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Entries in vince gilligan (3)


In Which There Is Nothing To Be Afraid Of

Lady Banjo Eyes


Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan

True Blood
creator Alan Ball

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is distracted from his job for a moment, but no more. On his 51st birthday, his wife slowly walks, fully-clothed, into the family pool. She can't get good with the way things are now that Walt is running his own business. She chainsmokes in the home, she begs for his cancer to return, she can barely manage to bake a chocolate cake. Her behavior is so exaggerated that she has turned into the Danielle Steele version of an adulterous wife.

It's a lot harder to write a character sketch like this about the protagonists in the eighteenth season of HBO's True Blood. What's that you say? It only feels like the eighteenth season? No matter. The typical scene on True Blood lasts only the thirty or forty seconds it might take you to get bored of it before moving onto the next character. It's like skipping from YouTube to YouTube, and in every episode, there are over a thousand.

not casting Fred Savage as Godric was an almost unforgivable mistake

The character I least understand on True Blood is Eric Northman. When the show began he was completely committed to the superiority of vampires over humans, now he walks around acting like he's Saint Ignatius. You have never seen a man so completely convinced there is no vampire god. He's become a Christian message board troll who waits for someone to espouse their faith in under 130 characters and then chimes in with a "Not likely!"

Understanding the motivations of a drama's personages is the first step to empathizing with their predicament. I almost admire how much True Blood eschews this. The only time it has its characters even react to the madness that surrounds them is when they cry afterwards. By the next episode, they are generally fine. The rule on True Blood - that everyone gets a storyline - extends even to the most peripheral characters, especially if they were kind enough to offer Alan Ball an on-set blowjob.

Alan Ball and Anna Paquin will not be doing any USO tours, of that much we can be certain

After a time, playing with the lives of fictional people becomes like moving things around on your desk. Alan Ball hates God so completely he had to become him.

Everything bad on True Blood is associated with religion, even the eating of a child. Ball believes that faith is the corruptor, the scapegoat instrument by which evil is wrought. His most sincere and good-willed individuals on the show are completely without faith; they feel lost in the world as he does, and simply by virtue of not knowing exactly what they are, are blessed and imagined as heroes.

No such luck for Walter White. He spent his entire life before he got brain cancer afraid of things, unable to decide who he was or what he should be doing with his life. Once he realized that, his new problems began.

I have lived longer than anyone I have talked about so far in this essai besides Eric Northman. One of mankind's most enduring cliches is that success comes with a price. (This cliche was first associated with Jesus, and later, Kristen Stewart.)

Whatever truth there is in this statement exists completely outside the realm of human experience. For those who aren't successsful, no price is too high. And for those who are successful, like the creators of Breaking Bad and True Blood, there must be some other reason for their unhappiness, an explanation that lies outside themselves. If they actually found they liked being miserable, success would feel like a curse.

taking Nancy Pelosi's dream and bringing it to life

Basically, it's easy to forget that you are the one who knocks. Many years ago my daughter came to me and explained that one of her classmates was afraid of me. What was I going to do about that? I offered to meet the young man, and he came over to our house for dinner. I asked him if he still felt afraid of me. "No," he said. I told him to wait.

Walter White is happy, perhaps the happiest he's ever been, but there is no one to enjoy it with him. Is this what it is truly like to run a critically acclaimed television series? Must there be a feeling in everything that they will be found out as a fraud, a charlatan? Did Matthew Weiner put his blood in a syringe and infect everyone in Hollywood with his identical insecurities?

I noticed some years ago that I find myself happier in the company of sad people, simply by comparison. And when I meet truly happy people - Oliver North comes to mind - I feel sorry for myself, that I cannot be as they are. Even more astonishing is that I am allowed to behave this way by the people in my life.

Beel, drain this woman while I watch the uneven bars

There might be another reason that this cliche keeps reoccuring in our popular fictions. Vampire leader Salome Agrippa (Valentina Cervi) has quickly become the worst character on True Blood. Her scenes are completely boring; she speaks with a vague monotone that is supposed to come off as threatening but in reality just lulls the viewer to sleep. Her idea of acting consists of brushing back her bangs. If I have to view her bare chest one more time, I'm going to start missing the acting "skills" of the guy who played Lafayette's top.

But besides the fact that Salome can't act and looks completely unappealing without clothes, the various travails of Salome don't interest me or my wife because she is truly satisfied with herself. Salome is incapable of change. Eventually this will be her downfall as she tries to take over the world for her vampire God, but until then I guess I have to keep watching Bill (Stephen Moyer) penetrating her with his ass raised high in the air, like he's about to hammer a nail.

you killed off Christopher Meloni FOR THIS?

True Blood and Breaking Bad, as they ascended to their first heights, made a point of portraying strong and powerful women. Now that these dramas near their conclusion, these women are actually revealed only as exceptions to the general rule of female archetypes - power and vulnerability can no longer exist within one human person. There may be sexism behind this, and I'm sure there is, but I can suggest another cause as well.

sexism, yoWhen a man changes his mind, or becomes something different than what he is, it is not a betrayal. This is expected of him: it happens when he begins a household, settles down with his partner, has children. These are all changes for him, and the responsiblities are said to improve who he is.

When these things happen to a woman, it is thought to be no more than a natural extension of herself. Lies. This vicious canard is completely subsumed in how men think of the opposite sex. But the reality is not that women aren't changed by the contours of family and marriage. It is that, on a conscious or even subconscious level, women are better at understanding what change implies than men will ever be.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about the beginning of Breaking Bad's season.

"We Are Not Good People" - Bloc Party (mp3)

"Octopus" - Bloc Party (mp3)

The new album from Bloc Party is entitled Four, and it will be released on August 20th.


In Which He Is The One Who Knocks

Better Business


Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan
Sundays at 9 on AMC

Once Lee Iacocca asked me to serve on the board of Chrysler; I laughed in his face and told him to go fuck a Plymouth Prowler. I'm dumb but I'm not that dumb.

I'm sorry for what I said, Lee. I felt justifiable anger towards you on behalf of the all business owners who don't get a handout from the government every quarter. If that's not enough, a businessman today has to be insulted by Warren Buffett. Mr. Buffett, who knows only rich fucks like himself, thinks that the very rich can afford to pay more in taxes. Thanks, guy. Of course they can. Because some douchebag can write a check for what Buffett believes he "owes" to society doesn't make it right.

If you do feel so inspired, don't wait to write a NYT editorial on the subject. You can send your checks to

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
Hyattsville, MD 20782

There's a dwarf waiting there whose only job is facebook the sender and emit a sinister chuckle. Warren Buffett has a goldplated portrait of himself hanging from his belly-button. It's a joke about "navel-gazing", don't ask me.

Breaking Bad's Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is another of these small business owners. He pays taxes on his straight business, a fried chicken restaurant called Los Pollos Hermanos that I would eat at every single day of my life were it to actually exist.

In the eyes of the law, Gus' food service venture is in the clear. They pay the handout required of them, they compensate New Mexico and the federal government by doling out "the cost of doing business." Gus doesn't pay taxes, however, on his real, high-margin enterprise: the production and distribution of crystal methamphetamine. This setup is identical to Google's in nearly every aspect except one company has far gaudier office parties.

Also, the only backtalk Google executives have to deal with at work is the poaching of their middle management. In order to convince Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) of his crucial role in the proceedings, Gus sets up an elaborate scheme in which Jesse manages to "foil" a robbery at one of their dead drops.

Gus' passive-aggressive management style strikes a real chord with me. I once made John Bolton launch a Navy Seal team into combat to make him feel more like a real man. It worked for about an hour and then the guy went back to playing Banjo-Kazooie on his N64. It was a different time, an era when you could touch yourself at the sight of Sonic the Hedgehog's female companions without irony or affectation.

Tipped off by his meth-cooking partner Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Jesse asks Gus why he has been chosen to leave the relative safety of the meth laboratory in order to venture out into the wide world of drug distribution. "I like to think I see something in people," Gus tells him. It is a cliché every chief executive in history has forced upon his proteges, but as a "let's get along" motivator it certainly beats Walter's stratagems.

Unlike Gus, Walter's business techniques originate in one of two places: acting from shame and desperation when confronted with jobs he can't do himself, or acting from shame and humiliation when things aren't going as he planned. A chemist is inured from the delicate work of manipulating people; to a drug dealer it's not just part of the business, it is the business.

We are always managing and recalculating the control we exert over others, ask Wesley Snipes. Walter White is not very good at exerting this control. He lacks empathy; he does not understand how other people stand in relation to him. He believes he is A, and when someone thinks he is B, instead of calculating the distance between the two points, he substitutes the new answer, the one he in his heart believes is more accurate, like any scientist.

Walter's wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) begs him to turn himself over to the police before Gustavo Fring tries to eliminate him again. She has been listening to an answering machine message he has left her under the pressure of his job. At first she had heard the strength and love in what he presumed were his last regrets, but a second time changes the story. This is not her husband, the man she married years ago.

Walter tells her that if he doesn't go into work, a business the size of those traded on the NASDAQ goes belly-up, ceases to exist. "You clearly don't know who you're talking to," he explodes. "I am not in danger, I am the danger."

Skyler White responds in the passive-aggressive fashion reminiscent of Walter's other boss. She drives their infant daughter to the Four Corners Monument at the intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. She tosses a quarter into a wishing well that does not exist. The look of disgust on her face is equal parts anger at her husband and shame at having to live under the long, thieving arm of the law.

In last week's episode, Walter White purchased a car wash. If he knew the kinds of taxes he'd be paying to wash other people's vehicles, he might have thought twice before embarking on this plan. The government will ask Asian children running a lemonade stand to pay their "fair share", it is more a simple reflex than any kind of malice.

"You're the boss now," the outgoing car wash owner tells Walter. "Do you think you're ready?"

American life hasn't been this melodramatic since the 1920s; American television has never been this good.

I don't blame Gustavo Fring or Google for their tax evasion, no more than I would any man who doesn't want to pay money he does not owe. The super-rich already write checks you and I cannot even imagine. Ask for more, and can you really blame them if they take their business to a country that is satisfied with less than half? How does driving the wealthiest American citizens to foreign lands help our country?

You can't blame Mr. Buffett for losing perspective: everyone he knows owns an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Walk down the street of any rich suburb in America and envy will flow through your veins. Bravo. You have made being rich being bad. It is not. Money is no more a value than television. Some I know say, "I don't like television." Terrific. How do you feel about the microwave?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He last wrote in these in pages about Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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"Magic" - GIRLS (mp3)

"Just A Song" - GIRLS (mp3)

"Myma" - Girls (mp3)

Father, Son, Holy Ghost is the new album from Girls, and it will be released on September 13th from True Panther Sounds.


In Which Everything Breaks Right For Once



That homie's dead, he just doesn't know it yet. Walt H. White (Bryan Cranston), the high school chemistry teacher-cum-drug lord at the center of the most queasily compelling morality play on television, AMC's Breaking Bad, is going to die. Whether it's his case of terminal lung cancer or collateral damage from the whole drug thing, he's hurtling towards the end.

The looming threat of Walt's inevitable death is what makes Breaking Bad such a satisfying show. There's space to ruminate on the show's funhouse mirror look at utterly American worries like health care, immigration, and the drug trade, all the while staying focused on a man discovering his inner psychopath — and liking it! — on a nihilistic ride to the bottom. The show is gorgeously, strikingly filmed with an eye on big sky and neon like Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas or a William Eggleston photo. Breaking Bad's portrayal of the terrifying drug trade on the border is enough to make the casual viewer get an idea of the fear driving the state of Arizona insane.

And there is a dramatic pull beyond the pitch of "the ever-syndicated in perpetuity sitcom dad, Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, becomes a meth dealer!" — as the narcocorrido band put it in episode 2.7, "Negro Y Azul," "that homie's dead/he just doesn't know it yet."

For the uninitiated, Breaking Bad starts in media res — Walt is in his tighty whities and a gas mask, crashing an RV in the desert and recording an anguished goodbye message on a videocamera for his family. Then we speed backwards to see how such a buttoned down man got into these circumstances. It starts, of course, with a terminal cancer diagnosis where his HMO won't cover anything beyond lower quality care. Walt's situation is complicated by a middle class lifestyle in Alberquerque, New Mexico: no significant savings, a disabled son, and a pregnant wife who's willing to pay for cancer with credit cards.

With a diagnosis like this, some people would be staring into the abyss, flailing around in an attempt to square up finances and to figure out what really matters. Walt has no reaction; and he appears to take this death sentence as a blessing. He doesn't tell his family about his diagnosis for weeks. And when he does tell them, he refuses to seek treatment. Walt has become death.

While Walt is a chemistry genius with a degree in crystallography, he is also a stubborn, prideful bastard. So when his DEA brother-in-law takes him on a meth bust where an ex-student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is leaving the scene, and he learns about the easy money to be had — of course, the clear path is to go into business with Jesse as meth cookers and dealers. And soon enough, Walt is arguably a very successful meth cooker, with an accidental reputation as super-gringo meth lord "Heisenberg."

It's a choice motivated by money, pride, and desperation, and the bodies and fuck-ups pile up. Jesse is a dopey drug-addled degenerate speaking in 'yo's and 'bitch's, whose soft heart renders him potentially redeemable — whereas Walt is on a journey of discovery into his own innate psychopathic nihilism.

Breaking Bad is sharply plotted over the course of its strike-shortened first season, the amazing season two, and the currently-running season three. Creator Vince Gilligan (The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, Hancock) and his team are amazingly adept at sending the audience through a variety of paces and subverting expectations every minute; some examples include one of the most disturbing hours of television that I'd ever seen (2.6, "Peekaboo," where Pinkman tries to extract justice on methheads while coming across their neglected, heartbreaking, smudge-faced and silent ginger kid) and an episode that's as tense as the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men (3.7, "One Minute").

Avoid watching Breaking Bad before bed, as it messes with your nervous system like a gory report on the evening news, encouraging visceral verbal reactions. Any episode will give you violence, explosions, and death: it's all surprising.

It's been quite a ride watching Walter White change from beige to drug lord, from ostensible hero to true anti-hero, and how his actions have affected Jesse's junkie spiral (season three Jesse is a clean Jesse, and finally Aaron Paul is allowed to be as attractive as he actually is), wife Skylar's Carmela Soprano-esque bitterness, and his DEA brother-in-law Hank's route from genial buffoon to PTSD suffer badass enough to chase after the great "Heisenberg" while taking out Mexican cartel thugs right and left.

Unlike other critically acclaimed dramas (what's up Mad Men?), something of game-changing consequence — not necessarily thoughtful symbolism — happens every week. And yet, it shares a certain clarity of vision with shows like Mad Men and The Wire. First off, it shows a man driven to psychopathic behavior by the stress, which is a hell of an indictment on the modern age. The cause and effect is clearer — since Walt is staring down death, his pride and worry snap him out of stasis, telling him to do something with his life, and the consequences are mighty.

In what is becoming a pattern on cable TV, Breaking Bad is as indebted to Cormac McCarthy as The Wire was forever 'Dickensian' or as Mad Men's blend of Don DeLillo and John Cheever fuels its mid-century American ennui. According to McCarthy, a story isn't worth telling if it's not about life and death, and Walter White is certainly a kindred spirit.

The show is preoccupied with the same issues surrounding McCarthy's Biblical tales of Southwestern justice and fate. Walt turns into a straight shooter out of a western, ready to kill or be killed for the sake of his manliness and to justify his existence. Scenes take place in a symbolic sunset under the wide-open desert sky. Judgment comes piling down on the characters. There are always indestructible sociopaths looming who would take Walt out in a heartbeat.

And ultimately, there's the wonderfully craggy face of Bryan Cranston. Playing a man of science and verve, he wipes all memories of Malcolm's Hal out the door. Walt's a man who lives in his head. He plays things close to the vest. To really understand what he's feeling, look at the wrinkles and worries in the canyons of his forehead. As long as he's wrestling with demons in New Mexico, Jon Hamm's slow burn is likely to remain seated come Emmy time.

Perhaps that's the way it should be; Cranston is the anchor of a show that reveals the screwy beauty, risk and emptiness underneath what was sold as the American dream. He's a man becoming himself in the light of life and death — and that is what's truly terrifying.

Elisabeth Donnelly is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here.

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