Fine Day Sunday

in my opinion, best day of the week

Ranking the Harry Potter Movies

Posted by finedaysunday on July 20, 2014

Potter Logo

It doesn’t feel like it’s been three years since the Harry Potter series of films came to a conclusion, or even that the final book was released seven years ago. I believe that really speaks to how strongly this story resonates with me, and I know I’m not alone in that regard. What other series of fantasy novels, what other entertainment franchise, has meant as much to so many generations living today as Harry Potter?

Being the hopeless fan that I am, I’ve decided to tackle something I had sworn off doing for a long time: picking the movies apart and ranking them according to my personal preference for them. We’ll start with my least favourite and work our way up to the Totes Best Movie in the Series. This should be fun.

A few points before we begin: First of all, yes, we are sticking with the movies for this list. I’ve read each book many times, but I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve watched the movies. It really might be closing in on 100 viewings split between eight films. That’s a lot of time invested in Hogwarts. I could recite most of these things by heart, and in fact many nights have been spent with friends providing hours of running group commentary as we watch them for the millionth time. We know our Harry Potter.

Secondly, you might be wondering from what angle am I supposed to judge these movies? Strictly on their own merits, or their strengths as adaptations of the books? What changes do they make from the source material, and how do those changes affect the final film? What about pacing? Casting? A well-timed musical cue? The overall tone and editing? That ever-elusive “feel”? I have taken all of these into consideration and measured them against each other to see how well each film gels together, and have done my best to set them into some sort of personal hierarchy.

Lastly, I mentioned above that I’ve been hesitant to rank these movies for years. The honest-to-God reason is that I have a great deal of affection for all of them. I cannot in good conscience dislike any of them, even the one I consider my least favourite. My helplessly rose-coloured perception of these films is pretty potent, I can tell you. That being said, with the benefit of years of hindsight, it is possible for me to lay them out side by side and tell you what I feel works for each movie and what does not, and that’s why I’m confident I can finally pull this off. Enough stalling, let’s dig in.

~ ~ ~

HP GOBLET

Structurally, Goblet of Fire is kind of a mess. The enforced progression of one school year per movie gets what was supposed to be a shot in the arm with the Triwizard Tournament, but instead the movie itself collapses under the weight of the implausibility of it all. Where to even begin? The dastardly plot which requires Harry to be manipulated every step of the way through absurdly convoluted methods and endless instances of dumb luck? The willful ignorance of every single person in Harry’s life to the true nature of the villain’s scheme? The fact that, despite being the second longest film in the series, no time is taken to explain why the Wizarding World suddenly has a traditional blood sport event that forces teenagers to spend much of the school year in mortal peril? Yes, I know it was explained in the books, but if there were ever an appropriate place for the movie to indulge an exposition dump, the backbone of the plot would be it.

The nature of the Triwizard Tournament also messes with the pacing quite a bit. It comprises three tasks (including the build-up to each one), plus a school dance right in the middle. It’s all jilted and awkward. The central mystery would be more solid if it were given more time to stretch out a bit without so many elements to distract from it. This is where foreknowledge of the book hampers much of the experience of watching this movie. See, I might know what’s going on underneath all the vague misdirection because I went into Goblet having read the source material, but I’d have to think anyone going in cold would be hopelessly lost, even while the movie does its best to give away the identity of the villain pulling the strings. (Side note: I’d love to hear from anyone who watched Goblet without any knowledge of the book. How well were you able to keep up?)

But it’s not all bad! There’s plenty here to like. McGonagall, Snape, Filch, and the Weasley twins steal every scene they’re in, and the Yule Ball is just plain fun. What little we see of Rita Skeeter is spot-on comic timing. Brendan Gleeson makes a terrific Mad-Eye Moody. Robert Pattinson does a fine job capturing what makes Cedric Diggory work so well in the book. Here’s this charismatic, universally liked honour-bound good sportsman who repeatedly kicks Harry’s ass in every contest (even taking Harry’s crush to the Yule Ball for good measure), and yet Harry can’t help but grudgingly like the guy. Great stuff. And I still hold up that last scene with Cedric’s father as one of the most powerful in the series.

The movie also earns points from me for the stuff that didn’t make the cut. Rita Skeeter’s mystery subplot? Ludo Bagman? That awful sphinx encounter in the maze? Gone. All very smart and mercifully necessary omissions to make. Seriously, go back and read that conversation between Harry and the sphinx and tell me how well that would have gone up on screen.

But no Blast-Ended Skrewts? Really? To the bottom of the list you go, Goblet of Fire.

HP CHAMBER

Chamber of Secrets has a lot to love. The world is still a new and scary place to Harry and, by extension, to us as well. Despite coming out ahead in his deadly encounter at the end of his first year, the horrors of the Wizarding World have not been sleeping. Evil is in the very walls of Hogwarts, the entirety of the student body mistrusts The Boy Who Lived, and Harry is left to question his own identity as a Gryffindor, as a force for good. We get plenty of wide shots of flooded torchlit hallways, cobweb-coated forest clearings, bloodstained walls, and subterranean caverns from which death may strike at any moment. We get our first taste of the ugly culture of prejudice by way of blood purity that would come to haunt the series to its conclusion. We get two spectacular additions to the cast in Jason Isaacs and Kenneth Branagh as Lucius Malfoy and Gilderoy Lockhart respectively. And while wishing no disrespect to Michael Gambon, we get one last moment to admire Richard Harris, one last moment to admire just how wonderfully he embodied Albus Dumbledore.

So what gives? Why so low on the list?

Chamber of Secrets is long. Very long. It’s the longest movie in the series and the only one to really feel like it every time I watch it. This is the one that I believe was most in need of another pass in editing, to make the “whodunnit” murder mystery plot into the much tighter experience it really deserved to be. Each of the first two movies were directed by Chris Columbus, and still stand as the most faithful adaptations of their source material, for better or for worse. Where that approach succeeds is in its world-building. We are still very early in Harry’s journey, after all, so perhaps a more literal translation from page to screen was justified. It even plays to Columbus’ strengths. There really is an identifiable emotional tone in his movies; a brash, adventurous youth in way over his head in an environment that wants him to suffer. You might say that sums up the Harry Potter story as a whole, but there really is something different at play in these first two movies, something far more sinister. Maybe it’s because this is still the “innocent” era in Harry’s life, which allows the darker surroundings to really stand out. Harry is still too young and inexperienced to have the battle scars he’ll eventually develop over the years. That’s all at play right here in Chamber, and it’s still very effective when watching it today.

The flipside is that slavish faithfulness to the source material can only carry a film adaptation so far. This was still very early in the series when I suppose it seemed smarter to take fewer risks. The few bits from the book that Chamber does leave out are absolutely the safest and most obvious ones. Can you imagine how much more this movie would have dragged if it included the bit about Filch being a Squib? How about Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday party? Yikes. It wouldn’t be until the third movie when the entire production began playing fast and loose with its adherence to the source material, and in many ways the franchise is better for it. Eight films with Chris Columbus at the helm would have been a very different beast.

HP HALLOWS 2

I was genuinely surprised when I laid out all eight movies end-to-end and found out that Deathly Hallows Part 2 had the shortest running time. To its credit, it packs a lot of content into the finale of the franchise, while still allowing it room to breathe between the big moments. My only wish is that those quiet moments had been granted even more room. The plot is in such a hurry to get Harry and company back into Hogwarts for the final showdown that we don’t get to see one of the book’s greatest triumphs: that it is in Deathly Hallows, more so than in any of the previous novels, that Harry grows the most as a character, as a human being. His decision to cast aside the temptation of the Hallows, to continue to trust in Dumbledore despite having his pristine image of the late Hogwarts Headmaster shattered, is the biggest decision of his life up to that point. Harry has always been an impulsive and headstrong person, often to his detriment. Hermione once aptly called it his “saving people” thing. He rightly recognizes his decision not to race Voldemort to the Elder Wand as one of monumental consequence, resolving for the first time not to act on his long-standing compulsion to leap recklessly into danger. It’s a bit of a shame that this crucial moment in Harry’s character arc is entirely absent from Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Is it fair to hold that against the movie? Well, no, not really. All of that growing and changing and resolving of character arcs was already covered in Deathly Hallows Part 1. That one was all setup, putting all of the pieces into position for the big showdown while letting the trio air out their dirty laundry. Part 2 is the follow-through. It’s almost entirely a straight-up action movie with an admirable helping of emotional beats to remind us that this really is the end of an era. It bears that weight with relative ease, with all of the meaningful looks and tearful goodbyes that go with it. “That scene” in the Great Hall still fills me with dread.

As thrilling and emotionally fulfilling as all of that is, I selfishly wanted more. The reference point I keep looking at is Return of the King. Now there was a movie that knew how to give a proper send-off. People always complain that it had “too many endings and blahblahblah”, but that was not just a fitting way to bid farewell to a film franchise as meaningful as The Lord of the Rings: that was an unqualified triumph. It was perfect. Harry Potter absolutely deserved as much. Remember that roll call of the entire cast in the end credits of the last Rings film? Tell me Deathly Hallows Part 2 didn’t need a curtain call like that one. I would have gladly accepted a longer running time if it meant getting a more satisfying and well-rounded conclusion. Instead, we’re given an ending that feels like it’s in too much of a hurry, capped off with a painfully awkward speech from Harry in which he reveals he was able to beat Voldemort thanks to a “finders keepers” technicality. That one still makes me cringe a little.

Major props for leaving out that Fiendfyre nonsense, though.

HP HALLOWS 1

Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a movie I like more and more each time I watch it. It’s slow, measured, patient, brooding, hopeless, lonely, and everything it’s second half would prove not to be. I am confident that its distinctly somber tone was a deliberate creative decision. We aren’t in the familiar territory of Hogwarts, after all, and the theme of isolation resonates strongly throughout the film. Why not let the lead characters learn and grow as human beings while they’re out here in the wild unknown? Why not let them test the limits of their trust in one another and their willingness to make sacrifices for what really matters? Why not take away every last piece of Harry’s innocence, all of the things that have made him unique since he was a child? Broomstick, owl, wand, the image of a wise and benevolent Dumbledore? All gone. This was all fantastic thematic material in the book, and I was very pleased to see it make the transition to film. We even get all of the major action sequences along the way, giving the movie a terrific flow of rising and falling tension.

I recall this particular aspect of the book being panned at the time of its release. “Lol camping trip” was the general sentiment. That’s a pretty dismissive way to look at all the growing pains Harry and his friends go through here. We are intentionally shown only brief glimpses of what’s going on in the rest of the world. We know the Ministry has been taken over by a hateful, fascist regime, and that those of questionable blood purity are being hunted down and executed. The media is an endless stream of propaganda and hate speech, save for a lone pirate radio station giving the people hope. Fugitives who are unable to forge passable credentials flee abroad and must constantly fear for their lives. And through all of this, our focus never strays too far from the core trio as they wander the outskirts of the civilized world, chasing vague half-clues that may or may not help them defeat Voldemort. We see them struggle and fail disastrously at every turn, as promising leads turn up empty and they appear to fall further into despair. We see them cling desperately to the radio as it spouts an endless stream of names to add to the death toll. We see them hiss panicked whispers and exchange mistrustful looks. We hate to see them crumble and we root for them to succeed. It’s powerful and evocative, and it separates Deathly Hallows Part 1 from every other movie in the series. And of course, you really do have to stand up and applaud that “Tale of the Three Brothers” animated sequence. Perfection.

Seriously, ask me again in a few years and this one may climb much, much higher on my list.

ET.0627.Potter5.05

In my particular circle of Potter nerds, Order of the Phoenix was (is?) considered the consensus least favourite book in the series. Its length was exhausting, eclipsing even Goblet and Hallows as the longest entry by far. Its tone was often pessimistic and aggravating, and it introduced the most universally hated character in the series. Harry suddenly seemed to embody every negative character trait you could have expected from a moody teenager, and let it out in frequent impulsive bursts of rage and frustration. It was definitely a raw take on Harry’s increasingly maddening struggles, no doubt, but you couldn’t help but feel just how jarring the effect was. That general unpleasantness, combined with the sheer volume of chapters dedicated to less urgent business like Grawp, Cho Chang, Divination, O.W.L.s, and the increasingly out-of-place Quidditch matches combined to make Phoenix an ordeal to read at the worst of times.

And that is why it came as such a spectacular surprise to me that the film adaptation of Order of the Phoenix is a tightly focused and downright brisk movie. The editing job it must have taken to trim this down and turn it into something not only digestible, but actively exciting and engaging deserves plenty of praise. Only the eighth and final film clocks in at a shorter running time. The frustrating and weary tone of the book is almost entirely absent. In its place we get a refreshing interpretation of what can poignantly be seen as the last of the lighthearted Hogwarts adventures. What truly stands out to me as the movie’s claim to fame is a pair of montages which, make no mistake, prove to be a great way to trim some of the book’s greatest excesses, condensing them into something much more approachable. In the first of these, we see Dolores Umbridge’s rise to power at Hogwarts, restricting students’ freedoms one Ministry decree at a time (and it must be said, hats off to Imelda Staunton for taking a truly loathsome monster and turning her into the sort of villain you love to hate). The second showcases the secret society known as Dumbledore’s Army, in which the students assemble to learn the practical survival skills that Umbridge’s new regime has denied them. It also serves to highlight the brighter and more optimistic side of Harry’s character that the book initially seemed to set aside in favour of mopey angst. Reluctantly or not, Harry is a natural leader who inspires confidence and loyalty in others. I’d also like to make special mention of Evanna Lynch’s performance in taking a character like Luna Lovegood, who could easily have ended up looking like just another manic pixie dream girl up on the screen, and instilling her with a warmth and likability none of Harry’s supporting cast had yet been capable of.

If there’s one area in Phoenix that leaves me wanting, its in regard to Sirius Black. See, he was never my favourite character, but I would certainly call him the most well-developed aside from Harry himself. The previous two books may have given us a strong helping of his backstory (the third book was even named for him!), but it’s right here in Order of the Phoenix that he comes into his own with a complete character arc, and a very strong one at that… which makes it all the more disappointing that we only get fragments of it in the movie. Oh well. That is definitely worth exploring further in its own post one day.

HP PRISONER

Now this is going to be fun. Prisoner of Azkaban is a great movie. Not only does it represent a new standard when it comes to adapting the books (namely, a looser and far less literal approach to the material), but it is also unmistakably the work of its creator. This is very much Alfonso Cuaron’s film, from the Gothic-flavoured re-imagining of Hogwarts to the soaring and sweeping transitional shots. The excellent musical score positively drips with mischief and melancholy. A thick and tangibly ominous mood is draped over the entire production, as evident as the perfectly realized Dementors prowling the grounds of Hogwarts. More impressive still is that Cuaron handles the new interpretation with ease and earnestness, never descending into Tim Burton-esque cynicism. This is a palpably optimistic movie.

It’s also a pretty divisive one, in my experience. This is the movie that drew a line in the sand between the unyielding faithfulness of the first two adaptations and the freeform interpretations that would define every future installment. And God bless it for that. There is so much to unpack in Prisoner (and it would only get more daunting with each future book) that someone had to make the call to start making significant cuts before the films grew so unsustainably burdened with stuff that they collapse under their own weight. Prisoner of Azkaban is the most extreme example of this new philosophy, with the significantly shorter running time that goes with it. This is a movie that knows the difference between being faithful to the source material and being a slave to it. Frankly, I’m glad to see the shift away from following the books almost to the letter. That we got one of the best (many would even say the very best) films in the series as a result is a terrific surprise, and the surest sign that it was the right decision.

HP PHILOSOPHER

And now let me completely go against everything I just said above. I love Philosopher’s Stone. I think too many people look back on it today and give it a mild and half-hearted “well, it gets credit for starting the series” sort of approval. It deserves far more praise than that, and it’s going to be hard for me to get through this without simply gushing about it. I really do think it will come as a surprise to a lot of people that I rank this one so high on my list.

I love the way the movie encourages us to view this new world with the same wide-eyed wonder as Harry himself. Every corner of the Wizarding World is introduced with unabashed enthusiasm, from the cinematography to John Williams’ now iconic score. It all feels like a well-paced ceremony welcoming us into the theme park of our childhood dreams. None of it would have been nearly as effective if we didn’t spend the first act of the film mired in Harry’s mundane life in the cupboard under the stairs, which makes the gradual yet inevitable transition to something greater all the more exciting. This is a film confident in its own strengths, and in spite of everything I said in the previous section about faithfulness to the source material, the fact that this is the first entry in the series is license enough to translate virtually the entire story from page to screen. Being the shortest and easiest to digest book in the series by far certainly helps.

The series’ unmatched cast all began here, and one of Philosopher‘s greatest strengths is in giving each one of them their chance to shine (John Cleese’s Nearly Headless Nick, unfortunately, being the lone exception). MVPs Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman need no introduction of course, but special mention must be made of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid, John Hurt’s Ollivander and, let’s not kid ourselves, Richard Griffiths as Vernon Dursley. I mentioned Richard Harris as Dumbledore earlier, but you really do have to stop and appreciate having someone so solid and warm and grandfatherly to be there for Harry (and by extension, for us) every step of the way in this new and enchanting world. Most importantly of all, this is where the trio who would become our link to this universe for eight movies made their debut, and watching every step of their journey from three unknowns to full-fledged human beings with such a strong chemistry may be the Harry Potter series’ greatest feat of all.

HP PRINCE

I knew very early on while reading Half-Blood Prince that I was discovering my favourite book in the series, and time has not changed that. The carefully measured approach to shining a light on Voldemort’s past in the hopes of discovering his weaknesses, the very welcome exploration into the murky waters of moral ambiguity (as I wrote back in ‘Sluggish’), the significant step back from the dour tone of Order of the Phoenix thanks to a refreshing dose of levity that never clashes with the seriousness of the central plot… All of these elements combined left me eager to see the inevitable on-screen adaptation.

I don’t know if I should have been surprised by this or not, but Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is beyond all doubt my favourite film in the franchise.

With the possible exception of Prisoner of Azkaban, this is the smartest Potter movie. Despite clocking in as one of the longer entries, it never wastes a moment on filler moments (and yes, I am including the chase at the Burrow partway through). Every scene carries a distinct tone meant to mesh into something cohesive and deliberately paced. This is a movie tinged with mystery and intrigue that knows when to show rather than tell. See, one of the greater difficulties in adapting Prince was always going to be the glimpses into Voldemort’s former life as Tom Riddle. Each of these chapters was bookended by a long-winded story from Dumbledore that came across as a lecture and served as little more than unapologetic exposition. Intriguing and fascinating exposition from a reader’s point of view, certainly, but problematic to sit through in a movie. Prince avoids this pitfall by streamlining the finer details of Tom Riddle’s story (even if, sadly, it means leaving out many of these flashback scenes) and simply trusting that the audience is smart enough to follow along. The purpose of these exchanges between Harry and Dumbledore remains the same, leaving the movie free to distinguish itself in other areas.

Those distinguishing characteristics prove to be many of the most fun sequences in the series. All of the memorable beats from the book make the transition with admirable ease: Harry’s discovery of the Prince’s Potions book, Ron’s Quidditch trials, Lavender Brown, the Slug Club, the cursed necklace, the love potion, Sectumsempra, Felix Felicis to name, er, most of them. ‘The Cave’ deserves special mention as it takes one of my very favourite chapters in the franchise and perfectly showcases its sense of silent and creeping dread, its mounting horror as Harry and Dumbledore venture into the abyss.

So we know how admirably the movie is able to adapt the key moments from the book, but if that was all there were to recommend about it, would it really have ranked at the very top of my list? What is it about this film that stands out to me and makes me increasingly confident to call it my favourite every time I watch it? The answer is that it’s not solely in what the movie says, but in how it says it. Simply put, the atmosphere in this movie is tangibly haunting. That distinct tone I mentioned above is equal parts ethereal and human. We are treated to the now-standard sweeping and majestic shots of the castle, set to angles best suited to be flattering, impressive, foreboding and, at times, inviting. The whole film is painted in a distinct palette of earthy colours and textures, most notably a muted green and brown. None of it feels forced or overpowering (or quite as on-the-nose as in, say, The Matrix). Lastly, I can’t say this for certain without having checked it myself, but this movie really does feel like it has very little dialogue. Nowhere is this more evident than in Draco Malfoy’s scenes laden with visual symbolism, his silent and secretive visits to the Room of Requirement. It lends the whole enterprise a personal and art-film vibe. One of my favourite flourishes is a terrific shot of Snape in the eleventh hour, as he stands silhouetted and framed in a window. That heavy blanket of intrigue is palpable and resonates throughout the film, and goes a long way towards separating Half-Blood Prince from the rest of the series. That is why it’s my favourite of them all.

~ ~ ~

And there you have it! Thank you for sticking around long enough to read way, way too much about Harry Potter. I really am proud of this undertaking as I look back on it now and, who knows, it’s possible that the order in which I rank the films will change at some point in the future when I watch them for the millionth time. I’ll make a point not to write quite as much about it, though. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? I’d love to know.

“Mischief managed.”

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The Absurd Tale of Riz’s 2013-2014 Fantasy Hockey Season

Posted by finedaysunday on June 15, 2014

Pavelski

After a much-too-long absence, I was thrilled to return to writing last week here at FineDaySunday. It sort of sucks that it took such a heavy and serious topic to urge me to continue writing when I already find it so rewarding on its own, but the subject was not something I was content to let pass by without input. No matter the circumstances, I feel that old itch again. With that in mind, let’s lighten things up a bit this week with something that hasn’t been relevant in months: fantasy hockey!

This was my fourth year participating in a fantasy hockey league, and it’s always an emotional roller coaster. Close contests, humiliating blowouts, thrilling last-minute victories, utter heartbreak and, needless to say, endless chirping and bragging. All of that over a span of seven months. It all begins with the draft, and I know I’m not alone in saying that it’s the most exciting part of fantasy hockey. Every shrewd decision and daunting risk can (and probably will) define the course of your team’s season, and you are virtually guaranteed to look back on the draft with some combination of satisfaction and “what the hell was I thinking?” My results were a fairly even mix of the two extremes.

Entering the draft as one of ten participants, I had one basic strategy: defense. The way I saw it, there are so many star forwards and elite goaltenders in the NHL that everyone is going to end up drafting their share of them, even taking into account any possible “down” years or unfortunate injuries (it’s always the injuries that do you in…). However, there always seems to be a much smaller pool of reliable, point-producing defensemen available that it always seems best to grab them while they’re out there. The setup varies from one fantasy league to the next, but the foundation remains the same: points are what matters. Some of the best defensemen in the league might be indispensible assets to their team here in the real world, but if they aren’t contributing on the offensive side of the equation, it’s often worth spending those picks elsewhere. That’s what makes building a dependable lineup of defensemen so critical, and more than anything I was proud to have drafted, by a mile, the best stable of blueliners in my fantasy league:

Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brent Seabrook, James Wisniewski, and Ryan McDonagh. Torey Krug joined the ranks a few short weeks later via the free agent pool. All of them finished in the top 30 in scoring among defensemen in the league.

They came through huge for me this year, and without my draft approach I would very likely have finished at the bottom of the standings instead of, err, sixth place but hey let’s not fret over details.

So! I thought I’d take this extremely late opportunity to give props to a few of the names on my team.

Team MVP (Most Valuable Player) – Joe Pavelski: The man they call Little Joe finished with 79 points, good for 8th in the league in scoring (tied with Alex Ovechkin), and easily the best season of his career. He didn`t miss a single game, was consistent start to finish, and contributed significantly in secondary categories like plus-minus, penalty minutes, and powerplay points. He always seemed to be on the ice when it mattered most, and all over the scoresheet as a direct result. Need I say more? The guy was always my favourite Shark, and has always been an incredibly reliable source of offense, but he took it to another level this season. Bravo. Runner-up: Evgeni Malkin, Duncan Keith

Team LVP (Least Valuable Player) – Mike Richards / Milan Michalek / James Reimer: This was a very tough three-way split, because I hate to pile on any one of them, but there’s no escaping the fact that I didn’t get what I was (probably foolishly) hoping to get out of them. I have always been a fan of Richards, especially during his days in Philadelphia, and I guess I never fully internalized that he was always going to be more of a spare part after he was traded to a team as deep and ridiculously stacked as the LA Kings. They didn’t need to rely on him nearly as heavily as the Flyers had, and he spent so much time on the fourth line that I probably should have just faced facts and parted ways with him.

Michalek is tougher to defend because the Ottawa Senators as a whole were hot garbage this year. Their team defense was a mess, giving up more goals per game than all but three teams. The absolute nadir of their season had to be blowing a late three-goal lead to the Montreal Canadiens that all but ended their playoff hopes. Plus-minus might not be the most dependable stat for gauging a player’s worth, but Michalek’s -25 on the season was damn near the bottom of the league, never a good sign. He looked nothing like the player who put up 60 points two seasons ago, and in hindsight he may not have been fully recovered after missing so much time last year due to injury.

And then there’s Reimer. Look, I like the guy. I think he’s a good goalie. I love the way he celebrates wins. Every interview he’s ever given makes him seem like the nicest person in the universe. That cannot be easy to do when you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender and everyone in the city will run you down for not bringing them the Stanley Cup. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, let alone someone as likable as Reimer. That being said, drafting him was always going to be a gamble, as the Leafs had traded for Jonathan Bernier that off-season and the two were expected to compete for the starting job. Reimer was never able to gain any traction as Bernier ultimately won out, and what little action Reimer did see became a circus late in the season. It was brutal to watch. The Leafs’ epic tumble out of playoff contention was a team effort, but this is hockey, where the goalie is going to get the blame, fair or otherwise. Dropping him from my team and freeing up that roster spot for, well, just about anyone else was the smart play. Sorry, James. I hope you go to a city that appreciates you next year.

Biggest Steal – Ryan McDonagh: My sixth defenseman. The guy I drafted all the way in the 16th round. He embodied everything about my draft strategy. I may have gotten lucky to be able to draft so many superstar defensemen early, but I was not expecting McDonagh to still be available as late as he was. He was always supremely talented, certainly, but this was his big breakout season. 43 points in 77 games, by far the biggest offensive contribution from the New York Rangers’ blue line. An absolute stud of a first-pairing defenseman right in the prime of his career, with impressive stats across the board. Outstanding. Runner-up: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, T.J. Oshie

Most Mildly Disappointing Bust That Ultimately Didn’t Mean That Much – Filip Forsberg: One of my very last picks, Forsberg was by far the most highly touted prospect in the Washington Capitals’ system, until they decided to trade him to the Nashville Predators for a bag of pucks in some absurd attempt to load up for a long playoff run. He was expected to make his debut for the Preds this season, and I took a chance on him in the hopes of making him my sneaky dark horse pick. Alas, these are the Nashville Predators, not exactly a goal-scoring dynamo of an organization. 13 games, five points, and a nagging minor injury later, I quietly dropped Forsberg and hoped no one would notice.

Most Crucial Mid-Season Trade That Sort of Helped For a While There But Who Am I Kidding I Got Fleeced – Taylor Hall for Marian Gaborik and Ben Scrivens: I was in a curious spot in mid-November: dominating the weaker of the two divisions in my league by a significant margin, but I had just lost Jonathan Quick to an injury and he wasn’t going to be back for several weeks or more. One of the major players in the opposite division offered me Scrivens, Quick’s red-hot backup, and a then-injured Gaborik. In exchange: Taylor Hall. I had just placed Hall on the trading block, thanks to his God-awful month-and-a-half to start the season. I had drafted Hall in the second round with all of the expectations that come with such a high pick, and yet he and the eternally struggling Edmonton Oilers were inexplicably getting worse.

So I accepted the offer. Scrivens tore up the goaltender battles for an incredible stretch of time, increasing my hold on the division title. I really needed it too, because as I said before, Reimer was getting fewer and fewer opportunities to start games for Toronto. My only other option was Mike Smith and, though he fared well for a while, I would not have done much winning had I relied on him alone. Plus I had Gaborik waiting in the wings for a couple more weeks. Things were looking up.

Then stuff happened. The Kings began giving Martin Jones some starts in net, and he decided to just stop allowing pucks into the LA net ever again. Scrivens never got another honest shot at the job and was eventually traded to the Oilers when Quick came back. That’s right, I took on Jonathan Quick’s backup to shore up my goaltending needs, only to have that backfire thanks to Quick’s backup’s backup. Because hockey. And then Gaborik returned for the Columbus Blue Jackets… and broke his collarbone on his very first shift. Because hockey. Then after a long time on injured reserve, he was dealt to the Kings at the trade deadline and would go on to score thousands of goals in the playoffs. Because hockey. Then Hall bounced back (even if no one else in Edmonton really did), and would finish the season sixth in league scoring with 80 points. Because hockey. I would eventually just barely let the division title slip away in the final weeks and flame out in the playoffs, all because I sacrificed long-term success for a shot at going for it all this season. Welp. That’s the way it goes sometimes. But feel free to laugh at my foolishness all the same.

So that’s more or less the story of my fantasy hockey season. We started a keeper league this year, meaning we are permitted to keep (I believe) five players from our roster while the rest get tossed back into the draft pool for next season. I finished sixth overall, meaning I should get the fifth overall selection. I like my odds! Thank you for reading my meandering hockey thoughts.

“I aim to misbehave.”

Reimer

Posted in Hockey | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Men’s Rights Activists: The hate group society allows

Posted by finedaysunday on June 8, 2014

“Won’t someone please think of the white man?”

That doesn’t sound like an actual question that a well-adjusted person living in the 21st century would ask, is it? Even though the world we live in is far from perfect, we can all generally agree that white guys have got it pretty good, right?

Sadly, not all of us can agree on that, as it turns out. There exists a well-organized group of men (and I hesitate to call them that when “boys” would be closer to the truth) so deluded that they have actually convinced themselves that men in our society have been given the short end of the stick in the grand scheme of things. Men’s Rights Activists, or MRAs, as they call themselves, are defined by their fear and dislike of women. They blame women for anything and everything from their crippling personality flaws to their sexual inadequacies, and seek to “take the power back”, as if all the power in the world was ever anywhere but in the hands of men. That question up there that I opened with? That is more or less their mantra. The expanded version reads as follows:

“Won’t someone, please, feel genuine stirring sympathy for the plight of the poor, put-upon white cis-gendered first world man? But not the gay ones.”

Every last one of these people is utterly and staggeringly full of shit.

Quick clarification: Yes, obviously I’m aware that there are identifiable facets of society which are problematic for men. Custody battles come to mind. A more broad and troubling one is the insidious and poisonous macho culture so deeply drilled into our consciousness. “Suck it up!” “Be a man!” “Don’t be a pussy!” “Man up!” “Stop your crying or I’ll come in there and give you something to cry about!” It’s a culture that demands that boys bottle everything up and never show any emotion until they lash out violently against others or themselves. That is a genuine problem affecting men and one that needs to be addressed.

None of that is of any interest to self-proclaimed MRAs. Their list of concerns begins and ends with “Why won’t this bitch sleep with me?” That is why they deserve exactly none of your sympathy.

Idiot

Snapshot_20140609

* * *

A week after Elliot Rodger went on a murderous rampage in Isla Vista, California, taking the lives of six people before finally killing himself, the world is still reeling in the wake of this tragedy. Among the debates about gun control and mental illness (neither of which are the primary focus of this piece but are irrevocably linked to it) is the subject of the killer’s motive. Rodger had been active on social media, posting several videos in which he talks almost exclusively about his sexual frustration and loneliness, claiming that, at the age of 22, he had still never so much as kissed a girl. Before he carried out these murders, he released a typed manifesto to the public, in which he detailed virtually his entire life, with the bulk of it emphasizing his anger and hatred toward women. He describes his adamant belief that he, the “superior gentleman”, had been denied sex all his life, and that women, whose attention and devotion he felt he was entitled to, were to blame for his feelings of rejection. He was furious that “obnoxious brutes” were the ones enjoying the company of women instead of him. He was lonely and isolated. He was filled with violence and hate. He wrote over 100,000 words, every bit of it teeming with misogynistic rage and resentment. For the record, no, I did not read the entire thing. I spent approximately half an hour reading through several chunks of it until I couldn’t stomach any more. I also watched two of his videos, one of which he posted the night before his attacks, in which he explains in great detail exactly what he planned to do the next day.

The revelation of the warped views that drove Rodger to murder sparked a worldwide discussion on the global, cultural, and (most terrifyingly) normalised sexism and misogyny inherent to our society. While some warned of the danger in oversimplifying his motive, to the degree that “you’re taking a tragedy and turning it into a sexism debate” became an actual thing that people said, there is absolutely no getting around the fact that Elliot Rodger hated women to a murderous extent. Over and over he stated, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to take his revenge on all women for rejecting him all his life and giving their attentions to other men instead of him. That is your link. That is the reason we are having this discussion. No one is turning (or, God help me, “derailing”) this into a debate about sexism. It is irrefutably about sexism and violence against women all on its own. Period. Moving on.

Quick aside: Regarding those voices in the above paragraph who want to shout down your desire to discuss issues like this through a certain lens, be on the lookout for their use of the word “agenda.” Any time you speak with conviction on any given topic instead of remaining (barf) neutral, some unimpressive nobody will eventually surface to accuse you of “pushing your agenda.” It’s an ineffective and needless word used like a sledgehammer by people without the courage to take a stand and speak in a meaningful way.

In the aftermath of this senseless horror, it came to light that Rodger was an active member of an online community of Men’s Rights Activists. Its members described themselves as “incel”, shorthand for “involuntarily celibate” which is exactly what it sounds like. It serves as an example of the extremes to which MRAs will go to blame women for their troubles without ever bothering to try to understand that maybe they’re not the victims they claim to be. That maybe the reason they feel so frustrated and rejected isn’t because “all women are bitches.” That maybe their problems are theirs alone. Anything to avoid having to claim even a modicum of responsibility for your failures and shortcomings, right guys?

None of this is to say that MRAs are directly to blame for Rodger’s actions. They were, however, his most prominent social circle (and, if his manifesto is to be believed, probably his only one). Here he found a widespread and welcoming community of like-minded people with a similarly limited view of the world. He probably felt relieved, overjoyed even, to find that other poor souls suffered from the same “affliction” that he did, the same so-called involuntary celibacy. He ate up what they were feeding him and internalised it, reinforcing the beliefs he had already held for years, and later repeated their hateful rhetoric in his videos and his writing.

Those beliefs, incidentally, are all too common. Sure, we’ve all felt lonely or rejected or longing for companionship and intimacy at some point in our lives. It’s a crappy and relatable feeling. But what I’m referring to specifically is the widely held belief that sex is something that a woman gives and a man takes, and that she had better give it willingly because he is entitled to take it. It’s an ugly aspect of our culture, and nowhere is it expressed more clearly or resolutely than in the vile hate speech of the Men’s Rights Movement. These aren’t just the mad keyboard-mashing antics of mindless troglodytes. These people are lucid, focused, organized, and 100% committed to their fabricated cause. That’s what makes them so completely disgusting. This is not just a couple of forum trolls or “boys being boys”, and continuing to casually dismiss them as such is tantamount to endorsing their hateful views and actions. Ignoring a problem and hoping it goes away only makes it worse. So it’s time to start acknowledging them as such.

“But not all men are like that!”

I was just going to address that. See, whenever a woman is harassed or abused at the hands of a man, upon sharing her experience with others, one of the listeners is often suspiciously quick to jump in to say “not all men behave that way”, or something to that effect. Seriously, listen for it the next time you’re in a group setting. “Not all men” is such an automatic response to everyday instances of sexism, largely put forth by men, that what often gets overlooked is that is an entirely meaningless statement. Rather than being willing to listen to a woman’s very valid concerns, a man will pull out the “not all men” reply as a way of distancing himself (as well as the other men in his social circle) from the situation, a defensive response meant to tell the woman not to paint all men with the same brush. And just like that, through some self-professed verbal jiu-jitsu, he gets to assure himself “got nothing to do with me” and absolve himself of involvement instead of making any attempt to be helpful or empathetic.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying that everyone who goes straight for the “not all men” response is automatically a misogynist (to put it more confusingly, not all men use “not all men” that way… you follow me?). The sentiment behind it is well-intended. It’s just that “not all men” is such a redundant and unhelpful thing to say to someone, you know? It’s so… empty. It’s what you say when you have nothing to contribute. Of course all men don’t harass women. We know that already. It’s so obvious that no one need ever point it out, especially not in some grand “case closed, let’s stop talking about this now please” attempt at finality.

So, how is this all connected? What specifically do we need to take away from Elliot Rodger’s hate-fueled murder spree and how does it relate to the casual misogyny and normalised violence directed at women going forward?

How about the fact that even now, people are blaming women for what he did?

Fuckwits

How about the fact that people are holding him up as a hero?

Loser

How about the fact that these people are not a few scattered outliers, but in fact represent a large and well-organized hivemind of hate?

Would that strike you as acceptable? Is that something that you just shrug your shoulders at and go “oh well what can you do?” Is that still just a couple of harmless guys having fun on the internet?

These are real human beings. They are not anonymous cyphers oozing out of some Reddit sub-forum. These are the people who hold these beliefs, who always have and always will endorse and encourage violence and intimidation of women for as long as we allow them to do so. And there are far, far too many of them. We can sit here and split hairs all day long about which ones are Men’s Rights Activists and which are Pickup Artists and which are involuntarily celibate and none of it would matter. Misogynists are misogynists. They all share the same DNA: a deep-seated fear, mistrust, and dislike of women, and adherence to a set of principles that dehumanises women, viewing women as obstacles standing between them and sex. Obstacles they want to remove. They are open and boastful about all of this, and we as a society continue to allow them to exist because we ignore them. Because we say “why are we even talking about this?” Because we shake our heads and go “man, what a bunch of losers but oh well what are we gonna do about ’em” and forget about it after a day or two.

Elliot Rodger was narcissistic, spoiled, hateful, entitled, misguided, diseased, violent, malicious, antisocial, and misogynistic. He refused any and all attempts to help him. He was a racist piece of shit. Despite being brought up in such a privileged lifestyle most people can only dream of, despite having every advantage you could ask for, he was consumed by his deluded belief that he deserved more and that he was being denied what he saw as rightfully his. His attitudes toward women were horrible, and yet they are undeniably common, especially in young men and boys who don’t know any better. Would he have eventually grown out of it? We’ll obviously never know. A lot of people are immature as teenagers or young adults, and after they grow up they often look back on their old beliefs and feel more than a little embarrassed, maybe even ashamed. Too many of them don’t, sadly. Too many of them never move past that underdeveloped stage in their lives and go right on through their adult lives hating women and feminism and everything else they want to blame for their own sexual failings. Too many of them willingly and enthusiastically associate themselves with a campaign of terror and hate, with a failed human being who wrote about his desire to put women into concentration camps. Too many of them find the Men’s Rights Activists.

What can we do about it? We can shame people in our own daily lives when we see and hear it happening. We can speak up and call it out instead of being too timid to make a scene. We can listen to the stories women tell us instead of interrupting to accuse her of generalising. We can raise our children to treat women with respect and to understand that nothing worth having in life comes easy, and that the world does not owe them any favours. We can broaden our childrens’ views by showing them how blessed they are to have so many opportunities available to them, and that too many others are never given a chance. We can teach them to treat women with the same courtesy they would show anyone else, and that when you are a kind and compassionate person, you’ll find that good people will want to be around you and share their lives with you. There can’t be any greater feeling than that.

As for you, MRAs:

Haha 2

That is you. That is you at your mildest. You need to stop doing what you’re doing and gain some perspective on life. You need to adapt to the 21st century. You think you feel lonely and isolated now? Just imagine how you’ll feel when those of us in the modern world leave you even further behind than you already are. You fancy yourselves bookish and “enlightened”, yet you honestly think feminism and progressivism and inclusivity are all part of some global conspiracy to eradicate men from the face of the Earth. That really doesn’t say much for your ability to have a rational discussion with me or anyone else. That is why you deserve every bit of scorn and mockery that comes your way. It’s not just because of your fedoras and your unshaven necks (as fun as it is to point them out). I am sick and effing tired of you cowards claiming to be the “true” pinnacle of masculinity, only to shrink away and act like victims when faced with so much as a hint of criticism. It takes away what little legitimacy your non-existent crusade actually has when you don’t even have the courage of your own convictions. I’m both a realist and an optimist, and the fact is there will come a time when it will be appropriate to give you boys a dismissive, half-hearted shrug, and that will be when we look back on stories of you and think, “Man, these guys that used to think they stood for men’s rights… they really used to be a thing, didn’t they?”

Do you want to know the real reason I know we will eventually leave you behind? The real reason I know you will eventually be cast aside like the victims you love to think you are? Because there are these concepts called equality and fairness. To us, that means treating other human beings with respect and decency, regardless of gender, race, or orientation. To you, it means “but what’s Chris Brown’s side of the story?”

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Skyler White is not a bitch.

Posted by finedaysunday on September 29, 2013

Skyler 1

Preface: I wrote this with only one episode left of Breaking Bad before the show leaves us forever this Sunday night. So unless you’re caught up on, you know, everything, I’d recommend you skip over this entry and come back after you’re all caught up. I’m serious. I’d hate to think I spoiled any part of this show for anyone.

I suppose you could consider this a companion piece to my thoughts on Walter White a few months ago, but I’d like to use it more as a vehicle to talk about something bigger than Breaking Bad. Spend any amount of time at all discussing this show, particularly online, and you are going to encounter an alarmingly disproportionate amount of disdain for Skyler White, Walt’s conflicted and emotionally troubled wife. Sadly, this was always going to happen. In a drama series centered around a morally gray anti-hero protagonist, the wife is usually the one who faces so much bile from the more misogynistic members of its fanbase. “She’s trying to spoil his fun! What a bitch!”

Yeah, it’s going to be one of those entries this week.

I think you can trace this sort of thing back to The Sopranos, and it lives on today in series like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. When a story like this tries to tackle very real family-centric dilemmas without diluting its characters to easily digestible “good guys versus bad guys”, the protagonist still has certain traits that flatter the sensibilities of certain male members of its audience. Walt is a calculating genius who thrives on playing the puppet master, Don Draper looks so damn cool drinking and smoking in his office while wearing a suit, and so on. Conversely, the wife is often perceived by that same slice of the audience as the nag who’s always trying to bring them down. It’s unsettling.

Let’s talk about Skyler’s character specifically for a moment. Her introduction into any sort of criminal conduct does not come from Walt, but from her affable boss Ted. When she discovers that he’s been committing tax fraud and calls him on it, he goes into an impassioned plea about how desperate he is to save the business he inherited from his father, as well as the jobs of dozens of employees going through the same economic hardships as the rest of the population. He begs her not to turn him in, and just like that Skyler is introduced to the idea that sometimes well-meaning people do bad things for noble reasons. She not only reluctantly agrees to spare Ted but, and this is the important part, volunteers her own accounting expertise to help him better cover his tracks. And just like that, she’s reached another level of complicity.

Skyler 2

Before long, however, Skyler gets wise to what her husband has really been up to, although on reflection it’s a wonder she didn’t discover his secret life as a meth cook sooner. As I discussed in my previous piece, Walt likes to see himself as this master manipulator, this suave and gentlemanly sort of criminal who puts on a public persona that’s impossible to see through. It’s exactly why he admires Gus so much upon first meeting him, and he tries to adopt such a strategy for himself. But Walt is no Gustavo Fring. He’s just finding his feet in this business, and can no better deceive his wife than he can anyone else. Skyler is always the first to suspect Walt is full of crap, because she knows him best. It’s as much a testament to Walt’s shortcomings as it is to Skyler’s perceptiveness.

Here’s where things get interesting, and we see just how loyal and cunning Skyler White can really be. She agrees not to hand her husband over to the authorities and, despite Walt’s insistence that she not get involved, eventually volunteers to launder his money to preserve his secret. It’s exactly what she did for Ted, but on a much bigger and more dangerous scale. Her motivation is simple: Their son must never find out the truth, lest their family be torn apart. It’s a solid foundation from our perspective as the audience, because Walter Jr is the only innocent character in this universe, and I’ve always considered him the easiest to root for. Keeping their son in the dark is of the utmost importance to Skyler, her one and only attainable goal to strive for during this ordeal Walt has put her through, this awful lie in which she is willingly complicit.

As the stakes get higher, one of the most surprising and entertaining developments turns out to be that Skyler may very well be a more skilled criminal than Walt. She possesses meticulous attention to detail, she’s better at coming up with a cover story and sticking to it, and she’s better at putting on an act without setting off warning sirens to everyone around her. She may not have a very strong poker face at the show’s outset, but when her son’s innocence is on the line, we see the vast depths of her dedication and resourcefulness. It’s an admirable thing to see in a parent.

One of the key distinctions that separates Skyler from Walt, however, is that she ultimately gets cold feet. She is faced with an unwinnable situation: overcome with guilt and yet unable to back out. She is afraid of the same power that Walt craves. She is helpless to wash her hands clean of the entire mess, and yet is forced to continue holding back the dam as its foundations mercilessly crumble. She is horrified and disgusted by her actions, the most alarming of which is the realization that Ted is so intimidated by her that she can’t resist reinforcing his fear because it’s convenient. She is mortified at her own willingness to wield that sort of power, and is possibly even afraid that she might enjoy it too. Her conscience began setting off alarms much earlier than Walt’s ever did, culminating in a venomous verbal shouting match over the fate of their family that ultimately tears the once-happy couple in two. The man has been so manipulative and emotionally abusive for so long that it’s a wonder she hasn’t punched him in the throat.

Skyler 3

And so, that’s Skyler White, put into a hopeless situation from the moment her husband decided to break bad. To hear it from a certain portion of the audience, however, all of that apparently reduces her to the needless and thoughtless title of “bitch”. Skyler is no angel, but there’s a very visible line between “she’s just as guilty and manipulative as her husband” and “she needs to be grateful and learn her place.” It’s not okay that anyone should have to have that spelled out for them, and yet one of this show’s hottest talking points revolves around the disproportionate loathing heaped upon this one character by inarticulate troglodytes. As a huge fan of this show, this sort of vile, misogynistic sniping is far too common among certain types of fans that I often go out of my way to disassociate myself from.

But of course, any time a man speaks out against sexism, you can guess what happens next. A certain breed of stupid begins to seep out from between the cracks of the internet to accuse him of “white knighting” or “just trying to get in good with women.” You can set your watch by it. I’ve come to refer to this fine collection of folks as the Gallery of the Terminally Unimpressive. Their banally predictable accusations are heinous and sleazy on two levels. First is the implication that the only reason a straight man would have a problem with sexism is because he has some ulterior motive, thereby painting the accused rather than the accuser as the sneaky one. Second is the fact that it stifles all potential discussion we could be having on the subject instead. This is not at all limited to Breaking Bad or drama series like it, but it does happen to be the most relevant example of the moment, and it’s been bothering me for so long that I couldn’t let it slide without saying something.

Leave it to me to wait until the eve of the final episode to talk about it.

“Are you invulnerable while break dancing?”
“I’m dead while break dancing.”

Posted in TV | 2 Comments »

Dating Sites: What NOT to Do

Posted by finedaysunday on September 8, 2013

One of the more recent eye-openers I’ve come across on the internet is OK Weirdo, a collection of awful and cringe-inducing screen grabs from major dating sites containing messages (mostly sent from men to women) that range from racist, sexist, and misogynistic to bitter, hateful, pathetic and everything in between. Some of them are downright hilarious. Your basic worst instincts of humanity filtered through through the comforts of internet anonymity, when you get right down to it.

One such example stood out to me among the muck. This person, having finally become fed up with the lack of attention he was getting from the female population of the online dating world, decided to rewrite his own dating profile, repurposing it as a stream-of-consciousness rant targeted at women, framing himself as a victim of circumstance while casting women as the villains. It’s the foremost example I could find on OK Weirdo of hypocrisy, ignorance, and an outright refusal to see one’s self as being so completely in the wrong. I’ve read it several times, and somehow there’s always something new about it that manages to surprise me.

Haha

Aaaand please excuse me while I take a shower just to get that off me.

Yikes. Seriously, this is a real thing that someone wrote. Truly this is a champion of the common man, an exemplar for down-on-his-luck dudes the world over. No, wait. It’s actually a comprehensive case study of how NOT to approach the online dating world, or even social interactions in general. This is someone with a skewed and very unhealthy view of the world around him, and none of the things he says in his hate-filled screed should be a revelation to level-headed people as examples of “what not to do”. Then again, I found this on a virtual goldmine of a site dedicated to collecting stuff just like it, so it seems like these sort of warped views of how men and women interact are more common than you’d hope. With that in mind, I’m going to break down this mess quote-by-quote and, with any luck, dissuade a few people from following his example.

Disclaimer: A lot of what I have to say comes from the perspective of a straight male, so while not all of this advice will be applicable or even useful to women or non-heterosexual individuals, I hope we can all appreciate the overall sentiment of “Don’t be an asshole.”

What does it take to get a girl these days?
See “Don’t be an asshole” above. That’s a rock solid foundation right there.

I send out hundreds of emails per day and no girl ever responds.
Hundreds, eh? My suggestion would be to take a step back, and maybe invest a little more time elsewhere. Concentrate on your job, studies, hobbies, friends, family, whatever. That stuff is good for you. Angry rants like this are not.

And if yall do it is only to say (etc, etc…) and lame bullsh*t excuses like that. Those sound like pretty cordial responses from those women, in my opinion. Most women (and you would know, what with your rate of several hundred messages sent per day) will just simply not respond at all if they’re not interested. Taking the time to reply just strikes me as politeness on their part. Lame bullshit excuses, you say? You are not owed anything by these women, guy. No one is under any sort of obligation to respond in a way you approve of, or even respond at all for that matter. It doesn’t sound like you handle rejection very well at all. Not a good sign.

Are girls like you truly all that calculating, deceptive, shallow, and superficial? Redundancy aside, this is where that misogyny starts to creep in. By framing women in a negative light, he sets himself up as the wronged party. Also? Maybe take a moment to consider that the women not responding to you just plain don’t check the site as frequently as you do. It’s almost like they have other things going on in their lives.

Even a borderline barely good-looking girl like yourself won’t message me back at all!
Here’s where I start to get angry, once I get past the sad trombone sound playing in my head. You wrote this gem immediately after the “shallow and superficial” bit above. As a great man once said, do you actually listen to yourself when you speak, or do you find you drift in and out? I have no further comment here, other than to add that you just flat out get women, don’t you?

What the heck is wrong with this world? I’d say your views on women certainly qualify as one possible answer.

Getting a dream job during the Great Depression in 1930’s would have been more easier than finding some quality p*ssy these days. Well gee, now I can’t even come up with any reason why women won’t talk to you. Setting aside the fact that there are sites out there for sex personals if that’s what you’re looking for, it doesn’t really sound like you’re looking for a woman you’re compatible with. It sounds like you’re looking for validation of your current crummy lot in life instead of trying to grow as a person. Bit of a reach on my part? Maybe, but after reading this far, I’m not exactly inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt here.

The last time I checked, the male to female ratio is 50/50… is it not? It shouldn’t be this hard to get a girl at all.
That’s the approximate ratio, sure. What’s your point?

I send out hundreds of messages and get zero responses. Okay, I know I suggested above that you maybe take a break from dating sites and try doing other things instead, but now something about “hundreds of messages per day” combined with your “50/50” bit is starting to make sense here. You’re trying to “play the odds”, right? You’re thinking if you throw enough shit at the wall, some of it has to stick, right? So, how about this, and pay attention Socrates, because this part matters: Instead of goddamn carpet-bombing hundreds of womens’ profiles in one fell swoop with some generic “Hey, how’s it going?” in the hopes that even one of them will yield a reply, try actually reading a few of their profiles first and see if you have anything in common. Do you share similar interests? Background? Education? Career? Hobbies? Music? Are you even on a dating site for similar reasons in the first place? Do them the courtesy of showing them that you actually read what they have to say. If they respond, cool. If not, you’ve lost nothing. So quit feeling so hard done by, stop with the vague and uninteresting “Sup?” messages, stop doing Google searches for copy-and-paste “ice breakers” like one of those low-rent pickup artist types, and try to actually show interest in a fellow human being.

Then these same girls who don’t respond are the ones complaining about receiving 300 emails in their inbox a day and can’t find the time to reply to any of them. Truth is, women get awful messages from guys on dating sites on such a regular basis (leading to places like OK Weirdo being created just to compile them all) that they probably aren’t inclined to give Random Guy #301 the benefit of the doubt. Instead, it’s probably less of a hassle. Either way, it’s completely their decision whether they respond or not. You are not owed shit.

Why the phu*k are girls so selective, choosy and picky? Redundancy aside yet again, that seems like a vastly preferable approach to sending out hundreds of messages per day with the “any girl will do as long as she doesn’t fall below borderline barely good-looking according to some idiotic and arbitrary designation of my own” mentality you seem to have. Can’t you hear how desperate you sound? We have the right to be as selective as we want to be. Have some self-respect.

The gender ratio is the same, therefore logic dictates that if I create a profile then I should be entitled to receive hundreds of emails in my inbox from hundreds of different girls per day.
Oh man. Logic? Entitled? I can barely process this madness. To you, sir, I present my most bemused head shake followed by a facepalm for the ages.

Are all girls passively sitting back waiting for a magical prince charming, yadda, yadda, yadda. I don’t know. They’re probably looking for a guy with whom they share mutual interests, while you’re busy angrily making excuses for why you’re not finding success. This is much bigger than dating sites at this point. This, to me, points to signs of low self-esteem on your part. All kidding aside, I’d suggest taking a break from trying to meet women and focus on yourself. When you’re a little happier and more confident with your own life (note: different topic for a different day), you’ll notice that other people tend to find you more interesting.

And there it is. There’s plenty of advice out there for how to find success in the dating world, but (and I’m speaking to everyone in general here) you cannot be ready to hear all of those things until you first internalize what NOT to do, and sites like OK Weirdo are full of examples of the sort of horrible stuff that we’ve got to cut out. Once you’ve taken that first step, you’ll be much better off for what comes next. Let’s all try to be better. Sound good?

“Just because you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.”

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Brand New Month – Part 4 of 4: Daisy

Posted by finedaysunday on August 25, 2013

For Jesse Lacey, Daisy represents a fulfillment of the journey that led Brand New through the troubled landscapes of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. It’s fitting that Daisy most closely resembles that album from a thematic perspective. It approaches similar material, ranging from spiritual crisis and disillusionment to desperate and impotent fury at crumbling relationships. The difference may be that in searching for the answers, Daisy brings with it a sense of finality to the struggles that the band’s previous work was only just beginning to set up. Maybe the answers aren’t as easy or as rosy as we’d like. Maybe Daisy represents Brand New coming back down to Earth.

Brand New 4

The juxtaposition at play with Daisy may very well be that its relatable, human subject matter doesn’t always gel with its occasionally alienating and distant sound. This is a raw mix of instability, with tracks like “Vices” and “Gasoline” that seem more suited to violent moshing than quiet introspection. Remember the contrasting uses of sound levels in the last album? Here, the extremes tend to be pushed a few degrees further. The distortion is heavier. Lacey’s yelps of despair lend many tracks a less structured and rhythmic vibe.

I can very clearly remember my first impression of Daisy being “loud and sloppy”, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that until several more listens. This album was just as difficult to digest as T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. Just when I thought I knew what to expect from these guys.

It’s not all pure chaos, of course. Daisy knows all too well that sometimes it’s the quiet moments in between, the ones that relieve the tension, that can matter the most. “Bed” and “You Stole” are both perfect expressions of that, and comforting reminders that Brand New are still masters of this use of dynamism. “Sink” boils down the jarring roller coaster use of sound of T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. to its purest essence. “Be Gone” is an innovation I want to see more of, chopping up and warping Lacey’s voice and setting it against some good old blues-heavy guitar. Really.

Choosing a favourite track isn’t easy to pin down, but I’ve always loved the confident and twisted swagger of “At the Bottom”.

At last we come to “Noro”. Something you should know about my taste in music is that an album’s closer can single-handedly define my affection for the entire work. I consider it every bit as important as the introduction, sometimes even more so. By now, I had become accustomed to Brand New albums wrapping up with something subdued and maybe a little unstable. Instead, the lumbering and sure-footed repetition of “Noro” manages to shake up that tradition while still posing new variations of the bigger and more difficult questions that Brand New has been craving answers to for a decade. My takeaway from “Noro” is that they may finally be ready for those answers.

And so after the delightfully volatile angst of Your Favorite Weapon, the sincere exhalation of Deja Entendu and the unexpected success that came with it, the unabated terror of the Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, we arrive at the biting, impassioned, and admirably grounded Daisy. In many ways, this signifies the end of an era for one of my favourite bands. Brand New’s discography is quite literally the story of a group of boys growing into men. It’s a uniquely fascinating thing to behold, especially if you listen to these four albums consecutively as I so often do.

Jesse Lacey has gone on record describing Daisy as “like the end of a road”, the culmination of their ever-evolving sound that they have been working toward for years, but has also expressed a desire to explore other avenues they might have taken at earlier junctures in their career (a sort of “timeline split”, if you will). In other words, if Daisy is the ultimate expression of the goals that Brand New’s work has been leading up to, what might they have sounded like had they followed some of, say, Deja Entendu‘s headstrong indulgences instead? That’s purely wishful thinking on my part, but what is certain is that we haven’t heard the last of the boys from Long Island, and that can only be a good thing. Thank you for following along with me for Brand New Month. It’s been a thoroughly rewarding experience, and I hope you’ll stick around for whatever comes next.

“I’m a mountain that has been moved.”

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Brand New Month – Part 3 of 4: The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

Posted by finedaysunday on August 18, 2013

“I’m getting depressed with all of the anxiety about the album and they say I write my best stuff when I’m in that state. Great, I’ll spend the next six months all depressed and the rest of band will be excited, so that some good (material) might come out. And then I have to contend with how it’s received.”

This was in 2004, when Jesse Lacey revealed his feelings of pressure and anticipation in an interview with Chart magazine, Two years later, the world was introduced to Brand New’s third studio album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.

One listen is all it takes to realize that suddenly all that distress made a lot of sense, even if ultimately there wasn’t much to worry about after all.

Brand New 3

If nothing else is certain by this point, it is that all traces of Your Favorite Weapon are completely gone. This album is a heavy sheet of existential despair wrapped up with doubt, sorrow, regret, and loss. Light, friendly pop? Musings on awkward teenage relationships? Those are a thing of the past. Instead we are now faced with Brand New’s most bleak and challenging work yet. There’s very little hope or optimism to be found here, but more importantly is the fact that the album never once cops out by trying to hind behind a mask of irony, any more than the previous two albums did. This is as earnest and vulnerable as it gets, and I admire that.

One common thread that holds T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. (yeah, it’s just easier to call it that) is the use of dynamic, contrasting noise levels. The quiet moments are especially quiet, and the loud moments are so loud as to catch you off guard if you aren’t expecting them (almost jarringly so). Many of these instances are heralded by “tells”, such as Lacey’s yell in opener “Sowing Season”, the childrens’ choir in “Degausser”, or the wailing sirens of “You Won’t Know”. The most notable example of such a technique in “Luca” sneaks right up on you. Yeah, that’ll wake you up.

I believe every Brand New song is somebody’s favourite, but I’d be willing to bet that none are held in such high regard by more fans than “Jesus”. It might even be at the top of my own list had “Soco Amaretto Lime” not won me over long before I had reached this album. One of the few tracks not to use that contrasting sound technique mentioned above, it’s a beautiful, soothing piece that I take to be about a crisis of faith on the part of Lacey. Here, he leaves himself entirely emotionally exposed, more so than at virtually any point in Brand New’s history.

“Degausser” is another favorite of mine and, in the interests of full disclosure, was the first Brand New song I had ever heard. Recommended to me by a friend who introduced me to the band in the first place, I remember being hooked right away and eager to hear more. Imagine my surprise when I then started listening to Your Favorite Weapon and, well, yeah. It also gets credit as the first song I attempted to learn on a guitar (that reminds me, I really need to get back on that).

Remember last week how I mentioned that Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu each contain some sort of instrumental jam that match the tone of their respective albums? Well, T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. has two such pieces. Some might call that indulgent as all hell, but by now it should be obvious that one of Brand New’s greatest strengths is their ability to adapt to different stylistic tones with ease. On the one hand we’ve got “Welcome to Bangkok”, a rising crescendo of fury that perfectly illustrates this album’s use of dynamic, escalating sound. Then there’s “- -” (yes, they went there), a piece that is just as likely to soothe you to sleep as haunt your nightmares.

“Not the Sun” and “The Archers’ Bows Have Broken” are unique in that they possess a driving, kinetic energy (particularly on the drums) in an album characterized by a more deliberate and measured pace. The latter of the two especially grows on me more and more each time I listen to it. In an odd way, it’s one of precious few instances that the band comes up for air and manages to counter just a bit of the gloom that pervades so much of this album. Maybe that says a bit out me, a personal optimist, that I can consider this track one of my favourites while still thoroughly enjoying everything else T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. has to offer.

Of course, it’s right back into the cold depths we go to close it all out. “Handcuffs” is a scary piece. Frantic, fragile, strained, and wrought with guilt and moral indecision, this song haunts me every time I hear it, like happening upon a dead forest or a decayed tree house, and yet it nearly always leaves me in a state of personal reflection. And those strings? Beautiful and mournful all at the same time. It was at some point during this song that I fully realized where Brand New wanted to go with their sound all along. They’re virtually unrecognizable as the band they were in 2000. In an astonishing six years, Lacey and company went from cheeky pop punk to The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, an emotionally draining album that somehow manages to be both abrasive and contemplative. I still don’t know how they pulled this off.

In the end, in an ironically happy takeaway from this album, Jesse Lacey may have burdened himself with all that weight on his shoulders for nothing. We’ll be finishing off Brand New Month next week. See you then.

“I’m just a man who knows how to feel.”

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Brand New Month – Part 2 of 4: Deja Entendu

Posted by finedaysunday on August 11, 2013

Less than two years was all it took for Brand New to finish writing their follow-up to Your Favorite Weapon. Looking back on their work now knowing where they’d eventually end up, I’d call Deja Entendu a period of transition. With a bit of time to spread out and draw influence from a number of different artists, they were able to craft something with a very strong range when really the whole thing could have just seemed schizophrenic instead. This one’s quite a bit harder to pin down than its predecessor, due to the eagerness with which each track sets its distinct tone. To put it simply, it’s impossible to confuse any single song here with another. It’s a bold move, one that might be considered a criticism if it were handled by less capable and meticulous hands. But Brand New embraces this opportunity to tackle bigger and more difficult material in a way that might surprise those who found Your Favorite Weapon to be a bit on the safe side. If you made one of those same people listen to Deja Entendu without any introduction, they might not even recognize it as the same band.

Forget everything you think you know about them.

Brand New 2

The album’s opening track, “Tautou”, is perfectly fitting, sending the message loud and clear that what you’re about to hear is going to take a turn for the somber and introspective. Following that is “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades”, which shines a new light on similar subject matter left over from Your Favorite Weapon, namely the unglamourous and earnest awkwardness of one’s first sexual encounter. It’s a highly effective way to kick off an album that proves the band has had some time to mature and let their themes simmer a while, with heavy and sincere characteristics of the emo genre. Yes, Brand New’s stylistic direction from this point forward is very heavily emo, so deal with it, internet.

Jumping around a bit, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” is the one you’re probably most likely to have heard on the radio at some point, and it played a significant role in the band grabbing serious attention in the mainstream. “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” keeps the theme of fragile relationships going by channeling them through an acoustic-heavy ballad, in one of the few instances when Deja Entendu makes a close brush with something resembling cheerfulness.

As you can probably tell by now, I’ve got more thematic material to work with here than I did last week, but I don’t want this to turn into an aimless track-by-track review. So here’s my personal favourite song from this album presented without further description, “Jaws Theme Swimming”.

“Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis”, however, is one I do have to go into detail on. This might be the most difficult one to pin down, open to interpretation by its very nature. To me, it’s about a man (most likely Jesse Lacey himself) who feels remorse for his own womanizing ways, admitting guilt over how easy it is for him and how he has to fake being in love because it’s the only way he knows how. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but one listen is all it takes to see how it can just as easily be interpreted as something sleazier. Given everything this album is about, I’d still say the former is closer to Lacey’s intent.

“Guernica”, which Lacey wrote for his grandfather after the latter was diagnosed with cancer, is also notable for being the last time you’ll hear anything power chord-based from Brand New for a long time, if ever. Yeah, I said I didn’t want this to become a mundane track-by-track thing but bear with me. “Good to Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die” (yikes, really?) brings a lot to the table. It’s moody, bitter, ambient, and relieving all at the same time. It allows Lacey and company a chance to get some breathing room and indulge in an extended jam session to close it out. They did something similar early on in Your Favorite Weapon, and in a way each one reflects its album’s overall tone.

Finally, we come to “Play Crack the Sky”. I was delighted to find another simple acoustic closer, and here we’ve got one with a much more free-form structure. Framing a damaged relationship with imagery of a disastrous and hopeless shipwreck, this may be as trembly and shaken as Jesse Lacey has ever sounded. It’s a very vulnerable piece, and I still can’t tell if the final refrain is supposed to be optimistic, regretful, or something else entirely. What I do know is that it’s a very sobering end to a terrific and layered album. So now that it’s clear that Brand New never had any intention of resting on their laurels after the first album, we also have some idea of where they always wanted to go next. And boy, is the third album ever the ultimate expression of that. Until next Sunday.

“And these are the words you wish you wrote down.”

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Brand New Month – Part 1 of 4: Your Favorite Weapon

Posted by finedaysunday on August 4, 2013

It’s Brand New Month here at FineDaySunday. Every Sunday this August, I’ll be taking a look back at Brand New’s albums one by one. My goal here is not to test if their work still holds up today (there’s no question that it does), but to hopefully lay out just how dramatically they’ve evolved since their debut album in 2001. One of the surest indicators of my respect for any artist is their ability to innovate and explore new ground (what’s up, Radiohead). This has been more or less a hallmark of Brand New’s ever-changing sound, and it started in the most unassuming manner imaginable.

Brand New 1

Your Favorite Weapon is, viewed from a distance, not too far off from the traditional light and harmless pop-punk fluff that was so dominant at the time. What really sets it apart is in the details, in frontman Jesse Lacey’s acidic and biting lyrics. In the broadest possible terms, this is teenage angst and frustration tinged with a reluctant optimism. Bitterness and dismissal is just as prominent as an awkward, childlike honesty. It’s a really disarming effect.

If Weezer’s Pinkerton is the perfect pop-punk album for being sad about girls (sorry Rivers, but it is), then Your Favorite Weapon is the genre’s gold standard for being mad about girls. Nearly every track has all the qualities of a condescending “call out” from the perspective of failed teenage relationships. Immature? Spiteful? Perhaps, but there’s nothing cynical or artificial about it, thanks in part to the album’s constant undercurrent of self-depracating positivity. The best art should be able to tell you about the artist themselves, and this is the perfect surface-level introduction to what sort of person Lacey is, or was, during those universal experiences we all went through as vulnerable teenagers. He’s a man whose work here is raw and relatable. He wears his heart on his sleeve, directly referencing his own love of The Smiths and Morrissey, which says it all right there.

The true centerpiece of the album can only be “Seventy Times 7”. What we have here is three and a half minutes of abrasive and condescending loathing, inspired by a damaged friendship between Lacey and John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday, a band with close ties to Brand New. Directed at Nolan personally, it’s as powerful and cutting as power chord-based pop music can get. The lynchpin comes in the song’s bridge, in which an initially subdued declaration by Lacey gradually escalates into an all-out tantrum. Everything Your Favorite Weapon is about, perfectly encapsulated in a single song. Brilliance.

Naming a Brand New album as my favourite is an impossible task, as my answer always changes when I listen to each one in turn. What is certain, however, is that this album’s closer is my favourite song, no question: “Soco Amaretto Lime” (check up top in the About Me section). Leave it to me to pick the simple, heartfelt acoustic track. When I listen to this song, I think of hanging out with friends as we tell stories, make memories, and generally make fools of ourselves. It’s always going to hold a powerful nostalgic pull over me.

And that’s Your Favorite Weapon. I chose the month of August to talk about Brand New because they’ve become a traditional “summer band” of mine, ever since I became a fan in late 2006. After this album’s sharp and pleasant reminder that pop rock can be light and fun without being saccharine and hollow, Jesse Lacey and company began taking progressively bigger risks. I admire them for it, because they could have easily produced material that stuck to the formula and style of their debut album (indeed, over the years, they’ve been deliberately distancing themselves from their early work during live shows, though they have compromised a bit on this recently). Instead, this collection of twelve tracks stands in sharp contrast to their more recent work, and it’s important to know the steps they took that led them in that direction. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

“We’re the coolest kids and we take what we can get.”

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Walter White is not a badass.

Posted by finedaysunday on July 28, 2013

Walt 1

Breaking Bad is coming back. At long last, the story of Walter White is coming to an end. I could not be more excited and neither could you. Unless, of course, you haven’t watched the show yet. Let me be clear about this right up front: I make frequent, wholehearted recommendations to watch Breaking Bad on a fairly regular basis in my day-to-day life (as of approximately one year ago, when I began watching). Whenever people drop a casually cynical “TV just sucks nowadays”, this show is my go-to counter-argument. It’s a laser-focused, filler-free character study concerned entirely with its own artful and carefully crafted depiction of one man’s slow yet steady self-destrucion. It’s also one of the most important shows of the last decade. If you’ve been following some of the other stuff I’ve written around here, you know that I’m a sucker for moral ambiguity. Well, that’s kind of Breaking Bad‘s entire thing, so naturally I ate it up.

All right, enough gushing. I am probably going to spoil quite a bit about Breaking Bad in the following entry. To that end, I’d advise you to stop reading now if you’re not up-to-date or if you just don’t care (note: you should care). Still with me? Last chance.

Okay, let’s do this. You probably saw the title of this entry up top. At some point in the show’s run, during Walt’s rise to power, there’s been this viewpoint gaining a lot of traction that Walt has somehow morphed from meek and mousy into a stone-cold badass. I have never agreed with that stance, at least not entirely. Oh, Walt has certainly changed, no doubt about it. He’s been very deliberately pushing every last boundary in the little world he’s built for himself, all the while desperately trying to convince everyone around him (including himself) that he has no choice but to continue for the sake of his family. But has he learned anything in the past year of his life? Is he half as good at lying to others as he is to himself? Has he separated himself entirely from that meek yet slow-simmering cauldron he was when we first met him? I submit “no” to all of the above. And he is certainly no more of a badass now than he was the day he began cooking meth.

Walt 2

Walter White is many things, but first let’s talk about what he is not. There are two instances that I frequently see being singled out as examples of supposed badassery. The first comes when his wife Skyler implores him to abandon his criminal life and come clean to the authorities. Walt is having none of it, and dives headlong into a heated and largely inaccurate speech about how untouchable and indispensable he is in the meth business. In an effort to convince his now-terrified wife that he is not in danger, Walt goes too far, inadvertently revealing just how much of a part he played in murdering the only character in the show that didn’t have it coming. He immediately appears to be ashamed of himself, realizing he didn’t mean to say it so badly when he just wanted to appear intimidating. Even Walt’s not impressed by his own faux-macho posturing.

That’s the clearest example of how Breaking Bad, on numerous occasions, will juxtapose Walt’s proclamations of being in control of his life with how little control he actually has. The second alleged badass moment comes when Walt is at the height of his power, drunk with overconfidence and self-satisfaction:

This scene serves as the culmination of Walt’s power fantasy. He sees himself the same way a Hollywood crime thriller movie would idealize the drug kingpin lifestyle, and he puts on a show hoping to project that very image. That’s really the crux of this whole scenario. Walt may have been able to convince himself that he’s a badass, but he’s not convincing those around him, and he certainly isn’t convincing us. That’s part of what makes him so pathetic. It’s not a recent development, either. As early as the first season, Walt has this false image of how drug dealers do business, adopting a shady alter-ego complete with a pork pie hat and sunglasses. Somewhat understandable, as the only frame of reference a squeaky clean guy like him could possibly have for criminal life are movies and television. Right away, both his partner and his enemy chastise him for wanting to do deals in cliched deserted areas with no witnesses instead of, say, at the mall. Walt eventually admits he has a lot to learn, but the foundation for his little fantasy world has already been set. For all his talk about wanting to remain cautious and professional, Walt is very resolutely neither, and everyone around him knows it.

So, if not badass, then what is Walter White exactly? He is weak, impotent, egotistical, hypocritical, arrogant, selfish, greedy, prideful, stubborn, volatile, self-sabotaging, paranoid, manipulative, deceitful, cowardly, and pessimistic. He has cripplingly low self-esteem. He takes incredibly dangerous risks. He possesses a defeatist attitude, readily taking the easy routes and always jumping to the worst possible conclusions. He has a dangerously fine-tuned self-preservation instinct that trumps all else. He refuses numerous golden opportunities for help from those closest to him, and he has thoroughly earned everything he has coming to him. None of those qualities strike me as being particularly positive or ideal.

Walt 3

Maybe it’s just a pet peeve of mine, but the word “badass” has become overused to the point of redundancy, especially on the internet, where words like “epic” have already been distorted beyond usefulness. On a show like Breaking Bad, where there are no moral absolutes or one-dimensional characters, a word like “badass” seems awfully reductive.

I will say, however, the one point when I was genuinely impressed by Walt came during the final two episodes of the fourth season. His careful machinations were awe-inspiring as he worked to rid himself of his biggest threat, not so much in a way resembling a typical badass but in a manner that struck me as the surest sign yet of his manipulative, sociopathic nature. Remember watching Alien for the second time, when you already knew what Ash’s deal was, and it lent his every scene an extra chilling quality? A repeat viewing of these two episodes has precisely the same effect, terrifying in just how completely that knowledge changes the tone.

All I knew from outside sources before diving into Breaking Bad was that the protagonist is supposedly this awful, evil human being. Upon first watching, and seeing this hunched and sniveling old man that I instead just felt sorry for, I remember keeping an eye out for the heel turn, the point of no return when he would suddenly become someone to root against. This singular moment never comes. Walt’s transformation is gradual and virtually silent, as he keeps taking progressively bigger risks and makes increasingly flimsy justifications for his actions. That hesitant “this is wrong” look in his eyes slowly disappears. He stops weighing the pros and cons of murder. Before long we begin to hope for his destruction simply because it would be a kindness, a relief to see him put out of his misery. He’s a car wreck you can’t look away from. To my amazement, he is now such a thoroughly unsympathetic monster of a person while still possessing nearly all of the traits that defined him at the show’s outset. I don’t know how it happened, but Breaking Bad manages to accomplish through Walter White what almost no other character arc in recent memory has.

Walt 4

Brief tangent: Did you ever notice how if this were any other show (say, a procedural cop show), Hank would be the gruff protagonist and Walt would be the recurring villain constantly eluding capture? Hank even goes through an arc that fits your typical flawed hero, going from puffed up and overconfident to dangerously obsessive, then to the lowest he’s ever been, and ever since then he’s been diligently building himself up into exactly the sort of man he needs to be to bring down the bad guy. His character’s progression mirrors Walt’s exactly, and makes him the perfect foil for his brother-in-law, exactly the “endgame” final boss that, quite honestly, we should have seen coming since the beginning.

And so here we are, with Walt standing right on the precipice with nowhere else to go but down. Finally, the game is up and it’s entirely his own doing, just like Mike told him it would be. As the fifth season opens, we see a brief glimpse of what becomes of Walt in the future (and only now do we have some context for how he reaches that point). Something awful has clearly happened, but beyond the scruff, has anything changed in him? Has he taken away some small lesson from his experiences? And then we see him refuse a hostess’ offer to pick up the tab for his meal, and we realize: Classic Walter White, always unable to accept a handout. He hasn’t learned a damn thing, and now he’s about to do something incredibly stupid.

Walt 5

I recall some part of me wanting the series to end on a sobering note, a reminder that, though we may root for Walt’s demise, somewhere deep down inside there is still that sad sack of a family man who just wanted to do right by his wife and children, someone who may see even the merest hint of redemption. Is that still remotely within the realm of possibility? We’ll find out soon enough.

“To W.W., my star, my perfect silence.”

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