Posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 by Hunter Stephenson
/Film will be recapping episodes for the third season of Breaking Bad, starting with last Sunday’s premiere. A spoiler warning applies after the jump for every recap and the comments section. Meth heads welcome. For previous write-ups on the second and third season of Breaking Bad, click here.
Sunday’s premiere, entitled “No Mas,” was a subdued affair save for multiple homicides and a nightmarish undercurrent that ran throughout. Series creator, Vince Gilligan, didn’t feel the need for a time jump, so we find Walter White worse for wear in the aftermath of season two’s finale. Now sporting a much thicker goatee, it’s the first time in the series that he looks less like a cancer patient than a hardboiled criminal off The Wire. “No Mas” also marks the second ep directed by star Bryan Cranston and he immediately introduces us to a pair of nameless, relentless, and nearly identical thugs, shown above.
With no exposition, in minutes the duo comes to represent the unbelievable, escalating real life wrath of drug cartels in Mexico and these cartels’ common belief in the skull-headed deity of Santa Muerte. If you’re unfamiliar with the chaos happening in the country, check out this recent editorial by journalist Charles Bowden. Something tells us the third season of Breaking Bad will thoroughly address the gruesome “life is cheap” realities of Mexico’s drug trade, after foreshadowing them with the classic tortoise scene last year.
The episode opens on toxic-filtered skies and shots of desolate terrain, choreographed with an eerie beauty now familiar to fans. We close-in on a surreal image of several adults crawling Daniel Plainview-style across this terrain towards a dilapidated shack. Enter the aforementioned Cousin #1 and Cousin #2: two bald-shaved, nearly identical Latin Americans in expensive gray suits, with well-kempt goatees as macho-looking as…Walt’s. After the duo finish crawling, they silently walk into the structure—it’s a shrine ritualistically filled with countless gifts, including a Lucha libre figurine, offered to a skeleton deity accessorized with a scythe. The cousins make an offering and it’s then we see tacked on a wall a crude Unabomber-like illustration of Walter White disguised as his drug-alias Heisenberg. Clearly Walt has stepped on the toes of the wrong dudes—I mean, they drive a gangster-requisite black Mercedes and later give the keys to a goat—and the wrong god.
Back in Albuquerque, a TV is turned to a local news broadcast reporting the latest on the airline disaster that, to the ire of some fans, occurred directly over the Whites’ home and concluded season two. A fresh reminder of the growing scope of Walter’s hard-won drug endeavors, the news broadcasts multiply—one’s in Spanish—and become a unsettling cacophony of reportage. One local witness says of the explosion’s debris, “It sounded like hail,” and we then see multiple newspapers spread across a room. A page one photo is shown of Donald Margolis, the air traffic controller responsible for the disaster, along with a screen shot of his late daughter, Jane.
In the ep, Walt doesn’t show any signs of being distraught over his secret role in Jane’s death—he loomed over her as she overdosed next to a wonked-out Jesse—or Donald’s life, forever altered by his tragic mistake. (Have we seen the last of Donald?) Standing next to his pool, Walt’s deals with so much death on his hands by is firing up a grill containing his major drug score from last season. Fat stacks of hundred dollar bills catch and ignite. But almost immediately, Walt has a fairweather change of heart, quickly tossing the grill into the pool and then himself.
The pool has become something of an ambiguous metaphor for sin and cleansing in the show, not unlike the one in Tony Soprano’s backyard. In the pool drain, Walt recovers and studies the detached eye belonging to the pink stuffed animal that rained down from the airline explosion (in what was a frustrating aha-moment last season because the stuffed animal’s clue-like appearances were apparently arbitrary).
In this scene, the eye arguably and amusingly symbolizes the notion of an eye for an eye. For whatever reason, Walt decides to pocket it, and we later see the eye fall and roll ominously under the bed in the shitty complex he’s staying at. (Note: The eye makes a memorable appearance in the next episode.)
Meanwhile, Walt’s wife, Skyler, looks as emotionally rocked and aged in her appearance as he does. Now the mother of two children, Skyler refuses to allow Walter to move back into their home, and has a serious meeting with a divorce lawyer to discuss finalizing their separation. In a major development, she confronts Walt about being a drug dealer, albeit one involved with “that Pinkman kid” in the weed trade. Walt washes away her concerns by saying, of course not. I’m a meth dealer.
In the premiere’s greatest scene, Walt stands in the center of his high school’s gymnasium, his arms impatiently folded, surrounded by rows upon rows of students in the bleachers—some upset, others relieved to be out of class—for a PC-cathartic open mic about the disaster. Not to dwell on comparisons to Tony Soprano, but I highly doubt the mob boss would publicly show as little compassion and as much chilly rationalization as Walt does here. He attempts to convince hundreds of students that the disaster is not really a big deal, and that history has proven time again that moving on is not difficult. Notice the use of “you’re” in the following explanation by Walt to the gym gathering: ”What you’re left with, casualty-wise, is just the 50th worst air disaster. …Actually it’s tied for 50th.” Kinda gross.
One of Walt’s academic peers looks at him during this speech with concern and walks over to take away the mic. In the stands, crutches at his side, Walt Jr. sighs—last season didn’t pay the character as much attention as we might have hoped. This year, will Gilligan choose to keep him in the dark?
The ep ends with the Cousins riding in a truck that’s covertly transporting other illegal immigrants across the border to Texas. Skulls shining on the toes of their reptile-skin boots—a symbol of cartel affiliation—the Cousins proceed to shoot every passenger—man, woman, and child—and the driver, and then torch them. Voodoo terminators. (Also, Breaking Bad loves a fire/explosion caused by a cigarette.)
The premiere mainly focused on Walt and the Cousins of Death, but some quick observations…
Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul): Walt and Skyler look awful, but Jesse appears well-rested and at peace in the premiere. On the surface at least. We see him planting flowers, still in rehab (at the facility in the desert that abstractly resembles a giant bong colored with an Indian paint rock). Around a bonfire, Pinkman challenges the facility’s group leader over what qualifies him to advise others on how to handle real loss and pain. The answer Jesse receives from the man surprises him and he seems to reach an epiphany. When he meets up with Walt to follow-up on his cut of the score, Jesse soberly confesses what Walt cannot: he’s the bad guy and he can accept that. Honestly, after this scene it’s hard for us to picture Jesse cooking more batches of meth with Walt, but it has to happen, right?
Hank Schrader (Dean Norris): Not much of Hank in the ep, but he continues to register as a guy with no real friends or stable family to lean on. In past seasons, Hank’s had a shootout with Tuco that ended in the drug kingpin’s death and a string of panic attacks, and he’s seen his DEA informant, Krazy 8, wiped off the face of the Earth (by Walt no less). But can he handle the foreseeable violence of the Cousins as they invade his turf? Walt’s confidence in Hank’s blindness is exemplified here when he dryly tells Hank there’s a half-million in cash inside a duffel bag, before letting Hank put it in his trunk. This might be the season where Hank finally snaps for good.
Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito): Walt meets with the show’s biggest and smoothest drug kingpin at one of his chicken restaurants to discuss the future of their partnership. Walt politely—but not politely enough?—says there is no future. Nice doing business. He’s out. Gus counteroffers with $3 million for three months of work. Walt pauses but still declines. If only it were that simple.
Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on AMC. For previous /Film recaps, click here.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila/gmail and on Twitter.