Breaking Bad

RJ Mitte, best known for playing Walter White’s son, Walt Jr., on Breaking Bad, spoke at the SAC on Thursday night.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

RJ Mitte, the 22-year-old actor best known for playing Walter White’s son, Walt Jr., on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” spoke on campus Thursday night as part of the Campus Events + Entertainment Distinguished Speakers Series. Like his character, Mitte has cerebral palsy — a neurological disorder that affects body movements and muscle coordination. In his talk, Mitte talked about his experiences growing up with cerebral palsy and working as an actor with disabilities. Prior to the event, Mitte sat down with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.

Daily Texan: Do you have any favorite moments from the work you’ve done on different shows?

RJ Mitte: I loved being a part of the “Breaking Bad” pilot. We had so much fun doing it. I had the privilege to be a part of a show called “Switched at Birth” on ABC Family. It was such a warm, welcoming crew. I’m lucky; no matter where I go or what I do, I always meet some amazing people. I’ve always been able to work with the best, and I continue to hope for that. 

DT: Why do you think disability representation is important? 

RM: One of the biggest things [we work on] today is changing the mindset. It will affect our future, how people behave and what they do and how they talk to other people in the long run, especially when it comes down to disability, because disability does not discriminate. It does not care what color you are, where you’re from, who you are or what you do. Everyone is affected in one aspect or another. If you have inaccurate media [representation] about disability, it affects how people think about who they are. 

If you have media that, instead, depicts disability accurately, that shows people that disability is normal, that it can unite us as a whole under the human condition. Media needs to be a really positive thing. It needs to be honest
because it affects people not just our age, but children. It has an impact on how children will grow up to treat each other and their own children. It even influences how parents treat their own children. You can give people brighter futures by having better disability representation.

DT: Do you think that the state of disability representation in the media is improving?

RM: Is representation improving? Yes and no. I feel like it’s growing, and it’s changed a lot. It’s leaps and bounds away from what it used to be, especially with all the disability acts that were passed and everything that came up through the disability community. When I first started working with the community, there was only 2 percent representation on television and film of major characters with disabilities. Now, there’s around 11 percent. Actually, let me fix that. [It’s closer to] 7 percent, because a show that had that representation with a lot of disabled characters kind of got canceled. But I sit on several boards for diversity, and they are always working to fix those problems.

DT: What’s next for you? What are you interested in working on?

RM: Anything and everything. I shot two movies last year that I’m hoping will be released this year. I audition, I audition, I audition. It’s the story of my life. I do whatever will keep the lights on. I have a couple of boards I sit on — one of them [is] actually in Austin. I work with children’s hospitals, I support United Cerebral Palsy. I always work a lot with nonprofits. There’s never a dull moment in my life.

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

In the short span of two episodes, HBO’s crime anthology series “True Detective” introduced viewers to the most intrinsically complicated duo since “Breaking Bad”’s Walter and Jesse.

“True Detective” can be considered HBO’s answer to FX’s “American Horror Story.”  Each season will serve as its own self-contained narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end. The first season zeroes in on detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, whose investigation of a grisly murder evolves into a 17-year search for answers. While the whodunit aspect of the premise is the superficial drawing point for viewers, the show’s most essential aspect is its psychological exploration of its two leads.

Cohle and Hart, played with fiery chemistry by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, respectively, are polar opposites. Hart is the good cop, a man who claims to live simply. He adheres to the stability of a married life and fits the mold of a good father to his two daughters. He serves as an entry point for viewers, and, at first glance, he appears to serve the role of an everyman counterbalance to McConaughey’s eccentric Cohle. 

As of the second episode, the thin veil of this self-purported family man has been all but torn away through his steamy love affair with a much younger woman. Rather than acknowledging this misstep, Hart instead justifies it as a means of keeping his marriage alive. This believable reversal of viewer expectations in the span of two episodes is a deft feat of writing prowess coupled with a passive aggressive performance by Harrelson.

Rather than continuing to explore Hart, episode two shifts narrative gears and brings viewers into the bleak and kaleidoscopically disturbed mind of Cohle. After a life of great tragedy and emotional upheaval, Cohle is a shell of a man who exists because he must. He enters the story following a failed marriage perpetuated by the accidental death of his 3-year-old daughter. This event spiraled Cohle into a whirlwind of drug abuse and violence, which further stoked his inner workings. 

The show has its share of dark humor, with Cohle often spouting his dogma of depression much to the hilarious chagrin of the more grounded Hart. From Cohle’s existential musings comes the show’s best writing, exhibiting a brooding tone that carries with it a hauntingly insightful wisdom. McConaughey is brilliant here, giving an unusually subdued but altogether commanding, performance that is unlike anything he’s done before.

“True Detective” is shaping up to be one of the best shows of 2014. In just two episodes, the stunning performances of its two leads have shown that this is not only a show about solving a mystery. “True Detective” is a show about solving the minds of two men by uncovering the skillfully hidden clues within human relationships. The mystery is just icing on the cake.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

If you thought you saw Walter White around campus this week, it might not just have been your Breaking Bad withdrawals.

Bryan Cranston has been in Austin doing research for his role as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way,” a play by UT alumnus and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkan.

The play, which is moving to Broadway after a well-received run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., begins just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an event Cranston remembers from his childhood.

“I saw the effects it had on the adults around me. It destroyed them, grown men and women just in each other’s arms weeping,” Cranston said.

Cranston was only seven years old when the assassination occured, but knew it was an event worth his attention.

 “That was my introduction into politics,” he said. 

Cranston drew directly from that moment in bringing LBJ to the stage.

“Knowing that impactful nature it had on me, I was looking forward to being able to dig in and present this,” Cranston said.

Cranston said he relishes the research process and loves the ritual actors engage in of “voluntarily putting ourselves in the position of beginner, time and time again.”

“You want to be able to get the sensibility of the man,” he said. “The more that I read about him and the further my research takes me, and the more that I talk to people that knew him, I glean a little bit more each time.”

Cranston was also able to make a physical connection to his character by way of some of the museum’s artifacts.

“The ranch, the cars, the bed — what he wanted around him and what he felt, from a material sense, represented him — that’s very informative too, of a character, to see all the different articles he had around him,” Cranston said.

The 57-year old won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Walter White on the just-concluded series "Breaking Bad" but didn’t worry about being restricted to similar roles in the future.

“Walter White, and the work behind it, has given me tremendous opportunities, so it’s up to me now to change the tide,” Cranston said. “When I left 'Malcolm in the Middle' I had two offers to do television pilots — sweet, goofy dads — which I did for seven years, so I easily turned them down. If I decided to take that, it’s my own damn fault for pigeonholing myself.”

Cranston wanted to make a similar move after "Breaking Bad" to avoid Walter White type roles for the rest of his career.  

“If I took on characters like Walter, then it’s my own damn fault for getting back into that comfortable ruck, perhaps," Cranston said.  "So you want to keep changing the direction and challenging yourself and trying things you may not have done before, that you’re intrigued about, or even scared about.”

When asked about the similarities between his two most recent characters, Cranston noted that although they were both presented with extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, both of them made conscious decisions about their roles.

“Walter White was a man who was desperate and made desperate decisions, and then got caught up in ego and hubris and greed, and then got what he deserved,” Cranston said. “You could say that Walter White was ignorant, much more so than LBJ. LBJ knew the scope of his office — no doubt about it, it was what he wanted and he knew the complexity of it and the difficulty. And he was ready for it.”

"Breaking Bad" ends on a high note

SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses the series finale of "Breaking Bad."

It’s tough to immediately discuss any series finale without letting hyperbole seep into your opinion, so take my thoughts on tonight’s roundly satisfying “Breaking Bad” finale with a grain of salt. Better make that an extra-large grain of salt, because in the immediate afterglow of “Felina,” I’m fairly confident “Breaking Bad” has produced one of the very best finales of any television show, a conclusion that brought the series full circle narratively and stylistically.

There was only ever one way “Breaking Bad” could really end: with Walter White finally fulfilling the death sentence he was handed in the first episode of the series. This final season made it especially clear that things were going to end badly for Walt, and the fallout from his ascent to drug kingpin has been devastating to watch. As repulsive as Walt became, though, the series never forgot whose journey it was following, and the last two episodes have been an exercise in convincing us to root for our protagonist one last time. Last week saw Walt at his absolute lowest, wasting away in a remote cabin, and the finale found Walt trying to make some measure of penance for his mistakes.

Even as Walt sought redemption, “Felina” didn’t hesitate to show us the ugly aftermath of the chaos our hero has wrought. Skyler has landed in a cramped shell of a home, her family in ruins. Walt Jr. has cast off his father’s name for good, going by Flynn. And in the most quietly devastating detail of all, Marie’s home has lost its trademark purple decor, her countertops and curtains colored a mournful black after her husband’s death in pursuit of Heisenberg.

Walt’s final scene with Skyler was equal parts apology and goodbye, and it was satisfying to see him finally coming to terms with the lies he’d been telling himself all series long. Newly crowned King of Acting Bryan Cranston has always been beyond reproach, but he brought a resignation to Walt’s realization about his true motives for entering the meth game that showed exactly how deep the little soul Walt has left runs.

But it was the reintroduction of the Schwartz family that truly completed Walt’s arc. The only way for Walt to safely secure his family’s future was to put his trust in the very first people who wronged him, who instilled in him the festering bitterness that would someday spawn Heisenberg, and by forcing Walt to find his own measure of reconciliation, the series brilliantly brought its hero full circle.

No one has suffered more at Walt’s hands than poor Jesse Pinkman, and Aaron Paul has brought endless supplies of shattering gravitas to the final season. Jesse’s salvation at Walt’s hands feels almost like a happy accident, but there was no moment in the finale more simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking than Jesse’s escape. Once he’s finally freed himself from Walt’s shackles, Jesse speeds away from his own personal prison, his howls of glee morphing into anguish (or vice-versa) in another indicator of the messy, uncertain emotional terrain “Breaking Bad” proudly occupies.

Though Walt spends the finale apologizing his way into his grave, “Breaking Bad” still found a way to reward us for our investment with a grandly theatrical triumph that the season had been (intentionally) lacking. Though a mounted machine gun and a brutal blood splatter on the camera is far from the series’ most unexpected or creative moments, it was hugely satisfying to see Walt etch out one final victory, and director Vince Gilligan milked maximum tension out of Walt’s attempt to put his plan into motion.

As Walt dies on the floor of a meth lab, the camera lifts away from him. It’s a shot that’s highly reminiscent of one of the series’ finest hours, “Crawl Space,” which ended with Walt having a maniacal, cackling breakdown in a dirty hole beneath his house as the camera practically vibrated away from him in disgust. But where that shot was a terrifying harbinger of the chaos to come, this finds a Walt who’s finally secured his family’s future and made things right – or at least, as right as they’ll ever be. It’s the closest “Breaking Bad” could come to a happy ending, leaving us with a Walter White that’s finally at peace.

How do you write the final word on “Breaking Bad”? It’s impossible to bottle everything that made the show truly great into a single paragraph (or article), and it’s a fool’s errand to try. With Walter White, Gilligan and Cranston created an antihero who will comfortably fit in the all-time pantheon, equally informed by the characters that came before him and influential on those that will follow. Around him, they built an audaciously plotted, visually and thematically rich narrative, and like a perfect chemical reaction, it all came together to form one of the very best shows to ever grace television.

But like I said, don't forget about the grains of salt.

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

Last night, Vince Gilligan’s criminal epic “Breaking Bad” brought Walter White’s devastating saga of drugs, lies and fried chicken franchises to its bloody conclusion. For many TV enthusiasts, the end of “Breaking Bad” heralds the end of an addiction, similar to the effect of that crystal blue persuasion that our beloved evil chemist cooks week after week. The withdrawal is going to be difficult, and what better way to combat its effects than by examining one of the series’ most enigmatic characters: everyone’s favorite lawyer, Saul Goodman. The show introduced Saul in the second season when our morally deteriorating protagonist, Walter, was forced to seek legal advice as his fledgling drug empire began to draw attention from the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Unlike Walt, Saul remains relatively static throughout the run of the series. He never faces an internal crisis, nor does he ever champion a certain moral cause or disposition. For the most part, the only purpose Saul appears to serve is that of the typical, but petty, comic relief.  

But Saul is actually the immoral center of the show. When Walt is in a pinch, who is the first one to suggest the easy way out, the method that damns the soul? Who is the one that finds a man willing to be paid to go to prison for Walt? Who is the one that compares his own client, Jesse Pinkman, to a rabid dog that needs to be put down?  From the beginning, Saul has always been the devil on Walt’s shoulder, constantly persuading him to give in to his worst impulses until he’s fully transformed into Heisenberg, ruthless killer and drug lord.

So why is it that we typecast Saul as the comic relief character? If anything, we should view this man as a tragic figure so numbed to the idea of morality that he feels virtually nothing. Unlike Walt, Saul broke bad a long time ago. He sold his soul for crime and made a good deal of profit out of it, but what comes next? We know that Walt’s story is coming to an end, but what of Saul’s? 

Though Saul’s role in “Breaking Bad” ended with him relocating to Omaha, Neb. — perhaps to someday manage a Cinnabon — the Internet has been abuzz with AMC’s confirmation of “Better Call Saul,” a spin-off television series based solely on Goodman’s character. For fans of the character, this is a godsend. As a character in someone else’s story, Saul’s psyche has never been the audience’s main focus, and the chance to learn why this man’s sense of right and wrong is so hopelessly twisted is an exciting prospect. As Walter’s story draws to a close, our best hope of combating “Breaking Bad” addiction withdrawals lies in the unlikely hands of Saul, the character that put the ‘criminal’ in criminal lawyer. 

TV Tuesday

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul star as crystal meth cookers in AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” (Photo Courtesy of AMC)

Editor's Notes: The following review of the new season of "Breaking Bad" contains spoilers about the next two episodes of season four.

From its very first episode, the Emmy Award-winning drama “Breaking Bad” has been something different. Its pilot instantly joined the ranks of the best in the history of television — an intense, memorable episode bolstered by Bryan Cranston’s career-defining performance. From there, “Breaking Bad” has only gotten better, right through its astonishingly great third season that climaxed with a brutal cliffhanger.

Sunday’s season premiere “Box Cutter” dealt with this cliffhanger, which involved Aaron Paul’s Jesse one trigger-pull away from killing his first man ­— the innocent, nauseatingly cultured Gale (David Costabile) — so he and Walt (Bryan Cranston) could live. In classic “Breaking Bad” fashion, the episode dragged out the tension to almost comical lengths before the normally calm and collected Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) arrived in his multimillion dollar meth lab and brutally murdered lackey Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui).

If there’s one thing “Breaking Bad” does well, it’s the shocking moment — that “holy shit!” plot twist that leaves the viewer’s mouth agape. Ever since the show put Danny Trejo’s severed head on an exploding turtle, it’s taken almost gleeful joy in contorting the audience’s expectations, drawing conflicts out as long as it possibly can before exploding into a burst of sudden violence. While Victor’s murder doesn’t quite reach the heights of the aforementioned Trejo scene or DEA agent Hank’s (Dean Norris) gunfight with cartel assassins from last season, it’s still one of those signature moments. The ones that cause congregations around the water cooler on Monday mornings.

The next two episodes, which were made available for critics, don’t have any of those mind-blowing moments, but are still obviously the work of masters of the medium. Series creator Vince Gilligan, who cut his teeth on “The X-Files,” has made a definite habit of spacing out big events in the story, letting the space between fill with spectacular acting and mood to spare.

From the pilot episode, Bryan Cranston has been an unstoppable hurricane of acting, blowing away co-stars with ease in every episode. He commands his every scene, and even while Walt scrambles to survive. Cranston performs with a fearless confidence that marks his Walter White as one of the all-time great television anti-heroes.

Not to say the rest of the cast is slacking. Aaron Paul nailed the multitude of monologues Gilligan sent his way last season, and as he recovers from his first murder, he does equally riveting work with significantly less dialogue. Dean Norris, who shone in the early half of Season 3 before being sidelined for its home stretch, is very strong as a bullet-riddled Hank attempts to get back on his feet (literally). Meanwhile, Bob Odenkirk’s smarmy lawyer remains a fountain of hilarious one-liners and Jonathan Banks’ cop-turned-assassin gets a welcome increase in screen time without robbing his character of his dangerous mystique.

And even if the cast was weaker, “Breaking Bad” would still be the prettiest show on television. Director of Photography Michael Slovis has made a habit of coaxing some downright dazzling imagery out of the show’s harsh New Mexico landscape; and Vince Gilligan’s glacial pacing is hypnotic rather than frustrating, keeping audiences hooked with bread crumbs of greater things to come, rather than frustrating them with the fact that there’s not a huge amount of story movement.

With its second season, “Breaking Bad” became the best show on television. With its third, it became a worthy challenger to enter the realm of the all-time bests, up there with the likes of “Deadwood” and “The Wire.” And now, with its fourth, it’s primed to solidify its place among the greats, and it’s only becoming more and more addictive to see what dark, violent places “Breaking Bad” and Walter White will go next.

TV Tuesday

For the past decade, cable networks such as HBO, FX , AMC and Showtime have been embroiled in a competitive struggle to produce the best programming. HBO continues to produce strong dramas, and AMC’s “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are among the best shows on TV. However, FX remains on top in terms of consistent quality, especially with its new boxing drama “Lights Out” and its Southern crime show “Justified,” which has just entered its second season.

“Lights Out” is essentially a boxing film in the vein of “Rocky,” but extended to 13 hours. While this might seem like a bad idea, the story of Patrick ‘Lights’ Leary (Holt McCallany), a boxer forced into retirement because of an ultimatum from his worried wife and pushed back into the ring because of the recent economic downturn, is already a strangely gripping slow burn of a program with a spectacular cast.

Usually cast as a stock intimidating thug, McCallany is revelatory as Lights, instilling his character with a weary soulfulness and easy charm even while his character realizes just how much he misses hitting people. McCallany’s versatility is on display in the first episode’s climatic scene, which intercuts scenes of Lights bonding with his daughter with moments where he breaks a dentist’s arm for a loan shark and beats a man senseless outside of a bar.

The rest of the cast is equally strong. “The Wire” alums Pablo Schreiber (as Lights’ financially irresponsible brother) and Reg E. Cathey (as a sleazy fight manager) are both fantastic. Cathey clearly enjoys his character’s inherent smarminess.

“Justified,” on the other hand, has just entered its second season. Timothy Olyphant stars as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a cowboy hat-toting, effortlessly badass character who couldn’t be a better match for Olyphant’s sharp wit and charisma. “Justified” gives us Olyphant’s most memorable character yet by essentially taking his constantly angry sheriff from HBO’s “Deadwood,” infusing him with a sense of humor and updating him to modern-day Kentucky.

In its first season, “Justified” suffered from focusing a bit too much on stand-alone stories after a fantastic pilot, turning into a typical cop procedural. Halfway through the season, the show quickly became more serial and much more compelling as a result. Season two is more streamlined, quickly introducing its seasonal arc while also working in a case of the week for Givens and his fellow marshals to deal with. The season’s serialized story line deals with a family of pot dealers led by actress Margo Martindale.

Martindale’s Mags Bennett is a new addition to an already strong cast. Ruthless drug kingpin is not the first thing that comes to mind when one looks at Martindale, but she effortlessly sells her character’s particular mix of deep-fried Southern maternity and ruthless business savvy. Also memorable are Walton Goggins’ reformed criminal and fellow newbie Jeremy Davies.

With “Lights Out” and the new season of “Justified,” FX continues a stellar television season. “Lights Out,” which airs on Tuesdays, is halfway through its first season while “Justified” is only two episodes in, but both shows are quickly becoming some of the best on television.