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The Walking Dead: The Grove (2014)
Best episode since "Too Far Gone"
From the opening credits I knew this episode was going to be different than any other one so far this season. And boy, was I ever right. It's writing was straightforward, without any cheesy side-stories to fill time, and it's cinematography was a lot better than what we have seen these past few weeks.
I'm a much bigger fan of this kind of horror. I like the fact that, even though there are flesh-eating zombies outside your house, maybe the biggest threat will come from where you'll least expect it; inside your house, hidden deep inside the people that you love. It was scary, in a different kind of way, there was no meaningless gore, just slow building tension, surprising twists, moral dilemmas and an eerie soundtrack that would make James Wan proud...
If you were uncertain if you should continue watching this series after the disappointing "Still", it's with a happy heart that I confirm you there is still hope with this show.
Breaking Bad (2008)
Hell is paved with good intentions
Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad is a drama about a man's decline into villainy, Mr. Chips becoming Scarface
Every single episode is a unique, unpredictable and rich work of art. The suspenseful drama is morally challenging, masterfully well written and puts on screen the best performance by an actor I have ever seen. Every season is better and darker than the previous one, which only helps building the tension and hooking everyone's eyes on the screen until the very end.
Walter Hartwell White (Bryan Cranston) was an extremely overqualified high school chemistry teacher, he watched his friends and colleagues become millionaires and surpass him in every way imaginable, his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) was seven months pregnant, his 15 year-old son Flynn (R.J. Mitte) has cerebral palsy and to pay his bills, he had to work a second job in a car-wash. Shortly after turning 50, he learnt he had inoperable lung cancer and less than two years left to live. To provide for his family's future, Walter calculated that he needed $737 000. After Hank, his DEA agent brother-in-law showed him how much money someone could make with a single meth operation ($700 000), he decided to partner up with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), an ex-student of his who was also a small time drug user, dealer and manufacturer.
Under the nickname "Heisenberg", Walter made the purest crystal meth in the world while Pinkman was dealing it. Throughout the first four seasons and the first half of the fifth, we witnessed Walter's ascension to power. He started cooking in a RV truck with Jesse for a psychopath, then into an industrial super lab for a ridiculously well-mannered and professional businessman named Gus Fring. After killing Fring because of his threats against the White family, Heisenberg became the new head of the meth underworld.
While witnessing Walter White's ascension in the meth business, we also see his physical and moral decay. The nice man who started has a sympathetic but desperate family man now became a ruthless drug lord. But the loss of his humanity is so gradual and so well made I actually surprised myself rooting for him after he ordered the assassination of the nicest person in the series at the end of season three.
At first, Walter was doing his criminal activities for his family, but he soon became a millionaire and continued the business because he liked it and was good at it. He slowly became more and more evil, greedy and homicidal. Up to the first half of the final season (five), his business was doing great, he had $80 million dollar in cash hidden in a locker, his family was happy, his wife was helping him with the money laundering and he bought his son a new car. But when his DEA agent brother-in-law found out his secret, the end began.
The final season not only contains probably three of the five best episodes of all time, but also an inescapable feeling of impending doom. The castle the king had built started to crumble on his family and on himself. His empire is stolen from him, Hank and his partner are murdered before his eyes as the direct and unfortunate result of his actions. Everything he did to assure the best of his family is ruined It's heartbreaking. Because of that, Skyler and his son turn against him, they even set the police after him, leaving Walt no choice but to hide alone in the cold weather of New Hampshire for a couple of months. Riddled with cancer, and on the edge of his time, he changed his mind and decides not to die as a hermit in a cabin in the woods, but to go out with a bang. In a jaw-dropping finale, Walter gives an opportunity to his wife to clear her name, he reveals the location of Hank's body, and kills the neo-Nazis who took his life in cold-blood. He then rescues a completely broken Jesse from these psychopaths, and, shot, passes away in the lab with a smile on his face. His redemption is complete, he regained some of his humanity. He can rest in peace.
Breaking Bad was consistently great, while Ozymandias and Felina, stand on the line of artistic perfection, no episode is, shall I say, bad. Every single one of them has outstanding cinematography, amazing storytelling and actors who can bring anyone to tears. One of my favorite scene is when Hank, Walt and his son watch the video of the recently dead Gale's karaoke song. Hank and Flynn are laughing out loud but Walt was the one responsible for his death. He didn't say a word, we just saw his heart breaking through his eyes. This is Oscar level acting for more than 50 hours of episodes!
All in all, we are talking about a flawless and quintessential masterpiece of episodic cinema. I watch a lot of movies and series but I can't recall the last time I had to cover my mouth not to scream nor when a single scene made me become a better person. Breaking Bad can safely be proclaimed the greatest drama series of all time and I seriously doubt I will see something better for at least another decade.
As a tribute, I did a top 20 Breaking Bad episodes, feel free to check it out: http://www.imdb.com/list/g_OeLWANEv0/
The hunter, the monster and the lumberjack
When we were first introduced to Dexter back in 2006, we were shocked. I had to admire the courage of the writers and producers not only to try to make you root for a serial killer, but also to justify his crimes. Often delivered with a slight dose of dark humour, we witnessed over 100 murders by his hand. Sometimes they were difficult to watch, sometimes they were hardly earned, but they were always morally challenging: can you really blame a guy for killing killers?
Rescued from a crime scene and adopted when he was a young boy by detective Harry Morgan, a mentally damaged Dexter (portrayed by an excellent Michael C. Hall) soon showed signs of a "dark passenger". Desperate, Harry, with the help of a renowned neuro-psychiatrist, secretly worked on a "code" for Dexter to live by in order to avoid the electric chair. He learnt what the police is looking for at a crime scene and how to take his need to kill on those not worthy of living. His "code" drove him to execute every victim in a perfectly planned ritual, leaving no blood or body to prove anything happened. Dexter's obsession for blood caused him to become a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. Looking at other killers mistakes all day, he could not only track them, but also improve is game to be practically uncatchable.
In the awesome first season, as the protagonist's bloody (to say the least) childhood was unveiled with perfect timing, we became familiar with his foul-mouth sister Debra, the hilarious one-liners of Sgt. Doakes, the pain-in-the-ass attitude of LaGuerta, the socially awkward Masuka and the rest of Miami Metro. Without, of course, forgetting his new girlfriend Rita Bennett and her troubled past.
The big drama of the show, is that Dexter's entire life is a lie, a cover. He's a psychopath and his brain can't process empathy. He surely cares about Rita and his sister but doesn't know what love is, he just fakes it to hide is monstrous nature. And when you seek serial killers, sometimes the people you care about get in danger. But the series also has its comedic moments, for instance you hear Dexter's inner monologue. He's a psychopath and doesn't think like normal people do. It's funny because he always says the opposite of what he was thinking, otherwise people would know he's a serial killer.
Another great thing about the show is its intelligent writing. It constantly tackles deep moral and philosophical themes. The main antagonists always have a special meaning that brings another dimension to the story. For example, in the fourth season, Dexter became a father and a husband, but, simultaneously, he had to deal with Arthur Mitchell (marvellously played by John Lithgow). Mitchell, also known as Trinity, was a family man, but also a successful serial killer. Culminating in one of the most intense and jaw-dropping moments of television I've ever experienced (and I watch Breaking Bad!), he had to realize he's a monster and happiness is not something he can look forward to.
After seven unequal seasons, a detective knew something was wrong with him, a murderous poisoner had a grudge against him, and his sister was a wreck and hated his guts for making her lose her humanity Everything seemed placed perfectly his world to fall apart. I wanted the final season to be a manhunt, I wanted tragedy, losses of lives, his family destroyed and him either caught or dead. Did my wish get fulfilled? Not quite. I mean yes, but by another far better show...
Don't get me wrong, the final season had its moments. We learnt interesting things about his past and the rebellious apprentice theme was a good idea. But it wasn't enough, a lot of characters were either boring or irrelevant. In the end, instead of getting into trouble he was constantly getting out of it. If it wasn't written on the poster, I would have never knew it was the last season. In the series finale, Debra is shot and becomes a vegetable, arguably because of Dexter's mistakes. I would have rather seen her die with all her dignity in an emotionally intense and spectacular scene (Hank Shrader, anyone?). But instead she had to be unplugged from a machine and dumped in the ocean... Again, he realizes he's a monster and happiness is not something he can look forward to. Obviously, the smartest thing to do after that was to fake his death, leave Miami and become a lumberjack in the middle of nowhere to protect the remaining members of his family from himself, right?
All in all, the show was very well acted and well written (for the most part), but Dexter's biggest weakness is its lack of consistency. The final episodes seemed rushed and not thought out, that's a bummer because I think this great show deserved a much better conclusion. As a tribute,
I did a top 15 Dexter episodes, feel free to check it out: http://www.IMDb.com/list/kYqEK-xsmtE/