As 2019 draws to a close, we take a look back at some of our favorite things from pop culture.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
El Camino is a Netflix film written and directed by Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan. The movie picks up right where the series ended six years ago: with Jesse Pinkman finally driving towards freedom after months of torture—a cathartic ending to one of the greatest series on TV.
One might wonder about the existence of a Breaking Bad movie, when the show had already ended so satisfyingly. What is this movie for? Is it an ending to cap off five spectacular seasons of Breaking Bad? Is it an extension of the Heisenberg cinematic universe? Is it fan service for obsessive audiences desperate for more time with Walt and Jesse (especially Jesse)? The answer is: it’s all of the above.
El Camino is a satisfying ending and a well-crafted extension and a sophisticated gift to fans. The movie is a reminder of everything viewers loved in Breaking Bad that made the show so compelling. There’s the perpetually intense, almost animalistic fight for survival contrasted with quiet moments of introspection, all set against cinematic visuals. El Camino gives Breaking Bad fans everything they want—including hope for Jesse Pinkman. The show had always been Walt-centric; he’s the genius antihero, after all. But our boy Jesse is the one we always root for, because as Skinny Pete puts it, the dude’s our hero and shit.
Halfway through Bong Joon-Ho’s critically-acclaimed film Parasite, one of the protagonists Kim-ki taek is happily having a sumptuous meal and drinking expensive liquor with his destitute family in a home owned by the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Park. They finally found the answer (or it seems) to their poverty-stricken life as they have faked their way through landing jobs as servants for the gullible Parks family.
For a moment, however, Kim-ki taek feels a hint of guilt (he wonders if the driver that he replaced has already found a job) and defends the infantile family that he now serves. He is quickly chastised by his wife: “They’re nice because they’re rich.” After all, she says, it’s easy to be nice when you have money. Parasite is full of moments such as this—where you have to look at yourself and realize how capitalism has shaped your world and has, inevitably, fucked us all.
Perhaps this is why the end of the movie is so unsettling and hopeless. Kim-ki taek’s son, Kim-woo dreams of a future where he can afford a nice home and save his father from “exile”. All he needs to do is work hard and earn a lot of money. He’s optimistic that his plan will go well.
And while the movie asserts that “money irons out all wrinkles”, it also never forgets to tell viewers that the game is rigged. With socio-economic problems come rules and limitations—a world where even the best planning serves no purpose for the poor—as Kim-ki taek has told his son before, The best plan is having no plan. “With no plan, nothing can go wrong and nothing fucking matters.”
Favorite TV Shows
Prior to writing this article, we have long wanted to make an in-depth review of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s masterpiece Fleabag. Unfortunately, we’ve failed to do so for many reasons—work, laziness, and primarily because it’s hard to put into words the impact that the show has made in our lives. It seems overly dramatic, but our lives are now divided into two important chapters: life pre-Fleabag and life post-Fleabag.
While we still can’t make a proper write-up about the show, we’re going to leave you with this: Fleabag is funny and sad, irreverent yet sensitive, yes. It boasts of a talented cast, sure. But all of these are unimportant. Fleabag is a must-watch because it gave us Andrew Scott as the hot priest.
Tuca and Bertie
2019 was an exciting time for women in pop culture. We were #blessed with movies and series created by women about women—from the big screen’s Captain Marvel, Hustlers, and Charlie’s Angels reboot to TV’s Killing Eve and the abovementioned Fleabag (both are, incidentally, created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Add to that list Tuca & Bertie, an adult animated show by Lisa Hanawalt, producer and artist of another The Ampersand favorite, Bojack Horseman.
The heroines in the anthropomorphic world of this series are Tuca, a loud extroverted toucan trying to keep her sobriety (and herself together), and Bertie, an anxious introverted song thrush dealing with both self-doubt and ambition. Together, Tuca and Bertie navigate female friendships, commitments and relationships, and anxiety and trauma against a backdrop of visual puns and trippy animations.
The show, whose wings were prematurely clipped by Netflix, is an endearing buddy comedy that brazenly takes on female-centric issues such as workplace harassment, sexual abuse, and everything else about being a woman in this day and age.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusions by Jia Tolentino
If you want to understand the dread, outrage, and sometimes acceptance that coalesce as a result of living in this world at this particular moment in time, there’s no better writer to turn to than Jia Tolentino. Her collection of essays, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusions, provides deep dives into subjects such as internet culture (an exhibit of both our best selves and worst impulses), pop feminism and “difficult women”, late stage capitalism and its injustices and inequalities, and even athleisure.
Many of Tolentino’s essays explore these topics through the lens of her own history, making each piece pulsate with so much sharpness and self-awareness. It is rewarding to journey with Tolentino as she figures things out in her essays, and refreshing to witness her admit that she can’t, or hasn’t, or maybe won’t. And that’s the pleasure of reading Trick Mirror. For all of her incisive dissection of a broad range of issues, Tolentino offers no answers. Instead, there’s an odd sense of comfort in the fact that someone is putting into words the problems, despair, and ambivalence we all have felt, in a manner more lucid and eloquent than we can ever hope to do ourselves.
Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen
Four years after releasing god-tier E·MO·TION, cult favorite and critical darling Carly Rae Jepsen comes out with another sensual and infectious album. Staying on brand, Dedicated is an exuberant celebration of excess (and exes as well, as in Julien)—excess of feelings, disco rhythms, flirtatious vocals, and then some more feelings for good measure.
In this album, Jepsen does what she does best: capturing the experience of every stage of love. There’s the thrill and anxiety at the beginning of a new relationship (“No Drug Like Me”, “Too Much”); the red-hot desire (“Want You In My Room”, “Now That I Found You”); the breakup (“For Sure”, “Right Words Wrong Time”); and then the eventual comfort of being alone (“Party For One”). And after the crash and burn, the courageous wish for everything all over again—“I’m not even scared about it / All I want is real real love”, Carly sings.
Dedicated is a great pop album. That being said, here’s to waiting for that inevitable Dedicated Side B.
For more insights on pop culture, visit our website at https://theamprsnd.com/.
Patriz Biliran and Regina Peñarroyo co-run The Ampersand and write blog articles in their free time.