Amazing Spider-Man vs. Spider-Man (spoilers)

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I finally got around to seeing The Amazing Spider-Man today, and decided that the best way to review the movie is to compare it to Sam Raimi’s trilogy, for a couple reasons. The first is that they both contain origin stories for the same character. The second is that these movies were done way too close together time-wise. It’s been 10 years since the Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man, and only five years since Spider-Man 3, and this reboot could have been held off for another 10 years without any complaints. I’ll be breaking down the comparison in this way: Maguire vs. Garfield, Osborn vs. Connors, the overall acting, and directing/cinematography (which will have a few subissues).

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I don’t know if the issue was Sam Raimi or Tobey Maguire, but Maguire’s version of Parker/Spidey always seemed off compared to the comics and the awesome 90s cartoon. He was always a bit too mopey, too whiny, and nowhere near witty enough. The acting was a bit too monotonous; my brother likes to point out that with Maguire you could never tell if he was upset because even in the sad scenes he looked like he had a weird smirk on his face. This became blatant in Spider-Man 3 when Mary Jane broke up with him, and he starts crying, but his mouth still contorts into the shape of a weird smirk. He might just be incapable of keeping that frown upside down.

Garfield takes this round hands down. It just seemed like the movie allowed him to have more fun with the character, more fun discovering his powers, and a much wider range of emotion. You could see the real joy that Garfield’s Peter had whilst using his powers to skateboard and the puppy-love induced happiness when he’s around Gwen Stacy. You could also see the sadness and the rage when he loses his uncle, and again when he fails to save Captain Stacy. The one issue I do have with Garfield as Peter is there’s no way you can actually say the guy looks like he belongs in high school. Sure he looks a little young for his age, but a teenager? No way. Though Maguire didn’t look like he belonged in high school either so Garfield takes this by a landslide.

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I truly enjoy Willem Dafoe as an actor, so it pains me to see how limited he was in his role as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. There was never any real depth to the character. Sure they tried to create issues with the early relationship between Norman and Parker, but they never developed it enough to make you care about the relationship. Dafoe had to end up playing a stereotypical villain, a man who goes insane because he tested a soldier enhancement formula on himself when he was told the contract he had with the government would get rejected. But you never really believe the motive behind the character. The formula makes him go insane and he decides to wreak vengeance and havoc on everyone else. It’s such a black and white portrayal of a character that you feel nothing for him when he dies at the end. Also, what was the deal with that suit? Watching Dafoe try to talk while wearing the goblin helmet, was like watching Power Rangers all over again. We can’t see the mouth movie, so we need overly-enthusiastic head bobbing from the speaker, as if we can’t tell who’s saying what otherwise.

This is again is where the new film has the edge, with Rhys Ifans portraying Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard. We have a similar plot line for the villain here, a scientist gets shut down and ends up using chemicals on himself. But here at least, we get clear motive for the actions and, more importantly, a motive that would believably cause those actions. Connors knew somewhere in his mind that the product wasn’t ready for human testing, yet two things ended up pushing him to use the product on himself anyway. The first was that he got shut down for refusing to use the product on war veterans. Did he use the product on himself to protect the veterans or did he use it on himself because he would not have access to the chemicals again after that day? Probably a bit of both, which leads to the second reason he used the product on himself, his missing right arm. After working on the project for years, and the desire to have his right arm restored, losing future access to the product had to have forced his hand in some way to act fast, and irrationally. Further, we have a villain here who isn’t just a black and white villain, you have the gray area here, the constant struggle between the scientist in him and the lizard in him. And the lizard in him isn’t even pure evil, it’s just working with a sick notion that it can better all humans by making them lizard-people like him. His actions were villainous, but there was a noble reason for them, even if that reason became twisted and contorted.

Overall Acting

I wanted to go into more character comparisons of Uncle Ben vs. Uncle Ben, Aunt May vs. Aunty May, and Mary Jane vs. Gwen, but if I did this post would go on for longer than anyone’s attention span would care for it to, so let’s just hit everything with quick points. The elevated acting that the new film portrayed with Garfield and Ifans extends pretty much to the rest of the acting in the movie. Emma Stone as Gwen completely outperforms Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane (to be fair I’m very biased here, I love Emma Stone). The acting in the new film just made all the characters so much more believable and less caricature than the 2002 film. The one spot where the 2002 film might win is with Cliff Robertson playing Uncle Ben. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but Robertson really made me care more about Uncle Ben than Martin Sheen did, not to say that Sheen did a bad job, Robertson just did a better one. I don’t want beat a dying horse here, so I’ll just leave it with this: the 2002 film had actors playing caricatures and the new film had actors playing people.

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The first directorial/cinematography issue I want to talk about is the web-slinging. If I give credit to Raimi for anything, it’s for this: it was a genius idea to make the web-slinging organic instead of mechanical. I know Peter is supposed to be very smart, if not a genius, but it’s silly to think that a high school kid could develop synthetic webbing and a mechanism to shoot the webbing exactly the way he wants to. Also, the spider bite organically changed so much about Peter: strenght, agility, ability to stick to walls, so it makes sense to have the web-slinging become part of the organic change. But how Raimi actually used the web-slinging was so dull and uninspired. Raimi had the webbing used for travel, but half the time we don’t even see what the web actually attaches to, and it was almost completely absent during the actual fighting. Webb, on the other hand,  I think made a mistake of going back to mechanical webbing (even if it is truer to the comics), but used the webbing masterfully. First, we actually saw the what the web clinged to, and more importantly, we saw its limitations, like when Spidey was making his way to Oscorp and he shot the web at the crane, but failed to reach it, or how it quickly dissolved in water and became ineffective, or how the lizard was able to remove the threat of webs by breaking the mechanism on both of Spidey’s hands. But when it worked it was beautiful to watch, we saw him use it to bind up the lizard the way a spider would bind a fly, we saw him create a web in the sewers and feel for the lizard in the way that a spider would use its own web. He used it to enhance his own speed and agility, he used it as an integral part of his fighting arsenal, never forgetting that it was there, whereas Raimi would quickly drop the web usage in exchange for acrobatics and hand to hand fighting. So I give Raimi credit for organic webbing, but Webb wins for actually being creative in using the webbing.

The next issue was the speed of story progression. Raimi’s progressed the movie a bit like he did with Army of Darkness, moving quickly through plot without much development. Webb, on the other hand, spent much more time within a singular time period, developing the characters and presenting the psychological progression of the characters. Raimi has Peter get mad about Ben’s death for 15 minutes, just long enough to confront the killer and graduate high school. Webb didn’t push so quickly through everything, in fact Peter’s still in high school by the end of the movie. We can actually see Peter deal with the grief of his uncle’s death as he works to hunt down the killer, and later as his grief and anger make him become flippant with his aunt, forgetting that she lost someone as well. The one place where Webb fell short here was with Gwen’s grief. She lost her father while he was helping deal with the lizard, yet goes to Peter right after the funeral wondering why he wasn’t there for her. One would think that she would feel some amount of anger towards Peter and put some amount of blame on him for her father’s death that she wouldn’t want to see him so soon after the loss. Sans this one point, Webb definitely dove into the character psyche more and didn’t rush onto the next plot point like Raimi did.

Finally, for cinematography I give Raimi’s movies the win for one reason, 3D shots. There’s one thing I can’t stand and it’s a movie that shoots a scene specifically for the 3D effect. I also refuse to see movies in 3D so these shots do nothing for me. Webb, having to pander to the 3D audience, provided an abundance of first person shots that didn’t add to the experience, and shots of things flying at the viewer, which again doesn’t add anything to the experience if you’re not watching it in 3D. I haven’t seen the 2002 film in a while, but as far as I can remember, there was never a shot that annoyed me as much as the above mentioned shots did in the new movie. It’s a shame really, because if these shots were cut out of the new film, I might very well have argued that the cinematography in the new film was better. Alas, that’s not the case and that alone is why I will say that Raimi’s movies had better cinematography (to be honest, I don’t remember Spider-Man 3 at all because it was too terrible to rewatch, so I’m not including that movie in this analysis).

From the Raimi movies, Spider-Man 2 has always been my favorite. Unlike the rest it actually dealt with character psychology and had a villain that people could sympathize with. The comparisons here were mostly to the 2002 film due to both being origin stories, but I would say as far as overall work goes, Amazing Spider-Man might be on par with, if not slightly better than, Spider-Man 2.

Breaking Bad Season 5 Premiere (Ep. 1 Spoilers)

I know I know, once again I’m a week late with a tv premiere review. But, busy week and all that. As for the premiere, only two words can describe it: Fucking. Epic. I think it’s safe to say at this point that the show can officially change it’s name from present tense to past tense, because Walter White isn’t breaking bad anymore, he’s fully gone off the deep end. I usually like to go through scenes in chronological order, but this first part was so good I have to go with it first.

I Forgive You

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I feel like if you could combine the threatening power of MIchael Corleone and the emotional awkwardness of Voldemort, this would be the result. Skyler comes home, acting as cold to him as usual towards Walter, and Walter just takes it…until the end of the episode, when he moseys on over to their bedroom and confronts Skyler about the Ted issue. Skyler’s first words are reassurance that Ted won’t talk, which goes completely ignored by Walter as he slowly walks up to her and slides his hand slowly up her arm; an action that walks a fine line between affection and a threat. He then so very awkwardly embraces her in a hug, much like the hug that Voldemort gave Draco, and whisper-growls “I forgive you.” You hear that and some some level you have to know he’s not even talking about the money anymore; he’s talking about Skyler’s affair with Ted. Walter says he forgives her but between their facial expressions and the coldness of the hug, there’s no way of avoiding the feeling that this is a pure threat (in the style of Michael Corleone’s “you broke my heart” kiss of death) that terrible things will happen if anything like this happens again. What a scene to end the episode on, pure brilliance.

The Diner

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This technique has always been my favorite part of the show; show a future event right up front to foreshadow impending doom, then go back and show how we got to that point. I love this, simply because I’ve always found the questions of why and how more interesting than what, and this type of foreshadowing gives us a taste of the what, but more importantly, makes us hunger for the why and the how. The scene starts with a scruffy haired, unshaved schlub walking into a small town diner, and it took me a good 30 seconds to realize it’s Walter. I was really not used to seeing him with so much hair on his head, and with such an unkept beard. He plays with his food, trades for something in the bathroom, and finds a huge machine gun in the trunk of his new car. Oh, and leaves a $100 tip after getting his birthday meal for free. There is no way you can watch this scene and not feel that the end is near. throwing money away and purchasing guns that are bigger than you is not usually a sign of good times ahead, and that’s how they have strengthened my craving for the why and the how. Why is he arming himself with a gun that bag? How did he get to this point? Yes, you obviously want to go back and find out what happened, but that’s just the tasty, crispy skin, the delicious meat is in the why and how.

The Mike Situation

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There’s nothing like a desert stand off to showcase the status of character relationships. We’ve had Gus and Walt a couple times, Tucco and Walt, and a handful of others, and each is more brilliant than the last. Mike learns Gus is dead and speeds his way towards Walt, whilst Walt and Jesse race to meet him. They meet and Mike is ready to obliterate Walt. Though one has to wonder if Mike is mad because he actually cared about Gus, or because Gus was the only line of protection Mike had from south of the border mobs. If we remember from last season, when Gus went to war with the cartel, they were willing to shoot and kill everyone, except for Gus. One has to wonder who was protecting Gus, why he was protecting Gus, and what this means now that Gus is gone. Suffice it to say, Mike ends up joining Walt and Jesse, under protest, in an effort to  destroy any possible laptop evidence that the cops may have confiscated. There seem to be only two things that currently protect Walt from Mike’s wrath: 1. Walt figuring out how to get out of a jam with science, and 2. Mike might, MIGHT, care about Jesse more than he hates Walt. The latter may not be protection anymore if and when Jesse finds out that Walt had the kid poisoned.

Junkyards and Magnets

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When there is a problem to solve, who better to go to than the wise old man with all the answers? Well, in the spirit of Breaking Bad, we don’t get a wise old man, we get Old Joe: the guy who runs the junkyard. Old Joe won’t help you plan a heist or teach valuable lessons about life, but if you need to get a car running a huge magnet working, Joe’s your guy. And so, with some hilarious help from Joe (“What about that stuff you young guys wear at the end of your pricks? Speak now or forever sing soprano. What’s up with that by the way? Why would anyone want to put a metal ring at the end of their prick?”) the gang gets its magnet, and its car, and wreck and evidence room. Though we don’t know if the evidence was actually destroyed. But now it seems, they may have done more damage than good, as some note was found in a photo frame that originally went unnoticed. More problems for the gang are now on their way.

Threatening Saul

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The last scene to talk about is Walt’s first confrontation with Saul after everything went down. Walt is mad about Ted getting Walt’s money. Saul tries his best defend his and Skyler’s actions, reminding Walt that Skyler was his client too; he acted “ethically.” Walt doesn’t buy it, “You’re not Clarence Darrow, Saul. You’re a two-bit, bus bench lawyer.” Saul replies that Clarence Darrow ever had a client like Walt ask him to do something like this, and pulls out the ricin cig. Everyone’s suspicion’s now come to a close. We saw Walt throw away his Lilly of the Valley, and now we see the ricin cig. We now know that both men have crossed a moral line and poisoned a kid, and only Saul seems to show any regret about it, even if the regret wasn’t for moral reasons. Saul tries to end their relationship, but Walt isn’t having it and finally delivers the line we’ve been waiting for since the commercials started, “we’re done when I say we’re done.” This leads me to two thoughts. The first thought is that this might be one of the most empty threats in this show. First, Saul has more lowlife connections than anyone could ever need, not to mention a huge behemoth of a man working as his security guy/henchman. Walt on the other hand, has eliminated all his criminal connections and his only remaining allies are Jesse and Mike, the latter of whom would happily kill Walt if given the chance. So as awesome as the line was, we have to remember that Saul is not Skyler, Skyler may not be able to defend herself from Walt if he did something, but Saul has to have more than a few favors he could call in if the situation ever came to that. My second thought was, I wish I could say the same thing to the show-runners. With this being the last season, and being cut in half so I have to wait a full year for the last 8 episodes, how I wish I could threaten them into showing the season straight through, and making another season for next year. And how even more empty my threat would be compared to Walt’s, alas.

Fuck I love this show. In my Weeds review I mentioned how downhill that show has gone since season 3, due to increasingly poor writing and equally, increasingly ridiculous plot lines. This premier of Breaking Bad, only now highlights how superior of a show it actually is. After this show ends, I will only have one regret, that I can’t go back and watch the show again as if it was for the first time.

The Redhead: Southern Comfort in the East Village

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A couple weeks ago I had the chance to visit to visit a lovely little spot in the east village for a friend’s going away party. Located a little off of 1st ave on 13th Street, The Redhead was one of the best meals I’ve had all summer, if not also one of the heaviest (in retrospect it may not have been the best idea given that it was about 90 degrees outside that day). So, without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Bacon Peanut Brittle

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The first thing we ordered was a bowl of bacon peanut brittle. This led to a bit of confusion because what we were served was more of just a smal bowl of peanuts that seemed to have been cooked with bacon, but it wasn’t the type of peanut brittle that I expected. The visual confusion soon faded as I ate some and whatever visual issues I had with it became irrelevant for two reasons. The first was simple: it was delicious. I didn’t so much get the taste of bacon with the peanuts, as much as I got the smokiness of the bacon, which went oh so well with the peanuts. The second, was that I was immediately reminded of something else I ate, the Urban LumberShack concrete at Brooklyn’s Shake Shack location (fun fact, for those of you who don’t know, I was the first civilian to eat at that location). The connection made sense very quickly as the bacon peanut brittle used in Shake Shack’s concrete is in fact the the same brittle we were currently munching on, giving the Redhead instant points for nostalgia factor.

Magic Hat Circus Boy

About a third of the way into the brittle we were served our drinks; after the waiter informed me that the beer I actually wanted was not available anymore, he recommended me the Magic Hat Circus Boy, claiming it was similar to what I ordered. I, mistakenly, took his advice and this turned out to be the only disappointing part of my meal. I’d talk about the color and head, but it was served in a bottle so I have no idea what either actually were. The taste though was nothing special at all. The issue wasn’t even that it tasted bad, it just barely had any taste at all. The one upside was that it was a pretty light beer to drink, and given the weather outside, probably for the better, but overall forgettable (as soon as I finish with this I’m going to do my best to forget it all over again).

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

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For my entree I went with their buttermilk fried chicken and, holy fuck, that’s where the southern comfort really hit home. Along with two pieces of fried chicken (one dark, one white),  it also came with a piece of cornbread and a small spinach salad with strawberries and candied almonds. The chicken was simply glorious, I don’t know how else to describe it except poultry perfection. The skin was beautifully fried and stayed crunchy throughout the whole meal. If I had the chance, I would just have them fry up pounds of that skin for me, take it home, and just wrap all my meals in it. Between the crunch and the perfect seasoning I couldn’t help but close my eyes and smile as I slowly chewed away on my first bite. The dark meat was right up there as well; amazingly moist and just melted in my mouth, I really couldn’t have asked for a better piece of poultry.

The breast wasn’t as great but, then again, I’ve never been a big fan of white meat. Obviously it was more dry than the thigh, and the skin didn’t have that same, amazing crunch that the thigh had. Still though, for white meat, it was some great piece of meat.

As for the cornbread and salad, both were good, but the salad was definitely more memorable. The cornbread was well made, but a bit dry for my liking. The flavor was definitely there though, that I can’t complain about, but it would have really benefited from a bit more moistness, especially since I only bit into after I already started eating the breast, thirsts were quickly built that needed immediate quenching. The salad though was another part of the plate that really just hit home nicely. There wasn’t anything intricate or complex about it, but the simplicity was refreshing, as were the strawberries. The freshness of the salad and the sweetness of the strawberries really created a nice dichotomy from the savoriness and heaviness of the chicken. Spot on pairing in my book.

Cuban Style Grilled Corn (stupidly, I forgot to take a photo. Apologies to everyone.)

For my side I went with their cuban style grilled corn, which was two pieces of corn on the cob, grilled, and covered with cheese. I traded one of the pieces with a friend for one of his drop biscuits. The corn was good but not great, in retrospect it didn’t really fit with the rest of my meal and the cheese slightly overpowered the flavor of the corn. It was good, but if I were to go again I might want to try something else. The drop biscuits were more confusing than anything else. They’re served with a bowl of honey that you’re supposed to dip the buiscuts into and I guess it’s a southern thing, because I didn’t really get it. The buiscuts were kind of sweet enough on their own already and it’s a good thing this was the last thing I ate because the sweetness of the buiscuts and the honey kind of killed the palate. It wasn’t bad or anything exactly, I just don’t really understand how it fits into a dinner, it seems closer to something that you would snack on while drinking tea or coffee.

Speakeasy Double Daddy IPA

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After dinner, we ventured over to The Hop Devil Grill (some readers may remember that this is the bar that makes up my two favorite blocks in the city for food and drink), where I had the pleasure to partake in the Speakeasy Double Daddy (double IPA). The photo doesn’t really do the beer any visual justice. It poured a very pretty amber/dark orange color with about a finger and a half of an offwhite head. It had a lovely, distinct citrusy smell to it, which definitely came through in the flavor, along with some strong hops (to be expected when dealing with an IPA). It was a great beer, but poorly chosen as it was also incredibly heavy and, given the weather, may not have been the best choice. It was not a commute back home, I’ll say that much. Save this for when the temperature cools down a bit.

Overall it was a great meal though, if not a bit expensive. The buttermilk chicken alone sold me on the place right away; everything else was just the icing on an already delicious cake. A warning though, it really is a heavy meal, so if you go, prepare accordingly.

The Decline and Fall of Weeds

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Yesterday was the Season 8 premiere of Weeds. Today is the premiere of my first negative review on this blog. Before I get on my rant, let’s just go back and look at the series from the beginning. Seasons 1-3 were, in my opinion, simply wonderful; must watch television. We were presented with a seemingly suburban family, except that the mother is a drug dealer. The kids are sex crazed at times, and delinquent at times, but nothing you wouldn’t expect from such a family, especially considering they just lost their father. The writing was fun, light, never something that had to be taken too seriously. Then season 4 came, and things took a turn. From season 4 to 7, we watched the writing slowly devolve, the situations and plot become more and more ridiculous, and the scripts change from something that was at least quasi-believable, into every episode trying to one up the previous in terms of how ridiculous the story and the dialogue can become. By the end of season 7, we have Nancy sexually manipulating everyone (men and women alike), an older son in a turf war with her, and a younger son who has managed to infiltrate the police force to help his family thrive in the drug world.

SEASON 8 PREMIERE SPOILERS BELOW

So now we get to the premiere of season 8/finale of season 7. Most of you know by now that the last season ended (and this season started) with a Sopranos rip off of wondering whether or not someone was shot and/or killed. Turns out, Nancy is shot, she’s still alive, and she’s rushed to the hospital. Fine, works for me. Then the insanity begins.

The Ambulance Scene

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The woman is shot in the head. Bleeding profusely. The EMT is trying to talk to her to keep her awake and she’s somehow still able to make sexual jokes about his long fingers, then scolds him for snapping at her son. Granted, I’ve never been shot and I’ve never been awake whilst under such heavy sedation that she must have been under. But, give me a fucking break, the writers can’t honestly be trying to say that someone who was just shot in the head could be cognizant enough to still joke around the way she did in this scene.
The Cops Arrive
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The scenes just get more ridiculous from there. Next we have Shane returning home, where he first gets a barrage of questions from old, nosy neighbors, then ambushed by moronic police. The neighbors were already unbelievable (I don’t mean that in a good way). They’re told someone was hurt, and that the loud bang was a gunshot, yet they act as oblivious as ever, complaining more about the noise and mess than showing surprise/fear/shock that someone was actually shot in their neighborhood. Then a gang of idiot cops show up and Shane has to explain to them where to canvas the crime scene, and to not step in the huge pool of blood on the floor. This all ends with the king of the idiotic cops turning to him and saying “I’m watching you” to which Shane responds in like and flips the bird. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. In what fucking world would a cop actually turn to the son of a victim of a shooting and warn him that he’s being watched? Again, we’ve fallen under the realm of slightly surreal, but believable, and into the realm of pure silliness for the sake of silliness.
The Hospital Administrator
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Then we had the arrival of this cunt; the hospital administrator. Clearly the writers just went off the deep end with this scene. The family just hears that Nancy is in a coma, and this woman arrives to get their billing. She bursts in with her faux, high spirits, showing no sympathy for the worried family, and pretentiously announces that this is a private hospital and they have to pay up. This is followed by a diatribe of how we are in America, and not one of the other dozen countries that have some form of universal health care. What is the point of this scene? To make a political statement? To just show us a bitchy hospital worker for the sake of shits and giggles? Again, I don’t buy it. We’re not in the quasi-surreal world anymore, we’ve clearly crossed the thin line in to the world of Looney Tunes, and a very loud and obnoxious Daffy Duck just showed up to berate a family about their payment plan.
Visiting Nancy’s Room
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The episode is at rock bottom at this point. The next series of scenes are the various family members visiting Nancy’s room and showing complete disregard for both her and the poor guy asleep next to her. First Shane and Silas steal food from the other patient, flop the food on Nancy’s body, and casually chat away as if nothing’s wrong. Doug comes in right after, and decides that it’s a good idea to feel her up and look down her hospital gown; nothing funnier than sexual assault of a coma patient. The icing on the cake comes when Andy decides to have sex with Nancy’s sister in the room, right after she pulls a vagina weight out of her and flops it onto the other patient’s body. This isn’t even plot worthy material anymore, just a sad attempt at shock factor, which I doubt achieved its purpose with anyone.
This show is border-lining on unwatchable. Maybe it’s already crossed the border. I’m fighting with two arguments in my head, the first saying that I should keep watching because I’ve gotten this far and want to see the end, while the second tells me that this show has become  a fucking waste of time. Maybe the next episode will pull me out of the dispair that this one has put me into, and give me enough strength to finish the season and/or series, but I doubt it. I’m finding it harder and harder to care about what happens to these clown characters, and f you’re at the point that I’m at, all I can suggest is to just cut the chord and get away. Breaking Bad will start soon enough, and we can watch a real drug dealing badass at work.