Breaking Bad S05E09: “Blood Money”

Tread lightly. Our time is almost up. The last episodes of Breaking Bad are descending through the needle and soon all our hearts shall be poisoned with the eternal glory of amazing television. Too much? Go away. You know nothing of perfection.

Last night marked the beginning of the end. “Blood Money,” the mid-season premiere, began Season Five’s death march towards immortality. If you watched it, you know that you beheld a master class in premiere episodes. If you did not watch it, what the fuck were you doing? “Eating dinner”? “Spending time with your children”? Get a life. Wait…no. Ditch your life. Gain this show. Breaking Bad is a rare work of art. Hop on this mind-blow train before it leaves the station forever!

Now let us address last night. It was a magical hour, during which our anti-heroes began to choke on the tight coils of destiny.

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In traditional BB fashion, this episode features a brief future-jump, which reveals that Walter White’s worst nightmare has come true. The former chemistry teacher has been unmasked as none other than Heisenberg, the fastest-meth-cookin’ hands in the West. Clearly every last piece of shit hit the fan. Walter’s home is abandoned, in tatters, and we can only assume that the same fate has befallen his family. He sports the disguise that we saw briefly in this season’s first episode last year: hipster spectacles, beard, skin paler than death. I love that Vince Gilligan chooses to structure his seasons this way; we can conjecture about the events that brought the story to this point, but what actually happened is bound to be completely out of left field. Was Walt betrayed? Who set his plans to burn? My bet’s on Junior. That boy gets crazytown without breakfast and Skyler’s been skimping on the bacon lately.

The important thing is, it’s now been established that in the end, Walt’s world is dark, sad, lonely chaos. He is clearly on the run and the myth of his domestic life has been torn to shreds. And you know that these episodes will push us inexorably onwards, towards this reckoning.

But first, there are loose ends. The first of which is our sweet, damaged Jesse Pinkman.

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Jesse’s first appearance in “Blood Money” was a little shocking. I never thought Aaron Paul could look so facially busted, but Jesse is purple-white, bloated, and sweaty with guilt and misery. He’s seen a lot of shit during the course of this show, and has always been an emotional yo-yoer, but it seems that the disappearance of Mike Ehrmantraut has finally sent this little sidekick off the deep end. Because he knows it was no disappearance. Deep in his simple little heart, Jesse knows that Walt not only had nine men murdered simultaneously, but that he eliminated Mike. Jesse knows that Walt is lying about it, as sure as he knows that all of his earnings are bathed in innocent blood. He’s finally cracked. This terrible moment is only slightly mitigated by the hilarious conversation that opens his first scene, courtesy of scene-stealing junkies Badger and Skinny Pete. Dumb homies, but Jesse’s dumb homies nonetheless.

Many viewers have expressed frustration with Jesse, and the fact that he never seems to get over things. He has that in common with Mike, who served as a sort of moral compass against Walt’s self-serving machinations. Without Mike, Jesse is rudderless, and he now knows just how deeply and irreversibly he’s been corrupted by Walt. Jesse managed to overcome Jane’s death (at Walt’s hands), Gale’s death (at his own hands, instead of Walt’s hands), and Drew Sharp’s death (at Todd’s hands, instead of Jesse’s hands, at Walt’s command). He’s Walt’s pawn. He’s a life-taker. He’s already in Hell.

The episode takes its title from Jesse’s five million dollars, packed neatly into two bags meant to uselessly comfort his victims. He might have seemed like the same old Low Point Jesse during this episode: crying, detached, searching fruitlessly for ways to unload his conscience. But I found significance in the scene above, where Walt attempts to convince Jesse that it’s time to move on with life, and Mike’s alive somewhere, and everything’s alright. Jesse hates Walt so much, but there’s one point where Walt calls him “son,” and you can briefly see him jarred back to life. Jesse is 26 years old, and he’s given over most of his early 20s to Walt. Despite all the pain that Mr. White rains down on him, he’s still his teacher, and pretty much his father. Jesse’s past the point of no return. He finally knows he’ll be tethered to death for the rest of his days.

But Jesse’s the last thing on Walt’s mind (as usual). Because Hank. Fucking. Knows.

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Clearly the scene that everyone’s talking about today. The last we saw of Hank, he had just made the staggering connection between Walt and Heisenberg. The look that flooded Dean Norris’ face last year as he stared at Gale’s copy of Leaves of Grass  was nothing compared to his prolonged reaction during “Blood Money.”

As Hank assembles the jigsaw puzzle of Walt’s double life, the reality of his brother-in-law’s betrayal threatens to completely overwhelm his senses. In fact, Hank suffers a panic attack as the weight of this truth runs him over like a freight train, again and again and again. His brain is battling between horror, sadness, rage, and too many question marks to count. This confrontation between Walt and Hank was one of the most amazingly written and photographed moments in Breaking Bad‘s history, as one of the last normal humans in Walt’s immediate orbit realizes they’re basically walking with the devil. Norris’ performance is LEGENDARY. He plays every second with so much emotion that it’s impossible not to bite off your fingers when you’re watching him. I had to push rewind with my big toe. Twice.

Of course, Walt reacts with typical Heisenberg bravado, advising Hank to “tread lightly” because he has no idea who he’s dealing with. Even though Hank literally knows everything (having assembled a giant GUS FRING IS RELATED TO GALE IS RELATED TO JESSE IS RELATED TO WALT) box, he’s kind of at a disadvantage because the betrayal has ruined him psychologically. Walt basically killed the entire Mexican cartel. How do you confront a guy like that in your garage?

Lastly, let us discuss the fact that obviously Skyler is gon’ die.

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Let me just state for the record that I do not think Skyler is a bitch. Nor is her sister Marie. The women on this show are not inherently bitches. But let us concede that Breaking Bad is primarily a show about masculine selfhood, and that questions of identity and fate are framed through a male lens. In the end, BB is somewhat formulaic in its construction of the family and the marital unit. Skyler is not essentially bitchy, or boring, but the story doesn’t give her many moments of her own. Her existence simply defines a certain side of Walt; it does not stand on its lonesome and give us insights into a specifically female experience of crime and powermongering and self-delusion. It just doesn’t. Talk to me about Ted Benicke and money laundering all you want, but Skyler White is just an avatar standing in for Walt’s prior life as a law-abiding, cowardly domestic type.

The fact that the Whites’ marriage seems to be improving is a terrible sign for Skyler. Perhaps you’ve read of the Skyler death theory? I find it incredibly insightful, and it really locks in my expectations. She’s the only thing standing in Walt’s way, really. She makes him feel things, remember things. He just can’t abide that anymore, not with the threats of Hank and Madrigal closing in on all sides. Skyler Must Die.

And if my quiet musings at all approach correct prediction, Walt will have to choose between Skyler and Jesse somehow. The old family and the new. And I will just CUT everybody if Jesse has to go before Skyler.

Those are my two cents about this absolutely phenomenal episode. “Blood Money” re-proves that Breaking Bad is an essentially perfect show. It is so fucking taut, so perfectly choreographed, like a ballet of meth and money and blood. I love that it has this distinct ending point, and that each episode is going to dole out one shocking resolution after another until the finale, when we will all be tearing our clothes off and screaming because GODDAMN IT’S PERFECT AND IT’S OVER. Cinematographer Michael Slovitz recently noted in an interview that Breaking Bad is going to “redefine last seasons in television.” I have no doubt whatsoever.

Phew! So did you watch “Blood Money”? What did you think? Any guesses as to what these last few precious episodes shall bring? Leave a comment and close the garage door.

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Hip-Hoppelgangers: Trailer Debuts for “CrazySexyCool”

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Release: October 2013

PRAISE! Behold the wildly uncanny likenesses of T-Boz, Chilli, and Left-Eye, for the CrazySexyCool trailer has come!

God bless you, VH1 executives, in your pure vision. For you did not just film a biopic starring actors who don’t quite fit into their wigs (I see you, Jacksons). You inserted these three into your magic TLC bone-restructuring machine, and created a trio of frighteningly accurate skinwalkers. Save for the subtle tell of Lil’ Mama’s overwrought biceps, this is the most successful resurrection since Jeebus himself.

(Also, speaking of Lil’ Mama, how perfect is she as Left Eye? This girl is on FIRE! Pause for effect. Too soon?)

I mean…God, this looks good. Like it actually doesn’t look that bad. Those “Waterfalls” shoulder pops are so on point I’m jealous. I don’t think I’ve heaped praise on a VH1 original movie like this EVER. I’m actually not used to their films looking good, so paradoxically my expectations are lower. I don’t know how to feel. Since when was quality a watchword on this network??

So obviously I’m going to be lacing up my hi-tops and breaking out the lone-eye war paint this fall, and enjoying this movie in the comfort of my 90s nostalgia. Won’t you join me? It’s MTB! MTB! MEANT 2 BE!

Tales from the HBO Crypt: Carnivale

In case you weren’t aware of what I’ve been doing with my spare moments this past week, I’ve been watching Carnivale and sometimes sleeping and usually eating. For me there’s really no “casual watching.” I’ve kind of made it my mission to chug every single HBO show without stopping for breath.

If you’ve never seen Carnivale and your eyes and heart are hungry, give it a shot. It is one of the most beautifully photographed shows I have ever seen, and on the merits of eye candy alone, it deserves a place in the televisual hall of fame. Beyond Mad Men, far beyond Boardwalk EmpireCarnivale reproduces 1930s Dust Bowl America with utter perfection.

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Showrunner Daniel Knauf was an insurance salesman and a history buff who loved carnivals. He lovingly created a universe teeming with religious mythology, classist politics, and more ships than the British Royal Navy. Carnivale is filet mignon, people. This is a huge cast of talented character actors who were just getting started on the amazing plot tapestry that had been planned for five seasons. And then the show was cancelled at the end of Season 2.

I hate stories that life fast and die young. Because you can see from those first two seasons that Carnivale was gearing up to take over television. It was so moving, so subtle and full of life. Nick Stahl as protagonist Ben Hawkins is a total revelation. He starts out as a blank little cipher, but Stahl imbues him with such pain, such purity, that positing Ben as a Jesus figure gradually becomes second nature for the viewer. He’s a healer who desperately rejects the miracle of his abilities. I love this scene from the pilot. The slow build of the moment, and Stahl’s performance, leave me in awe.

I don’t even want to go into all the other angles of Carnivale: the early rumblings of sex-positive feminism…the painful cyclical nature of mortal life…all that good stuff. The proliferation of freaks and fortune tellers make it an “outsider” show, one of those exercises in interrogating “normal” life through the lens of the socially rejected. The thing that makes Carnivale so special, though, is the heart. So much care is put into developing relationships between the Carnies, and revealing their history to us, one iota at a time. It’s slow-moving, but satisfying in such a rare way.

And like I said, ships galore. So many vulnerable men on this show. Kreeeeeptonite! I mean, have you ever seen Tim DeKay look this good??

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So yeah. This post might’ve been a wee bit more coherent and detailed, but my brain is honestly addled from so many hours logged on HBOGo. Just watch it, okay? Watch Carnivale. There aren’t that many episodes and it’s gonna make you feel all the feelings that are available to the human soul.

 

The 2013 Emmy Award Nominations: Yays and No Ways

The 2013 Emmy nominations are officially here! Time for another year of fruitless pining for Elisabeth Moss’ deserved win. Also general exasperation that Modern Family is still a thing. Give it a rest. We kicked you off the zeitgeist train like two years ago.

The Emmys are hands-down my favorite night of the entire year. And Neil Patrick Harris is hosting again, setting the stage for my childlike delight. For me, Emmy time is filled with as much reverence as your typical Passover (minus that year when my mom came up with the musical parody “In Haggadah Da Vida” and kept repeating “Haggadah get outta here!” Not a lot of reverence that year).

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So, Pesach style, when the Emmy noms come out, I like to ask myself four essential questions. This year’s edition…

1. On all other nights, no one watches reality competition shows. It’s not 2002. Why do we still reward their existence?
2. On all other nights, I really thought Linda Ellerbee was dead. Why did I ever stop getting my information from Nickelodeon News?
3. On all other nights, I dip my vegetables in the salt water of Game of Thrones tears. Why don’t we start a new category for Best and Worst Feels?
4. On all other nights, Elisabeth Moss is fucking amazing. WHY HAS SHE NOT WON YET?

Lots of deep thoughts to address. Whether you’re wise, wicked, simple, or do not know enough to ask (ALERT: INSIDE JOKE FOR JEWS), here are my picks for the 2013 winners. These are biased and what I think should happen, rather than will. I accept that these all might not come true. On Emmys night, blind seething rage is part of the fun!

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Hot Meth: Breaking Bad’s Final Season

PRAISE! I know summer’s supposed to be fun and endless and “for the youths” and everything, but for me it can’t go fast enough. Breaking Bad returns this August for its final season of eight exquisite episodes. How do I know they’re going to be so exquiz? Because they always fucking are. That’s the amazing thing about BB. No lulls. No missteps. Pure adrenaline, tight and excruciatingly perfect. I think I’m turning myself on a little.

I’m fan of AMC’s promotional strategy. The last leg of this timeless televisual masterpiece is just gonna be a weeks-long heart attack, and both the short preview clips and the photo gallery communicate that beautifully. Breaking Bad has always been a deceptively simple show, and I like how sparing these photos are. Silences and longing camera stares into the desert have always been used to great effect on the show. Where the characters are so complicated, so morally ambigious, constantly evolving, the cinematography and pacing is slow. Subtle. And we always feel like we’re riding 45 degrees up a rickety roller coaster track, just on the cusp of free fall.

Check out this photo gallery, too! Obsessed with Aaron Paul, as always. Boy has nuanced trauma sweatin’ out his pores.

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Cory Monteith’s Sudden Goodbye

R.I.P., Cory Monteith. A clumsy, earnest, and unexpectedly authentic actor that I could never justify hating. And that’s a big deal when it comes to Glee. Cory had a pleasant and pure presence from his first moments on the show. It was he who carried the first season. Cory was eventually eclipsed by more flamboyant performers, like Lea Michele and Chris Colfer, and his Finn Hudson went from endearing football hunk to awkward country has-been. But despite the cruel barbs thrown at him by screenwriters and choreographers, Cory brought his role to life with sweet honesty. His death was so unexpected. A real case of you-don’t-know-what-you-got-till-it’s-gone.

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The thing is, Cory was unremarkable as an actor. He was just okay. He had his moments, but for the most part he coasted along affably, screwing up the more dramatic moments and lumbering nervously through scenes. But he had something that’s often harder to come by on a hit primetime show, and that’s innocence. Cory seemed like a really good guy who tried his hardest. He was guileless and just nice. And because Ryan Murphy writes for actors’ personalities due to a lack of creativity and vision, Finn was guileless and just nice. He was an everyday jock with a sunshine smile.

It’s going to be interesting to see what direction Glee will take. Personally, I feel like Lea Michele may ask to be written out of the show. Her real-life relationship with Cory appeared to be adorable and healthy, and the pain of continuing on the series in his conspicuous absence will probably be too much. Knowing Glee, his death will become a poorly handled storyline, stunningly offensive in its execution. I suppose when he signed that contract, he had no way of knowing he was resigning his legacy to a soul-sucking reptile like Ryan Murphy, typing away in his deep hole where morals go to die.

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I’ll miss Cory. His open face and untrained, occasionally beautiful voice were good reasons for me to invest in this show. He was a nobody who was catapulted into fame and was shockingly cool and approachable about it. A humble and kind Average Joe. It’s just a shame, plain and simple.

Here’s one of my fave performances of Cory’s, a duet with Lea Michele where the chemistry is lovely and palpable. Break your heart a little bit.

The Newsroom: This Just In. That’s What She Said.

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Hey! The Newsroom is coming back on Sunday 7/14! Well that just snuck up on me. I mean, I saw the promos but I didn’t really internalize the fact that one of my blessed shows was returning. Because The Newsroom is so deceptively dry and gray and boring on the surface. But it’s true! Rejoice! Mad Men and GoT might be gone, but Sorkin’s impenetrable word putty is going to fill that hole!

Apparently there’s going to be a lot of election coverage this season, which will be cool because it will retroactively educate me on how I’m supposed to feel about our country’s policies and leadership. I mean, who am I kidding? I hate politics – not because that’s my ideology, but because I’m not smart enough for current events, and I transmute my shame into carefree rejection. Please, I don’t need to know what’s going on. I have celebrity pregnancies to follow and Catfish fanfiction to read. It should be enough that I even watch The Newsroom. That’s as engaged as I’m gonna get.

Which is why I’m just mostly excited to watch more unrequited love between emotionally stunted political science majors. You can have the meaty stuff about economics and social unrest. I’ll just be over here evaluating the sexual tension between Maggie and Jim. That’s my promise to you, the voters.

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True Blood: The Last Drop

Truly Truebie. That’s what they’ll write on my tombstone (if my Post-Death Wishes 1, 2, and 3 are all ignored). The devoted viewers of True Blood are waning and dying out, much like the vampire race, but some real crazies still remain. Self included. There’s really nothing “good” about the show anymore, insofar as “good” usually means “story arcs that make sense,” or “cultural significance,” or “any character continuity whatsoever.” But who cares?? Is THAT why you started watching? For quality television?

Because I think you started watching for boobies, blood, and bitchery. It was merely a coincidence that the first couple of seasons were marvelously written and straddled the difficult line between satire and melodrama. Now the actors and writers are tired, and all we’re left with is the bare bones. But I still love those bones! They’re HBO-branded bones. So now we get utter crap that’s beautifully photographed and peppered with witticisms that belong on a much better show. And I love utter crap. I love utter crap so much.

This season’s been…comforting so far. I like enjoying it with my roommates, letting our eyes simultaneously rake over Alexander Skarsgard’s dewy chest like we’re taking communion together. True Blood‘s a show for girlfriends. When it was an allegory for civil rights, it was a monumental and daring slice of sex. Now it’s pretty much just a weekly one-night stand, a tasty little romp I usually block out the next day. It feels right.

True Blood, I just want to let you know that you never let me down. Once upon a time, you made me think. But now all you make me do is scream and drool and drink a lot on Sunday nights. It’s alright. You be as dirty and dumb as you want. Because I’ll be there until the network stakes you in the back. I’ll stand by you whether your final episodes B positive O negative. I said it. Yep.

Mad Men Season 6 Finale: “In Care Of” Reviewed via Instant Message

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I’ve been too swamped to write a proper review of the Mad Men  finale, so I present to you this lively AOL Instant Messenger exchange. Doesn’t cover any plot points really, just…general Mad Men griping.

FRIEND 1:

basically the whore house changing his opinion of things regarding sex and power doesnt really jive with the theme of the measures he goes through to reject his childhood. the writers have created a contradictory character. early in the show they showed him rejecting the ways of his past, but now they show him embracing the ways of his past, and there isn’t any explanation for why or how it could work. draper’s character actually made a whole lot of sense when his childhood was on that farm with a douche dad and meager means because he rejected all that wants to be the opposite of it. draper is pretty much the opposite of that. but when the show added in the whore house, they muddied that idea because they imply that draper learned his views of women from that, but that doesnt make sense because he his character was always about rejecting what he had learned. so if the real character of draper lived in that whore house, he would most likely now be super uptight, so much so that he would probably go the opposite route of being whorey and instead would be all about monogamy

FRIEND 2:

im just gonna make leah respond to that, idk either way lol, i honestly dont

FRIEND 1:

i dont believe the writers have draper as fleshed out as the fans of the show do
i think that when they use bad plot its becuase they use bad plot, not becuase of some super plan
so far this is two season finale’s ive seen where the plotting all depends on draper being very unlike he normally is
its like the writers dig themselves into a hole they cant get out of, so they just make draper suddenly fall in love with megan
they did the same kind of thing with this finale

ME:

i mostly agree that don is not a consistent character. i also agree that the last two season finales were very good episodes with NO underpinning throughout the season which they both capped off. don and the other characters doing inexplicable things, or having inexplicable things happen to them, is kind of matthew weiner’s fallback for the finales now because he wants to imply that ~the late 60s were chaos~ and ~nothing makes sense anymore~. he’s getting lazy with the characters, making their actual actions sloppy and sudden, and the show no longer has that strained tightness that made it so stylish and exciting in the first couple seasons.

but i did kind of get the feeling that what weiner is doing with don is deliberate (if poorly planned/executed). when the show started, we thought of don as poor, unloved, taught to be stoic in the face of hardship and starvation. but it’s not like his adult self actively REJECTED that ideology and strived for riches and family. we saw dick whitman get really affected by small acts of kindness, particularly those that touched his sense of spirituality (like the hobo). he obviously craved comfort and beautiful things, even if his childhood was emotionless and shitty — he was the OPPOSITE of his parents even then. he naturally grew into a man who’s forever pursuing love, validation, wealth, but never wants to admit it and feels a little guilty even as he’s enjoying it.

but as the show has gone on, don has obviously started to age and disintegrate, and experience the bitterness that middle age and cutthroat business practice invariably brings. he clutched desperately to megan and made that impulsive decision because he wanted to stave off age and emptiness (which was building up on him all through season 4) and now that he’s seen his second marriage fail, he knows time will never be on his side again. the whorehouse is essential to that realization, because that was when he started to discover the unique validations of sex. the power dynamics of sex, of men and women, has always been essential to the draper character, but now that he’s past 40 and getting all decrepit, it’s become a bit of an obsession.

i mean, look at the linda cardellini storyline. that was don’s pathetic way of reigniting all the forbiddenness of prostitution and the thrill he got as a teenager, being around young servile women. getting his way with a woman, alternately controlling and comforting her, has gotten don off like nothing else — from betty to megan to all of his longterm affairs. he needs to feel like a man. not the way his poor impotent father taught him, but how the prostitutes taught him. the farm is where he learned about duty, love, business, loyalty (everything that made him complex and great in seasons 1-3). the whorehouse is where he learned about desire (which made him sexy and intuitive about advertising in season 1-3, and progressively more desperate in seasons 4-on). it makes sense that the whorehouse would now be the most significant cornerstone of his life, as he starts to realize that most of his mistakes have not been related to love or business, but desire. he’s doomed to WANT, he’s doomed to ENVY, he’s doomed to RUN AWAY from reality and into small brief comforts. that’s all whorehouse.

and that’s me being generous – i think weiner made a lot of that up as he went along, and like i said, the more loose and cobbled-together feeling of the show has more to do with weiner’s laziness than actual intention. but i think he’s stumbling upon a lot of significant truths about the character, and refocusing on this other stage of draper’s past doesn’t necessarily negate the character we know from the first few seasons. in many ways, don is only a shell of his former self now, so it makes sense that he’s feeling ideologically connected to a totally different part of his past.

Norma Jean’s Gone: The Lights Finally Go Down on “Smash”

I am actually really sad that Smash is over. Sometimes I watch TV when I’m expanding my horizons, and sometimes I watch it when I’m bored, but always I watch Smash when I’m drunk. And now I have nothing to pair with some pinot and cheese and sweet sweet loneliness.

We all knew the end was nigh. As the season progressed, the ratings waned and waned. When the show was moved to Saturday nights, we all exhaled. The deathly time slot. We could all relax now, and watch the pretty lights as the Titanic inexorably sunk.

A disappointing ending, because EVERYTHING was better without showrunner Theresa Rebeck gnawing on the puppet strings. The music was great, the characters actually had story arcs that spanned more than half an episode, and the writing even started blindly stabbing at current pop culture references. They were bad references, but so endearing in their earnestness. “We go together about as well as Lena Dunham and a bra!” Awww. Ya tried. You crazy Broadway kids.

I genuinely think Megan Hilty is uber talented and hope that this sad little rhinestone of a show gives her career a jumpstart. She absolutely slayed every single number, regardless of ridiculous contexts and bad arrangements. And she committed so much beautiful emotion that I had to wonder if they gave her a brilliant first draft script and then just edited her scenes into the final product.

Even if Ivy had to end the series pregnant with Derek Wills’ nappy-haired fetus, she nabbed that goddamn Tony. NABBED IT. Fuck you, Karen Cartwright with your cipher-eyes and popping collarbones. TEAM IVY 4EVRRRRRR!

Smash really nailed this final moment. Credit where credit is due. A fun, brassy duet with incredibly transparent lyrics. “Give them that big finish and they’ll forget what came before!” GENIUS. SO MOCKING, SO TRUE.

I’ll miss you, Smash, you uneven and mischievous little monster. Somebody come fill the TV musical gap! Don’t be afraid to test out your terrible ideas on this hungry lady. Let’s Be Bad.