An exciting – and shocking – season finale
"I go, and it is done. The bell invites me." – Shakespeare's Macbeth
It has been a slow build to the last few seconds of tonight's enthralling, almost unbearably tense episode of "Breaking Bad". Everything fell into place for once, with no last minute bait and switch, no surprise inspection from the DEA, no stray bullets hitting anything that they weren't supposed to hit. The epic showdown between Walter White and Gus Fring took place in a drab nursing home, but with an appropriately spectacular death scene for the Chicken Man. Walt and Jesse are partners again, working in perfect synchronized unison to get rid of the super lab and evidence of all their latest crimes. And Skyler, Junior and Holly, not to mention Hank, are safe once again. But then comes that seemingly innocuous backyard shot, and the full scope of the immoral hell that Walter has descended into becomes horrifyingly clear.
Look, there are going to be lots of arguments about how Walt managed to orchestrate this entire plot (as well as the wisdom of keeping the audience in the dark, which is unusual for this show). My biggest problems have to do with just how he transported the poison to Brock and got him to ingest it, and how much Walt relied on Jesse finding the missing cigarette at precisely the right time and reacting in precisely the right way that Walter needed him to. Vince Gilligan has already confirmed that Huell did indeed lift the ricin cigarette off of Jesse when he patted him down at Saul's office, and I have no doubt they will expand on the details of what happened in the final sixteen episodes. But for now, it is enough to ruminate on what I am decidedly NOT questioning: that Walter White, former high school chemistry teacher, cancer survivor and devoted family man, is fully capable of killing an innocent child to protect himself from harm. The fact that Brock did not die is pure luck, and Walt's relief at this is obviously sincere. But if the outcome had been different…well, apparently he was going to be fine with that. The point was his final line: "I won." Just how long is he going to be satisfied with the status quo? And what happens when the next person in his way isn't a criminal mastermind like Gus? What if it is someone like Steve Gomez or his own brother-in-law? And what happens if (when) Jesse finds out about everything that his buddy Heisenberg has done to the people that he loves? It won't be pretty, to say the least.
There was over an hour of some truly great television before that final reveal, and it ranged from the blackly comic shakedown between Walt and Saul's secretary (I love that it is the people with the least amount of power who always mess up his grand plans) to Gus's aggressive march into Casa Tranquilla for his final confrontation with Tio. And what a fantastic final send-off for Giancarlo Esposito – literally dying on his feet, mangled but meticulous and dignified to the very end. It certainly isn't the end of the meth trade in New Mexico, but it was a fitting ending for this chapter in the life of Walter White. His world is wide open now and it is frightening to contemplate what we are in for in the future.
The civil war in Atlantic City heats up, and domestic arrangements are unsettled
Nucky Thompson's fundamental issue has always been that he is a politician, not a gangster. He is unafraid of corruption, double-dealing and chicanery in the service of holding on to his sway over Atlantic City, but his solution to most problems has been to spread money around, from the highest elected officials to the lowliest citizen. It's true that one of the first acts we saw was his order to kill Margaret's abusive husband, but that was more of a twisted moral execution (and a convenient body to hide the murders that Jimmy and Al committed in the woods.) When it comes to the cold-blooded hits required of an organized crime boss, Nucky just isn't a killer.
Unfortunately, due to his beloved Volstead Act, the rise of the ruthless crime boss (like Arnold Rothstein currently is, and Al Capone will become) is happening all around him. When Al visits Jimmy on the way to bury his own father, he is mystified that Jimmy and his cohorts ("Frankenstein", as he calls Richard Harrow) haven't just bumped Nucky off. Jimmy explains that this is a "political coup", where the Commodore is attempting to seize back all the power in town, including the semi-legitimate business and civic duties. But it is becoming clearer that men like Jimmy, Al, and Nucky's new enforcer Own Sleater are becoming more and more necessary in this increasingly violent world. And when these men are not just hired thugs, when they are men like Jimmy, who finally states flatly that he is caught between two fathers, it will be harder for the big bosses to control them. Seeing those feelings roil in that wonderful scene at Babette's – where the complicated family relationships tangled up everyone's emotions – is what makes "Boardwalk Empire" so satisfying to watch.
Just as complicated – and deeply, deeply weird – is the "relationship" between Lucy and Van Alden. Apparently, he is paying her keep (with the promise of more after the baby comes) while essentially keeping her a prisoner and she is going understandably stir-crazy. Lucy is such a deliberately annoying and off-putting person that it was odd to feel sympathy for her plight, and it was equally strange to see Van Alden make a human gesture with the gift of the Victrola, not knowing that it came just in time to save his unborn child's life. This storyline is so unconnected to the rest of the narrative that it seems like an intrusion to the action most of the time, but hopefully, the changing motivations of both characters will keep it fresh.
Margaret also has some conflicting emotions about her family, from whom she is so estranged that they consider her dead to them. This is one of the more intriguing mysteries of the show, since it is hard to imagine what would have caused such a huge rift. Did she get pregnant and was cast out of the family? Was there some other conflict that caused her to reject her siblings and run away? Margaret obviously still feels torn between her shiny new present and her more sordid and poverty stricken past, as seen in her shifting familiarity and imperiousness with the servants. Despite all of the outside violence, for most of the people in "Boardwalk Empire", the real battles are within their hearts.
- There were two surprisingly poignant scenes involving two rather heinous characters: seeing Al Capone's sadness when he watched Jimmy and his son interact the way he never can with his own deaf son, and Eli getting cut down by his senile father. This show really knows how to spread the father/son dysfunction around.
- It's good that it's still an uphill battle for the Commodore, as he is turned down flat by Captain Bill McCoy and has to call in favors with the Coast Guard. However, Nucky has his own hurdles to overcome, as his White House connection (Attorney General Harry Daugherty) is cool to the idea of getting involved in a state scandal.
- "Making people stop…whatever it is you don't want them to be doing." Tidy job description.
- The magic hour lighting in that scene between Sleater and Nucky in his office was beautiful.
- So Doyle/Cusick is Van Alden's snitch? That is going to end well.
- "Why'd you not shoot me?" "I may yet."
Leslie faces her first political crisis in another strong episode
On several occasions, the wonderful Alan Sepinwall has compared Pawnee of "Parks & Recreation" to the world of Springfield from "The Simpsons." There are similar plotlines, such as the hatred of Eagleton touched on again in tonight's episode being similar to Springfield's rivalry with Shelbyville. But mainly, they both seem to be ever-expanding worlds that are full of recurring bit players and background characters, any of whom can be called upon for a quick one-liner or a scene or two, supplying reliable laughs every time.
"Born & Raised" featured Mo Collins as the blowsy and self-aggrandizing talk show host Joan Calamezzo, who is being courted by Leslie for a plug for her new (and real!) book about the "greatest town in America". Leslie's appearance devolves into chaos when she is exposed as being actually born in the evil, evil hamlet of Eagleton, due to an untimely raccoon infestation at the Pawnee hospital back in the day. A somewhat routine spoof of the Birther movement somehow leads to the return of Bert Macklin (FBI), skimpily clad dancing girls, and Joan drunkenly performing "Let's Hear It For The Boy" in public. Just like we expected, Leslie comes clean about the mistake, and earns back the public trust, which she probably never really lost in the first place. I mean, who can resist a woman who loves waffles that much?
The only folks not directly involved in doing damage control for Leslie are stuck back at the office, where Ann haplessly makes it her mission to get one minute of small talk from the notoriously taciturn Ron and April. This "B" plot was basically a throwaway, but when there is such an overstuffed "A" plot, maybe this is to be preferred. Besides, deadpan one-liners are Aubrey Plaza's specialty ("I really like your hair. Where did you get it done?" "Prison." "Who's your favorite Charlie's Angel?" "Alf.") and Ann's solution – that everyone loves to hear a gross hospital story – is funny because it's true.
- Sweetums Cares: a non-profit group that puts umbrella hats on homeless people when it rains.
- Look, I listen to KCRW. I love KCRW. But I laughed long and hard at "Thoughts for Your Thoughts" and Dan Castellaneta's voice.
- Maybe the book would have been even better with poems and unicorns.
- "Usually I only read nautical novels and my own personal manifestos."
- Of course, Chris is a speed reader. Of course he is.
- "Behind every successful man, is me, smiling and taking partial credit."
- As usual, the text on screen during the talk show (Leslie Knope: Author, Immigrant) was comedy gold.
- "It will be casual and it will amicable!"
- Speaking of reliable faces, there were several Pawnee residents at that book reading that were awfully familiar.
- "Seems to be going the usual amount of gross."
- Is Chris Pratt contractually obligated to do a hilarious pratfall at least every other episode? Although Adam Scott's flop off of Joan's bed was pretty funny as well.
- "That is worse than I ever could have hoped for!"
Here are the major plot points you need to get by at the water cooler
In a lively episode, the group temporarily self-destructs and Chang gets a promotion
What do you really have in common with the "friends" that you are essentially forced into contact with on a daily basis? As Tim said in the original "The Office", maybe it's just that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day. Sometimes, it isn't the things you like that you have in common, but the things that you despise.
"Competitive Ecology" was relatively modest in scale, but the main plot was full of zingy one-liners and quirky character moments for every one of seven study group members, cumulating in the realization that their biggest bond was hating on accidental lab partner/innocent bystander/"non-grouper" Todd (and his dumb baby). It is delightful that this show keeps coming up with new ways to make each person's familiar personality traits more funny, from Abed's wackiness ("The hair color concept intrigues me because it's how I distinguish you anyway.") to Jeff's arrogance ("And who the hell are you always texting? Everyone you know is here!") to Britta's humorlessness ("If loving worms is stupid, I don't want to be smart!"). Random Todd lets them have it, speaking truth to power about how toxic the whole group is to each other, but the self-awareness only lasts as long as it takes for them all to be shuffled into one big lab group. The more things change…
In other news, Chang is still completely insane. His latest mind adventure is fancying himself a Marlowesque gumshoe detective, complete with weary voice-over and thing that are "clue-y". There was a lot of humor and good parody embedded in this "B" plot, which skated right up to the edge of how much Chang I can take (and veered over that line by the end). The worst part is that funny mustachioed ambiguously ethnic security guard is gone. There needs to be a strong voice of reason when it comes to Chang, and if he is only paired up with the equally cuckoo Dean Peldon, it may get to be too much awfully fast. That's not funny at all. That's scary.
- I could listen to Michael K. Williams expound about Legos all day long.
- "Oh no, she's got her marijuana lighter!"
- Annie fainting after hearing they all failed was hilarious.
- "How did this happen and did I miss the firemen?"
Can EJ's new campaign publicist really stop playing games?
When "Days of our Lives" was promoting last month's big Salem reboot, it was all about returning characters, behind the scenes shakeups and the new local hang out. It's quickly become clear, however, that long-time locals like Nicole are also seeing some change. She's over being with the wrong guys and playing games... for now? With Nicole signed on to work closely with EJ, portrayer Arianne Zucker isn't so sure this leopard can change her spots, but she's willing to let naughty Nicole take a stab at it.
MSN TV: How are you enjoying life in Salem after the big reboot?
Arianne Zucker: I've always been a big believer in change. I try to do something in life to create something new all the time, so it's exciting. What's cool is Nicole's going through a transition, just like the town of Salem and "Days" are. The situation with Gus made her life flash before her eyes and she realized, "I am pathetic; I've stayed in relationships that aren't good for me just for the sake of being in a relationship." It's great to say it, but can she go through with being this changed woman?
Especially now that she's working for EJ! Does she actually believe he's a good candidate for mayor?
Nicole thinks he can make a good mayor because of his connections and his pull. He has a lot of money, he's dapper, handsome and sexy and has all these qualities that can help. He could convince people in higher positions and his business partners to actually do better for the city, if she can get him to use his power in a positive way.
How dirty will this campaign get?
I think Nicole wants to make sure EJ's honest in the campaign, but someone is going to lose, and I certainly don't want it to be EJ! You have to do things to stay in the game. We're ahead now, but EJ doesn't like to lose and I can only imagine what he might do. It's exciting for Nicole to wonder, "What is this man going to do and how are we going to try to win this campaign?"
And will she be able to resist EJ's advances?
She loves the bad boys. It's hard for her to get away, but I don’t even have an answer. There's definitely a chemistry that keeps bringing these two back together, after everything they've been through. Maybe it's a past life thing, if you believe in those. (laughs) At times, they're good together and passionate, but boy, they just destroy each other and they're both guilty of it.
Last week, the internet went crazy over James Scott's (EJ) contract negotiations. Now he's re-signed with the show, but what is that like for you guys to have everyone in your business, literally, when you're dealing with this kind of stuff?
I know, right? Our world has changed so much, as far as privacy, with Twitter and Facebook. People freely put their lives out there and I do the same thing -- I've tweeted pictures of my daughter. It's a different world. You've got to go with the flow, and you're going to get so many different opinions. Twitter has become like message boards used to be, with people giving their opinion, and you have such quick access to what people are saying about you. You have to take it at face value and remember this is their opinion. Most of the time, fans are so supportive.
Supportive of you, but what about all the tension between the dueling forces behind EJOLE, EJAMI, SAFE, etc?
They're talking about the characters and I love it. It keeps up on air and we love our fans for that. I appreciate that they dive in, call or make whatever comment they make. We want to stay on air, so keep fighting for your characters!
With all this change afoot, is there something new you would like to see for Nicole?
Bren Foster is a black belt, so my storyline would be that Quinn teaches Nicole karate. Then we have some fight scenes and have to swing from wires, do splits and I kick people's butts in some crazy DiMeras versus Kariakises battle. I keep pushing that on the writers. I don't think that's ever going to happen, but you know, I can always dream...
"Days of Our Lives" airs weekdays on NBC.
Next season could be the show's last even with a settlement, characters offer reactions
"Simpsons" fans, you can finally have that cow, man. After 23 seasons, your show appears doomed.
Even if a settlement is reached in the current contract stalemate, according to a report by TheWrap.com, FOX is eyeing next season as the show's last.
For the fun to continue even that long -- and boy, won't it be fun after all this? -- the studio has demanded a reported 45 percent pay cut for all crew and cast members.
Some producers have agreed. But the six regular voice actors -- who earn $8 million each per season -- have not. They have until tomorrow.
The actors -- who commissioned a study estimating that the show has earned $1 billion in profits -- countered with an offer to accept 30 percent less in combination with a stake in a series. FOX flatly rejected it.
"We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model," FOX said in a statement.
The actors are not commenting. (Would you if your stance was that slightly more than $4 million per year isn't enough to voice cartoons for a living?) However, when reached for comment from this blogger, the "Simpsons" characters had the following reactions …
Homer Simpson: "Dough!"
Marge Simpson: "Hmm, I don't have a good feeling about this."
Lisa Simpson: "And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
Bart Simpson: "Big whoop."
Maggie Simpson: (pacifier sucking noise)
Smithers: "Did someone say four million?"
"The Simpsons" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.
The newlyweds get silly during their first daytime interview as man and wife
On the heels of doing their first interview on "Late Night with Jay Leno" last night, newlyweds Kim and Kris Kardashian - er, we mean Humphries -- take on daytime today, Wednesday, Oct. 5, with a visit to "Ellen." With a new special to promote, the newlyweds stop by to dish wedding details and babies and renew their vows in a wacky ceremony officiated by Ellen DeGeneres.
Bing: More on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' | Watch clips
"We are gathered here today, because we are the only 300 people not invited to Kris and Kim's wedding," DeGeneres quips during today's mock vow renewal, and no surprise, she proves to be one entertaining master of ceremonies (see clip above).
Kim and Kris are making the rounds to promote "Kim's Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event," the E! special about their original, star-studded summer nuptials, airing Oct. 9 and 10. In order to lure viewers to tune in, the couple dished with DeGeneres about being newlyweds, babies and, of course, the big day.
While Kim had one word for how she would have changed her big event -- "Elope!” -- hubby Kris reveals he would have added a bit more partying to the after party. Kim would agree, if only she'd been a bit less mental.
"I was so crazy for an entire month," she says. "I literally went crazy. It was so stressful.”
You can catch the full chat today on "Ellen," and per our weekly daytime celeb roundup. Kim will also be on "Today" this Friday, first as a guest, then as a co-host.
"Ellen" airs weekdays on NBC. Check local listings for airtimes.