(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
Season 3 of Breaking Bad is a beautiful slow-burner. It builds, very carefully, piece by piece, until blowing open over the final episodes.
Season 2 ends with a certain kind of finality. Walt made what he claimed was his final batch of meth, sold it off, and watched his family fall apart, including Jesse, who he shipped off to a rehab center. In terms of the meth-making angle, seasons 1 and 2 tell a single story that could very well end with the planes crashing.
Walt wants it to end. Or so he says. The plane crash, and Jane, and the White family’s dissolution show the repercussions of Walt’s actions, the terrible, deadly repercussions. What the first four episodes of season 3 show is a different kind of effect Walt’s actions have had. Walt has thrown into motion the gears of a vast machine, one he has no control over, and, as the season begins, one he has no knowledge of having kicked into action.
Episode 1 opens in Mexico, with supplicants crawling over a dirt road. A Mercedes pulls up. Out come two well-dressed men, brothers. They join the others on the ground, they crawl to a small one-room house, enter to find a shrine to death. Behind the skull of a woman, the brothers pin a drawing of Heisenberg.
These two, as savvy viewers might guess, are the two Salamanco cousins Tuco mentioned, the sons of Hector AKA Tio, the bell-ringer in the wheelchair. They’re on their way north, across the border, to kill Walt.
Walt, meanwhile, has learned it was Donald whose error caused the plane crash. As in the beginning of season 1, Walt sits by the pool and tosses in lit matches. Only this time he piles his money into the BBQ and lights it on fire. He quickly comes to his senses and dumps it all in the pool. As he scoops it all out later, he comes across the pink bear’s eyeball.
In recovery, Jesse learns that it’s not about trying to become a better person, it’s about learning to accept who you are. After he’s picked up by Walt, and brought to the apartment Walt’s now renting, Jesse fully accepts the fact that he’s responsible for Jane’s death, and therefore the plane crash. Walt argues against this vehemently. Earlier at a school assembly, when asked to speak, Walt launches into a weird, uncomfortable speech about how the crash could have been worse, how it was lucky no one on the ground was hurt, how they’ll all learn to move on. With Jesse he continues this argument, but Jesse won’t have it. He knows who he is. “I’m the bad guy,” he says.
Skyler sees a lawyer about getting a divorce. The lawyer says they need to find out everything about Walt’s finances. Skyler’s reticent on that point. She goes to Walt, who thinks they’re about to have a nice chat. Instead she hands over divorce papers and accuses him of being a pot dealer. Walt says that’s absurd. Then admits to being–not a meth dealer–but a meth cook. The distinction fails to impress her. She freaks out and leaves.
Walt goes to Pollo’s to meet Gus. Gus has an offer: three months of Walt’s time for three million dollars. Walt respectfully turns him down. “I am not a criminal,” he says. He needs to believe this. How else will he get his family back?
As if to belie this claim, episode 2 opens with Walt pulled over by a cop. Walt’s windshield is smashed to hell from the falling plane crash debris. The cop doesn’t care. He writes Walt up anyhow. Walt flips out. Yells at the cop until he’s pepper sprayed and arrested. Hank talks Walt’s way free.
The theme continues in this episode: the world is swirling out of control around Walt, who remains oblivious. Hank and Marie can’t understand why Skyler is divorcing Walt, and why she doesn’t want him around the kids. Walter Jr. (he’s done with being called Flynn) is outraged. Skyler is a mess.
At work, Skyler, without saying it outright, tells Ted he has to cover his financial tracks better if he wants to get away with it. She then pointedly asks what he’d tell his kids if they found out. He stammers out an answer. He says he’d tell them he did it for them. Of course in a sense Skyler is asking Walt this question, and Ted is answering as Walt. Skyler doesn’t know it consciously, but she’s learning to accept what Walt’s done through Ted.
Walter Jr. shows up at Walt’s apartment wanting to stay with him, but Walt wants to be the nice guy. He calls Skyler, tells her he’s bringing Junior home. He dresses sharply, puts on aftershave, and brings a pizza for dinner. But Skyler won’t even let him inside the house
Next time we see Walt he’s passed out on his floor in his underwear. He opens his eyes to see staring at him the bear’s eyeball from under the bed.
As for Jesse, he spies his old house up for sale. Talks to his dad outside, who’s kind of a jerk to Jesse. Jesse hires Saul to buy the house. Saul offers only half price…because of the meth lab he knows about in the basement. He could go to the cops, or the Pinkmans can take his offer. They do. And are quite surprised when it’s Jesse who turns up at the house with the keys.
Saul’s worried Skyler will go to the cops. He has Mike bug the house. Mike’s almost seen by Walt, who turns up with his belongings. He breaks into the house. He’s back.
So are the cousins. They go to see Tio in his nursing home. Using a Ouija board, he spells out WALTER WHITE. The cousins park in front of Walt’s house and take a shiny axe out of the trunk. Lucky for Walt, Mike is still parked down the street. He calls Gus.
The cousins sit on Walt’s bed, axe in hand, waiting for Walt to come out of the bathroom. One of them picks up the eyeball in Walt’s suitcase. They get a text, “Pollos.” When Walt exits the bathroom, nobody’s there. But he spots the eyeball. Which is a lovely metaphor for there being eyes on Walt, watching out for him.
Episode 3 is about power. It begins with a flashback of Tortuga, the snitch whose head we last saw adorning the backside of a turtle, in a Mexican bar. The head of the cartel comes to chat with him, i.e to have the Salamanca cousins hack his head off.
Skyler finds Walt at the house. He won’t leave. She threatens to call the cops. He says to go ahead. He’s as calm as can be. Junior comes home first. Skyler couldn’t be more flustered. The cops arrive. Junior is outraged. The cops can’t do a thing. You can’t arrest a man for breaking into his own house. And Skyler still won’t reveal Walt’s meth cooking. It would destroy Junior.
This is a huge power-play for Walt. He’s in total control. Which is contrasted nicely by the the players in the drug world, who hold his fate entirely in their hands. The cousins and Tio drive out to the chicken ranch, our first time there, and meet with Gus and the head of the cartel. They didn’t realize Gus had business with Walt, but still, they want revenge for Tuco. Gus says he needs Walt. When he’s done with Walt in a few months, they can have him. The cartel boss confides to Gus that he can’t guarantee the cousins will wait.
Hank is falling apart. He’s supposed to return to El Paso. In a bar with Gomez, Hank beats the living shit out of two biker dudes. Needless to say, Hank’s a touch stressed out. And scared.
Jesse has likewise gone to pieces. He sits alone in his empty house, staring out the windows and calling Jane’s voicemail over and over again just to hear her voice. Saul comes by and begs him to talk to Walt, to convince Walt to start cooking again. Then, one night, Jesse calls Jane, and the number is disconnected. Next time we Jesse, he’s brought the RV out to the desert, and looks ready to cook.
Home life isn’t going well for the Whites. Walt sleeps alone in the baby’s room. Skyler secretly smokes in the bedroom. Then one morning, Walt shows Skyler his duffel bag full of cash. “I earned it,” he says. It’s not stolen. It’s for the kids, it’s for Skyler. He wants her to accept it. But gives her time to think it over.
Skyler thinks it over by kissing Ted in the break room, then going to his house and screwing him.
She returns home to find Walt happily cooking dinner, doing everything he can to assume normality. He tells her how great it is to be honest. Her response? “I fucked Ted.” And she sits down to dinner with Junior and his friend.
Power. Skyler found a way to maintain some for herself.
As episode 4 begins, Walt goes berserk. Mike brings Saul a recording from the bug at the house, over which we hear Walt and her arguing about Ted, and meth.
Walt goes to the Beneke offices, tries to get into Ted’s office, but he won’t open the door, chickenshit that he is. The whole office watches. And looks at Skyler. Everyone knows what happened. Walt’s thrown out and suddenly Mike drives up and grabs him.
Back at Saul’s office Walt realizes they bugged the house. Insists they remove the bugs. At the house, Mike takes out the bugs. Walt insults him. At his car, Mike has his first of what will be many great lines and moments in the show: “You know, Walter, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have someone watching your back.” And on the pavement outside the house we see a chalk drawing of a scythe.
Jess fills up the RV at a lonely gas station. Has no cash, so he talks the sweet girl at the counter into taking a baggie of blue meth instead.
Which sets off the next string of events. Hank’s about to go to El Paso when he gets a call about blue meth turning up. He investigates the lead, eventually traces it back to the girl at the gas station. She says the guy who sold it to her drove an RV. Hank spots an ATM outside, gets photos from its security camera of the RV. In a tense scene with his boss, Hank says there are only 29 such RVs in the state. Asked if he’s going to go to El Paso, Hank hems and haws and finally says no. Hank does not appear at all well. He’s obsessed and scared. And he’s a prick to Gomez, who’s worried about him.
The way Hank is portrayed is sneaky and brilliant. If we didn’t know about Walt and Gus, we’d think Hank was a headcase, obsessed with a nothing case going nowhere and using it as an excuse to stay away from El Paso. And he is using it as an excuse. And he is a headcase. And also, he’s on the right track. Which will lead him to Walt, the very cause of all his misery. Good stuff.
Walt’s spaced out in chem class. He makes a dreamy kind of pass at the principal, like he’s barely in the room. He takes an indefinite sabbatical.
Jesse appears with the meth he’s cooked. He wants Walt to set up a meeting with Gus. Walt is outraged that Jesse is cooking his formula. Refuses to put him in touch with Gus. Jesse goes to Saul.
And Mike goes to Gus. Hearing that Walt and Jesse are at odds, Gus agrees to buy from Jesse. Gus knows just how to manipulate Walt.
At the meet, Victor gives only half the money to Jesse. “That’s your half,” says Victor to the baffled Jesse.
Walt sits in his car at a red light. Victor drives up and tosses Walt’s half into the window. Walt sits there, even more confused than Jesse.
That’s where we’re left after four episodes. Everyone but Walt is deciding on what Walt’s going to be doing with his life. It’s only Gus’s whim that’s kept Walt alive. Poor Gus, yet to have any idea that getting mixed up with Walt is the worst decision he’ll ever make.
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10
- Season 2, Episodes 11-13