Monday, September 16, 2013

Breaking Brad

   
"Breaking Bad's" Jesse Pinkman & Walter White
(image borrowed via public Google search)
Spartacus (aka Brad Crowe) and I have just emerged from a shameless three week boob-tubing spree, a "Breaking Bad" marathon of ginormous proportions. Quite possibly the most entertaining and provocative TV show I have ever seen in my entire life, it's the story of Walter White, a brilliant but underachieving middle-aged high school chemistry teacher, whose unexpected inoperable lung cancer diagnosis and ensuing concerns over his family's future financial stability propel him into a new vocation as the southwest's premier crystal methamphetamine chef. He partners up with Jesse Pinkman, his meth-smoking former student, cooking up enantiomerically pure blue meth in the Chihuahuan desert in a stolen RV, all in an effort to amass a decent nest egg for Walt's surviving wife and children. Walt handles the chemistry, and Jesse provides the street smarts and networking. 

Yo bitch, can you front me a teenth?
(image borrowed via public Google search)
Reminiscent of characters in a Greek tragepic, they encounter an array of seemingly insurmountable obstacles to their plans for large scale distribution, including Walt's pregnant wife and her meddling sister, his DEA agent brother-in-law, local dealer turf wars, regional drug kingpins, the Mexican drug cartel, an international shipping conglomerate, white supremacists, and sometimes even overly ambitious meth-heads themselves. Walt's elaborate lies and manipulations of the truth are so outrageous that even when he's being completely honest, no one believes him. Oddly enough, the poetry of Walt Whitman is a central plot element. How cool is that?!  Like Uncle Walt, Walter White shares intellectual and personality traits relegating him to society's margin. Throughout the course of the show, Walt's character metamorphosizes from protagonist to antagonist, while Jesse serves as an unlikely moral compass.  It's pretty clear that Jesse flunked Walter's chemistry class not because he wasn't bright, but simply because he didn't apply himself. Although the obvious seems to go right over Jesse's head, he's no dummy. For instance, during one of Walt's pimping sessions in their mobile meth lab, Jesse incorrectly identifies wire as a conductive element instead of copper, yet single-handedly conceives the idea of using a giant magnet planted outside the DEA's evidence room in order to scramble data from a co-conspirator's confiscated computer hard drive that would have otherwise incriminated him and Walt. He's not booksmart, but he's got lots of common sense. The fact that Walt and Jesse's relationship first began in a high school classroom has made for some interesting discussion between Brad and me about our individual experiences with the education system, namely its imposed set of expectations and pressure for conformity. 
     
WANTED!
For coloring outside the lines
DISARMING AND EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!
I love hearing Brad's stories from when he was in school. Like most kids, he would've rather been playing ball, riding his bike, or running around outside than sitting in a boring old classroom. Not surprisingly, he daydreamed a lot. He also went about doing things his own way, which didn't exactly win him brownie points with his teachers. They wanted him to color inside the lines. When Brad was in the sixth grade, his teacher, Mr. Lightfoot, sent home the following comment on his report card:

"Brad is very independent. Unfortunately, he is independently stagnant."

Just what the hell was that supposed to mean? Apparently, Brad wasn't fully cooperating with the program. He was busy being his own person, and that created a disturbance, a deviation from the Bell curve norm. This was just one in a series of failed scholastic attempts at breaking Brad. Fortunately, Brad's dad didn't take that kind of criticism seriously, and instead of being pissed about it, Bob sent him right back outside to play. 

"We got your book right here, Mr. Krug!" 
Two months after starting 11th grade, Brad and his folks moved from Decatur, Alabama to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. His new chemistry class wasn't at all in sync with the one he'd just left. Realizing he was seriously behind in the material, Brad approached his teacher, Mr. Krug, one afternoon after school.

"What can I do to catch up with the rest of the class?" Brad inquired earnestly. Asking for help...not exactly an independently stagnant move, yes?

                       
Well, what do you think Mr. Krug's smartass condescending answer was?

"You have the book, Mr. Crowe." 



Gee, thanks a pantload! Feeling somewhat dejected by this unproductive interaction, Brad took to daydreaming again. Not long after that, Brad was sitting in his desk, staring out into the courtyard, completely oblivious to the fact that Mr. Krug was calling on him to name an element. 

Mr. Krug was becoming impatient. "Well, Mr. Crowe? We don't have all day." 

Brad's bullshit answer of "cotton" had the entire class, including Mr. Krug, in stitches. 

That semester, his test scores progressed from "D" to "A" to "F" to "B," his final grade being a respectable "C."  

Like Jesse Pinkman, Brad's performance in chemistry was more mercurial than sterling, but hey, as long as you realize that cotton makes your tidy whities absorbent and that, in a pinch, you can make a battery with a lemon, some copper wire, and a galvanized nail, what more do you really need to know to survive?

"Breaking Brad" featuring himself as Walt & Boris as Jesse
Needless to say, despite all of Brad's academic misadventures, he turned out just fine. He's still doing his own thing in his own quiet way, and it's funny how that quality still arouses suspicion among some of our friends. In fact, one of my partners at work started a rumor that Brad was in the CIA. I kid you not, he was dead serious about it. It reminded me of that scene from "Bridesmaids" where Megan is convinced that the guy sitting next to her on the plane is an air marshall. Turns out, she was right! Anyhow, that rumor spread around the operating room like wildfire. I have to admit, it was kinda fun. Brad's Ray-Ban aviators and lean, mean look definitely lend a James Bond-ish aura, but beneath that steely surface lies a heart of gold that follows its own path in life, the mark of a true individual. Maybe being independently stagnant isn't such a terrible thing after all.

A selfie of us partners in crime...



    

24 comments:

  1. Breaking bad is a great show, I can't wait for season 5 to end so I can watch it all in one sitting...the way you tied this article together with Spartacus makes me ask...is he the real Jesse Pinkman? Are you Walter White?

    I also could not be bothered to pay attention through high school, I found it boring, thankfully I pulled it together for college though where I was allowed to learn at my own pace, which turned out to be quite fast.

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    1. Scott, yep, BB is the best show ever, and this is coming from someone who doesn't watch TV! The themes dealt with in it are so reminiscent of the conversations we've had here on BC about morality and how arbitrary it is. Now, If I revealed the truth about us, I'd have to....well, you know. It had to be done, LOL. I think anyone who watches BB sees Jesse and Walter in themselves.

      I think a lot of people can relate to being bored in elementary and high school, and being able to "blossom" in college. What was your field of study in university?

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  2. Kris, I stand anaesthetised by this double dose (Breaking Bad & Breaking Brad)and of course I loved it, pun, fun and all, before I swooned!

    "Brad is very independent. Unfortunately, he is independently stagnant." Epic! I am sure Dr Samuel Johnson would be turning in his grave somewhere! And I can so identify with Brad there. My teachers too were always in knots (one seriously considered resignation), except that I performed relatively better in the academics and turned out poorer in life.

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    1. Uma, was it difficult for you to sit still in class? I'm trying to imagine what school is like in India, but I'm guessing it's about the same as anywhere else. It sounds to me like you proved your teachers wrong, as well as keeping them on their toes. Did you ever have a kind or supportive teacher at school, someone who encouraged you? How did your parents handle your issues at school?

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    2. Kris, I would say schools out here would have roughly been the same at the time. I had a notoriously short attention span and I was often caught doodling or writing crazy stuff in the classes. My father somehow condoned all that -he was quite fond and proud of me, except the time when I was caught making caricatures of the teacher, or the time I bunked the class to watch 'Enter the Dragon' for the 7th time. :)It was worse through the senior classes though and I was usually on my own most of the time. Schools I was in weren't too sanctimonious. I have had great relations with most of my language teachers.

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    3. Breaking Brad --- LOOOOVE that, Uma!!!!

      I feel for Brad. I too was a high tester but under-performer, and my daydreams were more constructive and creative than most classes.

      "Read the book," uh, yeah, thanks for the help, "Teacher." Fortunately for Brad - he may have not been 'caught up,' but I betcha he was more intelligent than any 'teacher' who told him to 'read the book,' or, ' go ask my assistant."

      BTW, I'm not a TV watcher, but got sucked into Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and, my favorite - Breaking Bad. I am astonished how this story is a complete roller coaster ride! I am surprised that something on TV is actually this good. If BB was a book, i'd be reading it cover to cover, hopefully remembering to eat or sleep.

      I switched my Netflix account to Mom's address so she can watch. she's curently on a marathon herself. I can't wait to speak with her each morning about the character development of Walt, Jesse, etc.

      I saw an interview with the creator - the Gilligan guy on "Talking Bad." he said the tag line of this to the networks was, "Mr. Chips Becomes Scarface."

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  3. "Independently stagnant" !!!!!!!!! You should have a t-shirt made for him with that on it. Classic teacher armchair-cognitive scientist comment. Honestly, it's no wonder boys resist such bogus scrutiny, while girls grow up--generally speaking, of course-- to replicate such nonsense.

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    1. OMG, Lisa, that's an awesome idea! Brad has so many great one-liners like that; he's a never-ending source of entertainment. When I think about Nick and Rory's first days in school, it makes me shudder a little bit. I think they started school a year too early, and still have visions of poor Nick hiding under the table from Mr. Kresak! They both really struggled, especially in junior high, and the amount of homework they came home with every night was redonkulous. I know that I never had that much homework as a kid.

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  4. I don't have a clue about this particular show but your writing is so good that it does not matter. You are both witty and downright hilarious at the same time. Independantly stagnant..i have just adopted this saying as my own

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    1. Melanie, it's a great saying, isn't it? This is the first time I've really considered what it meant, and have decided that it was a backhanded compliment of sorts. Do your kids attend public school?

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  5. I've heard nothing but good reports of this 'Breaking Bad' TV program. I can't wait to see over here.

    independently stagnant?', I had to laugh at that one, and those words came from the teacher, ha ha ha. Maybe Brad should have been the one writing a report about his teacher :) Thankfully his father took it as 'a pinch of salt'. I would have received a severe beating mate.

    There's a lot of talk going on right now about children's education. Some say that they should be spending more time playing and exploring at 5 yrs old, whilst others think they should be studying hard, doing homework and even learning languages etc. Kids already spend several hours a day at school (which must be extremely frustrating for those that don't want to be there) and I don't oppose all homework, but give them a break for crying out loud.

    Now, is Brad a CIA, FBI or any special agent? He does have that look. Tell me quietly...

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    1. RPD, you must watch it! The best way to go about it is to set aside a couple of weekends and view it in marathon fashion. It'll remind you of many of the discussions we've had here at BC. Really just brilliant. It's on Netflix.

      I like your idea about how Brad should have written a report about his teacher. Yes, Brad's dad had a lot of common sense about his sons' schooling. Brad's got other stories about teachers wanting to paddle him, and how he got out of corporal punishment by saying he was going to tell his dad. (Brad was never spanked as a child).

      Based on Nick and Rory's experience with school, and comparing it to my own, they had WAY more homework than I ever did. It was a real struggle to have time to play and unwind and get that stupid homework done every night. Incredibly stressful for us all. Many of the school systems here have eliminated the arts from their curricula. That would've been it for me, as music and art classes were what appealed to me the most. I agree, kids need a break.

      As for Brad's special agent status, I'm sworn to secrecy. He does have that look, though...

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  6. "Independently stagnant" is awesome on many levels. Along with t-shirts, maybe that could be the name of the opening band for your sons.

    I've never seen Breaking Bad, but clearly I've missed out. I'll have to put that on the marathon list!

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    1. Yes!!! Independently Stagnant would be a great name for a band!

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  7. I'm glad you didn't mention any BB spoilers. I can't wait to dig into that show! And it looks like "Brad" did all right in the end, didn't he? After all, he's got you! :) Glad you found your soul mate.

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    1. Doy! No spoiler alerts here! I can't wait to see what you think about Breaking Bad, Janene.

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  8. Breaking Bad is indeed (arguably) the best show ever. Reading your review made me realized I missed many details, but I still had fun watching it.

    School booksmart is just one type of intelligence. I am sure being a "CIA agent" is just as cool as a doctor or a meth cooker. lol... "Independent stagnant", I wonder what it means. There are always some school teachers can't wait to judge kids. Good thing is, it was Einstein's name people remember, and it is people's own lives they care. Glad "breaking Brad" had his own dream and his own life to live.

    I sincerely hope Pinkman survives! He was too sweet to be left killed. WW turned to such a antagonist. Just breaking bad!

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    1. Yun, next week's episode is sure to be a real nail biter. I wonder if Walt will return from being "vacuumed" to avenge Jesse's captivity (or even death, if that happens). We shall see. As for booksmart being just one type of intelligence, yes, I agree. In the absence of common sense, booksmarts don't do anyone a whole lot of good.

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    2. kris, i hope mr. white eventually realized all is his fault, so he could understand jesse. he seemed to awaken a little when he called his wife. let's see. this show is simply amazing. actors are all so real.

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  9. Kris, you are so funny and such a genius at weaving disparate threads together. Brad strikes me as the strong and silent type, not likely to be broken by a dysfunctional and moribund school system. Nobody in my family took education very seriously. I can't remember my parents ever asking me whether I'd done my homework, or taking any interest in my schoolwork or my grades at all. Life was all about love and laughter and friendship, living simply and having a good time.

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    1. Marty, I view my writing the same as I do leftovers...there's gotta be a way to throw it all together somehow. Your parents sound like such cool people, and they certainly produced a delightfully friendly, open-minded, and kind-hearted son.

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  10. I still haven't seen Breaking Bad. I really don't make any time to watch tv except some news and weather in the evening. I recall anything that stood out in high school or before. I was a good student who got away with allot because I didn't give reason to be noticed. I liked it that way.

    Perfect story here Kris, I always enjoy reading your work!

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  11. Kris,

    My sister, Mary and her husband watch Breaking Bad. It's not my kind of thing, but I enjoyed your edification on the characters and theme. It was a better rendition than Mary's explanation.

    Mr. Lightfoot and Mr. Krug, are perfect examples of ones I had, teachers who were boring and only doing enough to get by. They were major contribution factors as to the reasons I did not apply myself in many of my classes. I was otherwise absent ... doing what Brad was doing. Daydreaming is conducive to a non-conforming future, and most creative types do a lot of it.

    Another entertaining read. :D

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  12. Kris, really enjoyed this post! Glad school could never “break Brad,” and good for him for being his own person. The condescending answer from that chemistry teacher when he asked for help was certainly no help at all, but Brad’s daydreaming answer of “cotton” to the element question was priceless!

    People who quietly go about doing their own thing can often arouse suspicion in others, it seems, but that rumor going around your operating room was pretty funny! Gotta say, though, that picture of Brad looking suspiciously cool and James Bond-ish in those aviator sunglasses next to Boris, looking suspiciously sly and aloof, is cause for concern...hummm...maybe they are both in the CIA LOL! All that picture needs is “independently stagnant and proud of it” on his t-shirt!

    The photo of young Brad is disarmingly cute (love the caption!) Great selfie of the two of you.

    Btw, I’ve never watched “Breaking Bad” but heard it’s really good and wins many awards. Over the summer, Chuck and I started watching “Homeland,” and caught up two seasons. Another provocative and well-acted show.

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