AMC’s Breaking Bad is the second cancer-related TV series to have a full season DVD set released this week. The series would seem, on the surface, to be about a terminally ill middle class guy trying to provide for his family after his death – through cooking up a unique version of crystal meth. Instead, it’s about how that basically decent man – a high school chemistry teacher who could have been much more – has a knack for making exactly the wrong decisions and is devolving from decency to hardcore criminal.
In season three of Breaking Bad, Walter White [Bryan Cranston] finds that the collective result of his choices through seasons one and two have not just had disastrous consequences for others [like his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman], they have led directly to his being actively sought after by the Albuquerque police and a pair of deadly cousins who are assassins for a Mexican drug cartel. Even becoming employed by the cartel’s local regional manager [a man who uses a successful fried chicken franchise as a cover] has not made him safe.
Things are so bad that Jesse [Aaron Paul] begins the third season in rehab, where he finally confronts the person he thinks must be – though later events lead us to believe otherwise. In fact, Jesse’s journey to hardcore criminal may be even more jolting because, although he’s a meth cook and small-time drug dealer, there’s an innocence to him that Walt is lacking.
This is the season in which Walt’s wife, Skyler [Anna Gunn] stops trying to not know what Walt is doing and puts all the pieces together – demanding Walt movie out and beginning divorce proceedings. She also finds a confidante in the lawyer she hires to set the divorce in motion – and, after she and Walt have separated, becomes involved with her boss.
Meanwhile, Hank [Dean Norris], Walt’s brother-in-law, messes up a promotion because he’s so determined to bring down Heisenberg [Walt’s street alias] – and has dealings with the cousins, leading to a renewing of familial solidarity with his wife, Marie [Betsy Brandt] and the Whites.
And, of course, Saul Goodman [Bob Odenkirk] is back to help finesse his favorite clients’ money laundering while having his on call PI, Mike [Jonathan Banks] keep tabs on them [though he’s completely unaware that Mike also does work for Walt and Jesse’s new employer…].
By the time season ends, Walt has made the choices that move him from the ‘decent guy trying to do for his family’ to hardcore – and Jesse, if the season’s last scene isn’t a fake-out [great cliffhanger, by the way], is just about to follow him albeit most unwillingly. What prompts these choices? The one constant in the drug making/dealing careers of Walt and Jesse is that, even when they were on the outs, they still felt a need to protect each other.
Season three of Breaking Bad introduced a lot of new elements to the mix: the super lab that Gus [Giancarlo Esposito] had built for his newest employees; Gale [David Costable],the new assistant Gus hires to replace Jesse after he and Walt have one of their blowouts; an intriguing religion that splintered of Catholicism, and the peskiest fly in the known universe to name but a few.
By the end of season three, Walt Jr. [R.J. Mitte] is the only true innocent left on the show.
As Walt breaks bad in more and darker ways, though, the show maintains its balance of drama and ‘holy $#!+!’ dark humor. The unexpectedness of some of the violence can be hilarious and the combination of subtlety and slapstick in the bottle episode [basically shot on one set] Fly is mostly brilliant.
Even at its lightest [most of the ‘Better Call Saul’ moments], though, there is an undercurrent of darkness; a sense of things spinning out of control even when they seem to be getting better. Creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan has put together a series that is rightly lauded for the entirety of its production – that Cranston and Paul won both major acting Emmys [Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor] for 2010 is a testament to the brilliance of both the cast and the writing.
Full disclosure: Breaking Bad was #4 on my 2010 Favorite Fifteen list: http://eclipsemagazine.com/television/21918/
Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season is also packed with features – including commentary tracks [mostly very good ones, too] for nine of the season’s thirteen episodes.
Features: Audio Commentaries [No Mas: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Skip Macdonald, Dave Porter and Michael Slovis; Mas: Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk and Molly Walley-Beckett; Sunset: Vince Gilligan, Dean Norris, John Shiban, Kelley Dixon, Thomas Golubic; One Minute: Dean Norris, Michelle MacLaren, Thomas Schnauz, Dave Porter, Daniel Moncada and Luis Moncada; I See You: Vince Gilligan, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte, George Mastras and Michael Slovis; Kafkaesque: Vince Gilligan, Betsy Brandt, George Mastras and Michael Slovis; Fly: Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Molly Walley-Beckett; Half Measures: Bryan Cranston, Adam Bernstein, Bob Powloski, Peter Gould, Jonathan Banks and Michael Slovis; Full Measure: Vince Gilligan, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks];
White Heat: Cranston on Fire; Pizza of Destiny: Cranston’s Greatest Shot; 20 Episodes of Inside Breaking Bad; The Music of Breaking Bad; Team S.C.I.E.N.C.E.; Silent But Deadly: The Brothers Moncada; Hit and Run; AMC News Visits The Breaking Bad Writers’ Room; Mini Video Podcasts for Every episode; Deleted Scenes and Unused Footage, and Gag Reel.
Grade: Breaking Bad: The complete Third Season – A+
Grade: Features – A+
Final Grade: A+