Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Sopranos Award- Action Series

Named For: The Sopranos (HBO)
Awarded To: The best action series of the season
2009 Winner: Chuck (NBC)
2010 Winner: Lost (ABC)
2011 Winner: Justified (FX)

10. The River (ABC) 0 points

9. Sherlock (PBS) 1 point
5th by Matt

8. Chuck (NBC) 3 points
3rd by Jack

7. Boardwalk Empire (HBO) 8 points
2nd by Jaydon

6. Fringe (FOX) 9 points
2nd by Jack, 4th by Me

5. Sons of Anarchy (FX) 14 points
3rd by Tyson, Rizzo, Larry, and Matt

4. Game of Thrones (HBO) 26 points
1st by Tyson, Cecil, and Larry

3. Homeland (Showtime) 29 points
1st by Mags, 2nd by Me

2. Justified (FX) 29 points
1st by T-time and Jack, 1st by Me

and the Poolie goes to...

1. Breaking Bad (AMC) 34 points
1st by Jaydon, Rizzo, Matt, and Bonz, 3rd by Me

This is Breaking Bad's third overall nomination, second for best action series, and first ever win.  Here with a discussion on why the show is so great is Poolie voter Jaydon.

Breaking Bad is the story of one man’s journey from milquetoast beta male to amoral, pathologically self-serving demon. It tells this story through a series of increasingly narrow escapes from increasingly perilous webs of entanglement. One of the reasons it’s in the pantheon of great shows is that the escapes always lead to deeper, more insurmountably suffocating situations to be navigated. At the end of season 3, Gale had learned how to prepare Walt’s premium meth, rendering Walt and Jesse expendable. Walt makes Jesse kill Gale which keeps them alive but sets Walt and Gus at odds and sends Jesse into existential crisis. It also largely severs the partnership between Walt and Jesse, giving Gus an opening to foster a relationship with the lost soul.

Season 4 can be seen as the main event matchup between the long reigning champion drug lord and the wild and scrappy upstart. It’s an incredible showdown because both men are highly intelligent and evenly matched.

Gus is depicted as an indestructible genius. He reinstates his position of power over Walt and Jesse by brutally slicing the throat of an enforcer dumb enough to have been seen at the scene of Gale’s murder by eye-witnesses. This shows us two things: that Gus is capable of direct murder, and that he’ll unflinchingly end problems with immediacy. This action is a statement, “I own you until you prove no longer useful at which point you’re dead”. There’s the great moment when Gus walks determinedly into cartel gunfire and throws up his hands in a godlike gesture of infallibility. We see an avenging Gus seize power in an incredibly risky but brilliant poison plot that wipes out cartel boss Don Eladio and his men. Gus is calculating, ballsy and seemingly perfect.

Walt doesn’t buy it. In a memorable showcase of his turgid ego, Walt lets a newly ride or die Skyler know that he is the “one who knocks”. He puts his play in motion by encouraging Jesse to poison Gus with ricin hidden in a cigarette. Jesse balks, unsure of where his allegiance lies in the face of Walt’s continued under-appreciation and disrespect and Gus’s savvy self-esteem building efforts. The long boiling animosity between Walt and Jesse comes to a head in a sad fight that apparently cements the end of their partnership and derails Walt’s strategy.

The implied threat of the box cutter incident seems to kick in when Gus fires Walt. Jesse has learned the meth formula well enough to render Walt unnecessary, sending Walt into a mad scramble of attempted escape. This leads to my favorite scene of the entire show where Walt discovers that his money has been seriously depleted by Skyler paying off Ted’s IRS tab. The soundtrack thumps like a heartbeat as Walt lets out an animalistic shriek of desperation. He starts laughing maniacally and the camera eventually pans up evoking a grave to the sound of disturbing distortion. This encapsulates perfectly the idea of Walt as an unstable dead man walking who happens to be perversely enjoying the downfall of his world. It’s humbling to behold.

Walt’s laughter in that grave signified his final transition to the underworld. The move he pulls to get out of this mess crosses any person’s threshold of acceptable anti-hero activity into certain villainy. He poisons Jesse’s lady friend’s kid and convinces him when confronted that Gus is to blame. In doing so he gets Jesse back on his side and collaborates with him to lure Gus into a vehicle equipped with explosives. Gus’s supernatural drug lord senses lead him to evade the trap at the last moment.

Walt finally vanquishes his most formidable opponent by exploiting Gus’s well-earned hubris. Walt convinces Hector “Tio” Salamanca to gain revenge against Gus for his eradication of the cartel and grandson. They make it appear as if Tio is snitching to the DEA in order to get Gus to kill him at the nursing home. When Gus is about to give Tio a lethal injection, Tio lets loose one of his trademark sneers of disgust and rings his communicative bell furiously for the last time. The bell triggers a bomb that gives us one of the coolest death scenesin TV history. We see Gus walk out post explosion seeming for a second to be actually unkillable. He straightens his tie and the camera pans to the right so that we can see all of his face, half of which no longer exists. He collapses.

Walt and Jesse destroy the lab and have a talk later at the hospital garage. Jesse lets Walt know that the poisoned kid will make it and that it wasn’t ricin but Lily of the Valley that was used. Walt calls Skyler telling her “I won”. It’s here that we learn that Walt was behind the poisoning of the child as the camera pans to the Lily of the Valley plant in Walt’s garden. It’s a final shock that resonates deeply.

Walt has won but what has he won and at what cost? He has won the spot of drug lord and he’ll presumably become the new Gus.  He’s lost his soul completely and will likely continue on an evil path that will claim more victims. Will Jesse, Hank, Skyler, Walt Jr or his baby die? Will Walt kill Jesse? Will Jesse kill Walt? As we approach the final (unfortunately split into two) season, it seems like Walt’s made his finale escape. Walt overcame his greatest enemy and will now transition into becoming an even greater evil. It seems his destiny is to become the new force from which others must escape.

The Poolie Action category is consistently the most competitive. There were some very good and some great seasons put forth by competing nominees. It’s my position that Breaking Bad blew them away like Tio.

by Jonathan Stuart

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