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/Film will be recapping and discussing each episode of the third season of Breaking Bad. A spoiler warning applies after the jump for the recaps and for the comments section. Meth heads welcome. For previous recaps, click here.

With “One Minute,” the most engrossing arc of the third season has landed in Hank‘s lap like a decapitated, shrunken head exported from Juarez. And with five episodes left before the finale—should we begin deciphering ep titles like last year?—it will be difficult to surpass the shock of the bloody, unsettling ending here. “I swear to god Marie, the universe is trying to tell me something, and I’m finally ready to listen.” “One Minute” is the second consecutive episode where a mysterious phone call launches Hank’s life down a menacing pinball alley (ruled by fate or chaos?). But unlike last time, we’re unsure over who exactly was on the other line. We also received an origins story for the Cousins of Death, and finally learned the duo’s beer-bobbing Christian names: Leonel and Marco. And in a sign of future grisly decision making, Saul Goodman laid out a not-so-last resort for Walt.

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Henry “Hank” Schrader: Throwing Out His Forgotten Jerky Boys CDs Since May 2010

Reeling in disgust from the bogus call that informed him Marie was in a car accident, Hank pulls up to Jesse Pinkman‘s lonely casa and sends him a flyin’. He wails on Jesse—the skin rubbing off of his bloodied knuckles—and it’s reminiscent of how Tuco accidentally beat an associate to death. And unlike Tuco’s assault, Hank doesn’t even leave Jesse time to garble answers or pleas. (The way Hank (Dean Norris) screams here is uncannily like the late comedian Sam Kinison.) Hank’s beat down here is far more believable than when he fought two scumbag bikers in a bar earlier this season. Question: How many ass whippings has Jesse received total in the series, and is the shock gone because this happens so often?

With Jesse laid up and lawyering up in the hospital, Hank has to man-up and face the coincidences for the off-duty assault. When law enforcement agents ask him to unwrap and position his swollen hand on a table to be snapped for legal purposes, the scene is framed to evoke him being put under arrest. He packs some things, leaves the office, and has another emotional moment in an elevator (the same one where he experienced a panic attack), but this time Marie is at his side.

Later, sitting on a bed Hank admits to her that he’s not fit to be a cop, and perhaps never will be again. Tuco’s death, he admits, has severely affected him and left him unable to control his temper and anxiety. Marie’s there for him, sure, but like Skyler, she is not verbally profound or especially comforting in these scenes.

Hank turns in his statement, followed naturally by the turning over of his badge and gun. We’re used to seeing this scene in movies (e.g. Dirty Harry), but there’s a nice close-up of Hank meeting his captain’s eye and looking downward—expressing respect, uncertainty, and jock-guilt submission. In the hall, his captain walks over to Hank, again at the elevator. Good news: word on the streetz says Pinkman is not pressing charges. “Who the hell knows [why]?” he tells Hank. “Maybe you have a guardian angel.” What this development (or the concluding shootout with the Cousins) means for Hank’s immediate unpaid suspension is unclear.

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Hank Got Shot! And Shot! And Shot! But Who Called Him?

Walking through a packed strip mall parking lot to his car with a bouquet of purple flowers for Marie—note: purple is her choice color—Hank gets into his car. And then his cell rings. It’s a total “Pop quiz, hot shot!” moment. A male on the other end with a scrambled voice patiently says, “Listen carefully. Two men are coming to kill you. They are approaching the car, you have one minute.” Okay. A majority of fans online seem content assuming Gus is the one who called Hank. But if so, how was Gus able to deliver the ultra-specific and ultra-accurate  ”one minute” warning? It would necessitate that Gus was in the parking lot, which means he had to personally follow Hank (or the Cousins) there. And he would need to have a crystal clear view of the action. (Or, let’s assume Gus had Mike plant trackers on Hank and The Cousins’ vehicles. He still could not remotely track and predict their movements outside.)

The more viable identities behind the mystery call are 1) Mike (His timing is impeccable; see his tracker-enabled appearance in the Beneke parking lot, and his previous call to the Cousins at Walt’s house 2) Victor (Gus’s mean-eyed, young henchman—and one of the show’s underrated and most underestimated characters). Beyond nitpicking issues of logic, the identity of the voice matters due to issues concerning: loyalty, empathy, treason. The call’s iffiness is referenced in the episode’s title, it affected the lives of three characters and ended at least one of them. It would be interesting if the voice was a new, unseen character, but this is doubtful given the show’s track record. What’s your take? Don’t say, “It had to be Badger. He’s a closet tech-wizard.”

Counting down to bloodshed, the Cousins of Death appear briefly in Hank’s field of vision—a silver-suited strip mall mirage—and then vanish. Leonel suddenly appears in Hank’s rear-view, shooting out his back window, and tagging him in the arm. Shit! Hank thinks fast, puts his jeep in reverse—did anyone get TV show deja vu from this action?—and slams into Leonel, pinning and crushing his legs. Leonel remains conscious and moody. Marco then ambushes Hank from the side, pinging bullets into the driver’s side. He kills an innocent bystander who says, “Jesus!” and proceeds to reload his gun. Cue: the Hollow Point Bullet of Fate dropping to the ground.

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Marco: Didn’t Tio Tell You To Always Leave Loose Hollow Point Bullets at Home?

After the Cousins’ ominous and divisive build-up this season—including the childhood flashback in the intro here—I am relieved to see these silent hit-men cut loose by the showmakers. But also, I’m slightly disappointed. Was their creation, prophetic presence, and the focus on their voodoo mostly for naught and for show, mirroring the stuffed animal in season two?

At this point, Walt and Jesse are not even aware the Cousins are/were in their vicinity. (Note: They know they exist, if only in the back of their minds, because Tuco mentioned them.) It would have been interesting to see how Walt would react to assassins crossing the border to kill him and his family. We can presume he’ll find out later due to Hank’s injuries, but why so much focus on these two silent, tone-altering characters without direct conflict?

That said, I really dug the set-up to the ending in “One Minute,” but I felt the writing stretched the realm of believability and beyond the “one minute” instruction. I’m cool with the Cousin (Marco) preferring to end Hank’s life with the Patrick Bateman-esque ax. If anything, the Cousins were a hyperbolic symbol of Mexican drug cartel violence and the traditionally flamboyant and public way these criminals go about homicide. But why would Marco leave Hank brandishing a firearm—empty or not—on his chest, knowing he’s a trained cop and fighting for his life? He’s a professional killer and the irony of the Hollow Point of Fate is that he was purchasing armor when he obtained it. The Cousins are not that careless.

In the short term, the awesome head explosion was thrilling and delivered the wow-factor Breaking Bad hits so often. Yet, I wonder how the end scenario will play in repeat viewings, which are the real proof of a show’s greatness, once the shock is gone. As a viewer, I want to be assured that death—not just bad things, man—is at stake for one or more of the show’s main characters. In the short term, I am relieved Hank survived the ordeal, but had he died, the development would be the shot of believability the third season needs. We’ve seen the fallout of post-traumatic stress already.

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Not-so-Hollow Points

  • Jesse does a major 180 in the episode. In the hospital—Saul politely comparing his face to Rocky Balboa, Jesse finally spouts to Walt,  ”I want nothing to do with you! Ever since I met you everything I’ve ever cared about is gone, ruined, turned to shit, dead! Ever since I joined up with the great Heisenberg. I have never been more alone!” But only minutes later, Jesse agrees to again become 50/50 partners. Was it the lure of $1.5 million or the father-figure affirmation of having Walt admit to him that “your meth is as good as mine?” Or was it Walt telling Jesse he’s not a monkey? The ego flip felt rushed, and the tireless litany Jesse dreams up for Hank’s demise felt empty—he’s letting off steam, sure—even though the scene gunned for nihilism.
  • In the hospital, Jesse also threatens to rat Walt out if he’s ever arrested by the police. In the previous episode, Walt informed Badger that “If I go down, we all go down!” But unlike Walt, I inevitably see Jesse giving in to the cops (which is exactly why I hope this never happens).
  • For the first time, Saul suggests to Walt that killing Jesse is a not-so-last option. Is Saul’s fee so great and valuable that he wants to be complicit in the murder of one of his own clients? Even for an infomercial lawyer, that is hellish.
  • Gale was introduced only in the last episode—a consummate if nervous professional—and now Walt fires him from the lab. Instinct said the character wasn’t to be trusted—if he’s not an informant, he’s clearly oversensitive—but Walt’s decision and weak justification to Gale would leave hard feelings, no matter his constitution. One of the dumbest moves made by Walt, in my opinion. If Jesse joined the fold instead of replacing Gale, they could arguably make more money with more manpower.
  • Skyler drops by Walt’s bachelor pad to urge him to have Pinkman drop charges on Hank. Walt informs her he doesn’t currently consider Hank family. Uncharacteristically cold.
  • The personality and appearance of the actor playing the arms dealer had shades of Sam Rockwell and Steven Buscemi, only loonier. I’d like to see more realistic criminals and shadeballs in the show. Along with Jesse’s braindead friends, this character pulled me out of the reality that Walt and the Whites originally started out in.

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Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on AMC. For previous /Film episode recaps, click here.

Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila/gmail and followed on Twitter.

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