Nothing about Downton Abbey in this article
By the end of season four of Breaking Bad, chem teacher gone wild Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had killed just about everyone worth killing, which means that the plot of the whole series needed to be jump-started from square one. There never was any real explanation as to why Walt agreed to work full-time for chicken man Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) in the first place, since he had reached his agreed-upon goal and since he had never shown any real interest in cash. And by the time he does kill Fring he’s sitting on more cash than he can lift, which makes it even more difficult to understand why he can’t wait to find a whole new set of stone-cold gangsters to be harassed by, but, well, that’s what he wants, and that’s what he does. All of a sudden, he wants to have his own empire, to be as rich as his billionaire betrayer buddy Elliott Schwartz (Adam Godley), which is pretty much impossible, since laundering a billion in cash through a dozen car washes instead of the one he’s got would take about a thousand years, and the cancer’s going to put him down in two. So I guess we can say that Walt is still in denial.
Eventually, Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) do find a new gang — Anglos, this time around, which is refreshing — and even an evil woman, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser), an implausibly whiny yet driven bureaucrat with an insatiable demand for product, laboring for some mega-global corporation that I guess is supposed to be controlling all our lives.
Frankly, I missed Gus. Earnest, proud, dignified — this was a crime boss you could spend some time with. There was a semi-plausible arc to the Gus-Walt dynamic, as long as you ignore such things as why Gus is working his butt off bringing in maybe $50 million a year in the meth business that he can never spend because he can never explain where it came from. The long duel to the death with Gus took Breaking Bad to the very edge of credibility. Season Five had really nowhere to go but down. The loss of energy is particularly great because the Jesse-Walter relationship loses all its tension. They’re no longer a team, no longer dependent on each other, and no longer invested in each other. Jesse, in fact, becomes extraneous to the plot. Once an up and coming playa in the Fring empire, he now mopes aimlessly, and the writers never figure out anything interesting for him to do.
The writers are particularly tough on Skyler (Anna Gunn). Once Hank figures out that his nerdy brother in law is the king of “Blue Sky,” Skyler first teams up with Walt to threaten Hank with a frame-up and then descends even further when she suggests to Walt that maybe he’d better take care of Jesse, just to be safe. What happened to the sweet young (under 40!) mom who wrote those great short stories?
Curiously, sister Marie (Betsy Brandt), set up as a shallow suburban diva/kleptomaniac for the first couple of seasons, emerges as a brief moral center of the series when Hank is directly confronting Walt. Her sense of foreboding, of things coming apart, has more depth than the rest of the cast. The simplest way for a character to “grow” is to move away from whatever they first were.
Breaking Bad also disappointed me by not giving me the one thing I was hoping for: an encounter between Jesse and Walt Jr. It seemed like a natural to me: an exchange between the true son and the virtual one. But “the Final Season” was really all about Walt, Walt taking care of business to an almost compulsive degree, providing for his family, both real and virtual, and offing all his enemies.
Despite these and other plot problems, Breaking Bad does honor Chekov’s rule: a gun shown in the first act must be fired in the fifth, in this case, an M60 .30 caliber machine gun that Walt has in the trunk of his car that we see in the opening teaser for the fifth season. Getting there however takes us through a long series of improbable plot twists — a sudden surfeit of stool pigeons, in particular — that my suspension of disbelief fell by the wayside long before the bullets started flying.
Girls, Season 2
Lena Dunham is not yet president of the United States. However, at age 27 she has been on the cover of Vogue and writes for the New Yorker, thus making Woody Allen look like a pussy. She also continues to write, direct, produce, and star in Girls, now in its third season on HBO.
The first season of Girls had a mixed flavor — part Sex and the City featuring real, not always cool people having real, not always cool sex and part “you can look like Lena Dunham and live like Sarah Jessica Parker.” The second season definitely had more of the latter, as a succession of seriously cool guys take turns throwing themselves at Hannah/Lena, who, of course, is saving herself, pretty much, for Adam (Adam Driver), who’s acting all moody and self-destructive, falling off the wagon with Jack and ginger (a pretty girly drink, if you ask me) and sort of but not really raping his rebound girlfriend, before racing across Brooklyn, as I knew he would, to “save” Hannah, though I confess I didn’t expect to see him do it bare-chested. Lena Dunham definitely knows how to work a crowd.
The first season received a fair amount of criticism for being all about the white folks, so it wasn’t too surprising to see the second start off with Hannah in bed with a black guy, “Sandy” (Donald Glover), not only black but Republican, which definitely makes him a twofer in Girls world. Not too surprisingly, Sandy rapidly disappears down the Memory Hole, along with the husband of Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and the possible future husband of Marnie (Allison Williams), while it appears that Soshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) may be breaking up as well. Because if we have nothing but stable relationships we got no show.
In the first season Marnie was Hannah’s long-time, all-time BFF but in the second season and the start of the third she looks to be losing ground to Jessa, who, after all, beautiful and damaged, a combo that Hannah can’t seem to resist. The two take a trip to meet Jessa’s charming wastrel dad, Together they view prehistoric bush from an old copy of Penthouse and Hannah bangs Jessa’s nineteen-year-old stepbrother. Jessa, seemingly determined to punish the world for allowing her to be stuck with such a shithole dad, disappears, leaving a disconsolate Hannah to return to Brooklyn alone,
The worse Jessa treats her, the more Hannah misses her. In one scene, Dunham goes out of her way to show Hannah as terrified by Jessa’s bad girl antics, but somehow Hannah always keeps coming back for more. The attainable is boring. The unattainable, entrancing. The same vibe continues in the start of the third season. Jessa is in rehab. Naturally, she treats the whole thing as a joke, showering everyone with attitude and “unmasking” her hapless fellows in group: “Listen, I’m fucking sorry your fucking uncle fucking raped you, but fucking get over it, okay! You’re a fucking lesbian, damn it! Just accept it, and stop being such a goddamn martyr!”
It’s not clear what drug Jessa is addicted to — all of them, probably — but she would surely rather give up drugs than admit that rehab is helping her, so she bails, calling Hannah and telling her she needs Hannah to pretend to be her sister and come and rescue her. Hannah, of course, jumps at the chance to lie for Jessa, recruiting Adam to driver her and bringing Soshanna along for the ride. When they arrive, it turns out that Jessa could have left any time on her own. She just wanted the attention. That is so sweet! On the way back, Hannah and Jessa cuddle adoringly in the back seat, while Adam drives and Shoshanna, who seems to be regressing, wears abfab sunglasses and babbles like a fifteen-year-old valley girl/holy fool, by turns inane, “shocking,” or profound — whatever suits the writers’ convenience.
Both Hannah and Soshanna seemed determined to hang with Jessa just because she’s beautiful. Having a beautiful friend makes you cool — a bit of a disconnect with the show’s semi-official message that looks aren’t important, a premise further undermined by the fact that short, chubby Hannah has to beat good-looking guys off with a stick so that she can concentrate on her writing.
There’s a curious incident in the “fab brownstone” episode in the second season when Hannah has an epiphany of sorts: “OMG! Being a writer doesn’t make me better than other people! It makes me worse! I want to be famous for being unselfish!”
Surprisingly (or not) this soul-shattering insight has absolutely no impact on the way Hannah lives her life, unless her OCD eardrum-popping was intended as a consequence, and I don’t think it was. Anyway, Adam’s presence (or Jessa’s) has taken care of that little problem, for the time being. A relapse wouldn’t surprise me, but Lena really needs to think up a better way for Hannah to be “complex.” Despite all the nudity and “shocking” behavior, the show has a definitely adolescent vibe. It’s not exactly Twilight or Hunger Games, but if Adam’s incisors start growing, I won’t be surprised.
Mad Men, Season 6
Sex, death, and ketchup, these three abide; but the greatest of these is ketchup. By “ketchup” I mean inter- and intra-agency squabbling over accounts, which is the Mad Men guys and gals when they aren’t screwing or agonizing over the Great Beyond. Mad Men started ponderous out of the gate, with an ultra-heavy two-parter, “The Doorway” (as to Death), but picked up considerably as it galloped towards the finish line.
“The Doorway” opens with a seriously heavy POV sequence of “Jonesy,” the doorman at Don and Megan’s posh Manhattan high-rise, having a heart attack, seen from the POV of Jonesy himself! Heavy! Heavy! Fortunately, Jonesy is saved by renowned heart surgeon Arnold Rosen (Brian Markinson), who happens to be Don and Megan’s downstairs neighbor.
We then cut, in an ultra-heavy manner, to Don, sunning himself on the beach in Hawaii, reading Dante’s Inferno! Which is about, you know, Hell! Fortunately, we’re then treated to long tracking shot of Megan’s magnificent, bikini-clad bod, which, considering all the mannered pretension we’ve been through, we seriously deserve. Unfortunately, there’s far more heaviosity to come, when a sleepless Don heads down to the hotel bar, where he encounters a young GI, fresh from Vietnam and on the cusp of marriage. Ah, I was once as you! But now, all’s changed!
Yeah, well, we all get old, but not all of us have to make a federal case out of it. Anyway, Don witnesses the kid’s marriage, unless that’s an hallucination (there are a lot of them this year, to very little effect), but finally, finally, we get back to Manhattan, where we catch up with the recovering Jonesy, and witness via a flashback an “objective” account of his rescue by the good doctor, so that we actually figure out what’s going on.
We also catch up with Betty (January Jones) and Henry (Christopher Stanley). Betty is, thankfully, getting back to her fighting weight, after going all El Chubbo on us in Season Five, but, having given her back her looks, the writers don’t resist reminding us just how damn evil she is, having her kid Henry about having eyes for a 15-year-old girl and offer to hold her down while he rapes her. Oh, Bets! You’re such a tease!
Later, the script cuts Bets a break when she discovers that the supposed object of Henry’s lust, daughter Sally’s friend Sandy, is not going to Julliard to study violin as a 16-year-old prodigy. She lied about being accepted, and she’s going to run away and live as a hippie squatter in the Village. When Sandy does disappear, Betty asks Sally (Kiernan Shipka) what happened, and Sally, once cast more or less as the conscience of the show, appears to have metamorphosed into a teen princess/queen bee and she’s all “whatever,” so Bets girds up her loins like a mom and ventures down into “ugly sixties” territory, confronting the standard “toilet from Hell” and facing down a bunch of threatening scroungers, who (presumably) lie to her about Sandy’s whereabouts and won’t let her take Sandy’s violin.
Meanwhile, in a truly lame plot twist, Roger is undergoing therapy, talking about “death,” of course, and boring the pants off me. Temporary blindness, temporary amnesia, and therapy are the three lamest plot twists going, and, frankly, I’d much rather see Roger go blind than listen to him whine about the meaninglessness of it all.
Don, of course, is also afflicted with the sickness unto death, something that really isn’t in Jon Hamm’s repertoire. Total coolness he can do, but existential despair, not so much. He wanders around looking like he’s been kicked in the nuts by a mule and basically getting on my nerves. He and Megan celebrate New Year’s Eve, welcoming in 1968 with Dr. Rosen and wife Sylvia (Linda Cardellini, who does not lick her own boob, as she did in the unrated version of Grandma’s Boy . In the middle of the festivities, the good doctor is called away on an emergency. It’s a blizzard outside, but even that won’t stop him. He and Don rummage around in the basement and ultimately Arnold sets off on skis. Such a mensch!
You’d think Don might feel a little intimidated by such virtue, but if he does, he’s not intimidated enough not to be screwing Sylvia. Clearly, Don’s running from something, but not fast enough, because it’s messing up his sales pitches. His ad campaign for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which is how he and Megan scored the free vacation, sounds like an ad for suicide. “Come to Hawaii and disappear!”
Ketchup enters the picture when the Sterling Cooper Draper Price boys get pulled into a power struggle at Heinz. Striving to land the ketchup account, they end up losing beans and also colliding with Peggy Olson’s new firm, Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough, though they don’t get ketchup either. Roger gets over his angst and picks up a sweet new stewardess girlfriend, who gives us some fairly gratuitous ass shots and gives SCDP a shot at Chevy, though, once more, CGC is in the running as well. Don, having drinks with Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), Peggy’s boss, says that little firms don’t have a chance competing for a monster contract like Chevy and that SCDP and CGC ought to merge. Since neither Don nor Ted have controlling shares, it’s hard to see how they can arrange a merger just like that, but it gets Peggy back in the office with Don, Joan, and the rest of the gang, where she belongs, which was probably the point.
For those of us who lived through it, there was no year like 1968, the year of the assassinations, the riots, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and one can give Mad Men credit for not getting too sixties on our asses, showing us some fairly negative images of both the sixties and the Big Apple. Most surprisingly, it shows us an actually bad black character, a conniving confidence woman who slips into the Drapers’ coop when Don and Megan are both out but Sally, Bobby, and Eugene are in. In a thoroughly menacing scene, she manipulates the kids into accepting her presence, preventing Sally from calling the police though never resorting to physical violence.
The combination of soaring crime rates, raging inflation, racial antagonism, and general economic malaise cast a serious shadow over urban living in the United States, a shadow that did not really begin to lift in New York until the mid-nineties, when crime went down and incomes went up. In Mad Men land, it’s severe enough to cause Peggy to split up with lefty boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer), who insists that he likes getting mugged, though getting stabbed by a paranoid Peggy doesn’t make him too happy.
But it’s all good, really, because SCDP/CGC, in yet another improbable plot twist, gets the Chevy account. Amazing! Who needs a private life anyway? Relationships just slow you down. But be careful what you wish for! The Chevy dudes like to party hearty, and the strain of keeping those Midwestern good old boys happy is starting to show on our band of effete Manhattanites. Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) catches a face full of birdshot riding herd on the new client, and when Pete hungrily takes over he disgraces himself at the wheel of a GM muscle car because city boy can’t handle a clutch. He’s been set up by smooth, closeted new-comer Bob Benson (James Wolk), a former West Virginia hillbilly who’s gone through some serious makeover by the time we meet him and who turns up like a bad penny throughout the season, leaving all the principals looking over their shoulders and wondering “Who is this kid, anyway?”
The continuing plot twists leave Don running and lunging like a wounded animal, the dream of starting over—when, of course, he can’t—seizing control of him to the extent that it sabotages all of his existing relationships. Megan leaves him to pursue her career on the coast and the agency, exhausted by his too hip for the room, client-alienating concepts, tells him it’s time to take an extended leave of absence. And don’t call us; we’ll call you.
While Don is falling to pieces, daughter Sally is getting it together, but not in a good way. After catching sight of Don “consoling” Sylvia, she decides that it’s time for her to become a serious preppie and attend boarding school. After a gracious interview with the headmistress, she’s introduced to “the girls” for a sleep over in the dorm, hurling her into a snakepit of snobbery and bullying, where she finds herself perfectly at home, thanks to longtime pal Glen Bishop (Marten Weiner), who climbs in her window in approved preppie fashion with beer, weed, and a buddy, Rolo (Liam Aiken). In season five we saw Glen as the put-upon butt of the jocks at his school, who amused themselves by pissing on his lacrosse uniform, but now the pissee is the pisser, a preppie prick emerging from the chrysalis. The system works!
The kids pair off for a little make-out session, Glen taking the other girl. Sally finds Rolo both pushy and unattractive and rats him out to Glen, exaggerating to the extent that Glen attacks Rolo, while Sally smiles. Guys fighting over me! Kew-el! And so a cock-teaser is born.
The dust is still settling when season six of Mad Men ends. All the leads are isolated and at loose ends. So we can’t wait to see Don crawl, climb, and scramble to the top once more. It’s better when you’re climbing, really. You don’t have time to think.
 Most spectacularly, of course, boss man Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), whom I had labeled as a Brazilian in HTV, Part Un. Sorry, he is, or was, a Chilean.
 Skyler’s brief glorious writing career was alluded to only once, in the first episode of Breaking Bad. Making a character a “writer” is one of the biggest clichés in the writing business, and it seems the writers were smart enough to figure that out.
 I found the offing of Lydia via ricin—the “chemical touch,” I guess—particularly unattractive. Lydia should have died in an honest shootout—difficult to contrive, I know, but that’s why screenwriters get paid the big bucks—instead of through a cheesy stab in the back.
 Both Jesse and Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford), Saul’s main muscle, spill their guts with appalling thoroughness for Hank’s benefit. What happened to honor among thieves?
 Jessa always feels sorry for herself, and never for others. I myself would feel sorry for anyone having to put up with Jessa.
 Writers love this sort of free association—see Marshall Flinkman (Kevin Weisman) on the old Alias TV show—because it lets them throw just about anything into the mix without having to justify it.
 This is in fact true. I used to date a very attractive and stylish woman (“date” as in we were lovers for five years). Whenever we would go into a bar or a restaurant, the waitress would start hitting on me as soon as Marilyn’s back was turned. When I was alone, nothing, but when I was with Marilyn it was “obvious” that I had some deeply hidden yet undeniably potent “game.”
 Don and Megan are, of course, Jon Hamm and Jessica Paré. It didn’t seem right to slip identifying information in the middle of a possessive.
 She may lack the word but she definitely has the spirit.
 When Bets finally does lose those last five pounds (or is it ounces?) she celebrates by, naturally, seducing Don after first bending over in tight shorts for the gratification of a teenage gas station attendant. In compensation, the writers give her very nice line, letting her tell Don “I feel sorry for Megan. She doesn’t realize that the worst way to get close to you is to fall in love with you.”
 Mad Men creator Matt Weiner somehow thinks we haven’t seen The Sopranos, which ran this already flea-bitten wheeze not simply into the ground but well beneath the surface.
 Somewhere along the line Roger’s mom dies, but he doesn’t really crack until his shoeshine boy dies as well. Then he moves on.
 A Jew on skis! Believe it!
 Elizabeth Moss, of course.
 In those faraway days, Chevrolet was easily the best-selling car in America, owning about 10 percent of the market.
 Since stepdad Henry is seriously old money, it’s hard to believe that she’s been in public school all this time, but, anyway, she wants to move it up a notch.