Game of Thrones: Two Swords and Lion and the Rose

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GAME OF THRONES: 4.1 “Two Swords”
GAME OF THRONES: 4.2 “The Lion and the Rose”

Game of Thrones came back with a bang, didn’t it? Personal life has forced me to consider both of the first two episodes back to back, and they were mighty entertaining. Between the two, we’ve caught up with pretty much everyone, and there were plenty of great scenes, but I keep thinking about the Arya/Hound scene that closed out the first episode. It’s always fun when the show decides to linger a bit longer on one particular event, and Arya and the Hound arriving at the inn begins as buddy comedy, moves into an exquisitely tense standoff, and ends in an abrupt spasm of violence. As satisfying as it was to see her reclaim her sword, and by extension her connection with her lost family, I felt a little sad that it was only earned back through the loss of her innocence as she killed Polliver in cold blood. And from the look of contentment on her face as she rode away from the inn with the Hound, it’s easy to surmise that she enjoyed the experience. Arya’s road ahead will be dark, I suspect, and likely littered with more of her “victims;” I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before she takes out someone who doesn’t deserve it.

And speaking of extended scenes, the wedding we’ve all been waiting for wrapped up episode two. It was a great example of slowly building tension. Joffrey was at his most petulant, evil, cruel, hurtful worst, so it was perhaps a bit of a relief to see him finally taken down by an anonymous poisoner in such a painful fashion. But like Arya, I wonder if we as an audience shouldn’t celebrate his demise with such gusto. Yes, Joffrey was a monstrously cruel sociopath who was a horrible ruler and only would have become worse as he grew in age and power, but if there’s one thing that Game of Thrones has taught us, it’s that violence begets revenge and greater violence in an ever widening, destructive cyclone that eventually spins out of control. Jaime’s simple yet careless act of pushing Bran out the window of a tower spawned a brutally destructive civil war, leading to countless deaths and, on a more personal level for the Kingslayer, the loss of his son and his sword arm. As we can tell from Cersei’s look at the end of the episode, Joffrey’s demise is likely to cause a great deal of trouble for Tyrion, whether he was involved in it or not. And what greater chaos will erupt now that another king is dead? How will the ripples that spread out from Arya’s quest for revenge affect the world? Will she leave behind a traumatized child who turns into a killer, or something worse?

Game of Thrones Returns Tonight

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Season 4 of Game of Thrones begins tonight, and I’m so glad it’s back for a few reasons. I think it’s one of the most entertaining shows on television, but beyond that, I’ve been an avid reader of the books for years and I’ve always found it very interesting to see how the writers of the TV show have adapted the source material of the books. Most of the time, I think they do a great job inventing new non-book scenes that really capture the essential nature of the characters. They’ve even changed the motivations of some characters in better ways; in the books, Shae was simply a gold-digging prostitute, a very flat character, while in the show, she’s a bit more complicated, and truly seems to be in love with Tyrion.

Season 3 of the TV show ended about 2/3s of the way through book 3, so season 4 is going to finish up book 3, but it will also almost certainly parts of book 4 as well. However, book 4 is an aberration in the series because, timeline wise, it happens at the same time as book 5 and covers almost none of the major characters that the TV show has kept its focus on for three seasons. I can’t help but think that the TV show might draw in some pieces of book 5 into this season.

Even if this season of the show doesn’t integrate any book 5 material, this is the point in the books where plotlines begin to meander, and I suspect that the show writers will have to do a lot more stitching and combining of stories (and writing more original stuff) in order to keep the show entertaining and keep certain main characters at the forefront. Next season will be especially interesting, because I really don’t think there’s enough going on in book 5 to fill a whole season, and I highly doubt that book 6 will be out on the market within a year. So anyway, as I said, I suspect this may be the beginning of of a time where the writers have to be a bit more creative and inventive, and as a book reader, I find that really exciting.

New Girl: Has It Improved?

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I wrote a while back that I was having some real problems with New Girl, one of my formerly favorite shows. I wrote that post right after episode 6 of this season, and now that we’re through 15 I wanted to revisit it. Thankfully, I think things have largely changed for the better. It seems like recently the show has found it less necessary to focus on the weird awkwardness in Nick and Jess’s relationship; when it does keep the focus on them, as it did in the post-Super Bowl episode “Prince,” the story seems to be executed in a better and more believable way. Winston is still somewhat insane, but the addition of Coach (who at first seemed like he was jammed in and out of place with the cast) has given him a nice foil to play off of; I loved their bake-off in the birthday episode, and their well-practiced scheme in “Prince” that they used to sneak into the party. I look forward to seeing them engage in more bizarre rivalries and sneaky plots.

As I predicted in my previous post, the show is already gearing up to glue Schmidt and CeCe back together which is a bit annoying because they never should have pursued the “double dating” plotline that broke them up for the second time. That said, it doesn’t bother me too much because the writers aren’t rushing into it so for now, it’s easy to ignore.

The addition of Jess’s sister in the most recent episode was a nice touch. I love Linda Cardinelli, so maybe I’m biased, but I thought she was funny while also showing a similar yet darker and more destructive personality to the bright quirkiness shared by her sister. I imagine she’ll be around for a few episodes at least and that should be entertaining. The loft and Schmidt’s neighboring apartment are getting pretty crowded (and that’s not even counting Winston’s weird, cab-driver love affair, who I assume will be showing up from time to time), but it hasn’t felt too overstuffed yet. Hopefully that will continue.

Overall, the show has improved a lot since its rockier episodes earlier this season. I’ve been consistently laughing at the last several episodes, which is not something that was happening during the beginning of the season. After watching this show for three and a half seasons, I think I have to accept that it is sometimes uneven. It can reach some great and hilarious heights, but it can also be fairly disappointing when it swings and misses. I can accept that, though, because on the aggregate, the show succeeds more than it fails.

The Problem with New Girl

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New Girl was one of my favorite shows last season. In fact, it’s been on the top of my viewing list since somewhere around the middle of the first season, once the writers allowed the weirdness of the rest of the roommates to shine through. While Jess still has her quirks, they’re not quite as cutesy as they were before. Sometimes she’s even playing the most sane roommate in the loft, which seems to work for me. These changes really helped the show take off halfway through season one and most of season two.

I was looking forward to the show returning this year, but a few episodes in, I’m finding it not really clicking for me and I don’t know why.

It might be the Jess and Nick relationship, which I admit I was interested in seeing play out but which, so far, seems to have centered around tired old sitcom plots about the fear of personal change and losing friendship if the relationship fails. This week seemed to be an exception, mostly because the episode was about Nick and Jess messing with Schmidt, and not about their new relationship, and that made the episode stronger I think. Despite my complaints, I hope the writers don’t end the relationship anytime soon and dive straight into the tired old awkward post breakup storyline. I’d rather see them turn into the skid, preferably by making the relationship mostly a secondary focus rather than a primary story. Jess and Nick can stay together, but they’re more fun when they’re messing with someone else than when they’re freaking out about each other.

Speaking of tired cliches, Schmidt’s attempt to juggle two relationships at once was so predictable and lame that I groaned every time it was discussed on screen. That sort of plot really was something I thought this show wouldn’t have to resort to, and the fact that they did has shaken my confidence in it. What made the writers think that Schmidt juggling two girls at the same time would be funny? They made it even worse by throwing in the old “they both showed up to the same party” gag! Now Schmidt and CeCe are broken up (for a second time) and its going to seem even more wildly implausible when the show inevitably tries to glue them back together again. Silver lining: Schmidt’s cold-cut fueled, couch-bound depressive spiral was pretty entertaining this week, and I could see the writers having a cabin fevered Schmidt go crazy in his spacious new loft across the hall. That would be fun to watch…

Winston appears to have become a completely insane person, which I really can’t complain about because all the weird and crazy stuff they have him do each week has made me laugh. I particularly liked his interaction with his (stolen) cat from a few episodes ago and his David Letterman from this episode. But his craziness can’t carry the show when either Jess/Nick or Schmidt aren’t working, and none of them have been working on consistent basis so far this season.

All that said, I think Tuesday episode (3.06: Keaton) was probably the best one of the season so far and I hope it’s a sign of better things to come.

Breaking Bad: Felina

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BREAKING BAD: 5.16 “Felina”

Breaking Bad is over, and in the end, there weren’t a lot of surprises. Yes, the ricin was for Lidia, the machine gun for the Neo-Nazis. Walt finally dropped the family-centered justification for his actions and admitted to Skyler that everything bad he did over the last few years was done because it made him feel good and alive. He died from a stray bullet, least partially redeemed, while Jesse lived. In a genius, thrilling scene that opens like a horror movie, Walt intimidates his former business partners into secretly granting his drug money, disgusted as a generous trust fund from Gray Matter industries, to Walt Jr. Everything ties up in a neat little bow by the end of the episode. Some critics, many of whom I really like and respect, didn’t really like this ending. It was too clean, too neat, they seemed to suggest, and let Walt off the hook too much for the horrible things he did.

I’m not a professional critic, simply an amateur who likes to write about stuff he watches (when he can find the time) and I thought it was great. It was so exciting and suspenseful at times that I could barely breathe. Everything that needed to happen happened. Walt finally told the truth about his motivations and though he dies, he manages to wipe out the greater evil that was spawned from his own actions. His family is now safe, and possibly about to inherit a windfall. Jesse, who’s been both morally and physically tortured over the last season or two, escapes and has another chance at life. After watching Walt’s life and hopes crumble around in in Ozymandius and Granite State, I think that some people convinced themselves that Breaking Bad was really a morality play and its only just ending could come from Walt wasting away and dying in a crappy cabin in the New Hampshire snows, unable to accept his guilt, and unable to do anything about the evil Nazis he unleashed on the Land of Enchantment (Yes, that is New Mexico’s nickname.) They wanted, expected Walt to fully pay for his crimes. That would have been a grim but reasonably realistic ending, just as it would have been realistic if Gretchen and Elliot called the cops on Walt right after he left their home, or if he hadn’t been able to somehow magically get the ricin into Lidia’s Stevia packet, or if the Nazi’s had made him park in the spot they originally wanted, or if one of them had checked his car’s trunk, or if Jack had just shot Walt as soon as they brought him into the clubhouse, or if the Nazi lackeys hadn’t all conveniently been killed by the first few blasts of the concealed machine gun (except for Uncle Jack and Todd, who conveniently survived long enough to be killed by Walt and Jesse, respectively). Instead, none of these realistic things happened, every bit of Walt’s complicated plan went off without a hitch, and Walt sacrificed himself to at least partially neutralize a small bit of the darkness he helped create; perhaps this means the monster that is Walt got off a little easy but I’m OK with that. Breaking Bad was one of the best, maybe THE best show, I’ve ever seen; the writing, acting, and directing have all been fantastic. But really, I thought the show was ALWAYS comic book at heart and was never particularly realistic (the bathtub incident, the fulminated mercury explosion, the Cousins, two passenger jets colliding IN MID-AIR above Walt’s house, Gus’s final scene… there are plenty more examples). I think that the ending, for all its tidy neatness, was perfectly aligned with the show’s sensibility throughout five seasons. The brilliance of the writing, acting, and directing frequently elevated the show, but it was never intended to be a moral lesson, just a good, pulpy, comic book story. The ending confirmed that. It was a great ending to a great ride. It doesn’t need to represent other than that.

Breaking Bad: Ozymandius

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BREAKING BAD: 5.14 “Ozymandius”

This week’s episode of Breaking Bad was probably the most difficult to watch episode of TV I’ve ever experienced. I mean, Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding earlier this year was pretty bad, but the betrayal and subsequent bloodbath was confined mostly to the end of the episode. In “Ozymandius,” however, brutal events came with punishing intensity and frequency. Just off the top of my head, here’s a list (in chronological order, not ordered by the intensity of emotional torture):

  1. Gomie dead on the ground, riddled with bullets.
  2. Walt desperately pleading with Jack to spare Hank’s life, while Hank and the entire audience knew there was no way Jack would spare him.
  3. Watching Jack blow away a wounded Hank.
  4. Watching the neo-nazi gang take $70 million in cash, which I’m sure they’ll use to fund plenty more horrible actions.
  5. Hank and Gomie’s bullet-riddled bodies being unceremoniously dumped into an empty hole in the middle of the desert.
  6. Walt identifying Jesse’s hiding place to the Nazi’s and, before they took him away to torture him, explaining his role in Jane’s death. There was so much hate and malice in Walt at that moment that I think it finally stamped out whatever tiny little bit of sympathy I may still have been harboring for him. He is an evil man.
  7. Watching Marie’s triumphant confrontation with Skyler. Watching her force Skyler to agree to tell Flynn the truth was excruciating. It was even harder to see Marie speaking from her victorious, moral high ground, knowing that her victory would eventually turn to ash when she learned of Hank’s fate.
  8. Seeing Flynn’s devastated reaction as Skyler told him the truth and his entire world collapsed around him.
  9. The awkward yet terrifying knife fight between Skyler and Walt, ending with Flynn throwing his body in front of his mother to protect her and calling the police on his crazed father. I was certain the knife would end up in someone’s stomach. It didn’t but…
  10. …watching the White family become, finally, forever broken when Walt drove off with Holly and left Skyler behind screaming in horror was almost too much to bear. As a recent first-time father, this was probably the most horrible, gut-wrenching scene of the episode for me.
  11. A bruised, bloody, obviously tortured Jesse being forced to cook for sociopathic Todd, under threat of violence to his former girlfriend and her son.
  12. Walt’s final phone call where he unleashed the full extend of Heisenberg’s dark, narcissistic, controlling ID, berating Skyler for being a useless “bitch” and an impediment to his plans. Yes, I know that part of his speech was an attempt to shift the blame of Skyler and the remaining family and move it onto him; I suppose this is a somewhat noble thing to do, but it doesn’t justify any of Walt’s prior evil. And I’m convinced that he really felt and thought plenty of the vitriol he spewed out over the phone.

Walt’s empire crumbled so swiftly, so spectacularly, that I think this episode left me in a daze. I felt fuzzy and sick to my stomach after it was over. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by what happened; all evidence had been pointing to this result for quite some time. Maybe I’ve just been conditioned by years of TV tropes to expect that there’s always some good way out of a bad situation.

This time, there was no escape; Hank is dead, Skyler is exposed and guilty by association, Flynn’s entire worldview (and possibly his sense of self) is shattered, Marie is a widow, and while Walt may have physically escaped, the family that he supposedly wanted to protect and provide for at the beginning of this whole mess is utterly destroyed. I still have a recording of this episode on the Tivo, sitting and waiting for me when I have the courage to watch it again and see if I can pick up anything that I missed the first time around. But I’m not ready for that; not yet. Not for a while.

Breaking Bad: To’hajiilee

BREAKING BAD: 5.13 “To’hajiilee”

We’ll start at the end, because there’s really no better place to pick up than the thundering shoot out that concludes the episode. As a quick bit of background, Jesse and Hank lure Walt out to the desert with a clever (and fake) threat that Jessee has uncovered the buried money and is about to burn it (I guess this counts as hitting Walt where he lives?) Sensing a trap, Walt calls up his neo-Nazi attack dogs, only to try to call them off when he sees Hank arrive with Jesse. Unwilling to violate his “no family” rule, Walt surrenders and Hank cuffs him in triumph, pausing afterwards to make a loving and victorious phone call to Marie, which conveniently lasts just long enough for the fascist cavalry to arrive and open up on our heroes/anti-heroes with their heavy artillery.

The situation looks grim. Walt dives across the seat of the car he’s in as it’s riddled with bullets; he can’t be in that much danger, though, because we know that he has to survive so that he can order some eggs and bacon in a roadside diner as Mr. Lambert a year in the future. Jesse’s survival is less certain, though I have to think that they’d keep him around for just a little big longer. The odds, sadly, look much more grim for Hank and Gomie, who are hopelessly out-numbered (what was it, 5 on 2? Something like that?) and outgunned (a pistol and shotgun versus several pistols, semi-automatic rifles, and what looked like an honest-to-God automatic machine gun). It’s already a miracle that both agents survived the initial assault, but I can’t imagine that they’re going to survive much longer. Hank’s sentimental call to Marie (“You probably won’t see me for a while.” talk about an unintentionally poor closing line!) pretty much marks him for death, right? Furthermore, it seems pretty clear from the flash-forwards that although Walt was publicly outed as Heisenberg, he was not in prison, and probably not hiding through some federal witness protection program, so he somehow managed to stay out of the DEAs hands. Even if he survives, I can’t imagine Hank would let Walt off the hook (if he survives, Hank would probably, rightfully, blame the Nazi attack on Walt, which would only make him more furious and intent on bringing him in for justice.) So it seems likely that both Hank and Gomie will meet their ends out in the desert, and perhaps Marie will blame Walt for Hank’s death, pick up the torch, and try to burn the White family name and reputation to the ground.

As for Walt and Jesse, who knows at this point, though the Nazi’s are having problems getting their meth sufficiently pure. Maybe they’ll force the master chemists to work together one last time.

There’s still a lot of ground to cover, so I expect this final triumvirate of episodes will move at a pretty quick pace. I’m going to say that Mr. Lambert’s machine gun is reserved for Todd and the Nazi clan while the ricin is going to be used on Lidia. Then again, I’m frequently wrong in my predictions. Maybe next week, Hank and Gomie will take out the Nazi’s and survived unscathed, and I’ll have to come up with a new theory for the machine gun’s intended use. Either way, it’s fun to guess.

Breaking Bad: Rabid Dog

BREAKING BAD: 5.12 “Rabid Dog”

Both Jesse, and Walt’s house, survive another day before the end of this episode, though Jesse still seems like a rabid dog in his promise to hit Walt where he lives (and Walt’s house is going to need all new carpets; yikes). That threat, and the fact that he’s now working (admittedly uneasily) with Hank to take down Walter White, only makes my belief that Jesse is running out of time on this world even stronger. After some urging from Skyler (who, wow, certainly has fallen off her moral pedestal recently) and Jesse’s threatening phone call, Walt has finally decided to move his protegee off his “family protection” list and onto the “problems best solved by hired Neo-Nazi’s” list. Overall, this was a much slower episode than the last two, but it was still very good, especially considering the insight we gained to Jesse’s abused conscience; he’s been so emotionally and mentally battered and beaten by Walter over the last few years that he thinks the man is magic and thinks that he has all potential outcomes already thought out, which only makes Jesse extra jumpy and anxious as he goes to meet Walt in the plaza. Of course, most of this is all just in his head, and the scary looking bald man that caused Jesse to bail on the plan was really just a father waiting for his daughter to arrive, but it sends Jesse on the offensive. Instead of meeting with Walt, getting him on tape, and possibly getting him in handcuffs minutes or hours later, Jesse ups the stakes with his threat, and Walt raises them again with his phone call. The fateful call will bring loose-cannon Todd and his fascist family members into the fray in a way that I’m sure will introduce maximum mayhem and chaos. As a wise Irishman once said, “things fall apart / the center cannot hold.” I think this phone call will set up a final bloody spiral down to the bitter end.

I’m still not sure what lies exactly on the path between the Walter of “now” and the “Mr. Lambert” fake identity from the pilot who we see driving around a jalopy with a machine gun in the trunk. I can’t help but wonder if the machine gun is for the Nazi’s, but who is the ricin for? I don’t expect Jesse to live that long, so not him. Lidia? Hank? Skyer? It’s still an open question.

On another note, I have to say that I feel especially bad for Walt Jr., who still loves his parents (and adores his father particularly) so much that he still believes all the lies and manipulations. He’s going to be utterly shattered when he finds out what Walt’s been up to, and he’ll likely have no one left to turn to because Skyler is now nearly as guilty, and in all likelihood, Hank will have been the one responsible for bringing all these horrible deeds to life. The kid’s got a tough road ahead, and I hope the show lets us see his reaction when he finds out the truth.

Breaking Bad: Confessions

BREAKING BAD: 5.11 “Confessions”

I must be rather gullible, because the title of this episode, and the way the previous episode ended with Jesse about the be interrogated by Hank, had me convinced that he was going to start talking. Perhaps he wouldn’t reveal the entire extent of the Heisenberg operation, but I thought that Hank was going to be able to squeeze at least a little bit of useful information out of him. I should have known better; Breaking Bad doesn’t work like that. It rarely conforms to your exact expectations. Instead of a confession, Jesse resisted (albeit a bit weakly), Saul blew into the room threatening lawsuits, and Hank slinked away looking somewhat defeated.

The “Confessions” from the episode title instead refer to Walt’s video message that he passed to Hank and Marie over their superbly awkward lunch at the chintzy Mexican-food chain restaurant. At first, I foolishly wondered if Walt really was going to come clean (there’s me being gullible again). Instead, Walt turned the tables, accusing Hank of being the meth mastermind and forcing him, the mild-mannered teacher bravely fighting cancer, to cook for him. Walt’s audacity is simply breathtaking; it sounds like a crazy story but there was just enough truth in the message to make it potentially plausible, and the hard fact that Walt paid for Hank’s medical treatments probably permanently tie the two together in the eyes of the law (or a jury). If Hank takes Walt down now, the best he could hope for is an utterly ruined career; more likely, he’ll probably find himself in prison for aiding and abetting in some manner. While it may be hard for me to imagine Hank giving up, he certainly seemed defeated after watching the video with Marie, and right now it looks like Walter has held him firmly in check.

Like many things in life, though, once you put down one problem, another pops up in an entirely different location. I spent the entire episode in a state of tension, building from a slight tweak in my shoulders to a crushing anxiety by minute 45, in fear that poor Jesse, who I would love to see survive the series (there I go again, being gullible), would be murdered. I expected Walt to shoot him in the desert, and again I expected him to be blown away when Saul’s fake identity contact pulled up to smuggle him away into a life of anonymity in Alaska. Neither happened; instead, in a complicated sequence that I’m still not sure I understand (really, the show did a poor job explaining how he made the connection here), Jesse somehow realized that Walt was responsible for poisoning Brock after all. He goes from utterly despondent to boiling over with rage in no time at all. Skipping out on his last chance to escape and find a new life (and likely signing his death warrant in the process), Jesse returns to beat the truth out of Saul, and then zip over to the White residence and douse it in gasoline. I don’t know if he’ll manage to burn the place down, but I do expect him to be put down like a “rabid dog,”  as the next episode is titled. I don’t think it’s gullible to suggest that Jesse is about to learn that righteous, justified fury is no armor.

*image from Yahoo! TV

Breaking Bad: Buried

BREAKING BAD: 5.10 “Buried”

I never wrote about Breaking Bad on a consistent basis here at Raked, probably because I only started catching up on the series last summer through the magic of Netflix. I shared some of my thoughts on the early seasons last year (almost to the day) and now that I’m caught up with everything so far, my opinion hasn’t much changed. This is a fantastic show that depicts one man’s slow descent into evil. Now that we’re in to the second half of the final season, the consequences of Walt’s actions are beginning to show.

“Buried” picks up immediately after the previous episode, which ended with the tense confrontation between Walt and Hank. Walt leaves Hank’s garage as the cool, calm, terrifying Heisenberg, but once he’s in his car, he melts down in the scared, frantic Walter White, desperately trying to contact Skyler before Hank can reach her first. Hank gets to her first, but botches his attempt to get her to confess by his clumsy eagerness. Skyler clams up, and it becomes clear that she’s casting her lot in with Walt, for better or for worse. Over the last couple of months, I’ve read a number of commentators and fans declare that Skyler is the moral center of the Breaking Bad universe. Obviously, that’s no longer true. As if the money laundering wasn’t enough, the fact that she has decided to stick with Walt in the hopes of keeping the money he buried in the desert proves that she’s nearly as complicit as he is. The confrontation between Skyler and Marie, which ends with Skyler’s full-throated mama bear protectiveness showing through when Marie tries to take the baby away from her, was an excellent, tense, hard-to-watch scene.

Even Marie and Hank are on uncertain ground. Not only has the close family life that they once enjoyed been ripped apart, but they know that Hank doesn’t have enough information to sink Walt just yet, though the longer he waits to reveal what he knows, the more likely it is that he too could be breaking the law by holding back information. Worse yet, even if he uncovers enough proof and brings it to his superiors, his fast-rising career will essentially be over; who would trust the DEA agent who didn’t know that his own brother-in-law was the most notorious meth manufacturer in the Southwest? That said, it doesn’t seem like certain career suicide will stop Hank; he’s always been the persistent type, and as the episode closes with Hank going into the interrogation room to “talk” to his old nemesis, Jessie, I think we can expect him to be as “persuasive” as possible. I don’t know if it will be enough, but the next episode is titled “Confessions.” Make of that what you will.