Breaking Bad – Season Three
The first two minutes of the Breaking Bad season three premiere are as offsetting as a Martin Heidegger lesson on the first day of a college Philosophy course. Both your professor and Breaking Bad mastermind Vince Gilligan are thrusting you into a gut wrenching head-trip, resulting in an intelligent and delightfully bizarre TV drama that steers clear of misplaced one-dimensional quirkiness.
From subway ads to a televised countdown on AMC, last Sunday’s Breaking Bad Premiere was the subject of exceptional promotion and with valid reason: the hit network television show delivers stories in a manner reserved for programs on channels that raise your cable bill. The show’s ballsy premise centers on Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a New Mexico high school chemistry teacher diving headfirst into the methamphetamine market with former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to secure his family’s financial future after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. White hearkens back to the sympathetic villain of Dog Day Afternoon lore in an industry saturated by the wholesome moral fiber of the sitcom world.
Season three picks up where the last installment left off with audacious cuts of Mexican men and women crawling toward some enigmatic horizon, as seemingly ritualistic as the addiction White sells. The pilgrims are joined towards the end by a pair of menacing cartel twin hitmen, donning skull-tipped leather boots who paste an amateur sketch of Walter at a religious shrine of sorts. While their synchronized movements border on goofy, the parallel plot in the Mexican desert results in an intriguing story telling technique that compliments the program’s breathtaking wide-angle establishing shots and sparse use of sound.
The hitmen’s ominous cameos expose the reluctant ignorance of the audience, representative of Walt’s ignorance concerning a world he can’t intellectualize. This truth is further emphasized by Walt’s tragic attempt to rationalize season two’s plot changing airplane accident during a mourning session in the high school gym. The resulting exchange is as morbid as the tone of the series, the product of a defeated man striving to find a balance between the ethical poles of his lifestyle decisions.
Cranston’s portrayal of Walter is the perfect rendition of a man attracted to his newfound lifestyle despite taking into account its related moral and ethical quandaries. In this sense, Walt seems seduced by the pain of his existence like an affair he cannot turn down. Skyler White (Anna Gunn), Walt’s straight-laced wife, represents the converse of Walt’s conflict by acting as the stubborn loudspeaker for Walt’s conscience. Perhaps more profoundly, Skyler and the rest of the cast are aroused by self-loathing, as exemplified by Jesse’s ‘bad guy’ epiphany during his stint in rehab.
The resulting dynamic makes the viewer feel as fidgety as a meth high and provides an open forum for myriad polemic themes. For instance, the seemingly religious pilgrimage the show opens with coupled with a high school student’s ‘God’ speech during the abovementioned school wide assembly introduce the dilemma of secular vs. non-secular, a symbol of Walt’s ying yang-like internal battles while struggling ironically to confess his wrongdoings to his wife. While Walt’s drug manufacturing experiments are initially portrayed as benevolent, they conversely become an alluring and sexy means to cope with his dismal situation. The risk makes him feel alive and purposeful.
Walt’s meth operations are halted indefinitely when Jesse admits rehab helped him accept his ‘bad guy’ identity. Walt identifies himself as a ‘good guy’ and informs local restaurateur and drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) of his plans to drop his business in an effort to save his failing marriage. The drug boss rebuts with a 3 million dollar payoff upon completion of a 3-month job. Although White initially refuses the proposal, we know he needs to eventually accept Fring’s offer to ensure the survival of the series and the possibility of an Emmy 3-peat (Lead Actor, Drama) for Cranston.
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