Listen now (91 mins) | Marc Andreessen and Chis Nicholson join me to discuss the final episode of Better Call Saul and reflect on the Breaking Bad universe. In the course of our conversation, it becomes apparent that I had a unique and much darker take on the final episode than apparently anyone else who watched it. Marc and Chris wear me down a little bit, but I still want to believe in my theory.
You're totally wrong about The West Wing- it's not leftist at all. (Aaron Sorkin is contemptive of leftists.) Sorkin himself called the show “a Valentine to public service and to American institutions” about people who “all seemed to wake up in the morning and come to work wanting to do good.”
It is a very useful guide for understanding the aspirations and ideology of a certain kind of “technocratic liberalism.”
After two terms in the White House, The West Wing’s gang of hyper-educated, hyper-competent politicos do not seem to have any transformational policy achievements whatsoever. Even in their most unconstrained and idealized political fantasies, liberals manage to accomplish nothing.
Insofar as there is an identifiable ideology, it isn’t one definitively wedded to a particular program of reform, but instead to a particular aesthetic of political institutions. The business of leveraging democracy for any specific purpose comes second to how its institutional liturgy and processes look and, more importantly, how they make us feel—virtue being attached more to posture and affect than to any particular goal.
Consider a scene from Season 2’s “The War at Home”, in which Toby Ziegler confronts a rogue Democratic Senator over his objections to Social Security cuts prospectively to be made in collaboration with a Republican Congress. The episode’s protagonist certainly isn’t the latter, who tries to draw a line in the sand over the “compromising of basic Democratic values” and threatens to run a third party presidential campaign, only to be admonished acerbically by Ziegler:
“If you think demonizing people who are trying to govern responsibly is the way to protect our liberal base, then speaking as a liberal…go to bed, would you please?…Come at us from the left, and I’m gonna own your ass.”
As the film Starship Troopers shows what fascism looks like to fascists, the West Wing shows what liberalism looks like to liberals. It attempts to hold the Bartlet administration up as virtuous and sensible, but it makes the mistake of accurately portraying the basic facts of Washington politics, which means the falsity of the show’s thesis is exposed within the show itself.
Enjoyable chat, fellas.
I had the same interpretation as Chris, namely that Kim was effectively playing the role of Jimmy's Personal Jesus - his redemption was in regaining her respect. And there is no way his courtroom spiel was saving her from whatever civil liability she may face.
That said, I very much agree with Richard in that I would have preferred an ending where Jimmy actually sold Kim out for ice cream. When that idea was planted, my heart almost skipped a beat. I had not considered that possibility and was so enthralled by it that when it did not materialize I actually felt disappointment. Of course my favourite movie ending of all time may be Se7en so I have a thing for menacingly dark endings. We don't get nearly enough of them for my liking.
Couple of other points. I don't think Howard was necessarily a particularly good *lawyer* but rather a great rainmaker. Only Chuck was depicted as having the brilliant legal mind. The law firm in which I spent most of my time had dead ringers for both Howard and Chuck.
And I endorse Marc's recommendation of Deadwood - it was fantastic.
The Shield was like the opposite of the Sopranos for me. With the Sopranos, I could tell some talented people put it together and put a lot of thought into things like music selections, but I didn't enjoy watching it & spending time with those stupid awful people. I eagerly consumed every episode of the Shield, but their attempts at being edgy with things like music could be eyerolling & seem dated.
Hannibal was really impressive in its first two season, but in the godawful third season there is an instance of someone going to prison in order to hurt someone else.
I think Chuck was the bigger legal mind relative to Howard. Howard just followed in the footsteps of his dad, who created the firm with Chuck.
Augusto Pinochet didn't have a German name, rather he was descended from Basques.
There have been tv shows about the creation of a tech company. Silicon Valley is a comedy, but still about someone who creates something that is supposed to be impressive & groundbreaking. Halt & Catch Fire is an overrated show that started by imitating Mad Men, but still showed them starting a new tech company (which appears to have been an also-ran company in its time).
There was a John Adams miniseries. It was mediocre and I recall Paul Giamatti (who played the title character) said he didn't think the real guy was all that great. It did at least make Alexander Hamilton into a clear villain, before more recent pop culture made everyone forget that Hamilton was the most right-wing political figure in post-independence America.