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Breaking not-so-bad

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When things just can't get any worse, a pleasant memory offers comfort. To that end, few memories are as pleasant as being in the shop, even on a fictional TV show.

My wife and I just watched the entire series of "Breaking Bad," finishing the final episode just last week. (If you haven't yet seen it then, yo, spoiler alert.) By the last episode, character Jesse Pinkman's life has hit rock bottom: The police are after him, he's been kidnapped by neo-Nazis who have beaten him to a pulp, keep him chained in a pit by night and force him to cook meth by day, have murdered his former girlfriend, and most certainly will kill him once they're done with him. The word "bleak" can't begin to describe his situation. To keep himself going he thinks of the most pleasant thing he can remember, and we see that in a flashback.

That memory is working on an ornate box in high school woodshop. Jesse had mentioned this in an earlier episode, but only now do we get to see the extent of his woodworking skills. Turns out that he was quite good, making the box entirely with hand tools -- wooden planes for smoothing, perfect hand-cut mortise-and-tenon joints, a hand-rubbed oil finish. In the flashback, Jesse caresses the completed box, enjoying the smoothness of the wood and the scent of the oil. His shop is beautiful and warm. Then the dreamy flashback jarringly ends, revealing the battered Jesse toiling in the meth lab, dragging a chain behind him.

In times when I've been low (or paying bills, been busy with unpleasant chores, was sick or even just mind-numbingly bored driving for hours on the interstate) I've often thought about being in the shop, usually reliving a particular project. It's surprising, then, that the show's producers and writers also hit on the same pleasant memory for Jesse. I can only conclude that someone on the show's staff was a woodworker; only a woodworker would get that flashback and memory so specifically accurate and perfect.

I'm not sure what other viewers thought of this sequence, but I'm guessing that only woodworkers would fully appreciate the power of a good shop memory and the effect it would have on Jesse. Things don't end all that well for most of the "Breaking Bad" characters by the time the final credits roll, but this single flashback makes me think that things just might turn out all right for Jesse.



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