Friday, June 15, 2012

Breaking Down: Season Three of Breaking Bad - Part Two

In the last episode we covered, Hank went all John Rambo on the Salamanca twins. The last half of Season Three brings us plenty of more drama. Walt brings aboard Pinkman to replace Gale in the super lab to avoid litigation against Hank. Meanwhile Walt can’t escape the hospital visiting room where his family is waiting on word of Hank’s health, thus casting his web of lies to include Gus, who is not impressed. Gus makes an appearance at the hospital much to Walt’s surprise, and this sets up a meeting at the chicken coop in which Walt reveals that he understands Gus’s brash business tactics, and accepts a continuous supply of cash to continue production of the “blue.” Jesse starts dating a fellow rehabber and haphazardly discovers the killer of his comrade Combo, the gal’s kid brother. This prompts a confrontation between Team Gus and Team Walt. The child drug dealer is then murdered, prompting revenge at the hands--or shall I say hood--of the Pontiac Aztek. As Walt is left with no other option but to protect his life by making himself the only meth chemist Gus has access to, he petitions Jesse to give a knock on Gale’s door. 

As we near the start of Season Five (one month away, hooray!), we will be shortening the span of the episodes we cover. Look for a break down of the first few episodes of Season Four next Friday.

Stan Earnest: The latter half of Season Three starts with bad Jesse. I really despise the role acceptance of Jesse Pinkman as he diverges into evil, celebrating Hank's critical condition, which really speaks to Aaron Paul's acting chops. Never thought I would be saying this at this point, but Paul can stand toe-to-toe with Cranston. Just brilliant acting all around.

Craig Scholes: In all fairness if you were in Jesse's shoes there, wouldn't you get a little bit of schadenfreude joy there too? I mean Hank essentially turned Jesse into the stunt double for Sloth from The Goonies. In contrast of spiteful Jesse, I also love the scene where Jesse clowns around in the lab waiting on Walt to get back from the ER, further proof of Aaron Paul's acting chops.

SE: Breaking Bad just speaks to me in ways other shows don't. My first college roommate was like this smart, prankster version of Jeff Spicoli that listened to either Alice in Chains, Grateful Dead, or gangster rap, nothing else. He introduced me to a lot of good stuff, including my favorite song at the time that I had never heard before: "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" by Ol' Dirty Bastard, the song during the aforementioned Pinkman scene. But why wouldn't Breaking Bad use an ODB song? That guy was the epitome of bad; his FBI profile circulating on the internet is quite exquisite. You've got to feel bad for Gale though, being at the top of your game and getting ousted for Jesse Pinkman, but the ho-hum work of an amicable Walt/Gale relationship doesn't spell drama the same way Jesse and Walt spell it.

CS: Yeah I imagine an entire season of Walt complementing Gale on how amazing his coffee is just wouldn't be the same. How great is it when Walt finds out he can't get one by Gus. Painstakingly going out of his way to create this intricate web of lies to try and throw off Gus, only for Gus to show up at the hospital and blow Walt's mind. I also really love how cool Gus plays it in the hospital, telling Walt he also hides in plain sight, then calmly saying, "Now thank me and shake my hand."

SE: Walt is a chemistry genius, but he can be behind the curve when it comes to judging character. Walt was extremely naïve to think that Gus didn't know about Hank being DEA. It was very shortsighted of Walt to think of himself as some sort of hidden mastermind, that he could tell my-dog-ate-the-homework stories to a slick drug kingpin. If Tuco could track your ass down, Gus probably has his eyes on you, Walt. Even more naïve it was to not realize that Gus's pragmatism also applies to him, that Gus was probably using Walt just for his formula anyhow, and could cleanse his hands of him at anytime.

Speaking of Gus knowing all, are you smelling an insider at the DEA? I feel like I can bring this up, because most viewers had been getting that feeling for awhile at this point. Danny Trejo reappears (no one on this show really ever dies) and we remember he had been tipped off, Hank is constantly being guided away from his Heisenberg search, and the Federales had the cartel leader's home in Mexico surrounded following the Hank/twins bloodbath, yet he met a machine-gun demise.

CS: Uh, do you not remember the cartel member saying his brother is the police chief? Getting back to the drug raid, it's amazing what Gus managed to do in a couple of quick strokes. And then for Walt to kind of figure it out was fairly impressive too.

All through high school, I worked in a chicken restaurant , but man is Los Pollos Hermanos distribution system way more complicated than what my employer did. Of course, it was me and a couple other high school flunkies working in basically what was a mom-and-pop chicken joint. I can't imagine the amount of work and trust it takes to be hiding meth in batter.

SE: Why can't real chicken commercials be that good? All of those fresh chilli peppers, spindles of slow roasted chicken dripping with flavor, and fried chicken wings falling from the sky makes we want to drive to Albuquerque and see if Los Pollos Hermanos really exists. All we get here is KFC commercials with buckets of "special seasoning" (basically MSG powder) laying around and uniformed stereotypes with teeth whitener. I think a Los Pollos Hermanos chain would make some serious money, even sans superlab. Surely someone has the paperwork started on that.

Both Walt and Skyler have eureka moments in regards to the meth operation. Skyler realizes that Walter has to--in some form--be caught up in Hank's shooting, which makes her realize how unsafe her family may be, and the trail of lies starts again for Walt. As Walt comes to and levels with Gus, I really applauded the choice to have Walt speak to Gus in a way that Gus would appreciate that he "respects the strategy," agrees with the move, and would have done the same. With that, both Walt and Gus have underestimated each other, and the chess match begins; oh wait that's Season Four, but the groundwork is definitely laid out in that chicken coop, or should I say coup?

CS: At the place I worked the chicken was salted and peppered, coated in home-made bread crumbs and cornmeal, and battered in just milk, egg, and garlic. Doesn't get any easier than that.

That conversation in the chicken coop kind of causes Walt to have a momentary lapse of craziness though. He maxes the Aztek out at 88 MPH and lets it wander into the opposite lane perilously close to a semi. Someone should tell Walt that the Aztek needs a new belt, because there was a little bit of a squeal when he got off the shoulder and back onto the pavement.

SE:  What did you think of Skyler's gambling monologue? In a microcosmic way, it parallels Gus's later fell swoop to take out the cartel; she needed an explanation for the money, a diatribe to let Walt know she was on board, and a way to show she had skills to be a player in the game. She knew Walt wouldn't go for it, so she just did it. Have you ever given someone an excellent idea and they shun you, but like three weeks later they somehow morph the idea into their own and go with it? Walt is that guy. He doesn't listen to an idea unless he thinks it's his own. "Walt that belt is squeaky, might want to get that looked at." Three weeks later he tells you how he figured it out.

CS:  I have an aunt who I convinced that she used to lock me in a closet, and now that story has morphed into something even crazier. It's absolutely hilarious to me.

Most definitely about Skyler, you can pretty much see how if the shoe was on her foot that she is very capable of Breaking Bad herself. Her character is a phenomenal liar. You know Walt just keeps kicking himself, knowing that you can't bullshit a bullshitter. Then again, an open-ended $15 Million per annum can make even the most moral people amoral.

The conversation where Jesse loses his shit about only making half a million a year as opposed to Gus making his $96 Million is hilarious to me. It would be impossible for me to be in that situation and not have to worry about any of the risk. Gus put up all the money to create this endeavor, and stands to lose the most; I know way too many people that would also fight the man in that situation.

SE: Walt has probably had the conversation too many times with high school students that want to fight the man, so he just figured he would give it the cake-and-ice-cream treatment. Walt could have really flipped out on him there though. Hey, Jesse, you want to know why Gus makes the $96 MM and you make $1.5? It's because your boss is a conniving mastermind willing to do anything to keep his business floating. How much overhead do you think it costs to employ Mike and Co.? Are you going to go head-to-head with the cartels? Do you have a distribution network as smooth and wide as Los Pollos delivery trucks? Do you sponsor the Fun Run for the DEA every year or even attempt to keep your nose clean? And how about the money it takes to clean up all your mistakes? Zip it, bro. Sit on your bag of cash and spin.

Everyone wants to let that inner Walter White out once in a while.

CS:  So how about "Fly?" I know you are dying to talk about this episode. I've probably seen it three or four times total, and I just don't love it like everyone else does. I mean, I get the appeal, and I wouldn't call it a bad episode, but it just doesn't do the same for me as it does everyone else. To me, this episode says, "Hey, our budget is getting out of hand; how can we cut corners a bit?"

SE:  Duder, "Fly" is one of my all-time favorite episodes of any show, ever. All character building episodes tend to have that putting-a-plug-in-the-budget feel to them, but didn't we applaud last season's version "4 Days Out?" My guess to what happened on that episode is that a portion of the script just ended up so damn good that Gilligan and Co. just figured it would work as an entire episode. Anyhow, I wish I was a fly on the wall in that meeting. The episode wasn't that fun for me the first time around; I was really wanting the action to continue to amp up, but I too have seen it several times and now I can't get enough. I literally snickered for 15 solid minutes the last time through, so damn funny.

Aaron Paul is at his best in that one. Talk about stories about aunts, how about that possum story? If I am ever in an Irish band, we will definitely be named the O'Possums. Walt is still showing after effects of going through treatment, marital strife, the attack on Hank, and the whole meth operation thing, so it isn't a surprise to seem him chase a fly to stop "spillage." I cannot imagine the hell fire conversation that would immediately reign down on Walt if Gus had video of that day. You know what is great? The Netflix 30-second rewind button. I must have watched Walt fall on that lab vat five or six times. As far as I can tell, it's all one shot, but I'm guessing that is probably not true, as I don't see who would approve Cranston over a stunt double for that one.

CS: Full disclosure: I am going to be playing with a friend tomorrow, and he wants to start a folk rocky type band. I'm gonna pitch the name the O'Possums. I also once came up with the band name the Republicants, but I think that is taken.

I guess I like the RV episode because it seemed more like genuine tension, not fabricated tension because Walt is beginning to lose his mind. Even though I've seen that episode several times, it still amazes me that Walt doesn't spill the beans about Jane; though I do love the part when Walt is going on about having lived too long, and, "You want them to miss you." I think this is also the first episode where Walt's cough starts to come back.

SE: I like how Walt's monologue provides closure to his thoughts on the plane crash, that there was a "perfect moment" where he could have died and all of it would have been worth it, but now the cosmic rocket--and Walt's ego--has been launched and nothing can stop it from reaching light speed. For that alone, the episode makes sense. We normally have to read Walt's inner thoughts, but this time we get those few raw moments where Walt is blistered from a combo of Gale's coffee (what would you pay to try a cup of that?), no sleep, and a half-dozen sleeping pills, revealing how he has rationalized the tremendous odds that aligned for him to meet with Jane's dad that night. At this point, Walt is really beginning to believe he was meant to become Heisenberg all along. You know, Elvis thought he could move clouds with his mind.

CS: I have actually only taken two sips of coffee in my whole life, so I probably wouldn't give much more than a wooden nickel to try Gale's coffee, though I can't imagine mixing sleeping pills with caffeine is a good idea.

Episode 11 is the first episode where I really start to not like Hank. I've never had serious physical therapy, but I have had minor physical therapy and Hank is being a full-on pussy. Just being the worst combination of whiny bitch and quitter, not to mention taking it out on everyone.

SE: I feel for Hank. All I will say is that I have gone to physical therapy 2-3 times a week for a couple of years with no end in sight and, although the folks that help me are extremely personable and fun to chat with, it's about the last thing you want to do when in pain.

CS: Fair enough I guess. I suppose if I couldn't go play laser tag I would be a pretty grumpy person as well.

SE: How much of a snake move was it for Beneke to show up at the White household after ducking Walter at his office? You know he circled the block like seven times to make sure mean ol' Walter White wasn't around. The funny thing is that Ted has no clue what he is stepping in, and Walter probably would have earned a prison sentence on the face of Teddy Beneke if he had showed up to that awkward situation, which is why the writers probably left it at that, but wouldn't you have liked to see Teddy get chased around the Aztek by a hornet's-nest mad Walt?

CS: Fuck Beneke, what a pansy. The funny thing is though, Beneke doesn't realize that Walt is kind of a pussy. Regardless, it would be entertaining to see the continuation of Walt unable to throw a fake plant through a window.

SE: I want to know how in the hell the writers came up with the plot line that brought Combo's death back to haunt Jesse and forced a confrontation with Gus. Along with that plane crash, the odds that Jesse would start dating the kid killer's sister are pretty stout also; I think the cosmos is dropping hints. And I love that Pinkman falls back into good guy status. That guy is on a roller coaster ride through the bowels of hell.

CS: Yeah, its pretty fucked up to use children, but history has shown that the most effective way to create criminals is to get them started young. It's such a great twist of writing to bring up call backs like that. In reality, the story wouldn't have changed much if that kid killed somebody that wasn't Combo. Jesse probably gets just as angry over it. I'm actually a little surprised that Gus, who runs such a tight ship, would actually allow this because there is no way he isn't aware of it.

SE: That is where we are left to wonder how much Gus knows and whether he ordered the kid's death or not. I would think Gus wouldn't specifically order it, but maybe influenced the men to take care of the issue, in which they saw fit to off the poor kid. Then again, I doubt the thugs make any serious moves without Gus's approval if they are very close, and being as they were in ABQ they are probably pretty tight-knit.

You have told me that Jesse was only supposed to be in the first couple episodes before he was to be killed off, but the friction with Walt worked, so they kept the character running. This was confirmed by an Aaron Paul appearance on Conan in which he also divulges that every season Cranston loves to scare him into thinking new script revisions have offed Pinkman. I've listened to a lot of the podcasts about the show featuring Vince Gilligan. He is pretty laid back and honest about the items he is willing to talk about. Apparently, the writer's literally don't know where they are going sometimes and just piece together ideas and mix and match until the stars align. I think the Combo murder tie-in may have been them retracing steps to push some confrontation to the forefront. I do love that if they find incongruities before the season airs, Gilligan shoots the additive scenes and edits them in previous episodes to further enhance plot cohesion, so I am always left wondering what was originally plotted out and what changed.

I also have read that Tuco was supposed to be a villain for several seasons, but Raymond Cruz had contractual obligations, in which the writer's developed the anti-Tuco, Gustavo Fring. Paul McCartney always said that he believed The Beatles succeeded because they were willing to try new things and experiment with new sounds and technologies, not discarding the off-the-beaten-path stuff. When Vince Gilligan says he doesn't know how this ends, I believe him, but I also know he will work like hell to get it done in a way that is true to his vision, quirks and all, for what it's worth.

CS: I think this type of thing is actually quite common. I know in the TV show Lost, Benjamin Linus was only suppose to be in a couple of episodes, and Mr. Eko was suppose to have a much bigger role, but he hated living in Hawaii. For one, I'm glad the Tuco character didn't last. I much prefer Gus. I prefer my villains to be cold and calculated, not some kind of maniacal wild card.

SE: I know I'm guilty of pointing out all of the genius moves that Breaking Bad has made, but in reality there have been a lot of breaks that led to how the show turned out, that whole contingency of life thing again. I like the contrast from Tuco to Gus. We see that not only are Walt and Jesse ill-equipped to handle a maniacal meth dealer, they can't even stay the course with the most pragmatic of men who has given them the deal of a lifetime and can offer them protection and an unlimited supply of cash. The only conversation we see between Gus and Gale is the plot to rid Walt, but what did he tell Gale when Walt ousted him? Surely Gale was still getting paid to chill out in his humble apartment, soaking in his patchouli stench.

CS: I don't think Gus talked to Gale again until he was rehired. Walt was the one that had to tell Gale his services would no longer be required. I think it would have been awesome if Gale flipped his shit and took his super coffee maker with him.

How big of a wheel barrow did Jesse need to haul his nuts around when he told Gus how it was going to be? It took massive cojones to tell Gus no after he tried to put the kibosh on Jesse's rage.

SE: No doubt it was a Paul Bunyan-sized wheelbarrow, bet you could fit Jupiter and Saturn in that thing. Jesse is at the end of the line there. Life's pissed on him too many times, and he just decides to ride the blue dragon into battle with the rival dealers. I guess he figures someone has to take some sort of an ethical stand eventually. And then probably my favorite single moment in the whole series happens: kamikaze Aztek rampage! The Kamikaze Azteks would be a killer band name, but you would probably get sued by the tribal nation, let alone Pontiac or the Japanese.

CS: Its odd that Jesse is, at times, the moral compass of the show. I had a teacher in high school that told a similar story to Mike's abusive husband story, except my teacher's version of the story dealt with a physically abusive wife, not husband. Man I love the last episode of Season Three, it's probably my favorite episode in the whole series (thus far anyway).

SE: Whoa, no comment on the acrobatic Aztek? I wore the Netflix 30-second button out on that one. I love the comical way in which Walt scrambles outside the vehicle. It's almost like he is Mr. White scrambling through the chemistry lab after a student-created fire in those slacks, and then he grabs the gun and goes all Heisenberg on that ass, steadying and then kapow.

I really liked the whole desolate-field scene with Heisenberg vs. Gus that begins the last episode of Season Three. One of the best lines is dropped by Mike, as Walt needs "assurance." Gravely responding, "I assure you I can kill you from way over here if that makes you feel any better." You're still naïve Walt. Better start learning the game quicker than that. And Walt, get your car fixed.

CS: Oh you know I take glee out of seeing the Aztek take on any sort of damage; however, I'm not a fan of turning the Aztek into a hero by eliminating evil-doers. It would be like being rescued from a burning fire by Denis Leary; it would be really hard for me to still hate the guy.
SE: Yeah, you know I am on board with the Denis Leary hate. I played No Cure For Cancer on an endless loop during a phase when I was 13, but then I discovered Bill Hicks. If you like Bill Hicks, you can’t like Dennis Leary’s stolen routine. Maybe it’s just that Bill Hicks went out in a blaze of glory, and Leary hung around to quit smoking, do a major television show, and make appearances on The View.

CS:  There is the old joke, Why is it that Denis Leary achieved mainstream popularity while Bill Hicks died in relative obscurity? Because there is no cure for cancer.

Denis Leary not only stole Bill Hicks' jokes, but his entire persona.

Man, the last episode is so good. After Walt is educated to how unsafe he really is, we then get a glimpse at why Mike is such a BAMF. So many great quotes in this episode, too. I love Walt reminding Jesse that he saved his life and asking if he is going to return the favor. And then there is my favorite moment of the season and that's when Walt has the phone, he looks Mike right in the eye and says, "You might want to hold off... Because your boss is going to need me," then blurts Gale's address and BOOM! The sheer terror in Mike and Victor's eyes is fantastic.

SE: Did you notice how Mike and Victor are so confused at that moment they draw their guns and back away? I never thought Pinkman had it in him, but it was the only way. Gale is an interesting character, such a cheap way to go, but I like how Walt proves to Gus that he is more like him than Gus realized, willing to take necessary steps. I was one of the many that was confused about the camera angle of the gun in the final "shot" and thought Pinkman may have opted to kidnap Gale.

CS: I never thought for a second that Jesse didn't shoot Gale. I would have liked a little more dialogue between Jesse and Gale though, I really wish there would have been another way.

SE: I got on the internet immediately afterwards and Vince Gilligan was adamant in interviews that Gale was most definitely dead. I can appreciate that kind of candor from a showrunner. A lot of other shows play that did-he-or-didn't-he game, and it just isn't right. Hell, as many murders as Breaking Bad has unveiled, The Killing would have to run about 273 episodes to cover them all, with Season Two wrapping up the whodunnit on Krazy 8.

Conversely, I did happen to like how the Jesse versus Gale scene played out. Jesse would likely be under an immense psychological pressure about what he was about to do that he likely wouldn't be able to say anything, and what would words be to Gale at that point anyway? Although I am surprised Jesse didn't apologize or give him a brief this-is-the-only-way speech. I do like how the writer's had Gale's character not recognize Jesse at first, just thinking it was a robbery, and then the uh-oh moment where he realizes what is happening. I think Jesse's face told the story. Of all the out-of-this-world actors on the show, Aaron Paul out does them all in Season Three. Maybe that is part of why I enjoy the show so much: I loathe bad acting (I can not stomach the first Star Wars for even a minute now), and the show has never had a weakly acted part.

CS:  One of my favorite podcasts is the Hollywood Prospectus podcast on the Grantland network. They particularly love to rip on The Killing and they once said in an episode that if The Killing had Lester Freamon on the case that the show would have been over half way through the first episode.

SE:  I particularly enjoyed Walt's reaction to the possibility of being offed by Mike and Victor. He has already talked about the "perfect time" for him to pass on, where his family will be safe and have money for the future. Well, if he just lets Mike put one in his skull, it is reasonable to believe that his family will have plenty of money and will still remember him in a good light. But people don't always act the way they say will act. Do you know what choice you would make in that situation? No one can really know until it happens. I took an Ethics class last semester and was tickled when a freshmen gal said that she would rather die than have a pig organ put in her body that could save her life. If she was actually put in that situation, I know what side I am betting she would choose. I imagine one realizes all the family members that will miss you, and all the life you might have left to live to learn more about the mysterious world, and the attitude changes real quick. Add children that depend on you to the scenario, and I damn well know the answer to the question. Our minds and bodies are not programmed to give up easily.

CS:  The more people I meet younger than me, the less faith I have in the fate of humanity. As you know, I majored in an Engineering field, but I also have a minor in Communications, and I could not believe how clueless 90% of communication students are to how the world actually works. I know for a fact that I wouldn't even hesitate to have a pig organ installed in me. As for the Walt situations, I'd probably fight to survive, but not sure I'd actually have the stones to order the execution of someone else.

So there we have it for Season Three. If you ask me, it goes on the Rushmore of best seasons ever. It begins with Mexican twin assassins sneaking across the border and ends with the desperate assassination of a Libertarian chemist. The third season of Breaking Bad runs you through the figurative car wash, then Walt decides to buy one. We get to witness Walter White slipping further into the recesses of the seedy underbelly of American society all while dragging down everyone he comes across. Walt continues to cook his world class meth for the sake of his family, yet continues to manage to make his family's life more and more difficult because of his actions and associations. As a viewer, you start to think the show has peaked, that the show can't continue to up the stakes, yet somehow it does.

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