Friday, June 8, 2012

Breaking Down: Season Three of Breaking Bad - Part One

Welcome to Season Three of Breaking Bad, where the shit hits the fan. First, Walt is dealt the blow that he “started the fire” that caused the plane crash that ended Season Two but reasons that the world has been burning since it has been turning and moves on. Unbeknownst to Walt, Tuco’s twin cousins are hunting him for revenge. Meanwhile, Walt and Skyler have marital issues, while Walt hides in lies, Skyler sleeps with Teddy Beneke. Eventually, Walt thinks the Skyler ship may have sailed without him and returns to work, this time in a super lab for some serious Schrute bucks. Saul and Mike bug the White home to protect their investment in Walt, which leads to an intervention between the twins and Gustavo Fring. As Hank searches for the “blue,” he unknowingly traps Heisenberg and Pinkman in the RV, where Saul saves the day with a fake phone call to Hank’s phone, but this leads to many blisteringing right hooks to Jesse's face. Gustavo then gives up Hank in return for the safety of Walt, and Hank and the twins duke it out Modern Warfare 3-style in a parking lot. (Look for coverage of Season Three, Episodes Eight through Thirteen next week.)

Dos Peñas (and no, we're not talking dong here) 
Stan Earnest: Season Three fits the formula for Breaking Bad going forward: the first episode or two lays the ground work and then each subsequent episode builds in intensity to a Breaking point. Rinse, lather, repeat. When you think it can't get any more intense, something crawls out of the woodwork and presents a new obstacle for Walt, Gus, and clan. Obstacle numero uno: the twins.

Craig Scholes: First off, I would like to note that the brothers look strikingly similar to Kansas City Royals catcher Brayan Peña, so from hence forth I will call them Dos Peñas. Boy howdy is Season Three epic. I mentioned that Season Three is my favorite, and it wastes no time getting into it. How about that ridiculous school function/cry party? Walt getting practical, dropping statistical bombs and telling the school, "People move on," all whilst wearing his purple jeans. Speaking of clothes, that Mexican family got a pretty sweet deal on a Mercedes.

SE: I was thinking Dos Peñas were more like Dos Molinas, but I guess they are missing sweet neck tats. I had no clue how Season Three was going to start, so I was very pleased with the airplane collision media montage where it is made clear to Walt that he put the wheels--or shall I say wings--in motion. Walt's reaction is fitting at this point in the series: "I'm not bad! Watch, I'll burn a fat stack of cash on a BBQ grill. No wait, I need an out! Oh, jeepers creepers, I just set my arm on fire. Aghhhh."

Notice the "Better Call Saul" matchbook Walt was using? This brings me to a sort of complaint, or more of an inquiry I have, about AMC's lack of merchandise available for Breaking Bad. Over at the Showtime website I can get a Dexter bobblehead, Dexter syringe writing pens, Dexter shot glasses, and the like, but AMC is only selling a few DVD box sets. I am wondering why the lack of Breaking Bad merchandise? I have a Heisenberg hat I had to buy on a third party website. What gives AMC? Afraid to capitalize on "Better Call Saul" matchbooks, “Get back to work” Gus T-shirts, and Heisenberg gear, or are there other legality issues?

CS: That is a good question on the merchandising. They market the shit out of the Walking Dead though. Perhaps it’s just AMC not wanting people to be wearing shit that glorifies the glamorous meth life.

I could never say no to that smile...
How about Walt just spilling the beans after being confronted by Skyler? Clearly he had been pinned in the corner with nowhere to go, but I’m still a little surprised that he gave up the lies that easily. I also think Skyler kept her cool pretty well, all things considered. Season Three is also where Gus really starts to bring it. He is the last guy I'd want to play poker with. The scene where he gives Walt the three month business proposal with that grim face then flashes that smile when Walt turns him down is fantastic. Gus really is second only to Ron Swanson in my book in the pantheon of all-time great characters, and they aren't even remotely similar, aside from possibly a little bit of Libertarian leanings.

SE: I think Walt was fulfilling his "I'll tell you everything" line from the end of Season Two, but we know Walt can never really tell Skyler everything. Can you imagine how that would go? "Hey, Sky, it all started when I had to kill a DEA informant. Then I was kidnapped by Tuco Salamanca. Then I had to let a girl threatening to expose me die of a drug overdose. Oh, and you know that plane crash..."

I'd say Walt played his cards pretty well with Skyler (Saul and Mike to the rescue), except for the part where Skyler spills the beans with her lawyer (another loose end that might need tightened up later) and shacks up with Beneke, but we all know what is coming down the pipeline in this lesson of Ethics 101. Season Three is where the lines get blurred. Walt may be manufacturing crystal for the entire Southwestern U.S. of A., but everyone close to him is a criminal too: Marie is a klepto, Hank goes rogue, and Skyler starts becomes a chef herself, subtly cooking the books for Ted, along with the whole cheating on her ever so faithful husband thing. Outside of the ethical realm, how would you feel if you loved your family so much that you killed to make money for their future survival and then your wife left you because of it? But at the same time, how can we blame Skyler? Walt had trapped her in her own house, left her without care while pregnant, and wouldn't tell her a thing. Damn this show is good at character development.

CS: Don't forget Walt standing up to the man and refusing to be ticketed for having a busted up Aztec. I will admit I get a strange sense of glee every time that fucking car takes on damage. How many times has Hank bailed out members of his family now? He overlooks his klepto wife, he takes the phone call for underage Walt Jr. trying to buy booze, and now he comes to the rescue of Walt Sr.

It’s a good think Mike bugged Walt’s house, but I would love to see all the footage of Walt that we didn't see. We could see him jamming out to some Crosby, Stills, and Nash while grading papers. Do you even think Walt would have known he was dead before he was killed by Dos Peñas? I also would have liked to see the scene of Dos Peñas trying to get Old Man Salamanca past the front desk.

SE: Is A Horse With No Name the catchiest song ever? I remember hearing that song--and another of my favorites, Heart of Gold--on the radio before Season Three and thinking they would make perfect (or ironic in the case of Heart of Gold) songs for an RV-in-the-desert montage, so I had a real eureka moment when Breaking Bad used one. Now I know A Horse With No Name isn't Neil Young; it's America. I know this from thousands of classic rock car rides with my father. You know Walt has had the same now-this-is-America-not-Neil-Young talk with Walt Jr. I did run a search to make sure none of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young clan were involved on that one, nope, but guess what replaced it at number 1 on the charts...Heart of Gold. And yes, I feel like Vince Gilligan is winking at us every time the Aztec takes on some punishment.

I like the juxtaposition that Walt gets thrown into in Season Three between him and Skyler, while the twins hunt him, while Hank hunts him, while he unknowingly plays a malicious poker game with Gus. I also like the parallels we start to see between the style of Gus and who Walt thinks he has become: the low-profile vehicles, the glasses, the button-ups, the slacks, the reserved manners, and the cover under the nose of the DEA. Season Three shows us that if Walt really wants to be Gus, he has to swallow his pride once in a while and avoid situations in which he lips off to law enforcement, tosses pizzas on roofs, and throws large potted plants at windows.

CS: Man, Walt getting got was closer to happening than the Cuban Missile Crisis. And how about that bear eye seeing all as if it were the Eye of Sauron? I’m usually pretty slow to picking up on metaphor, but that’s gotta be why that bear eye pops up (and will continue to). Breaking Bad is the king of the Mexican Standoff, and we get to see a great one when Walt calls Skyler’s bluff; she does call the police, but nothing comes of it. Skyler didn't even have to spill the beans. She could have told the smallest lie, and Walt would have been gone. At times, I think Walt needs to walk around hauling his nuts in a wheel barrel; of course, that also gets him into trouble more often than not. It’s becoming quite clear how little respect Walt has for any sort of authority.

SE: How hard do you have to party to wake up on the floor amidst crumbled, stale popcorn in some tighty-whities? Is it hard enough to make Andrew WK proud? You know Walt was jamming to some Boz Scaggs or maybe some Gordon Lightfoot. How many times do you think Walt drunk-dialed Skyler?

Walt after being roofied at ABQ Revival House showing of Deliverance
CS: I have no idea, but drunk dial Walt would make for AMAZING webisodes. Also, Drunk Dial Walt is going to be the name of my hipster emo band. I also imagine Walt has American Psycho-like reviews of bands. He strikes me as a getting drunk on appletinis while listening to Sussudio.

SE: Nooooo, not Phil Collins! I have nightmares about the Tarzan soundtrack I’m subjected to via the appeasement of children. Thankfully, I still enjoy me some Genesis.

Before we get to the epic RV standoff, I have to continue to wax poetic on Breaking Bad. I think the reason Season Three works so well is because we have so many added characters to follow. In the first couple of seasons the story could be told individually through Walt and Jesse with flares of Skyler, Hank, and Marie. At any given point in Season Three, the story can now follow Saul, Mike, and Gus in addition to more of the above. This allows Breaking Bad to thrive in the editing room, piecing together two-to-three minute snippets to increase the pacing time when needed.

Not only that, Gilligan & Co., in my opinion, do not fiddle with extraneous scenes, nor add minutes outside of pertinent info to scenes to extend the series any longer, unless they want to add a particular flair. Two relatively unimportant scenes demonstrate what I am talking about: the first time Skyler meets with the divorce lawyer and the scene where Dos Peñas throw down on the illegal immigration wagon. Some shows would spend 5-10 minutes on those scenes, dragging them out for extra commercial time, and why wouldn't they with exorbitant production costs? But for Breaking Bad we get just what we need and with a particular style: we need to confirm that Skyler is afraid to turn Walt in, so we are left with the lawyer talk of leaving no stone unturned investigating soon-to-be exes; we also need to know the Salamanca twins are clearly cartel and are risking their livelihood venturing into the States, so when the boy realizes the boots have cartel skulls on them, the twins just give that grimaced well-time-to-off-these-folks look and then do the deed. A few minutes and we get the info we need and an explosion.

CS: Yeah, the twins took care of the caravan, but I must say it’s pretty poor form to off your coyote. Why didn't he just lay in the road and wait? Attempting to crawl off has to rank way up there in the pantheon of all-time dumb ideas.

Clearly Hank is starting to lose it. The guy clearly isn't bulletproof, and everyone around him is starting to pick up on it too. The worst part about it is that everyone is trying to help him out, but Hank is similar to Walt in that he refused to let anyone help him out. I’m not much of an alpha male, so I can't imagine what would possess someone to just pick a random bar fight in a biker bar. Hank needs to go back to brewing beer and spend less time chasing a gram of rock around the New Mexican desert if you ask me.

SE: Got a question for your inside scoop: does that meth rock really make you Riverdance like Badger? The first time through, I paused and laughed for probably a full minute. You’re scuffing up my floor, Craig.
CS: Well I could ask my insider, but it’s kind of touchy subject. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that said family member’s ogre friend does similar stupid shit whilst stone cold sober, so I can only imagine the shenanigans he gets himself into geeked out.

Speaking of random funny things, I got a tremendous chuckle out of Walt's line, "Real upstanding work," directed at Mike after he removed the surveillance equipment, of course Mike followed up with the tremendous, "Yeah, I like it." Clearly Mike finds it as amusing as I.

SE: Hey, Walt the kettle, you are in meth production holmes, chill on the slander. He was nearly killed by not one, but two ax murderers. Mike was the one who saved him, so it was fantastic when Mike doesn't allude to how close he had come to a Scatman Crothers exit, but merely mocks him by saying, "You know Walt, sometimes it doesn't hurt to have someone watching your back." Apparently Jonathan Banks, the actor that plays Mike the Cleaner, was in a most righteous TV series in the late 80s called Wiseguy, but I can't seem to find it anywhere.

CS: Hell, I think obstacle numero uno is still themselves. Walt's pride is clearly going to do him in at some point. Jesse's head up his assedness is going to do him in. Heck, you can even see Skyler being tempted by the dark side. It’s great that the only voice of reason is possibly the sketchiest guy in the whole show. I don't think they could have cast Saul any better than Odenkirk; granted, he is also the one trying to keep these guys to break bad. Oh, and of course I took tremendous glee with even more Aztec damage at the hand of Jesse.

SE: Speaking of cars getting damaged, why is running over trash cans with a vehicle so funny. I remembered Pinkman's crew/strip club montage, but forgot Jesse takes out several trash cans Lebowski style on the way out of there. Walt is obviously living fast and hard, leaving the RV riddled with fingerprints and then betraying Jesse.

CS: Did Walt really betray Jesse? I mean, they were business partners, then they weren't. In reality, Walt was the brains, and once their initial run was done I don't feel like he owed Jesse anything. If the shoe was on the other foot, Pinkman would have done the exact same thing. And if it were a legit business, Walt would have every right to copyright his product to prevent others from duplicating it.

As I said earlier, Breaking Bad is the king of the Mexican standoff. That RV scene is fucking fantastic, and the sketchy old car crusher guy (who also played Carl in Billy Madison) was great too, and of course he knows way more than he should about the law.

SE: Yes, he knows and readily uses the word domicile. Everybody needs an overqualified junkyard guy. Thankfully, this was slightly before the current Bobby Petrino texting era, so the writer's didn't have to account for the hundreds of texts Marie would constantly be sending Hank, tipping him off to the prank call. I give kudos to the writers for that whole 15 minute piece from the phone call to Walt to the standoff at the junkyard. I really enjoyed Cranston's acting during the phone call scene because he knows that Walt is not a good actor and trying to play dumb with Hank is a hard feat to pull off, so he has to bleed the line between acting Walt and acting Walt acting. I am always trying to figure out the next move, and getting Heisenberg, Pinkman, and Hank all in the same place at the same time, while remaining believable, really threw me for a loop. And on top of it all, Hank then gets a bounty put on his head. The writers really enjoy putting these characters through hell.

CS: Especially Jesse, how many times has he gotten the ever-loving shit kicked out of him? Every time you turn around Jesse is getting put through the ringer.

How epic is Episode Seven? I don't think it’s my favorite episode of Breaking Bad, but it runs the gamut of emotion from Jesse and Hank both crying, having had enough, to full on fighting badassery.

SE: Agree to the Nth degree. It's not my favorite either, but there is no denying the last few minutes. Hank vs. the twins is definitely in the top five television scenes of all-time. The episode doesn't give you any inkling that the showdown will happen, because there isn't much time left in the episode when it happens, and then it all happens so fast. Hank doesn't have his gun. Is he getting pranked? Who called him? Anxiety riding high, the clock thunders a minute change in Hank's head, and then the twins arrive. I bet Gilligan had to run that head splatter by some execs, but with the stripper scenes getting approved, I doubt that was any problem. So did the twins take turns sharpening that axe all day long for it to stick in the asphalt?

CS: I was actually wondering who polished the ax; they don't come that shiny from Home Depot. Also, Gus had to be the guy to call Hank, couldn't be anyone else. Gus is the only guy that knows the twins exist that has met Hank. Fact of the matter, Hank is a BAD ASS! He's the type of guy that if he never got to go back to working for the law, could easily have become some kind of super bodyguard for Whitney Houston or something.

SE: I was thinking Mike probably made the call as he would be the one shadowing Hank. So what did we miss Craig?

CS: I think the only thing we really haven't talked about is Gale, such a great character, and yet Walt still treats him like shit. I also really loved the scene where Dos Peñas buy the bullet proof vests.

The truly crazy thing is that you have an entire seasons worth of action and drama already, and we are only half way through this season. We are seven episodes in and you could easily have ended the season on Hank being layed out with severe injuries in a parking lot. Oh, but there is more, much, much more. I continue to sing the praise of Breaking Bad’s ability to execute the Mexican Standoff, yet we haven't even gotten to the craziest one yet. This show actually manages to continue to build on this season. If you are following along, you are in for a treat. If you have already seen this season then you know that it somehow manages to keep getting better.

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