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A great season in one of TV's finest shows.
on June 28, 2010
After 3 years of BREAKING BAD, I'm still amazed and bemused that I've grown to care so very much about a meth manufacturer and his messed-up, addictive young assistant. In Season One, Walter White (Bryan Cranston, in one of the best performances of the decade) was a mild-mannered high school science teacher who finds out he's likely dying of cancer, and uses his knowledge of chemistry to concoct a really excellent form of meth. He turns to a former student and druggie, Jesse (Aaron Paul, in one of the other great performances of the decade) to help him sell the stuff. The two form an awkward bond, punctuated by nearly comedic moments when their ineptitude causes endless trouble for them. Walt struggles to hide his double life from his wife Skylar, his sickly teenage son and his brother-in-law Hank, who happens to be a DEA agent.
In Season Two, the success of Walt's meth draws unwanted attention from various law enforcement types, as well as those on the wrong side of the law. Walt's secret becomes harder to hide, and Jesse and Walt grow estranged as several bad turns force a wedge between them. Jesse falls in love, but he and his girl, a recovering addict, don't exactly help each other out. Walt & Jesse are further "assisted" by a new attorney (Bob Odenkirk, offering probably the only comic relief to be found anymore) who tried hard to help these two launder their money. The season ends badly, with tragedies both personal and widespread...and Walt's marriage is in shambles.
Season 3 introduces us to a new Walt, one that has been evolving since the beginning. He's now a hardened criminal, still showing his mild-mannered side...but also fully turned over to his darkness. In Season Two, he committed a couple of acts that were so horrific that he can no longer really look himself in the mirror and see the "good guy" he once was. He partners with a local drug kingpin (wonderfully played by Giancarlo Esposito) and begins to manufacture on a scale he had scarcely imagined possible. Jesse struggles with loss and addiction, and it's a long time before these two old partners come together again.
There are many wonderful things about the show and Season 3. First, the character evolution is better than on almost any other show on TV. You can actually track the changes to these folks in a way that makes you realize that most other TV characters basically remain unchangeable. You see that Walt has become a crafty "bad" guy...he has truly broken bad. His wife has evolved. His son. Hank. And poor Jesse. They hardly resemble the characters we first met...and time has not been kind to any of them. And with the excellent writing, directing and acting...we can practically feel the guild and corruption pouring off of them.
The show introduces some great new characters, and develops Esposito & Odenkirk to a great extent. I particularly enjoyed the two hit men from south of the border. These two cousins are vicious killers who never speak a word...and you'd be hard-pressed to find two creepier characters in recent TV history. They are introduced in the squirm-inducing first scene of the season...setting you up perfectly to be on edge for just about anything all year. Midway through the season, Hank and these two cousins have a brief scene together that is easily among the most exciting, tense, jaw-dropping few minutes in television history. I rarely find myself needing to yell at the television and the characters on it...but any viewer of BREAKING BAD will be hard-pressed not to jump up and down and yell. That five minutes alone make the season worthwhile...it's almost like the final 6 minutes of SIX FEET UNDER made watching that whole series worthwhile.
I really don't want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that Walt and Jesse are headed to some very dark places. Walt has few redeeming qualities left to him...but his concern for the moral life of Jesse is one very touching quality he retains. Because he feels so irredeemably corrupted himself, he "runs interference" against some of Jesse's self-destructive tendencies. And near the end, when that concern is also twisted by fate and circumstance...it becomes almost unbearable for the viewer. When was the last time you sat on the edge of your seat over a MORAL DILEMMA?!?!
The quality of this show is nearly unsurpassed. It is very thoroughly only for adults though. There is almost no behavior to admire. It is brutal and blunt and gritty. (It also uses Albuquerque, my town, VERY well...which gives me an extra dose of love for the show. We see real locations, real local restaurants, even real local pizza carryout joints.) But it is so tightly constructed from both a plot and character standpoint that it provides intelligent, gripping entertainment. And the work of Aaron Paul, and particularly Bryan Cranston, is so superb that any appreciator of fine acting really should tune in.
If you haven't seen the show before, PLEASE go back and start from the beginning. It truly has been like one long journey, and it begs to be appreciated from its starting point. But for heaven's sake, SEE IT!