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The Bad Boys of Cable TV

19 Dec 2013
With one down for the count and two KO's, this year's bad boys of cable TV - Jax, Dex, and Walt - have left us breathless in anticipation of what new anti-heroes may be lurking around the corner.
Tony Soprano
Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey (The Shield) were bad boys and soulless killers, but now we know they were just warm-up acts for true evil, the kind that lures not by repulsing, but by drawing you in with an intimacy rarely seen outside the boudoir or the abattoir.
Particularly fascinating has been the public reactions to the series finales of these shows, only one of which (Sons of Anarchy) has not yet run its full course. Even though the ending of The Sopranos was telegraphed throughout its last mini-season, its meaning was still widely debated, as if the concept lights out can sustain more than one realistic interpretation.
Vic Mackey
The downfall of Vic Mackey was more interesting: Think about it, a corrupt cop, a man of the streets used to controlling his own schedule and running around like the poster boy for ADHD, and he ends up required by law to take an 8-to-5 office job shuffling papers. For him, this ultimate hell was his only option outside prison, which almost looked inviting by comparison. The deep irony of this delicious ending - a fate worse than death, in many ways - captured the attention of few.
The man behind Mackey was Kurt Sutter, now the man behind Jax Teller and Sons of Anarchy. We know from watching Sutter's interviews and post-mortems that he planned much of the final two seasons of SOA years ago, when he first blocked out the show's main story arcs.
Jax Teller
Like all of the bad-boy shows, SOA has had so many improbable story lines - like the trip to Belfast, Ireland, motorcycles, colors and all (but no fake ID) - that the realists among us threw our hands up in despair long ago. In fact, until her death in the season finale, Jax's wife Tara seemed as likely as anyone to be the sole survivor, running the M.C. until Jax's son Abel came of age in the final season, set 20 years later. It was a crazy plot line to hope for, but no crazier than Juice's or Tig's abilities to survive disasters that would crush nuclear-hardened cockroaches. The bloodletting has increased to a pace only Dexter could envy. As a result the betting on SOA's last season has devolved to guessing who the survivors will be, since few are expected. Wayne Unser? Chuckie? The Administrator? Inquiring minds want to know.
Perhaps most talked about were the finales of Dexter and Breaking Bad - the former being generally panned, and the latter generally lauded. Let me offer opposing perspectives.
My first thought was, why not have both Dexter AND Walter White survive? Together? They meet on the lam. What could be more fun?
Dexter Morgan
People reacted to Dexter's ending - he goes bonkers, runs away, and starts life anew secretly, alone - as if he wasn't really a psychopathic killer. Like they thought he would, you know, get better and not kill any more. Kind of the way a Really Good Christian might want to "cure" a gay man. In reality, it was a perfect ending. True, Dexter did not suffer the ultimate punishment, but instead he broods in a living hell, pondering his dead wife, lost love, and abandoned child, knowing he can no longer pretend to the normal life for which his stepfather trained him.
Walter White
Did Walter White really suffer the ultimate punishment in Breaking Bad? No one who watches comic book movies, soap operas, or franchise films really believes in death. Screenwriters will resuscitate their characters at will: Agent Coulson died last year in The Avengers, only to go on and star in his own TV show this year. You get the picture. We saw Walter White, at the end of Breaking Bad, dying. Not dead! We don't know he's dead until we see them cut up the body, which they might well do in shows like BB or DX. Until then, he's fair game for a last-minute save.
Which leads me to the final setup - a TV movie, or even mini-series, that brings Dex and Walt together, head to head. Breaking Blood. In Alien versus Predator, who wins? Who cares? The main thing is, we get to enjoy cheering the demise of all the characters, without guilt. On cable TV, that's a win-win.

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