reviews

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: the season ends.

Episode 13: “Pamela 2”

Whenever you see someone on television wake up after they’ve had sex, they look like no real person ever looks after sex. It’s just the way sex is always shot, it seems even more unrealistic than it does in, well, real life. Real sex is awkward and full of absurd, funny moments.

In Louie, when people have sex, they have to think about taking their shoes off. They have to have their pants taken off both legs at the same time. They have to figure out how to get to the bed, because no one just sits on a bed. They sit on a couch. The bed is later.

This may seem overly simplistic to point out. Louie is a show obsessed with the “what is real” question in a narrative sense, but it’s also a show fascinated by the mundane. Louis C.K. became one of the most famous comics in America on the strength of the mundane as a comedic source. His show is less about how it’s all funny and more about how it all is consistent. Everyone takes their shoes off before they have sex and no one knows how to do it. There’s no sexy — or even practical — way to take off your shoes in a hurry.

It’s not all sex, but everything is that moment. Everything is taking your shoes off quickly to not let a moment pass or convincing someone to do something spontaneous before they make a joke. Everything in life is making the moment what it can be before it passes. When Louie is a sad show, it’s about missing those moments. Sometimes it’s something else, and this one is mostly something else. Just go out there and try, dummy. That’s all you can do.

Episode 14: “Pamela 3”

The choice to run all 14 of these episodes over seven weeks seemed weird when this all started. But now, after all of the “Elevator” saga and “Pamela,” it’s clear that this was the only way to run this. It could have just as easily been a one-night binge, I guess, but then I’d be dead. This was all rough.

I don’t want to spend too much time on recapping the season, but let’s review for a very short paragraph. This is the season of a show on television where Louis C.K. rescued an old woman from a stuck elevator, went on dates with three women (four women, maybe, hard to say with the model), and opened for Jerry Seinfeld. That’s what happened. Oh, and he also went back in time to show the breakdown of his marriage and his childhood and his family and his psyche and…

…back to “Pamela 3.” Long-time viewers of Louie (hello, all 13 of you) know that Louie and Pamela have an aggressive — but familiar — relationship. They rag on each other and riff and talk in dumb voices. Even one of the most romantic moments in Louie history was Pamela getting on a plane as she yelled “wave to me, dummy,” which was mistaken for “wait for me.” Pamela and Louie have had chances, but they’ve always been caught up in the armor of acting like you don’t give a damn.

But they do. It’s just hard to tell someone else that you’re going to finally drop the cynicism or the sarcasm or whatever your deal is and engage with them. It’s hard to actually be a person, because jokes are easier a lot of the time. We make jokes at funerals because funerals suck. We’d rather not engage.

It’s an old lesson, far older than most of the ones in this season of Louie. “Pamela 3” is about not getting what you want, but it’s about something even better than that. It will make you more kind, and it’s something that I struggle with all the time. The lesson in the finale of this season of Louie has to be that you have to let other people be themselves, because that’s all anyone should ever be. If you do that, and you still like them, then that’s what love is. Not anything else.

We’ll be back next week with a different show. If you have suggestions, leave a comment.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “In the Woods”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie struggles with “do as I say, not as I do.”

Episodes 11 and 12: “In the Woods”

This episode is dedicated to Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is about drugs.

Louie catches his oldest daughter smoking pot. Louie gets upset. She says, “what do you even know about it?” Louie remembers. That’s all you need to know about the “what” of the episode.

It’s almost entirely told in flashback, which is amazing. There have been a number of reality jumps and flashbacks in Louie over the years, but this one is the most fully realized. It helps that it’s a kind of double episode. You feel the pain of Louie’s mother as she feels her son slipping away. You feel the distance of Louie’s father as he both tries to help and shrugs at the same time. You feel the world of young Louie, which is both the actual history of the character and a dream state.

“Real” Louie has a brother on the show, but the brother’s not in the flashback. In a previous episode, a flashback revealed his wife to be white when she’s black in the “reality” of Louie. This all means something.

It never matters what happens. It matters what you take away from it.

Teenage Louie in the flashback gets obsessed with pot. He dedicates his life to obtaining pot and escaping his boring life by getting high. An episode dedicated to a man who recently died of a heroin overdose is about pot, which at first seems weird…

…but it’s not about pot. It’s about the ways we hide from the people that care about us. It’s about booze and pornography and music and general deceit and exercise and biking and cooking and smoking and comic books and religion and politics and whatever else your particular crutch is, really. It’s about Louie, a teenager, who is getting high not because he’s mad or sad or lonely, but because he just is getting high. It costs him his sense of self. It costs him the girl — and the scenes where he and a young classmate look longingly at each other over the gulf of addiction are dreadfully perfect — and it costs him the closeness of his family.

Adult Louie has to decide how to turn this memory into a lesson for his daughter. He has to figure out what we all have to figure out: how do you make your past mistakes productive? He wants to be a warning, but when she asks him if he’s going to yell at her, he knows he has to be careful.

There’s no way to spoil this episode. This is the pause between “Pamela 1” and next week’s season finale of “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3.” This whole season has been about Louie’s love life, but it’s been more interesting to see how we got to the version of adult Louie in the show. The explosion is more noteworthy, sure, but watching the fuse is more fun. Louie’s childhood isn’t necessarily atomic, but it’s sad and relatable because Louie is some version of who we all were and — some days — still are. This one is heavy on the intended morals, but I take the following:

Pay attention to who you were, if only to be damned sure you aren’t ever them again.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 6)” and “Pamela (Part 1)”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie rents a car in a hurricane and forgets himself.

Episode 9: “Elevator (Part 6)”

These are two very different episodes of television. It’s been difficult some times during this (especially during the previous five parts of “Elevator”) to draw a meaningful distinction between the two episodes. That is not difficult now.

They’re set up that way on purpose. “Elevator (Part 6)” is the conclusion of what’s now a film-length dramatic romance told in six parts. No one could have expected Amia to stay, of course, but the act of her leaving is still brutal. Louie, like so many of us, hoped that the joy he could draw from a relationship with a forced expiration date was worth the expiration itself. To get inside Louie’s head, I’ll just ask you: Was yours?

The episode also features a hurricane, but that’s all visuals. It’s shot in a way that nothing on TV right now really is; you’re constantly lost and worried for the characters. Louie is forced to drive into a New York storm that will remind you of another recent one, and honestly, I couldn’t help but remember friends I had in New York at the time and the reality of Sandy. As someone who has never lived near a coast, it just seems unimaginable.

As Louie the show is about showing the world of Louie the character’s New York, the in-show disaster does a great job. Louie is lost and often helpless, but he will drive into the storm to try. He knows the direction he wants to go — be it towards his family or towards love with Amia — but he has no idea about anything beyond that. We’ll sum it up as he does: Move towards your goals, even if you only have two birthday candles, a light bulb, a flashlight, and a banana.

Episode 10: “Pamela (Part 1)

The end of the “Elevator” saga brings the start of the “Pamela” one, and it’s not an easy episode to discuss. I’m dedicated to not “spoiling” Louie, but there is one central element to the episode’s ending that has to come up in a discussion of the episode. If you haven’t seen it and are going to, go do so.

Yeah, right? See what I mean?

Pamela is played by Pamela Adlon, the voice of Bobby Hill on King of the Hill and Louis CK’s wife on his earlier show Lucky Louie. She’s the closest to a real “love interest” that Louie has ever had — there are others, but they don’t even seem to be real people, which is a whole different discussion about the “reality” of Louie that I will have with you over a pot of coffee sometime — and she is also the closest character in tone to Louie himself. They’re brash at times and they’re sweet at times (in a fashion) and they’re there for each other when it matters.

Louie loves Pamela. Pamela loves Louie, but Louie says no because he’s with Amia. Amia goes back to Hungary, Louie tells Pamela he’s ready, Pamela says it’s too late. A tale as old as time, and I’m being serious.

How often have you only too late noticed that you had a connection with someone? Or maybe you did notice in time, but it was too late for them, or vice versa? These are the real ways we interact, and they’re especially real because we recognize everything that comes along with them…

…until we don’t. Louie tries to kiss Pamela very forcefully when he comes home to relieve her from babysitting his kids. Pamela’s not interested, but Louie says that she said earlier that she was. The show briefly deals with this earlier in the episode by having Louie and Pamela share a “why are you so mean to me” and “why do you like it?” exchange. It’s fortunate that we know these people, because it reduces some of the horror of Louie’s monstrous act and it explains some of Pamela’s reluctance as emotional armor. It doesn’t do either act of explaining enough, but that’s on purpose. This is supposed to be a gross scene, and it really, really is.

I’m very intrigued to see the second and third parts of “Pamela” to see how they address what is just a kiss, but is also something awful at the same time. The lesson from arguably the worst thing the show has made Louie do? It’s most important with Pamela herself, but it’s also an episode full of Louie making little choices (he sits next to a guy talking to no one on the train and later tells a man to not spit on the bus) that are noble but ultimately pointless. Louie’s scale for “good” is way off. Remember to actually be good when you can, not “good.”

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 4)” and “Elevator (Part 5)”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie looks at his love life and does not like what he sees; Louie deals with Mentos.

Episode 7: “Elevator (Part 4)”

It’s very difficult to separate “Elevator” into episodes. Louie has always been compared to film in a stylistic sense — it’s much more like film than television — but only now is the structure of the show an actual damn movie. “Elevator” concludes next week, but we already know enough to work with it now.

Louie owns up to the fact that he isn’t really doing anything productive with his love life, and that’s a hard thing to admit. We’ve all had to admit to a drunk friend that we’re in a relationship that’s well past the expiration date, but Louie’s got the opposite problem: He can’t actually date Amia, because she’s going back to Hungary soon. He can’t start a relationship.

Louie is a “dark” show. When I’ve met people that aren’t into it, the most common complaint is that it isn’t funny. There’s nothing funny about Louie’s plight with Amia, or with his struggles to stay cordial with his ex-wife so that his kids will be happy, or his general life in the world of the show. The laughs are there, but that can’t be why you show up.

During a flashback, Louie deals with one night on a trip where he and his then-wife stay in a hotel room. It is the most realistic portrayal of a long relationship I’ve seen in months, and it’s that realism that makes the show feel cinematic. It’s not an episode of television that happens in a hotel room; it’s a look into people that have to leave that hotel room and go back to life later. I don’t want to spoil it, but the lesson is the same one any good Eagle Scout knows: Be prepared.

Episode 8: “Elevator (Part 5)

It’s hard to say how the fifth part is without the sixth, but the problem in it for Louie could exist outside of any continuity. Louie has to deal with what his relationship with Amia means if it doesn’t mean sex.

The best part about this whole story is that Louie loves Amia as an ideal. He loves someone who seems nice and fun and happy, but he just doesn’t really know that much about her. This kind of love story makes my eyes roll in most situations because there’s nothing worse than someone in love with the idea of love. You want someone to love specifics, not just “the essence of Sarah.” No one’s essence alone will get you to year two.

It works in Louie because it helps Louie understand that he’s not actually furthering himself. He’s just spending time with someone that feels like a partner, not a partner. This same story would be a happy one in a rom-com. It’s more than a little sad here because it reinforces the idea that everyone is a person first, and if you love them as an ideal then you’re just not actually in love with anyone who really exists. You’re not being honest with them or yourself.

Louie‘s love story will conclude next week and with that episode will be a larger lesson. Today’s, though, is a healthy part of a grown-up diet: Love someone for who they are, because all of that other shit will fade in two months.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 2)” and “Elevator (Part 3)”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie takes a woman to two stores on a date and has to decide if his daughter needs to go to private school.

Episode 4: “Elevator (Part 2)”

“Elevator” is a six-part episode, soeven at two episodes a week there’s much more to tell. Louie is in love with a woman he can’t really communicate with, though that leads to some outstanding pantomime in a drug store as the two try to exchange the idea of “hair dryer” back and forth.

Louie being in love with a woman who doesn’t speak English has some pretty obvious connections to his inability to communicate with women in general, and this wouldn’t be Louie if it stopped there. It’s not just that they can’t communicate, it’s that Louie the charactacter throws himself into something so fully that he turns down Pamela, the “love of his life” character on the show, when she comes back from Barcelona. Is Pamela back for Louie? Does Louie turn her down because he resents that she left, because he loves this new woman, or a little of both? This might be stand up for yourself when people act like assholes but with Louie, the flipside of that oft-given advice might be more important by the time this tale is told.

Episode 5: “Elevator (Part 3)

These two are also about Louie’s troublesome daughter Jane. Jane’s in trouble at school, but she’s acting out because she doesn’t buy into the established authority of the world. Louis C.K.’s comedy is a lot of things, but it’s definitely about the supposed “rules” that society needs to keep working. Things go poorly because people take too many cookies or they drive like assholes or they don’t leave their rental car at the counter. These rules, and our decisions to follow them, keep the whole damn puzzle together.

If that premise is Louis C.K.’s worldview, his jokes are about how we love to not play by those rules. Breaking down jokes is tough and mostly pointless, but the serious realities of Louie work the same way. Jane doesn’t like that she set up rules with a friend about time on a thing at the playground and the friend didn’t follow them. Jane’s not mean, Jane’s just frustrated that the world wasn’t fair when she was.

The episode is about love and how we fall in it, and our kids and how we want them to have better lives, and our lot in life and how we choose to view it. Louie runs into his doctor and a three-legged dog in the lobby of his building, and that scene doesn’t deserve me spoiling it. It does reinforce a beautiful lesson, though, and that’s that you can smash anything with a bat that you want, but you’ll always be your responses to the things you cannot change.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “So Did the Fat Lady” and “Elevator (Part 1)”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie reluctantly goes on a date and almost loses his daughter.

Episode 3: “So Did the Fat Lady”

No one has perspective immediately. Right after watching a particular episode of a particular show, it feels more important. That one episode isn’t just 22 minutes of entertainment, it’s your Monday. It’s the time you sat in one specific chair and felt one specific way because someone who made something made you pay attention.

The third episode of Louie will get mentioned a ton this year as one of the best episodes of the show, and that makes it tough to digest fully just a few hours after its debut. In it, Louie presents the story of how he’s worn down into a date by a compelling woman at a comedy club that doesn’t fit the standard “expected weight” of a woman on television. It’s not an overdrawn morality play about how weight shouldn’t matter. It’s a story about how weight does matter (even when it shouldn’t), but how we treat people in life matters a heullva lot more.

Everyone will draw the obvious from it: It’s about being kind but still being realistic. It’s about how we think of ourselves as good people even though we sometimes click the “no thanks” button when Walgreens asks for money for breast cancer research. It’s about why we think of ourselves as honest even though we go without mentioning faults to our friends. It’s the story of the faults we all have that we don’t even always consider faults.

The episode will be a smash hit (as much as a Louie episode can be) because a 30-something woman talking about body issues in a real way is great television. It will stick with me because one of the secondary lessons is that it’s important to be a good person, whatever that means to you.

Episode 4: “Elevator (Part 1)

The second episode is a big step down in the “cultural issues” department, but it comes out of the gate with a ton of energy just the same. Louie tells his girls to repeat the “rules of the subway” as they get on the subway. Chekhov taught us that means that the subway rules are going to be broken, and sure enough…

…but the episode’s not really about losing the girls. It’s about Louie finding a woman stuck in an elevator and trying to help in a situation where he doesn’t have any real answers. There will assuredly be more in next week’s second part of this episode that explains how the subway scene relates to the scared woman in the stalled elevator, but right now we need to leave this one somewhat unfinished. It’s a great episode and it has something really sweet to say about language and shared experiences, though it isn’t a finished story yet. Both stories in it have the same lesson so far, though: Don’t bother running away from anything that can catch you.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Back” and “Model”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie’s back hurts and he has to open for Jerry Seinfeld.

Welcome to this! Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t. That sentence had to come up in the pitch for Louie, so it’s as good of a place to start as any. I love Louie very deeply. I even loved Louis C.K.’s tonally similar movie. Louie is always going to mean different things to different people, but to me it means hope for the hopeless. The “world” of Louie is brutal and mean, but it is not without victory. After an extremely long hiatus, Louis C.K. had to come out swinging to remind people what both the world of Louie and the character of “Louie” are like. The first two episodes definitely do that.

Episode 1: “Back”

“Back” opens with the best joke structure possible: Big gets bigger. Louie wakes up in New York City to the sound of garbage men. Of course, they break into his house to jump on his bed and dump trash on him. His life literally gets worse from the moment he wakes up. It’s a fitting start to an episode that’s mostly about how hard it is to get older.

Louie always features stand up bits that weave the vignettes together; the one about hating a 31-year-old for complaining about aging will hit too close to home for a lot of people. Louie’s back goes out and a gruff doctor, an unfazed sexshop worker, and Todd Barry don’t have any time or interest in consoling him.

It’s tempting to label this “you have to take care of yourself,” but the doctor is insistent that everyone’s back hurts most of the time. The back pain is obvious both as a symbol for and the result of aging, so the first episode of the season is closer to the first line from the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Episode 2: “Model

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Louie or a working sense of dread will see the first twist in “Model” coming. Louie has to open for Jerry Seinfeld at a benefit. He doesn’t get enough detail and thus ends up in a T-shirt at a black-tie affair full of millionaires. The first 10 minutes is every bit as agonizing as you’d expect, but it’s when the episode turns to the model herself that it socks you in the gut.

There’s some good stuff that I don’t want to spoil, but it is enough to say that this episode would have consequences for the characters on another show. The “continuity” of Louie is always up in the air — outside of two extended relationships on the show, not much carries over — but it will be interesting to see if the show cares about the big blow it deals its main character in “Model.”

Probably not, and that’s more than fine. What’s more interesting is the lesson itself, revealed in the scene with the credits: It’s never all bad.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Another Look at the Endings of Lost, Breaking Bad, and The Wire

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Andrew Findlay

In this so far nameless segment, regular contributor Andrew Findlay takes issue with another person’s opinions. Think of it as a “letter to the editor” except it’s always from the same defiant person and the “editor” in that example writes for the same site. This one has spoilers for The Wire, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and a previous post on Reading at Recess about TV.

Extremely popular, long-running television shows struggle with sticking the landing. It is known. It has been known ever since the ending of Lost caused about half of its die-hard fanbase to swear never to watch another episode. It has been known since people internet-complained at the less-than-ideal end to Battlestar Galactica. However, it is strange to pick as the most relevant representatives of this phenomenon two of the most critically acclaimed shows of all time, one of which was showered with accolades for achieving the impossible and having a nearly perfect final episode.

Terrible endings exist and are unfortunate. At the end of Battlestar Galactica, the survivors sent their entire fleet into the sun so they could join/create humanity and live through the Dark Ages alongside them instead of significantly lessening human misery by holding on to their tech, which seemed like a weird choice. The ending of Lost, a show built almost entirely on mystery and suspense, completely dismissed the big final mystery and betrayed a legion of fans that had spent a significant portion of their lives tuning in every week. When you promise answers for years and years, and then the answer is “Oh, just unplug the island, any IT person worth his salt will tell you the usefulness of power cycling,” it creates a vast and deep well of rage. Who created the plug? What is that glowing room? Why are you just giving your viewership more mysteries instead of actually answering anything? When you go from a level of dedication that creates the YouTube video below to undiluted hatred, you have written a terrible ending.

I teared up watching this, remembering how it felt to be a part of the viewership of this show. Not sure if I’ll ever watch an episode again.

The Wire and Breaking Bad ended really well. Season five of The Wire may have been a little weaker compared to the others, but there was no nosedive. The state of affairs at the end of the final episode were either good or emphasized the whole underlying theme of the show: The game is the game, and the game never ends. It is absolutely believable that McNulty’s arrogant ass would get himself killed, but the detective’s wake in the last episode is actually fake, and he is actually escaping from his self-destructive career path. Omar, probably the most universally liked character on the show, is murdered in a convenience store by a little kid. This happens because he is not a civilian – he is a player of the game, and the game never ends, and anything can happen. Almost no one escapes, and if they do, they are lucky.

I don’t have as much an issue with that as with the idea of Breaking Bad’s final episode being a failure. It is almost universally praised as a near-flawless ending. It is almost perfect because Walt gets exactly everything he deserves, but he also gets everything he wants. This paradox exists because Walt, after five seasons of being driven by anger and pride, finally realizes and repents all the mistakes he made. He realizes what he deserves and is only concerned with doing right by those he loves. Who does he love (who is still alive at this point)? Jesse, Skyler, and his son and daughter. What has his arrogance done to them throughout the series? His family has lost everything, been terrorized, and been forced to abandon their home. Jesse has lost the woman he loves, been completely broken psychologically, and been enslaved by an Aryan Brotherhood gang. This is some bad shit that Walt has done. The reason that Walt can get what he deserves and what he wants is that, for the first time, what he wants is not centered around himself. He finally, finally, realizes what he actually needs to do, not for his own ego, but for the people he loves.

This is one of the greatest scenes in television, period.

This growth and shift of character makes the final episode what it is. He is out for money, but only for his family after he is gone. He is out for vengeance, but mostly to rescue Jesse from the position he put him in and to punish them for what they did to Hank. After so much greed and vanity and selfishness, Walt finally realizes what he has done and what he needs to do to make it right, whether he survives or not. Walt, after years of denial and repression and blame-shifting and anger, accepts who he is and what he does, and formulates a plan. This plan is absolutely successful. He finds a way to provide for the family he destroyed by intimidating his old work colleague. He rescues Jesse by single-handedly wiping out a gang. Then, after having actually done right by the people he loves, after five seasons of only paying lip service to that sentiment, he dies. It seems to me he dies from blood loss, as he’s been leaking for quite a while at this point and is leaving blood on everything he touches, but regardless of the cause, the important thing is that he died after achieving all of his goals. Walter White achieving all of his goals and then escaping from justice yet again would be a repugnant ending, but he does not escape justice, and he is not the same Walter White. Sure, he doesn’t get arrested, but he spends most of the second half of season five dealing with the consequences of his actions. The complete ruination of his own life, the life of his family, and the life of someone who is like a son to him, is consequence enough. What the hell are the police going to be able to do that he hasn’t already done to himself? These consequences and the pain of dealing with them set a process, if not of redemption, then at least of remorse and planning. The Walt of the last 20 minutes of the show is not the Walt who is in the “empire-building business,” but a Walt willing to sacrifice himself to do right by everyone else. This profound character transformation makes it possible for us to root for Walt again, and this is the trick that makes the ending of Breaking Bad so appealing. As for Jesse, who is driving away into the night, it doesn’t really matter where he’s going. He is free from the physical enslavement of the Aryan gang and the psychological enslavement of Walt. Wherever he is headed, it cannot possibly be worse than where he was.

This cultural moment has been called, many times, the Golden Age of television. It is an edifice built on the foundations of The Sopranos and The Wire. It is the result of a shift in perception, where television writers are responsible for creating a quality product and not just creating ratings. It consists of many different shows of deep emotional impact, strong plotting, and important thematic development. The result is that we consume our acclaimed television more like we consume our acclaimed novels, voraciously and as important art. The reason people are analyzing TV shows now is not that there is some mystical relationship between TV and novels or that one is replacing the other, but that TV has gotten really, ridiculously good in the past decade, and that humans love spinning commentary on really, ridiculously good things. Sure, there are some grievous missteps here and there, but The Wire and Breaking Bad are not examples of them.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.