Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Fix 7, originally released December 21st, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
I originally pitched [Breaking Bad] to the studio with one line. I told them: “This is a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.”
Drew: Vince Gilligan’s elevator pitch for Breaking Bad might be one of the most well-known loglines in modern television — my dad knows it, if that’s any indication. I suspect people are attracted to the simplicity of Gilligan’s analogies; he calls on two films to paint before and after portraits of Walter White. For me, though, the very fact that he used two film characters to chart the endpoints of Walter’s evolution speaks to the differences between television and film — or, rather, the specific narrative capabilities of serialized stories. Where Walter White’s character is fundamentally one in transition between two points, film characters like Mr. Chips and Scarface are better understood as points.
To me, this is simply down to the matter of time. We don’t have enough time with film characters to form strong enough senses of who they are for all but the most obvious changes to even register. Any subtler changes might just be seen as inconsistency while we’re still forming our first impressions. In serialized narratives, though, we have much more time to develop a clear sense of who a character is — what they want, what they fear, what they will or won’t do — so can appreciate smaller, subtler changes. In a series like Breaking Bad, those changes slowly accumulate, building to drastic transformations that somehow never feel drastic at the moment. In a series like The Fix, those changes can provide a much more nuanced portrait when a character is pushed to the limit.
Indeed, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have so slowly eroded Mac’s sense of security that I hadn’t quite realized how terrible his life is right now. Fortunately, Spencer reminds us with a pat little summary of Mac’s grievances over the series thus far:
The sequence goes on to put an even finer point on Mac’s loneliness, referring to Pretzels as “the only thing he could depend on”, more or less setting the stakes for the end of the issue. Actually, just how hard this issue broadcasts its inevitable ending is truly remarkable. Look at how it opens:
This isn’t a series where joy can just exist like this — at least, not for Mac and Roy. We’re somehow in on the dramatic irony before we know what’s about to happen to them. It’s Mac, so something is going to go horribly wrong (though he’ll undoubtedly survive). As if to emphasize that ironic distance, Lieber cleverly doesn’t allow this image to bleed to the edge of the page, framing the panel with margins that act to separate this idyllic moment from reality. It just feels too perfect.
And so it is. The personalities of this series dictated that Mac eventually run afoul of Josh (that is, more afoul than he already has), but I had assumed that Josh would be the aggressor, killing (or attempting to kill) Mac and Roy for their incompetence. It seems like that might have been what was happening when Mac and Pretzels are attacked, but Pretzel’s death seems to flip the equation. While Mac was simply trying to do right to stay alive before, he now has a very personal vendetta against Josh — a vendetta whose groundwork is very carefully laid out in all of those blissful moments between Roy and Pretzels.
Patrick, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that dramatic irony writ large — playing up joy as an obvious contrast to the (comic) misery that will follow may be making a joke at the expense of the sincerity of this series. Did that land well for you? Also, we’ve got to talk about Mac’s obliviousness to what a fuckup he is, right? He ends his phone call with Deal so enthusiastically, I couldn’t help but be reminded of coworkers too incompetent to recognize how dire the feedback they’re getting truly is. Hell, that image might even be more tragic than that of a dead dog.
Patrick: I really like the idea that Lieber is employing dramatic irony before we’re even in on that joke – that’s keenly observed, Drew. I think he even makes that a little more explicit on the second and third page montage of Mac and Pretzels’ relationship, which expresses a slightly different kind of irony. The images casually transition back and forth between wholesome, innocent doggy activities and the work they’re actually engaged in, which is often violent or scary.
There’s no hiding the fact that Mac and Pretzels do not have a normal relationship. It is tainted from conception on down.
And maybe that’s the saddest thing. Spencer goes a long way toward convincing us that Pretzels is the only thing that’s any fucking good in Mac’s life, and there’s no doubt that Mac certainly sees it that way. His narration makes this point almost repeatedly, but there was a panel in here that caught my eye that might tell the story of Mac’s delusion better than Spencer’s words ever could.
In that first panel, Mac mentions his hand wound, even going so far as to make it explicit that Roy shot him. Spencer and Lieber are reminding us, not only that his hand is wrapped in bandages, but just what those bandages represent. But look what happens by panel three: Mac is so overwhelmed by his affection for Pretzels that, not only does he neglect his snack-time companion, but his bandages disappear. The dog makes him feel whole.
I’m glad this issue is focused on the tragedy of Mac’s life rather than the tragedy of Pretzel’s death. “Death of the Dog” is an easy emotional button to push — it remains one of the few things you wouldn’t make fun of your friends for wanting to turn away from when they see it in a movie. It’s fucking sad, and basically everyone has a story of letting go of a childhood pet. The thing is, in 90% of those stories, the dog’s death is a consequence of nature and time, and not the owner constantly fucking up. That’s what Mac’s sad little story is about.
Hell, just take a look at how Mac and Pretzel’s celebrate their perceived victory. They go to In-N-Out. Now, don’t get me wrong: I like a good spin through the In-N-Out drive through, but it’s an interesting choice for a celebratory meal. Budget-conscious, largely unhealthy (and especially when ordering a milkshake for a dog), and quintessentially old-school Southern California. Food actually plays an interesting role in this issue all around, commenting on the kinds of opportunities available to Mac. He laments the churching-up of the dining options at LAX, and it looks like he and Deal end up at a Lemonade. Lemonade is delicious, but we’re talking about a quality of food, and a price point, that eclipses his beloved Cinnabon.
There’s also this amazing cut-away to Josh’s kitchen.
The obvious point of comparison here is Josh’s utility for his dogs. Deal makes this explicit by mention in the last panel on the page before this “Our mutual friend is quite the dog person, as well.” Josh works on taking care of his dogs, and his dogs destroy evidence for him – pretty grizzly, but also illustrative of Josh’s ruthlessness and agency. But consider the specificity of the recipe: juniper, garlic, thyme, etc. Searing both sides of the cut and finishing it off in the oven – that’s some next level I-care-about-the-food-I-feed-my-dogs shit. Compare that to a four dollar burger at In-N-Out, and you’ve basically got Mac’s entire existence.
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