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RUNNING TIME: 613 minutes
- 3 Uncensored Episodes
- Cast and crew commentaries on 9 episodes with creator Vince Gilligan and several cast members, including Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and Dean Norris
- Deleted scenes and unused footage
- Gag reel
- Mini Video Podcasts with cast and crew on every episode
- Better Call Saul commercials and testimonials
- 7 episodes of Inside Breaking Bad
The best written and acted show on television returns for a third season, and it’s more violent and satisfying than ever. I promise.
Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks
Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) world has come crashing down around him. Quite literally, actually, as the town he lives in is struck by the tragedy of two airplanes colliding in midair, raining debris down from the sky. Not only that, but after admitting that he started a meth business his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) has kicked him out of the house and requested a divorce in exchange for her silence about his crimes. And Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) has to convince Walt to stay in business and cook meth for him. Jesse is dealing with the aftermath of losing his girlfriend, Jane, whose father is an air traffic controller who in his grief caused the collision of the two airplanes. Meanwhile, two scary looking hispanic men with a crude sketch of Heisenberg, Walter White’s alter ego, are in search of the man and wish to kill him. They bring this sketch (crawling on their hands and knees, as is customary apparently) to a Santa Muerte shrine, in which they essentially pray to death for his demise. Oh my. Shit just got real indeed.
I’m gonna get this out of the way right off the bat so there’s no confusion: I love this show. There’s no getting around that and while i’m going to try and be as objective as possible, there will probably be times that I go straight fanboy on your asses and for that, I apologize. And i’m going to TRY and keep things spoiler-free but I can’t make any promises. Part of the beauty of this show is being caught off-guard by some of the plot twists and developments and i’d hate to ruin any of that for someone who hasn’t seen season 3 yet and just wants to know if they should pick it up. The answer, of course, being FUCKALMIGHTYYES.
Walt, also known as the enigmatic and rarely seen Heisenberg to his enemies, is a complex individual, as complex as the various chemicals that he works his magic on to create his signature blue meth with his partner in crime Jesse Pinkman. At the beginning of the season, Walt, already resigned to leaving the business for good, is given the proverbial “offer he cannot refuse” from Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) when the two meet at Fring’s restaurant ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’. The offer? 3 million dollars for 3 months of cooking. Walt, of course, initially says no, but the prospect is just too tempting, too attractive, especially in light of Skyler’s actions and the rift between him and Jesse . You can never have enough money, and greed motivates us all. What else motivates Walt? The pride he takes in his product. When Jesse reveals that he’s cooking on his own, with Walt’s formula, he’s outraged and defensive about his good name and good product being sullied by Jesse. So what started as a reluctant way to make money somehow turned into something Walt was proud of, and there’s a madness about that, about becoming what you never expected yourself to become.
So as we open season 3, Jesse is broken down but recovering. He’s in rehab, and he cannot get over the death of Jane, who choked in her sleep after both of them passed out after doing heroin and he feels that he is responsible for her death even though we know he isn’t. He’s trying to come to terms with it, but we repeatedly see him calling her voicemail just to hear her voice again. Despite this, though, the season 3 Jesse is much more focused than before. Focused on claiming what is his (in one instance, buying his parents’ house after they essentially disowned him) and continuing to make money slingling meth by skimming off the top of what he and Walt make for Gus. Two of his reliable cronies, Badger and Skinny, agree to help him in this venture as they have helped him in the past. But the important revelation is that Jesse knows who he is, now; he’s “the bad guy”. He has come to accept this. The great thing about Aaron Paul’s Emmy-winning performance is the intensity he brings. He (and the writers) took what was originally some punk, rapper wanna-be and crafted this sympathetic, reflective addict realizing what his role in life is, and more importantly struggling with loneliness. A loneliness that no amount of money can ever fill. And coming from Paul’s mouth, never have the words “yo” or “bitch” been said so iconically. Yes, i’m serious.
Bryan Cranston continues to be an amazing actor, capable of a multi-layered performance just with his face alone. I knew he had been around for a long time, not only for his role on Malcolm in the Middle but in numerous small film roles (an armless colonel in Saving Private Ryan is what I remember most) and while I don’t watch anime, I knew he had been a voice actor especially in that field for years. For me he was always that guy who I associated with a particular role. A guy I always respected the ability of but never thought to consider him for any other type of role. It’s a good thing Vince Gilligan wasn’t as naive as me. I think when most of us first glimpsed him on this show, we might have flinched a little. Is this really Hal, the zany dad from Malcolm? And…wait…he’s cooking crystal meth? But that’s the beauty of why this whole thing works so well. We BELIEVE him as a good guy, as a father or a husband or a brother-in-law, and for all we know this guy could live down the street from us. So in any event, when I discovered this new show about a chemistry teacher gone criminal, I was intrigued. And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Now, i’m a huge fan of Dexter. I’d imagine a lot of you folks are too, because fuck, it’s a great show. In my mind, I tend to compare this show to that on occasion, if only because the lies these characters, Walt and Dexter, must tell to maintain the facade. To continue the double life. If you ask me, Dexter’s crimes are a bit (ok, a fuck-ton) more reprehensible than Walt’s but that’s meaningless because they’re both antiheroes. They’re us, in a way. Something compels them to do what they do (Walt: the well-being of his family, Dexter: the well-being of mankind) and they both struggle to figure out what’s going on with their lives. They both hide in plain sight and hide their secrets from family, friends, aquaintances, co-workers, and constantly explain their motives when they have to go out at night. And here we sit, watching them do these things because we understand the emotions. We are looking in the mirror, at ourselves. Maybe sharing some of the same problems that these characters feel. And in the end that’s why we root for ANY character, really, because we identify with them. But it’s a different feeling when that person does bad things.
The dynamic between Walt and Jesse continues to be an interesting one. They are definitely close now, and there’s no getting around that. They’ve been through so much at this point, there is a definite bond there and shared experiences, especially those of a dangerous nature, bring two people closer no matter what. But their relationship is the very definition of “love/hate”. Right before the end of season 2, we would have thought that these two characters may never speak to each other again. As Jesse and Jane further descended into drug addiction at the end of season 2, Walt was (after Jesse was passed out not answering his phone) forced to break into Jesse’s apartment because of his need to get their meth and make a first deal with Gus. I won’t get into specifics of HOW, but this whole storyline lead to Jane’s death and there is no one Jesse blames but himself. Late in the season, Walt realizes that he needs to make a choice for the greater good that involves Jesse and it’s probably the biggest decision of his life. A game-changing decision, to be crystal clear.
As much as I love Walt and Jesse and as great as Cranston and Paul’s performances are, the real standout actor and character of season 3 was, for me, Dean Norris as Hank Schrader, Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law. At the beginning of the series you probably cringed when the guy came on screen because, here we go, it’s another gung-ho cop character who boasts about his accomplishments and belittles the weaker people around him. But something happened in season 2 when he was promoted to the El Paso, Texas branch of the DEA that changed this man, this self-assured and cocky guy who appeared to have his emotions under control 24/7. This event shattered him even though he wouldn’t let people know it. He’d still joke with the guys at work, after coming back from El Paso, and still be that tough guy, but the character became so much more than paper-thin. Watching him struggle in season 3 is hard. And he ends up hot on the trail of the blue meth being cooked by Walt and Jesse, even after his colleagues all tell him to give up. He’s going so hard at it not just because he has a hunch, but secretly so that he won’t have to go back to El Paso. Hank’s evolution over the course of 3 seasons is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and he becomes the character you root for the most.
The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. Of course, Anna Gunn is fairly unknown, to me at least, but she has made a name for herself with this show. She could be a little ridiculous at times in the beginning of season 3, but as she learned more about what Walt had done, she began to break out of the disapproving stance she took early on after finding out about Walt’s crimes. By the end of season 3, her intentions with whether or not she wants to help Walt continue to thrive or want nothing to do with him are very clear. And their son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) is not given loads to do except be caught in the middle of Walt and Skyler’s troubles, which is fine, but i’m hoping there’s a little more diversity with his character in season 4. Bob Odenkirk as lawyer Saul Goodman (or as he puts it, Walt’s “consigliere”) is just the right combination of comedy and sleaze. You’d never expect him in a role as serious as this (for as lighthearted as his character can get, he is a questionable motherfucker in nature) since his roots are so firmly grounded in outright comedy. But he’s great. Not to mention, his henchman Mike (Jonathan Banks), a private investigator (officially? i’m not entirely sure) who also happens to work for Gus, VERY quickly became a fan favorite. He’s a loving grandfather who just happens to bug people’s houses and kill people in his spare time. One of the great moments of season 3 is a story he tells Walt about when he was a police officer and had a chance to make a difference regarding a woman and her abusive husband and failed to act, only taking “half measures”, as he explained. Speaking of Half Measures, that’s the name of the second to last (or “penultimate” if you want to get fancy about it) episode of the season and whoa boy, it’s a doozy. It’s quite possibly the best episode of the series thus far, which is a humongous compliment considering there have been no bad episodes in the entire run of this show. You’ll never look at Walt’s Pontiac Aztec the same way again. Last but not least, the cousins. Two of the scariest characters ever to grace a television screen. They are played by newcomers Daniel and Luis Moncado. They barely speak any words throughout the whole season but they don’t have to say a word. They walk around in metallic suits with skull-tipped cowboy boots and carry around very shiny axes. They are the cousins of Tuco, and are seeking revenge for Tuco’s death in season 2. These are guys you don’t want to fuck with. They have no problems stealing a minivan from a wheelchair-bound old lady, but as you’ll soon see, that’s not the worst that these guys do. I wouldn’t even wanna meet these guys in real life. And there’s no footage anywhere on the DVD of them talking as themselves, which would have been reassuring at least to not believe these guys were total psychopaths. If you look on IMDB you’ll find a photo of these guys standing with Bryan Cranston. Bryan’s smiling. They are not. On purpose, or are these guys just playing themselves on the show? Okay, I know that’s not the case, but rarely do characters strike such fear into your heart. One of the best parts involving them occurs in the episode One Minute, which I referenced above, and you’ll see why. Last but not least is Giancarlo Esposito. His portrayal of Los Pollos Hermanos (fast food chicken joint) owner/New Mexico drug ring kingpin. His intense, straightforward performance is something to be savored. The cold, calculating way that he conducts business is one of my favorite aspects of this show. He’s shrewd and careful like Walt is, but to an even greater extreme. You pay attention when this guy is on screen.
Maybe i’m a little hesitant to notice flaws with shows I love (some folks may call that being an apologist; I call it being loyal), but I really can’t find a single thing wrong with anything about this show, or this season. If you forced me, I might say that the finale ends just a BIT too abruptly and is a tad anti-climactic but then again it’s so ambiguous and left open to interpretation that it’s still a success anyway. Most of the disappointment comes from having to wait another year for the next season. And maybe you’d have a hard time believing that Walt would make a pass at another woman, who was in this case the principal of the high school he teaches at. But really, this show is critic-proof like few others. There’s no filler; every scene matters and becomes integral to the story. It’s all just that damn remarkable. It’s rare to watch a show with so few flaws, where you hang on every word and savor every morsel as if you were a prisoner on death row eating his last meal. That’s what this show does to you. It keeps you guessing and it’s filled with enough tension to cause a panic attack. A lot of people have said that this show is what you would get if the Coen brothers made a tv series. That’s true in a lot of ways if you look at a film like No Country for Old Men, which I can’t help but compare to. The silence, the expressive nature of the faces of the chracters. The ruthless, unrelenting nature of some of the characters. The anti-hero that you root for even though questionable things are done. That doesn’t explain every aspect of the film I mentioned, but what they have in common is that level of tension. And there’s a masterful sense of a story unfolding before your eyes in all of its unpredictability. And that feeling you get when someone you identify with is thrust into an outlandish situation, either caused by them or their environment, is what this show and that film share. Walter White, staring down terminal lung cancer, is a man who felt he had no choice but to act and begin this descent into a life of crime in order to help his family survive without him. When it comes to great television, there’s no better choice for you than to descend with him.
The extras are plentiful, but not meaty. But they’re great. Remember the pizza-tossing scene from episode 2, Caballo Sin Nombre? All done in the first take. I couldn’t believe that. The short 3 minute featurette that discusses it is pretty damn hilarious, with Bryan Cranston giving a voiceover in a very serious tone, talking about how “for generations pizza has been bound by the merciless shackles of gravity”. Great stuff. Walt sets some money on fire in the first episode, No Mas, and there was no stunt double bullshit here; not on this show. Cranston put on latex gloves and smeared a bunch of flame retardant gel all over his arm and hands and yes, set himself on fire. The funny part is how the gloves started to come off when he jumped in the pool, but of course we couldn’t see that. Ah, the beauty of behind the scenes featurettes!
Some short deleted scenes, one that includes the actual scene of Walt getting pepper sprayed in episode 2. I guess it was more effective to cut to him after being arrested, in the back of the squad car, than to just show him get sprayed and rolling around on the ground. So I can see why it was cut, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered too much either way.
25 minutes of “Inside Breaking Bad”, from AMCTV.com, which aired during the show’s run. It’s the closest we have to a true, full-length behind the scenes featurette on the set, even though it’s just for the first 7 episodes of the season. And it’s good stuff, having various plot points and storylines being broken down and discussed by Vince Gilligan and the actors. The video podcasts for 4 episodes are pretty cool, though.
Altogether, i’m pretty satisfied with the extras and as a fan of the show, you’ll want to devour all of them to help ease the pain of waiting another month for season 4.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars