341. A Song Of Ice And Fire

After the explosive end of Breaking Bad last year and the mind-melting conclusion of The Dark Tower a few months ago, I was left with a vague feeling of emptiness inside of me, something TvTropers would know as Awesomeness Withdrawal.

Somewhere in June (or I think it was June; my memory is failing the less I use it), I thought that Mr. Martin’s earth-shaking A Song Of Ice And Fire series would do well to fill in the epic gap left behind by the two aforementioned works. With 5 novels published and 4 seasons of 10*hour-long episodes, it would entertain me for a couple more months before I find other things to watch/read.

(I have also gotten me the critically acclaimed True Detective and Les Revenants series, but just can’t bring myself to binge watch either of them due to the density of each episode… Maybe later)

So far so good, I think.

My plan is to read the novels before watching the episodes; and if what I’m told about the bloodthirsty showrunners is true, then I’ll suffer no lack of suspense while watching the series. This is for a number of reasons:

ONE: I’m highly squeamish.

For all the love I have for thrills, I lack the emotional fortitude to deal with it. I spend most of my time in movie theaters with my fingers plugged into my ears in anticipation of a jump scare. One of the first scenes I’ve seen from Game of Thrones, ironically, is the scene where [SPOILER ALERT] The Mountain smashing the Red Viper’s head in. Nasty stuff.

TWO: I suck at following dialogue

Which is why I usually have subtitles for when I’m watching things at home. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Mr. Fellowes’ academy award-winning Gosford Park, and I realized about 3 minutes into the movie that I would not survive it without subtitles to tell me what these people are saying with those thick accents of theirs. By reading the novels and turning the volume on louder than usual as I’m watching the series, I will at least have some idea of what’s going on in the scene.

(and I won’t have to worry about disturbing the other people in the house. It’s not like I’m going to watch Game of Thrones with other people around!)

THREE: I can’t remember names

Which is strange considering point number 2, but it’s true. With the number of characters running around the novels, I have lost track of who’s who from about page 120 onward. I’m a little better with faces, and with my facial recognition powers combined with context from the books, I’ll be able to – hopefully – appreciate the story a little bit more.

I’ve heard that the third novel – A Storm of Swords – is longer than Mr. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. And I’ve also heard that Mr. Martin kills off his characters without mercy. All things considered, I think it’s going to be a fun ride ahead, even taking into account how ridiculously spoilered I am.

(I’d like to take this opportunity to push for the legitimization of “spoilered” as a real word, so that it stands distinct from “spoiled”, which carries very different meanings)

I’m now 6 episode and 600 pages into the story, with all the Seven Kingdoms before me to explore. Well – here I go.

127. Breaking Bad: After the End

I have finally arrived at the explosive conclusion of the legendary series that is Breaking Bad.

When I first heard about the series, I didn’t think much of it. Then when Sir Hopkins’ letter to Mr. Cranston surfaced on the internet, along with the much-publicized fact that the series’ third-to-last episode has a perfect score on IMDB, and that the series has made history by being the highest-rated television series of all time, it became one of the things that I thought I’ll come around to doing next year, just like what I thought about starting this blog.

Then just like how I started this blog way ahead of schedule, there came the day that I thought to myself, “Eh, I’ll just watch one episode as a teaser, and I’ll get around to watching the rest of it come 2014 when I actually have time.”

Now, I’m not known to be a television kind of person. You could call it commitment issues, I guess. I can sit through a 2-hour movie, no problem, as long as it’s even remotely interesting. But to ask me to watch 24 hour-long episodes per season of a series… There had better be a really good reason for me to invest that kind of time into it.

I don’t think I’ve finished a full television series before. I stuck with Glee for about three seasons before dropping it, and I managed to watch about 8 episodes of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who before deciding that the genre and story just wasn’t for me. So the only series I’ve finished were animes, and those don’t really count, because, y’know, they’re not real television.

So in that way, you could also say that Breaking Bad made history as the first (and at the date of writing, the only) television series that Joseph Ng has finished watching from start to end.

To be honest, when I first heard about the premise of “high school teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to meth manufacturer to earn money for his family”, I was expecting a very different kind of show. Probably one with a lot more explosions, gunfights, and chase scenes. Needless to say, I was a little surprised to find that the series was very heavily drama-based, and the show became one that was very unique to me because of that.

The story of Breaking Bad is a complex, dark, and dense one. The drama and intrigue that unfolds within each episode could easily be spread over the course of an arc, or even a full season of another show. But Breaking Bad isn’t that kind of show – it plows on, relentless and fearless, creating believable conflict and realistic tensions between the cast of characters that twists and turns multiple times within a single episode. I found myself, at times, reading the recap of episodes on Wikipedia and going, “Wait, that happened only earlier in this episode?”

The very concept behind the series is an ambitious one: “to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface,” series creator Mr. Gilligan said concerning the story. From the very start, Breaking Bad set out to challenge conventions, the most prominent of which was that while other television series focused on maintaining the status quo, the creators decided that it would be about change; and boy, did it change.

It’s no spoiler by now that our protagonist, the mild-manner high school teacher Walter White, makes his transformation from a pathetic, miserable man in the first episode to a borderline complete monster by the end of the final season; but that’s not the only change that we observe. Over the course of the series, we also get to see unlikeable characters becoming likeable; monstrous villains becoming sympathetic characters not so different from you and I; and even the dynamics of the various characters’ interactions with one another evolves with the story.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that which happens within us – the viewers. Most of us would start off the series feeling sorry for Walt and wishing that he could get away from his oppressive environment, and that Jesse Pinkman would just die and get it over with. Towards the end of the series, we realize that the tables have been turned on us – at the end, we feel sorry for Jesse and wish that he could get away from his oppressive environment, and that Walt would just die and get it over with. The process of change that the showrunner, writers, and directors bring us on is one so gradual and subtle that most of us might even fail to notice it – just like how Walt fails to recognize his increasing villainy and decreasing humanity.

When I finally arrived at the third-to-last episode that was awesomely titled Ozymandias, again I was expecting a very different episodes. You know, one with a lot more explosions, gunfights, and chase scenes. But true to its nature so far, the show completely subverted that, and instead handed to me an hour-long drama of Walt’s realization of how far he has fallen, and how irredeemable he has become.

Then the final two episodes came, pulling no punches and hitting as hard as it could, culminating in an explosive conclusion reminiscent of Scarface, the whole time maintaining the self-control necessary to prevent it from spiraling into a bloody self-parody.

If there’s a word to describe the series, it’d be “brave”. Here is a show that was unafraid to be itself, that was strong enough to resist the temptations of pandering to its audiences or following the latest trend. It simply told its story like a hard, bitter truth, and this spirit was reflected in the incredible performances put on by the entire cast.

After the end of a long, tiring, emotionally draining journey that lasted all of about 50 hours in total, I can finally rest easy knowing that I have had the privilege of enjoying a genuinely unique, groundbreaking series. I’ll even go a step further to say that if Mr. Hemingway had been alive to watch this series, he would have been proud.

92. Breaking Bad (and HSQ)

Ladies and gentlemen, today I will introduce to you the term called HSQ.

(for the kids: avert your eyes, close this window, and go stalk your crush on facebook or something)

HSQ is essential. It’s like the protein of entertainment – even the blandest of them (the vegan ones, if I may) need a little bit of HSQ to get it going. HSQ is what keeps your show breathing; it’s what keeps people hooked to what you’re trying to tell them. At the heart of every work of art should be some degree of HSQ.

What is HSQ? I shall borrow the eloquent words of TvTropes for this:

Divide the number of times you said “Holy Shit!” by the number of scenes. This is the Holy Shit Quotient (or HSQ) for a given episode.

I’ve just begun watching Breaking Bad, and given that the standard hour-long TV drama episode has about 40 scenes, Breaking Bad has a HSQ rating of 0.1 per episode, and this number is escalating fast as the series progresses into the second season.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like it. Most TV series I’ve had the delight of following usually have a certain cycle to the way they are run: they start off with an amazingly good first season, and the quality usually peaks in the second season before plateauing in the third – by the fourth, the show would have changed so much from what I knew it to be, and it’s usually here that I stop watching it altogether.

With Breaking Bad, however – I’m nearing the end of the second season now, and the story sounds like it’s just getting started.

I’ve begun watching the show for a number of reasons:

ONE: After a simple look-up on wikipedia, I found that the series is the highest-rated TV series in the history of TV, with a metacritic score of 99% and a record of 10.3 million viewers upon the finale of the series.

TWO: My attention was drawn to the fact that the third-to-last episode, titled Ozymandias (which is already awesome in its own right), has a perfect 10-score in IMDB. I’ve never heard of anything that scored a perfect 10 – and there it is.

THREE: Sir Anthony Hopkins’ letter to Bryan Cranston, and the cast and crew of the series. In the letter, he called the series “the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen” and “best acting I’ve ever seen” – and all of this is coming from Mr. Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins!

There was something big going on here, and I wanted to watch the series before people begin publicly spoiling important plot points. Hell, just knowing that the series went on for 6 seasons is a spoiler in itself, but I can live with that.

I planned to watch the series only when 2014 rolls around – after I have completed my university education, written 2 feature film scripts, and sent off 2 novel-length manuscripts for publication. This plan went down the drain as soon as I began watching the first episode. The number of times I’ve said “Holy Shit!” during the show is rival only to Inception and The Dark Knight – and that’s no real comparison, because they’re feature films, not TV episodes.

As I struggle against the temptation of watching yet another episode (because I have a 15-page report to write and submit by 11A.M. tomorrow), there is only one thing left to be said to the creator of the series, Mr. Gilligan:

Holy shit, Vince. You’ve outdone us all.