was extremely endearing the way those two came through for him, and helped him with the problem of the titular El Camino car. Further to that, Jesse’s primary struggle of finding the money and adding to his share gave us some intriguing moments. The standoff at the Kandy Welding Company facility was probably the biggest highlight—the kind that great action films are made of—complete with Jesse’s smooth and (literally) explosive exit from the scene.



The most significant of all things though was seeing Jesse itself. Whether you enjoyed El Camino or compared it too much with BREAKING BAD, if you liked Jesse, there’s no way you wouldn’t have liked seeing him get a proper and satisfactory end. Aaron Paul delivered in spades to a role that won him three Emmys during the series. He was moving as he conveyed Jesse’s PTSD and despair. He presented conflict and desperation when he had to lie to his parents and steal from their home. He was exhilarating as we saw Jesse’s determination to succeed with disappearing. And he showed us immense growth in Jesse Pinkman, which was so good to see. I always liked Jesse’s character more than anyone else’s on the show, so it felt good to be able to give Jesse a proper farewell. El Camino may not have lived up to many expectations, but in this regard, it certainly achieved exactly what it intended to.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

THE ‘SUCCESSION’ FINALE: A WORTHY SUCCESSOR?

[Spoiler alert: You are advised to read on only after having watched the SUCCESSION season two finale]



Oh that smile! Logan Roy barely let on that he threw a smirk—so much so that people were wondering if it was there—but it was. And while it was barely noticeable, he was thrilled inside, and it was so deliciously done. He had just seen Kendall become the killer that he had, just scenes ago, told him he needed to be, in order to be at the helm of Waystar Royco. The thing is that we practically didn’t see it coming, yet when Kendall said, “…But…,” at the press conference, it was all but obvious that he was going to put his father’s head on the spike instead of his own. 

Throughout this second season of SUCCESSION, we’ve seen Kendall keeping a low profile, indulging himself ever so slightly, and doing his father’s bidding. Initially it seemed like he was simply grateful to Logan who helped him out of the tricky situation in England. Of course, Logan just seized the opportunity to get Kendall out of the bed he’d gotten into with Stewey and Sandy. And I wondered when Kendall would see that for what it was. Obviously the shock and despair that came with how he ended up being responsible for the catering waiter’s death was going to take its time, but it now looks like it didn’t take as much time as we thought it was taking. He was keeping his head down, but he was just doing so in order to strike when everyone would least expect it. He was playing his cards right, and even embarrassed himself in Dundee, when he broke out into a rap number, making himself out to almost look like a loyal idiot (without becoming too much of an idiot, because Greg holds that distinction!). 


And speaking of Greg, somewhere along the way, Kendall had to have joined hands with Greg (or had to have tricked Greg) to obtain the documents that would incriminate Logan for being a part of the cruise scandal cover-up. Everything was clearly well thought-through, but I don’t think we’ll ever know at what point Kendall started planning this massive blow. Yet, we should’ve seen it coming. Throughout season one, he failed to take down Logan time and again—the hostile takeover with the board, and then with Stewey and Sandy. We knew he wanted control, and he’s clearly the Roy sibling with the biggest claim to the Royco empire, which is exactly why he was just the perfect scapegoat to become the blood sacrifice to bail out Waystar Royco.

And the way it all went down! 



SUCCESSION has always done wonders with drama in confined spaces—whether it’s by literally putting the characters in a plane or panic room, or by creating an illusion of confined space—the Pierces’ ranch, the Argestes, Dundee, and now a yacht. It’s turned into an obvious setting, but it sure does create impact. And by putting the Roys (and plus-ones, and other Royco top management, and a ‘sprinkling’ of Greg) on a yacht, there’s also a sly nod to the cruise scandal. As Connor tries to make Willa feel better about her abysmal play, the main Roy siblings are enjoying a sweet moment, until daddy dearest arrives. 



Logan puts his own name out there, knowing that it will instantly get ruled out by the likes of Tom, who would go out of their way to kiss ass. What follows are extremely gripping conversations, each exchange layered with intent and agenda, yet seeming quite bare. The writing is exemplary, as we see even the inconsiderate Roman standing up for Gerri, making a strong point about how they can’t let a woman go down for the cruise mess. Roman actually has his moments to shine throughout the episode, where he gains sympathy in his own can’t-care-less way, and even manages to make the smart and honest assessment that going private is not going to help the company at this point. We even see a certain vulnerability in Tom, who probably feels more like an outsider at this time than has he ever before. His admittance of not being happy with Shiv, or in their open marriage is as forthcoming as he’s ever been. On the other hand, we also see how dependent Connor is, despite staying away from the core Royco drama, and delusional enough to imagine that him being the blood sacrifice could have a significant enough impact (or that he can actually make it to the White House for that matter).

This whole series is actually a thorough study of its own characters, and it’s amazing how much restraint the writing displays, even as the writers’ indulgence—as they peel back the devious and delicious layers of each character—is quite apparent. Logan Roy is the ultimate puppet master, silently manipulating the moves that people make around him. Even when he’s been ditched by Nan Pierce, or been played by his kids when they get on board with Rhea taking over, he’s had something to bounce back with. And his kids have been the biggest subjects of his experiments, as he manipulates, challenges, and defies them, threatening their agendas. That’s why it’s hard to believe that Kendall’s big move at the end wasn’t something Logan saw coming. He told Kendall that he’d have needed to be a killer to be in charge, perhaps challenging him in the process. On the other hand, Kendall’s moves, in retrospect, seem perfectly calculated. It was almost like he was giving his father a chance to stop him by even asking Logan if he thought Kendall would’ve been a good successor. He didn’t get the final validation—which could’ve been by design—and he seized his opportunity to take control. 




We’ll probably never know explicitly if Logan had planned this throughout, or if he was just holding on to his position until a worthy successor emerged on their own. He probably wanted it to be Kendall, but wanted Kendall to rise to the occasion, just as he has. What Kendall wants hasn’t been clear for a while, until now, and where he takes us with his latest claim to be the successor is going to be a terrific ride. Even where Shiv, Roman and even Tom will fit into this is going to be a treat to behold. Especially because the intentions, underlying desires and each character’s own perception of how far they’ll go and how much their relationships will withstand, as they follow their own agendas are all things that are so scrumptiously under the surface. And this is exactly what makes SUCCESSION such a masterpiece.

Monday, October 14, 2019

GREY+SLOAN WITHOUT THE GREAT DR. GREY

The Grey+Sloan residents need to be taken down a peg or two, and I’m so glad Chief Bailey is taking the appropriate action. And no, she wasn't too harsh in firing [spoiler]. Here’s why, as we look at how GREY’S season 16 is getting better

After the debacle that was the season 16 premiere, GREY’S ANATOMY has managed to redeem itself over the last two weeks. The second episode in particular was more in line with the GREY’S that we’ve known and loved. I particularly liked the way my current favorite couple—‘Amelink’—decided to [spoiler alert] keep the baby. They could’ve easily gone down an emotionally draining path, with Amelia fretting over facing child-bearing possibilities, after her tragic first delivery (which we saw in PRIVATE PRACTICE). Even Link’s concerns about having a child after his own childhood cancer were very valid. Things could have gotten really intense, but the scenes in episode two, in the plant room and then on the bench outside were beautifully positive and full of hope, despite being emotional. A part of me still thinks that there was a lot of scope for this relationship in the light, casual and romantic space before they got into this serious territory. Yet, I like the handling of it. It’s good to still see an exciting spark between Amelia and Link even in their more tender moments.


It’s also refreshing to see that they’re not in a rush to bring Richard and Alex back to Grey+Sloan. It’ll be good to see them actually turning Pacific-Northwest General around before they’re done there. Also, I was impressed that storyline featuring the mini CHARMED reunion—guest stars Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs playing sisters—was kept for the ‘lesser hospital’, giving Webber and Karev a significant ‘case of the week’. I would like to see them take on some groundbreaking surgeries or some game-changing clinical trials or something to start putting this hospital on the map. Although, what was that about Richard going out to lunch with this friend he's reconnected with? It's suspicious obviously because it's clear that things aren't great between him and Catherine right now. I just hope they don't mess things up with that relationship—one of only three ongoing relationships that have survived the test of time so far.


Meanwhile in Grey+Sloan, Bailey is not letting the absence of Grey, Karev and Webber stand in her way or her hospital’s way. It’s great to see Bailey as the teacher and mentor that we’ve loved since the very first episode of the show. She knew what she was doing when she assigned the anastomosis to Helm. And, of course, we all know that she was the mentor of the great Dr. Grey and even Dr. Karev. So it made my blood boil when DeLuca had the audacity of questioning her, and, worse, accusing her of denying him opportunities just because he was dating Grey. I mean, who the hell does he think he is! If Bailey was incapable of being objective, she wouldn’t fire her most-loved protégés and her mentor, for what were understandably fire-able offenses. And this thick-headed, arrogant thinking by DeLuca is just one of the things that make me hate ‘MerLuca’. He used to be kind, considerate, respectful, and endearing even. But his romance with Grey has turned him into an obnoxious and arrogant ass, who feels like he’s entitled to get what he may not even deserve. He started with feeling entitled to be with Grey, and now it’s like he feels he’s entitled to get things because of the fact that he’s with Grey. And what’s with his disrespect! Old DeLuca would’ve never been disrespectful towards Bailey, but now that he’s with Grey, it’s like he thinks he’s the cat’s whiskers!

Then in last week’s episode, Qadri—of all people—went whining to Bailey about her decision to fire the great Dr. Grey, who was the reason why she and others chose this program. It was, firstly, not her place to even comment on this, and where does she get off talking to Bailey like that! So when Bailey fired her sorry ass, it was more than warranted. I literally clapped when Bailey said that being fired was the one thing that Qadri now had in common with Grey. Bailey shouldn’t take any of this insubordination lying down. She doesn’t need to tolerate this disrespect, and I’m so glad she isn’t. Moreover, it’s not like she didn’t have to answer for the misdeeds of her surgical staff. Dr. Catherine Fox held her somewhat accountable, and instated Tom Koracick as the Catherine Fox Foundation’s eyes and ears in Grey+Sloan. If Bailey were to turn a blind eye towards her surgeons’ poor conduct, she wouldn’t be the Bailey that we know. I just hope she doesn’t succumb to pressure and feel compelled to hire Grey or anyone else back. If they want back in, even the great Dr. Grey needs to earn it.