Blocos to Balls & Back Again: Carnival 2012 in Rio de Janeiro

Every year, Rio de Janeiro is destroyed by Carnival — happily, boozily, noisily, charmingly, and most of all relentlessly. This is not a time of quiet Catholic reflection on matters spiritual. Rather, this is a time for most cariocas to take off most of their clothes, throw on a few mismatched items of costumery, and head for any of dozens of parties springing up all over the city on almost any day of the first three weeks of February. These are the blocos — the simple block parties patronized by a few trucks pounding out samba music while thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of locals and tourists dance along for many blocks in front, beside, and behind the festivities. The blocos all but paralyze Rio during Carnival, as only the canniest locals know how to navigate around them. Most don’t even try — instead, they join in and amble on their way once that particular party peters out.

The blocos may be the most popular part of Carnival in terms of sheer mass, but most of the world is more familiar with the elaborate, competitive parades put on by Rio’s elite samba schools. Though roughly analagous to the krewes who put on the floats at Mardi Gras, the schools are vastly larger in terms of manpower and resources. Most of the schools call on thousands of members for the parade itself, more for support and construction. And the top schools spend millions of dollars annually on their giant, staggering floats.

Then there’s the third compoment of Carnival parties: the balls. Formal, expensive affairs, the balls are where the city’s elite go to rub shoulders with each other and their money, with all you can eat, all you can drink, and all you can mentally process. But don’t think of these affairs as models of refined restraint. The costumes are even more elaborate, the music is just as loud, and the production values are even more extravagant. Though the occasional Hollywood star drops by the ball scene, you’re better off with a local society type who can point out all the actors, tycoons, models, and gyrating billionaires in attendance. But even if you don’t recognize anyone, anywhere, it makes for a pretty good party.

Edith Zimmerman on the Making of The Hairpin

As part of our 2012 New Regime, we spoke to Edith Zimmerman, a prolific writer and editor for the likes of New York, GQ, Esquire, and others. Her big project the for the past year has been (with Jane Marie) helming The Hairpin, a popular website for women that treats all the usual lady subjects with edgy wit and knowing grace. But like its sibling/parent site The Awl (officiated by legendary duo Choire Sicha and Alex Balk), The Hairpin defies easy genre pigeonholing. Here’s a lot of shop talk, how-to website wrangling, and yeah, that Captain America story.

How did The Hairpin get started? Did you contact Alex and Choire and propose the idea?
It was the other way around. It was the best thing in the world. They were spinning out the sister site, and they were given a chunk of money to do that, and they came to me, which was cool

Do you have a sense of why they chose you in particular?
I had written a column for them for a couple of years. Really, really not regularly, it was totally sporadic. I think there were maybe 4 or 5 installations. And then I was writing at the time for New York magazine’s entertainment blog, Vulture. I was kind of surprised that they were interested because the things I was doing for Vulture had nothing to do with (at least in my mind) writing much longer stuff that I would have to be doing. They sort of took a leap of faith I think. It was a sort of sensibility they knew from the stuff that I had written for The Awl and the ability to just do the daily grind.

When you were at New York, did you write just for Vulture or for the magazine too?
I wrote one thing for the magazine, and it was so excruciating that by the time it was published, it was like "Okay! Now I’ve written for the magazine!"

Why was it excruciating?
I felt like such an asshole because it was this concept I had pitched at a Vulture meeting, and then one the editors (because we would have crossover meetings where some stuff would be magazine, some stuff web) who is really sweet and really nice to me, was like "Oh, Edith that’s a great idea! Maybe you could do it for the magazine! How about we do it like this! And maybe we could reformat it like this!" And I was like "That’s brilliant!" And so he had this whole idea, and then he flushed it out, and was like "How about we arrange it like this?" And I was like "Great! Great!" So I wrote it, and then they had to edit it. So basically it was like a thing I hadn’t even written, and they did a million drafts of it. I mean, I know that’s how it works, but I was like "Ach!"

Always painful the first time that happens.
Yeah, but it worked out well, and I was really proud of it.

You mentioned the stuff you were doing on Vulture and on your own blog was shorter than what you thought you’d end up doing at The Hairpin. Those shorter things seem to be kind of more your deal though — short humor pieces, small jokes, and the like.
I really do like to do short I guess. A lot of the time things I write have started out much longer. So I invented this amazing process of editing myself!

Tell me more!
Um, no. Most things I usually just delete quickly. Anything good there, I try to keep it.

Very good instincts. So what was the very first meeting like with Choire and Alex?
I didn’t meet with them until the whole thing was set in stone. It was mostly [former Awl publisher] David Cho I was dealing with. I was friends with Alex from before, and I was email friends with Choire. And then it got started, and then finally I did have a sit-down with Alex about the site, because I was freaking out because this all happened to incredibly fast. I was just afraid of embarrassing myself. I was like "What do I do? How do I do this? Oh my God!" And they gave me few pointers, but for the most part they didn’t give me any help, which at first was incredibly scary, but now I’m really grateful for that. Because if I had been waiting for everyone’s approval on everything, I would have never have become confident in my ability to put it together.

So there’s not a whole lot of oversight from the mothership at this point?
No, there really never was. I mean, there totally was if I did something horrible. I was always bugging Choire about which pictures were legal to use and stupid shit like that. But the idea is that I would do whatever I wanted, and if it worked it worked, and if it didn’t …

Let’s get the lady website comparisons out of the way. Lots of people mention The Hairpin versus Jezebel or Jane in terms of readership. But I was actually more interested in how you perceive the audience in terms of the commenter population as opposed to the readership at large. How would you compare Hairpin commenters to Jezebel commenters, for instance?
Hmm. I don’t read Jezebel — and there’s a reason for that, I don’t want it to come off sounding like "Oh, I don’t own a TV" or "I couldn’t be bothered to read Jezebel." I love that site, I think it’s fantastic. It’s totally part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. But it has to do with one of the two pieces of advice that Alex gave me when we had that sit-down before the site started. One: "Be as weird as you can, just so it stands out. Because who needs a new website?" Two: "Stop reading all-women’s sites, just so whatever you do isn’t even obliquely referenced or influenced by things you read elsewhere." So I just don’t read any of them at all, which is a very easy way to answer your question. I mean I’ve totally been on those sites, and I know what they’re like.

But there’s a difference between going to a site occasionally and assuming that as part of your job.
Yeah, so I actually really couldn’t answer you honestly about the commenters and how they’re different because I just don’t read them anymore.

How do you feel about your own commenter population on The Hairpin? What do you think of those people?
They are so incredibly funny and smart and thoughtful. It’s awesome, it’s so cool, and it’s incredibly gratifying and intimidating. I was always too intimidated to comment very much on The Awl, and I have to remind myself that it’s I’m the editor and they can’t make fun of me too hard on my comment book. Like I go back and check to see how many thumbs-ups my own comments get, and they almost never get any because they’re not very funny.

Do you find that awareness affecting what you’re writing or particularly commenting about? Like being concerned about the reception it gets from that particular audience?
Totally. It’s difficult because you have to remember that the 40 extremely vocal people speak for about 1% of the people that are actually reading and responsible for your site succeeding or not. But yeah, I pretty obsessively check the comments to see if people like me.

That’s good. It always makes me suspicious when someone responsible for site content says, "Nah, I don’t read the comments." It’s not even elitist neccessarily, it’s just willfully ignorant.
The comments also are just so funny. They’re a delight to read. Although, it’s officially gotten to the point where I just can’t read all of the comments anymore because some posts will get 300 in a fairly quick stretch, and every so often I feel like they get away from themselves.

So the chief danger in this line of work is getting burned out from the grind.
Yeah, it got pretty grim. Relatively grim. Jesus Christ!

You can say "grim," it’s okay.
It was tricky, because it was such an adrenaline rush and so exciting at the beginning, because it was like this could be the worst and it could be really professionally embarrassing for me if this just sucks. For the first few months it was like really, really long days but not because I felt I had to, but just because there was no other option. That was the only way to do it. I was just compelled to do that. And there was just not very much sleep, and there were a couple spots where I was feeling really tired. And it was just coming out in my writing, I could hear it, and I was annoying myself. I didn’t like anything, which is a drag when you’re supposed to be writing 10-15 things a day and making people interested in things that you find interesting, and I just didn’t give a shit about anything, and I was tired.

How many items were you doing a day at Vulture?
At Vulture, I was writing about between 10 and 20 little posts a day. So it would be like a YouTube clip with a title and one-liner. Totally doable. But then I was trying to write longer stuff for The Hairpin.

And it’s all you — it’s not just the faceless blogger and the news cycle bullshit.
And editing other people’s stuff. So I got kind of burned out, but now everything is perfect because Jane and I both do it. That was life-changing. I have to remember what other things I do — I finished at 3 and I have no idea what else to do with myself.

Well, now you administrate, you supervise.
I go to the gym, I have hobbies and stuff. I have no idea.

Was this the kind of job or path you saw yourself on when you were interning at Esquire?
Oh God, I have no idea. No. The answer is no.

You completely had no idea back then?
No, I mean sort of. I had no idea about anything when I started as an intern because I just saw myself in some cool office at a desk, my hands sorta of just "da da da da" typing and being a writer somehow. Although, I figured out that working at magazines doesn’t mean you’re a writer. And I had no idea — I still don’t know what I want to write about. So, yeah, Esquire lead to actual jobs at magazines, which lead to website writing, which is what I decided is what I liked much better, which lead to — I mean, each year is a different thing I didn’t even imagine existed.

How many things are you writing on the website, as opposed to editing other people’s work?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I guess I write about 10 posts a day, but some of them are really, really short. I’m writing a lot less than I used to, because I got really tired of not having anything to say. And I would rather say nothing than that. And I like editing. I edit in the mornings and in the evenings, and then during work hours I’m usually just writing or looking for things to find.

Do you have time to work on other things outside of The Hairpin?
I’m having trouble balancing freelance writing, which I want to do more of because I got kind of a taste of it and was like "Oh yeah, not everything is all mine! People read stuff!" I did a little freelancing for Elle and Glamour, and I have a piece that’s theoretically coming out in Maxim later, and I’m working on a piece for The New York Times Magazine, if I don’t totally fuck it up and have them kill it, and it’s going to be pretty long. I’m doing that.

What’s been your favorite sponsored post on The Awl so far?
Skinny Cow! Skinny Cow beat me at my own game. They were like, "We want to do a sponsored post. Give us some ideas." We were doing a bra awareness thing; they wanted two boob-related posts, and they thought that, because we have this one woman who writes about the 17th century — they said, "We like this. What about she writes about the history of bras in the 17th century." And I was like, "That’s amazing." And she just knocked it out of the park, and it was one of our biggest stories, and they had their little branding in the corner, so they looked awesome. And they did another one where they just wanted her to gather images of bras in art. So it was just this huge gallery of cool art. It was so good, it just came together, and it was their idea, so I had nothing to do with it.

The Awl sites have done sponsored posts really well in terms of making the appeasement to the advertiser while doing something fun.
Yeah, it’s really a cool way to advertise I think. Because — well, really I have to say this, but — if I were a reader and I saw Skinny Cow did these things, I’d think that they were cool and really straightforward. I would buy your product, because someone on your team came here and thought that we were a good fit, and I appreciate it.

So who do you like on Tumblr these days?
There’s a blog called Awl Commentators, which is like holding a mirror up to a mirror. They just find funny things. They create weird little layers of inside jokes from the two-site zone. It made me feel really cool when I found it. I was like "Oh my God, there’s these people talking about talking about it!" Because they do stuff with Hairpin comments sometimes too. I always follow The Daily What. He’s a friend of mine, or an acquaintance of mine. I always say that aloud. I realize I want to brag about knowing him. Bobby Finger is hilarious. I like Best Roof Talk Ever. Erie Basin has the prettiest vintage jewelry. Yo Is This Racist is very good, very hilarious.

How do you find new talent or new writers that you really like?
They just write in. It’s amazing and they’re hilarious and it’s great. Or where I’m friends with people, and I think they’re really talented and cool and I bug them about what would be the right fir or them. Like, I knew that Jolie Kerr was obsessed with cleaning and had funny things to recommend. And she loves cooking and stuff. And I’m not trying to take credit for her cleaning column, but I think if you go back into the emails that we were exchanging six months ago, it would be like, "Jolie, oh my god, you should write a cleaning column." And she was like, "Oh my god, I want to write a cleaning column!" [Update: Wait, no, it happened because of Tyler Coates, and I wasn’t actually involved at all!] I don’t really solicit as much as I know people who are talented, and I want to smush them into the right fit.

Why does a submission get rejected from The Hairpin?
It would be something that was way too navel-gazey — you know, "Let me tell you about the time I spilled coffee on myself in front of a hot guy." Or, "I found my childhood diary, can I transcribe it for you?"

Any big plans for the site?
Yes and no. We want to get bigger. It’s basically where I wanted it to be now. So the next step is to come up with a cool new concept and try to get there, which I don’t know what it is yet. I don’t know what the next level is, because I don’t think we’re going to increase posting rate, we just want more features, maybe higher quality stuff and also maybe …

Yeah, no. More sponsored giant things. And we want to do programs where we have a topic, and you get a lot of people to write about it, and then run it all as a package — instead of "here’s my one story about this," we’ll get 10 stories about that for a week.

How did you feel about the Observer’s "Meet the Mollys" piece awhile back, where you were mentioned?
Oh, it was so stupid. I mean, it was really funny and it’s flattering to have anyone thinking about you and typing your name anywhere at all. But that was straight up the stupidest thing. I mean it was funny, which is fine …  It was an article about three women with the same name and how that was sort of interesting, and then to demonstrate that it was like a cool premise, they took another woman with a different name and just said that she was one of them. And not only that, Choire had already written about it, except just about Mollys.

I found that whole thing very puzzling.
And they didn’t even ask me to comment. They had all the Mollys though. So then I wrote immediately to Daniel D’Addario, the dude who wrote it, and I was like, "Oh really, the Molliest of Mollys doesn’t get asked to comment on your stupid article." And he was like, "Fair point, do you have anything to say?" And I was like, "No."

Makes sense. Anything else you want to address?
Did you want to talk about the Chris Evans thing?

Not really. Did you?


EDITH LIKES: The Brooklyn Inn, NYC

The 13 Most Puzzling Activism Stock Photos of 2011

One of the most widely covered and avidly followed stories of 2011 had to be the worldwide Occupy protests, which spread from New York across the United States and found fertile ground in already fulminating civil protests in Europe, not to mention refracting in intriguing ways across the Arab Spring protests in the Mideast. Fortunately for media coverage, there was no shortage of imagery to go with the endless stories, reports, and talk shows on the movement. However, if you happen to run a website or news operation with no budget for wire photos, or you live in an area with no protests of your own to cover, you can always fall back on stock imagery. Of course, a deep dive into those archives may unearth a few … disquieting examples of the form.

For instance, check out this angry man at left. For the purposes of this exercise, we stuck to stock photos tagged not with "protest" or "protestor" but the more benign "activist." All of these images were tagged this way, even angry pickaxe man. No outright negative connotations there, right? But this man’s presence among the early results was the first clue that maybe sometimes the face of activism can be a little scary. More on that later, but let’s start with something safer!

office plant girl

Well this young lady just wants to brighten up the office with her little yucca plant or whatever that is. Activism begins right at home, or at work, you know. Her officemates seem to approve. This is the kind of activism corporate America can get behind, as long as her yucca plant remains within her cubicle and doesn’t tweet about the company’s policies. What if we get little more dangerous, though?

girl hugging tree

That’s right! An actual tree hugger! Caught in the act of hugging a tree! She’s all blissed out on that pine which, let me tell you, is a junk kind of tree to waste your affection on. At least dally with a hardwood, girl. Still, this is a decades-old cliche and doesn’t really pop like it could. Let’s get a little racier.

ecstatic recycling girl

And there is NOTHING hotter than recycling! This girl is positively losing it over how much she loves recycling! She might just rip that shirt right off her body in an orgy of recycling fervor! If you spot this person while in an isolated area, do not approach.

beach cleanup girl

This happy little ginger also loves the environment — she’s into beach cleanup, if you hadn’t guessed. You’d be forgiven for not guessing since she’s chosen to focus on cleaning up perhaps … two? … pieces of trash from an otherwise already spotless beach. Fighting the good fight there in Malibu or wherever she is.

coat drive volunteer boy

But not all activists are nature freaks you know. This gentleman apparently volunteers for the same organization as the beach-cleaning ginger above (judging by the T-shirt), but he’s doing a coat drive in urban area, or at least an area with two walls that have been moderately and nonspecifically defaced. He wants you to check out his haircut.

girl giving peace sign

Cute activist girls are cute … with a conscience, you know? Not sure why this girl is an activist but she believes in peace. It takes courage to say that. Peace can mean many different things, after all.

masked army man making peace sign

For example, peace can mean war. Not sure why this gent is considered an activist, other than the mask? and the peace sign? is that all it takes? But let’s take this opportunity to see what the stock photo universe offers for the more active kind of activist.

dad protestor

Well here’s Dad, fresh from the Sunday morning run to Home Depot and feeling frisky. He has opinions! Why don’t you, Mr. Art Director, just photoshop those opinions right onto that blank sign.

mad dude sitting in the road

HEY MAN but you’re going to have to drive around me on this road through America’s heartland. I am a rough and tumble activist who is using some very effective conditioning hair product, and I’m not going to be silenced anymore.

molotov cocktails

I suppose a guy double-fisting flaming Molotov cocktails is an activist of sorts, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the more aggressive form of activism embodied in stock photography. But you think this is over the line?

gunman woman baby

Try this on for size! This activist believes in a strong policy of pointing guns at women and babies. A prime example of why I’d love a reverse-stock photo lookup service that shows every story where a particular image has ever appeared, because WHY.

gasmask gun globe

But at least with the guy holding up the mom, I could understand what was happening, dramatically speaking. Here we have a man with long curly hair in a suit and top hat and gas mask holding a gun on a globe. Aside from being a passable 7" postpunk album cover I have no clue what’s happening here or what story this could possibly illustrate, let alone anything to do with "activism." I think we need to get back to a safe place.

peace dog

Much better. Now here is a dog who believes in peace, and he’s working for it every day. Can you say the same?


[Angry man with pickax, young lady with plant, young lady hugging tree, young lady who loves recycling, young lady cleaning up clean beach, young man doing coat drive, young lady making peace sign, army man making peace sign, dad with protest sign, angry young man in the road, guy with molotov cocktails, man pointing gun at woman and baby, man in gasmask with gun and globe, dog with peace hat all via Shutterstock.]

Video: The Cold Opens of ‘Breaking Bad’

One distinctive element of Breaking Bad‘s visual style is to (usually) open an episode with a dialogue-free sequence that establishes the mood of the episode or season in an abstract way. Sometimes it’s about the current plot, or otherwise it’s part of a season-long mosaic that adds up to a key scene. We though it would be an entertaining tribute to Walt and Co. to compile all the cold opens into single clips, season by season, for fanatics to plow through en masse. I certainly did!

Fair warning — these clips range from 24 to 46 minutes long, so a comprehensive dive is only for the true fanatic. Step off otherwise!

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Big thanks to Kevin Mead at Melge Media for putting these together.

‘Breaking Bad’ 4.13 Recap: Doing Quite Well

Another season of Breaking Bad goes out with a [metaphor that will surely be abused in other recaps of this episode]. As usual, the finales of this show end not on cliffhangers but at the foot of an emotional cliff we’ve spent all season falling off of. The startling trick is that you realize this crater is itself on the crumbling precipice of whatever horrors next season will bring. In other words, great television!

Gus Fring — the man, the myth, the legend — finally gets the closure he deserves, though surely not the ending he would have wanted. If Giancarlo Espositio is not officially recognized for his work on this character, then I will insist on the convening of a human rights abuse tribunal. Step away from the Don Draper for a moment, people. Don will still be there when you want him to slap you around again.

And yes, it turns out Walt poisoned little Brock in order to bring Jesse back to his side of homicide. Gus getting involved in that scheme just never made correct sense, and we all knew there was really only one other explanation. But it would certainly have represented a new and irredeemable low for Walt. And it’s a low he has comfortably made a new home in, to all appearances. This guarantees, in my mind, a full comeuppance for Walt in the final season in regards to his various crimes against Jesse, both this poisoning and the euthanasia of Jesse’s girlfriend, among others. And since either of these crimes would be unforgivable, one can’t really put a limit on the possible punitive response.

In honor of the finale we have some other special treats coming shortly (stay tuned), but meanwhile: For this final gallery of Breaking Bad moments, we’re retiring all the usual categories of awards and making special cases for the standouts represented by this episode and the season. Enjoy.


BEST POTENTIALLY LETHAL USE OF AN INNOCENT NEIGHBOR: In a maneuver appropriate to an early David Lynch villain, Walt sends this well-meaning biddy into the nest of cobras lurking in his home. The snakes choose to retire than pop the old lady, but one gathers Walt wouldn’t have minded much either way as long as he avoided facing them himself. Further argument to never trade housekeys with anyone.


MOST CHEERFUL CAMEO: I hope the lil’ ol’ lady who nearly gave Walt away with her chipper greetings at the nursing home was somebody’s gramma who got the part out of love, and I hope she brought her own pink spectacles. I was really hoping she’d get a scene with Tyrus, as those two could have really played off each other.


BEST SCOLDING: Nurse Bingo sure gives it to Hector over those nasty things he made her almost spell at the DEA. Why don’t you just sit there for awhile and think about what you’ve done, you naughty nelly! Perhaps this scolding is what finally drove Hector to suicide bombing.


OH MY GOD DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT AWARD, POSTHUMOUS: Hector “Tio” Salamanca is a man of few words. Pretty much “ding” makes up his entire vocabulary. But here’s an expression that pretty much says it all. An utter bastard to the end, Hector gets to blast Gus to bits in a way so gloriously operatic that he deserves his own narcocorrido, if there were any cartel members left to commission it.


GOING OUT IN STYLE AWARD, POSTHUMOUS: Oh Gus, I’m so sad to lose you, though I think we all knew this was coming one way or another. Even so, what a way to go. Meticulous to the end. He may be missing half his face, but Gus is not going to lie down an die with a loose knot in that tie. Bravo, Mr. Fring. We never learned the real story behind your mysterious Chilean origin, but it was enough to make even your Mexican cartel enemies reluctant to kill you. Perhaps your messy demise will finally provoke an extreme sanction from way, way down south next season.


MOST EVIL: We can’t very well retire this most important of categories without handing it off to Walt. He kills people without remorse or hesitation now, as well with a great deal of premeditation. And yes, he poisoned a child. He “won,” as he tells Skyler. But he’s now certainly no better than any other villain on this show, morally speaking. So it’s very difficult to understand how one can still feel sympathy for him. It’s a perverse thing, rooting for an antihero. But just as with Gus, when or if Walt is ultimately destroyed, it will likely be both extremely satisfying and regretfully sad. Much like all the rest of Breaking Bad.

‘Breaking Bad’ 4.01 Recap: The Unkindest Cut ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.02 Recap: House Party ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.03 Recap: There Is No Spoon ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.04 Recap: Ear Apparent ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.05 Recap: Oh My God Shut Up Walt ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.06 Recap: A Challenger Appears ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.07 Recap: The 13th Step ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.08 Recap: The Brothers McMeth ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.09 Recap: Ultimate Meth Chemist Fighting Championship ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.10 Recap: Shots by the Pool ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.11 Recap: Bad Trip ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.12 Recap: Do It

‘Breaking Bad’ 4.12 Recap: Do It

KISS HIM! I can’t bring myself to Google the possible existence of Gus-Jesse slashfic, but if it didn’t exist by last night’s episode, it surely does now. (Sorry, my mind always works this way.) Gus really couldn’t have gotten more into Jesse’s personal space during their little chapel confab, and for the first time we saw Gus deploying his ersatz concern in the tone of an overt threat. The man has somehow weaponized compassion; he’s less sinister when threatening to kill someone’s children than when he’s pretending to care.

And yet, and yet … it makes sense, perhaps, that Gus would do what he’s accused of doing, i.e. poison wee Brock as a way to make Jesse kill Walt in revenge. But it seems a little convoluted and imprecise for Gus. I can’t argue that if it worked, such a scheme would neatly solve both his problems. But I also tend to give the fish-eye to anything Walt suddenly seems dead certain about, because he so often turns out to be so, so wrong. And finally, it’s just very difficult to get past my affection for Gus as a character, given what he’s been through. After all, he is pretty much a high-functioning homicidal sociopath. Things could’ve been so different though! Oh well, just one more episode to go in this season, so let’s get to the getting to of it.


MOST EVIL: Dang, but Tyrus is one petty mofo. Last week he won this category for tasing Walt after making him ride in a cart of dirty laundry. But he and Walt had a history. Up to this point, Jesse and Tyrus have had a working relationship that was neutral at least. But Tyrus won’t even hand a man the phone! You get the feeling that Tyrus really just doesn’t like people generally, which one could expect in his line of work, I suppose. I have a premonition that Tyrus is not going to live through the season finale, though, so let’s give him one last hurrah here.


GETTING EVIL: Walt’s Pistol doesn’t ever point at anyone but Walt, it seems. Sure, it’s a little too much of a Cosmic Joke that this gun version of mumblety-peg goes for Walt two of three spins, but my disbelief remains comfortable suspended. And after all, Walt’s Pistol gets to make a nice dent on Walt’s cranium later due to some industrious rough play with Jesse. Who knows if this thing will ever even get fired, Chekhov be damned.


SECOND THOUGHTS: Well, one can hardly blame Andrea when it appears Jesse is somehow complicit in the poisoning of her child. Of course her subplot had LOSS LEADER written all over it from the beginning, as she’s just perfect to lose and thus drive Jesse into depression/rage. And so it has come to pass!


BEST ANGLE: Whatever sixth sense that has enabled Gus to stay alive for so long remains in full effect, as he twigs to the off-kilter situation enough to avoid Walt’s bomb. As usual though, the tension from Gus comes from apparent silence, apparent stillness. You can practically see his antennae vibrating as he stands in the parking garage, looking out at the skyline, with his two goons behind him, equally alert and sensing … something. Perhaps Jesse pushing on the poisoning thing made him suspicious, but it doesn’t really matter. Gus Fring just does not step into traps, for anyone.
‘Breaking Bad’ 4.01 Recap: The Unkindest Cut ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.02 Recap: House Party ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.03 Recap: There Is No Spoon ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.04 Recap: Ear Apparent ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.05 Recap: Oh My God Shut Up Walt ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.06 Recap: A Challenger Appears ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.07 Recap: The 13th Step ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.08 Recap: The Brothers McMeth ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.09 Recap: Ultimate Meth Chemist Fighting Championship ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.10 Recap: Shots by the Pool ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.11 Recap: Bad Trip ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.13 Recap: Doing Quite Well

‘Breaking Bad’ 4.11 Recap: Bad Trip

Well Ted, you died as you have lived — twitchy and useless, faintly absurd but mostly just pathetic. Perhaps you’re in a better place, but the world and the Internal Revenue Service are materially better for your passing. We all knew you were going to die, and you lived up to that, truly.

But far more importantly, looks like Mike’s going to make it! But, he may be out for the season, so to speak, since he needs to recuperate for at least a week before traveling from the Mexican gangster field hospital. Too bad, as his level (though spherical) head might come in handy as Gus and Walt’s various issues boil over.

Speaking of Gus, he can’t help coming back to taunt Hector one last time, relishing the details of the cartel massacre, and in particular Jesse’s (defensive!) killing of Hector’s grandson. That’s not good! Now Hector has proven far more resilient, plotwise, than I ever would have given him credit for. But it’s hard to see how he might come back from this. If he does, chances are he will be industriously ringing that little bell of his to mean something nasty.

Had I the skills to make cool animated GIFs for the intern-net I would make an endless loop of the long shot of Gus and Walt out in the desert, cycling through bright sun and shadow as the clouds pass overhead. One wonders about the setup for that, but perhaps it’s best not to know. In any case, there’s no going back for these two, which is such a shame. They began as ideally suited partners. And now, there are so many layers of irony motivating the current circumstances, it’s hard to unravel. If we go way way back, recall that Walt’s first contretemps with Gus arose because Walt insisted they hire Jesse; that had come about in turn because Jesse threatened to prosecute and/or sue Hank for the latter’s beating of the former. Hank probably deserved that to happen, but Walt interceded, because Jesse was beaten by Hank for deceiving Hank into thinking his family was badly injured in a car crash, which he did at Walt’s behest. Cycling forward, Walt is now being replaced by Jesse as meth chef, which puts him in mortal danger; and Hank is also in deadly trouble for his investigations of Gus. Which also happened because of Walt. It’s really, really difficult to find anything wrong in this show that doesn’t ultimately lead back to Walt! It’s like he’s the protagonist or something. Though also the antagonist. Really, maybe just the agonist. Let’s check the fotos.


MOST EVIL: Eesh, Tyrus — just when I’d warmed to you a bit after you cruelly made Walt ride in a cart of dirty laundry, you get all tasey. Tyrus enjoyed zapping Walt a little too much if you ask me, doing it at least twice. Even once was really unnecessary but one gets the impression Tyrus might be a little on the petty sadistic side. Well, it’s the work, you understand. Doesn’t really bring out the best in people.


GETTING EVIL: Hey look it’s Kuby, the ginger criminal previously noted for his ability to impersonate an environmental inspector. I had just assumed Saul recruited a struggling theater grad student for that gig, but apparently Kuby is part of Saul’s “A-Team” of grifters. He does a pretty good job actually, though he’s the fast-talking partner to Huell, the human edifice usually seen driving Saul around. Apropos of nothing I think we need to include this look at Huell’s head. I do not know what is up with Huell’s head but it is sort of distracting. You tell me:


SECOND THOUGHTS: Bear with me here. Didn’t Hank’s acceptance of Walt’s purposeful car wreck seem a little too easy? Even for Hank’s usual Walt-related blindspot? I’m just getting a vibe here. I suspect Hank may suspect. Walt didn’t want to explain his messed-up face to Hank, and he got a little steely about it, which is not part of Hank’s pre-programmed Walt Personality Profile. If I had to call it in the clinch for a twist at the end of this season, it would be for Hank busting Walt — privately of course — leaving the cliffhanger for the final season as how on deals with that.


BEST ANGLE: Well Walt, you got two episodes left to dig your way out of this one. Feels like your only hopes were the cartel or the DEA; the former is a little busy being mostly dead, so you better hope the Law works to your advantage, for once. Good luck with that.
‘Breaking Bad’ 4.01 Recap: The Unkindest Cut ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.02 Recap: House Party ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.03 Recap: There Is No Spoon ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.04 Recap: Ear Apparent ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.05 Recap: Oh My God Shut Up Walt ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.06 Recap: A Challenger Appears ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.07 Recap: The 13th Step ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.08 Recap: The Brothers McMeth ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.09 Recap: Ultimate Meth Chemist Fighting Championship ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.10 Recap: Shots by the Pool ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.12 Recap: Do It ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.13 Recap: Doing Quite Well

‘Breaking Bad’ 4.10 Recap: Shots by the Pool

DAT GUS. C’mon we all knew Gus Fring wasn’t going to roll over for those cartel so-and-so’s. Oh yeah, uh … spoiler alert and so on? Whatever, grow up, this is the internet. So how are things?

Yes indeed, Gus’ elimination of his cartel opponents was masterful, as predicted. It’s just a shame he won’t be able to take up residence in that rad villa. Overall, Gus has done some amazing damage to the narcocriminal population of Mexico, so he should really just go ahead and become a DEA contractor. And now, assuming he survives the poison tequila, he can get back to making the best Chilean chicken and blue crystal meth available in the greater Albuquerque area. Developing!

Oh yeah, that Ted problem? Also developing right on schedule. No way he survives the season.

In pre-closing, may I just say NOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOT MIIIIIIIKE!


What is this, Game of Thrones? If Mike dies I will be … sore with you, television show. Let us be consoled with a week’s worth of fine quality stills.


MOST EVIL: Back of Gus Fring’s Head. I’ve decided that Gus can only win this category so many times in toto, so we must now break down his evil mastery into atomic constituents where possible. Whenever the Back of Gus Fring’s Head Cam is deployed, it means trouble for somebody. This time is no exception. Just be glad, because directly behind Gus Fring’s Head is really only the safe place to be in this show. And even then, there are no guarantees.


GETTING EVIL: Walt Junior. You heard me! Aren’t we getting tired of WJ as the patron boy-saint of trampled trust? Well good. Now I once said he was getting evil just because he wanted a hot car and manipulated his dad to get it. But in this episode, he lies to his mom in order to look after his beat-down pill-popping dad. A sacrifice, yes, but just the kind of first step down that road paved with good intentions that put Walter White where he is today. Perhaps Junior will end up following Dad into the family business.


SECOND THOUGHTS: As opposed to the sanguine egomania of Drunk Walt, Painkiller Walt is a weepy mess. He may be more “real” in this state as Walt Junior innocently opines later, but he still can’t bring himself fully to kneel at the confessional. Still, it’s been awhile since Walt has shown much regret for the way he’s just horribly, horribly betrayed the trust of his son over the past year.


BEST ANGLE: This is such a beautiful tableau that I had to post it fullsize. Click the small version above to enjoy in widescreen, and just imagine this is both a cartel showdown AND a commercial for a hot new men’s fragrance. GUS FRING.
‘Breaking Bad’ 4.01 Recap: The Unkindest Cut ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.02 Recap: House Party ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.03 Recap: There Is No Spoon ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.04 Recap: Ear Apparent ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.05 Recap: Oh My God Shut Up Walt ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.06 Recap: A Challenger Appears ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.07 Recap: The 13th Step ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.08 Recap: The Brothers McMeth ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.09 Recap: Ultimate Meth Chemist Fighting Championship ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.11 Recap: Bad Trip ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.12 Recap: Do It ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.13 Recap: Doing Quite Well

‘Breaking Bad’ 4.09 Recap: Ultimate Meth Chemist Fighting Championship

It’s a known fact that discreetly placed GPS units have led to more domestic violence than alcohol, infidelity, and reality television combined. Still, Walt couldn’t help but put the global positioning moves on Jesse’s car, thus proving that Jesse hadn’t yet slipped his deadly mickey to Gus. Obviously though there’s a lot more going on here, and it’s not repressed sexual tension. (Note I am not even bothering to google Walt-on-Jesse slashfic because we all know it exists and let’s leave it at that.)

It’s surprising that Walt and Jesse haven’t attacked each other before. Neither is inherently physical, though both can be confrontational. The main similarity they share is an ego they both love to purposefully expose for wounding, and they both love to get most enraged when rightfully cornered. Walt is so obsessed with Jesse’s disobedience that he fails to appreciate the game-changing news about the deal with the cartel — that now, Gus is actually their only protection from people who have way, way less interest in keeping anyone alive on the US side of the border. And Jesse chooses to become furiously indignant about the GPS plant, when this is also completely insignificant in the aftermath of new shit coming to light, man.

The fight itself is very Breaking Bad: messy, painful, awkward, poorly executed. Two amateurs whaling on each other in various inefficient ways with little real damage done. Remember that Mike the professional violence man took Walt completely apart in a fraction of the time. Thus this is less about a victorious beatdown situation and more about both these fools blowing off steam. It no doubt cements Jesse’s decision to throw in his lot with Gus, and could easily set up a final split between the two. I doubt Jesse is ready to permit the Gus-mandated cancellation of Walt, but neither is he Walt’s best friend at the moment. We’ll see how things go in Mexico. For now, let’s review the stills.


MOST EVIL: The cartel’s version of Mike is this gentleman. Known as “Gaff,” you’ll recall he was last seen delivering the cartel’s ultimatum to Gus. He’s still out there in the desert doing shenanigans, in the form of sniping the head off one of Mike’s thugs. When he witnesses Gus’ (as Jesse later describes it, and as noted below) “Terminator shit” in response, he can’t suppress an appreciative smirk. Oh Gaff why can’t you turncoat and work for Gus? He needs more suavely deadly dudes like you on the payroll.


GETTING EVIL: Slutty Skyler to the rescue! Accounting-wise, that is. Sure we can all see where this is going — her zipless boss-fuck has turned out wrong in all kinds of ways. Or really that whole part-time job subplot is now becoming a problem. Still, Skyler manages to defuse the immediate crisis by showing off some pendulous jewelry spelunking in her cleavage. Everyone knows MILFs can’t do money math! Case closed.


SECOND THOUGHTS: Last week I speculated that someone had to die this season, and our boy Ted just shot to the top of the list. Slutty Skyler may have saved his financial bacon for a moment, but he still has no money to pay his fines and back taxes. And we know Skyler is thinking about bailing him out in order to keep the spotlight off her sketchy books. But Ted has been revealed as the queen of the weak sisters. Somehow one doubts he will be able to maintain the omerta required of the criminal fraternity. And after his taxes are straightened out, and he starts making trouble for Skyler and Walt? I can’t think of a single reason to keep the guy around, as Silvio once said about somebody who went away.


BEST ANGLE: I really tried to resist, but c’mon. GUS FRING! Don’t you ever change.
‘Breaking Bad’ 4.01 Recap: The Unkindest Cut ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.02 Recap: House Party ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.03 Recap: There Is No Spoon ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.04 Recap: Ear Apparent ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.05 Recap: Oh My God Shut Up Walt ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.06 Recap: A Challenger Appears ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.07 Recap: The 13th Step ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.08 Recap: The Brothers McMeth ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.10 Recap: Shots by the Pool ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.11 Recap: Bad Trip ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.12 Recap: Do It ‘Breaking Bad’ 4.13 Recap: Doing Quite Well