Archive | July 2012

Breaking Bad: How Walter White Poisoned Brock and What Happened to the Ricin Cigarette

UPDATE AUGUST 26: After last night’s episode, there are a lot of questions about Jesse’s desert revelation and how it all fits together, so I updated this post to include that toward the end, to keep it chronological. You can skip to that part here.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people come across my blog from googling something like, “How did Walter White poison Brock?” or “What happened to the ricin cigarette?” or “what happened berries Walter Brock” or something similar. On the Breaking Bad message boards, questions about these topics still rage. While watching the latest episode on Sunday night, some friends were asking the the same questions. This storyline definitely has to be one of the most complex–maybe even convoluted–plotlines on the show. Some of it is more left to assumption than explicitly shown. So I thought I’d try to elucidate with my understanding of what happened, start to finish.

In episode 407 “Problem Dog,” Walt makes some ricin in the superlab. He gives it to Jesse, who puts it in a “lucky cigarette” that he keeps upside down in his cigarette pack. The ricin cigarette is born.

Walt, his revolver and lily of the valley

In episode 412 “End Times,” Walt is despondent and doesn’t know what to do. Gus has just threatened his wife, son, infant daughter and brother-in-law. Walt knows that Gus could be close to turning Jesse against him and that Jesse’s flagging loyalty is the only thing keeping Gus from killing him. Since Skyler gave a big chunk of Walt’s drug money to the IRS for the Ted thing, Walt doesn’t have the money to get himself and his family out of town through Saul’s disappeaerer “vacuum guy.” He sits out back behind his house and spins a revolver. The first two times, it points at him. The third time though, it points to a potted plant, which (we will later come to see) is a lily of the valley plant. Here is where Walter White gets his idea.

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What Color is Your Eight? – On Synesthesia 1

The color of the number 8 is a purply violet-black but not a bright violet, more dull. It’s almost more of a vibration than a color. August is similar but darker, almost burnt and yet more radiant. The letters D and P are both green but D is pale sage while P is an intense forest green. Tuesday is a muted cerulean blue.

Regions thought to be cross-activated in graph...

Regions thought to be cross-activated in grapheme-color synesthesia

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense evokes another, habitually and involuntarily. Some synesthetes sense different tastes with musical keys, feel “personalities” for different days of the week, or perceive months as having specific spatial locations (“November is two feet to the right”) but the most common form is color-grapheme synesthesia, where letters and numbers have immediate, unchanging color associations. This is the form of synesthesia I experience, as well as colors for months and days of the week that in some cases do, and in some don’t, relate to their letters or numbers.

In his bestselling Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks explores synesthesia, musical and otherwise. He describes psychologist Patrick Ehlen’s early experience of saying aloud to his first-grade class that he was “counting the colors until Friday,” to which the class burst out laughing.

One day in third grade, my class was talking about colors and feelings. The teacher asked everyone what color we thought anger was and everyone said “red.” Of course it was. Vowels and first letters set the tone for the word and A is a rich, deep red. Then she asked us what color sad was, and the rest of the class said “blue” as I started to say “red.” Sad has that deep red A and the S, a duller shade of red. Most people thought of being sad as “having the blues,” but for me it was as deep a red as melancholy. It was the first time I remember being conscious that others didn’t see these colors.

~~~

This is an excerpt from “On Synesthesia,” a lyric essay I wrote about, you guessed it, synesthesia.

You can check out other Friday Samples here. And don’t forget you can always check out Published and Older Works for more samples.

~Emilia J

Next Up: Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2

Who’s Your Literary Soul Mate?

Have you ever thought about this? By soul mate, I’m not talking about which character from fiction you’d want to hook up with or have as your lover (that could be another post), but which character feels most like you? If you were to undergo some sort of weird science disaster and somehow morph from your real life into fiction, which character would you surface as? Is there someone you’ve read whose voice feels so close to your own, who thinks your thoughts?

The character doesn’t have to have the same gender as you, be around your age or have any of the same life accoutrements that you do, just a character who, when you read, you recognize in some inner place as almost you?

For me, it would have to be Astrid from White Oleander by Janet Fitch. Our lives are nothing alike, but the way Astrid sees the world, the way she expresses things in her inner monologues, just describes ways that I have thought and felt much better than I ever could. I have some of these passages bookmarked with post-it notes. Every few years, I go back and reread White Oleander and it’s always a trippy experience to read someone thinking some of my thoughts and feeling some of your feelings.

So, who’s your literary soul mate?

~Emilia J

Breaking Bad Episode 502 “Madrigal”

Is it me or is this season already flying by way too fast?

Walt comforts Jesse

So let’s get to Season 5, Episode 2, “Madrigal.”

The opening shot is a perfectly swirled blob of mustard. I’m not sure if this was intended or not, but I immediately thought of the pilot episode, when Walt first finds out he has cancer and all he can focus on is the mustard stain on the doctor’s coat.

It looks like we are in for some unexpected teasers this season. This one went from Madrigal Electromotive exec Schuler taste-testing such flavors as “Franch” and “Cajun Kick-Ass” with a look of dread (he knows what’s coming) to killing himself with a defibrillator. I think the most compelling moment of that whole sequence was when he put the lead under his tongue. If he was the least bit unsure about what he was doing before, that was *the* decisive moment.

When he first starts taking off his jacket to perform his suicidal task, I immediately thought of Gus exquisitely taking off his jacket and folding it before making himself vomit the poisoned tequila in “Salud.” Schuler does have a level of care in that scene, removing clothes layer by layer, but he’s not as meticulous as Gus (could anyone ever be?) and in an interview about “Madrigal” Vince Gilligan says the connection wasn’t intentional, even though many fans and critics had the same thoughts. Even the pristine clinical feel of the lab feels a little like Gus.

Other notes from the teaser:
They were taking down the Los Pollos Hermanos sign, wow.
Was that Lydia in the background during the taste-testing? Because of my blindness, I sometimes have trouble distinguishing faces, especially in the background, but a few people to the right behind the guy presenting “Franch” and the other flavors, was a woman who looked a lot like Lydia, with her hair parted in the exact same place. Can anyone confirm or deny?

More dissection of the episode beyond just the teaser

Breaking Bad: Walter White’s Moral Demise and the People Jesse Pinkman Loves

Contains some spoilers (relating to the end of Seasons 2 and 4).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Walter White’s actions at the end of Season 2 and the end of Season 4. In both cases, he causes harm to someone close to Jesse, and I’ve been thinking about how these two acts of Walt’s alone tell us so much about the dark turns his character has taken. Even though what happens to Jane is worse (she dies) than what happens to Brock (he’s fine, as far as we know), the progression of Walt’s moral demise is still evident because what Walt does to Brock is in some ways worse, for Walt’s part anyway.

At the end of Season 2, Walt watches as Jesse’s girlfriend Jane chokes to death on her own vomit. When Walt goes over to Jesse’s apartment and finds Jesse and Jane passed out in a heroin stupor, he shakes Jesse which causes Jane to roll from her side onto her back and start choking. Walt mumbles, “No, no, no” to himself and you think he’s going to go over and save her but then he stops himself and lets her die.

At the end of Season 4, Walt poisons Brock, the son of Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea, a boy whom Jesse has become very close to. Walt does this as an elaborate plan to manipulate Jesse into thinking that Gus Fring has done it (Gus has used kids in the drug trade before, as well as allowing his guys to kill Andrea’s little brother, both points that Walt uses to convince Jesse that Gus would poison Brock) and win Jesse back on his side so they can work together to kill Gus.

More analysis of Walt’s moral disintegration

Ocean Reverie

Long Island Sound, Connecticut

I am obsessed with the sea. This river isn’t that, but it stretches out for eons. I gaze at the horizon, misty and distant. My parents grew up in Connecticut and I was born in a small town right outside of New Haven, only a five-minute drive from the shore. Long Island Sound, I think, shaped me more than I can remember. I have vague blurry childhood pictures of being at the beach when I was little, walking down a woodsy road with a yellow line in the middle and thick trees on the sides, until we reach a little wooden shack with stalls where we could change. In other still photos I see Mom showing me how to listen for the ocean in a conch shell, talking about seahorses during a sunset, walking along the shore combing for smooth rocks, shells or colored glass. My life was colored with the scent of saltwater until just before I turned six.

We were eating McDonald’s food for lunch the day Dad told us he got transferred. I still remember the taste of the salty fries in my five-year-old mouth after he told me and Randy, we’re moving. I didn’t think I much cared. We traveled often enough, all over New England, to Santa’s Village in New Hampshire and other amusement parks in Massachusetts and Vermont. My dad used to be a policeman, and oftentimes he had to work nights, but it seemed like we always had time for vacations. Then Dad decided to join the FBI and had to go to a place called Quantico for sixteen whole weeks. That McDonald’s lunch—a special treat reserved for special occasions—was so soon after his return. We moved to Buffalo at the end of that January, while Mom was newly pregnant with June.

And it’s true what they say sometimes in books and movies and in that old song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” done originally by Joni Mitchell, you really don’t know what you’ve got until after it’s gone. There is no way to calculate how much something means to you, especially when it’s something you always see, something you live with every day, like a nearby ocean and a nearby Nana. Those things creep up on you, so invisible and insidious until they’re a part of you that you can’t live without.

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Breaking Bad Episode 501 “Live Free or Die”

Well, last night was the long-awaited night that some of us have been counting down the months, days and minutes to. Finally, Breaking Bad is back!

I’ll be doing these commentaries every week, along with some other in-depth topic explorations related to the show. Since this is episode commentary, there will be spoilers.

Standoff

To me, the most intriguing part was the teaser. It’s a flashforward to Walt on his 52nd birthday. He has hair. He looks different. He drives a different car. He has a New Hampshire ID and license plate. He’s not wearing his wedding ring (thanks to Badger at the Scranton Branch aka freeforums for catching that). He’s using a new last name, Lambert, which (thanks to Huell over at the Home Office aka AMC forums for pointing out) is Skyler’s maiden name.

My first thought was Witness Protection of some sort. Or Saul’s vacuum/disappearing service. But in either case, what is he doing back in ABQ? And why would he be using a name, in either case, that could be easily linked to his real identity? My guess is that we will all be surprised, that we’re all making more assumptions than we really can about this teaser. Vince Gilligan and company have a reputation for surprising us in major ways.

Another big question in my mind is timing. People associated with the show have repeatedly said that about a year has passed in the time frame of the story since the pilot episode. Episode 504 is titled “Fifty-One” leading some to speculate (again thanks Badger) that this will refer to Walt’s 51st birthday. If that teaser is part of this 8 episode mini-season, which I doubt, that would mean it takes 50 episodes to get through one year…and then 4 to get through the next! That means either some really huge time jumps (which BrBa has never done except for at the end of  Season 2 when Walt had his surgery and Jesse was in rehab) or that the teaser scene will occur later on, like in next year’s mini-season. That’s my guess. Still that would require some time jumps to get there that soon. Perhaps the cliffhanger at the end of these first 8 will be whatever sends him to New Hampshire.

It kinda makes you think that something really big and disastrous is going to go down. And what does Walt need that gun for? I bet, like with the teddy bear and debris we saw in season 2, it’s going to be impossible to guess where this leads.

I was honestly a bit surprised to see that Walt lives to see his 52nd birthday. But it does seem that the cancer is back. In the bathroom he’s coughing and taking some meds after the gun salesman guy leaves.

It also makes you wonder what’s going on with Skyler. I almost wonder if she’s the one who dies. There seems to be something mournful about Walt in that Denny’s. And the way he slowly rearranges his bacon into the number the way she did (a callback to the pilot, when Skyler arranged his veggie bacon into the number 50), added to the fact that he’s using her maiden name, seems like he could be missing her. Then again if she had died, maybe he’d still be wearing the ring. But then again, his wearing or not wearing of the ring could have more to do with his new identity than anything going on with Skyler. And maybe I just don’t want it to be Jesse who dies.

But there did seem to be some foreshadowing about it possibly being Skyler. The “previously on” section started with the scene where Gus threatens to kill Skyler and Holly (they didn’t show him threatening Walt Jr or Hank or anyone else). I could be reading into that but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some reason for how that was edited. And then after the teaser, she says she’s afraid of Walt. And then there’s that really ominous hug at the end between Walt and Skyler.

Commentary about more than just the cold open