Walter White (Emmy-winning Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher. During the first season of Breaking Bad, he learned he has lung cancer and decided to cook and sell meth in order to provide for his family. Nothing went as planned for Walter and his partner, Jesse (Aaron Paul), a former student who did not do well in chemistry, or, for that matter, in life after high school. Walter tried and failed to keep his secrets—his cancer, his self-preserving murder of a drug dealer/DEA snitch/cousin, his use of pot—from his pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn).
The revelation of Walter’s bad-ass other life impressed his disabled and moody son, Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte), though he was also annoyed by his father’s apparent lack of will to live. He and Skyler have chosen to help Walt hide his criminal activities from Skyler’s sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt), a chronic shoplifter in denial, and her husband, Hank (Dean Norris), a crude, yet thoughtful DEA agent.
As Season Two opened this past Sunday, a charred stuffed animal was sinking in the Whites’ swimming pool. Not a good sign. Jesse and Walt were making a drug deal with Tuco (Raymond Cruz), visibly shaken after he beat one of his associates to a bloody pulp for “almost nothing.” Seconds later, Tuco demanded that that Walt “do that thing” and Jesse “breathe into [the bloody pulp’s] mouth,” even as the man was already dead. If Tuco wasn’t, as Hank describes him, “a psychotic piece of shit” and scary as hell, the scene would have been hilarious. But the tension combined with comedy to produce a different effect, the sort of brilliant, complex emotional mix that Breaking Bad conjures consistently.
Though Walt had calculated that he only needed 11 more drug deals to pay for two college educations, the mortgage, and 10 years of “cost of living” money, he and Jesse are now on the run from Tuco. Increasingly frustrated, Walt is seeming less and less “like himself,” going so far as nearly raping Skyler in the kitchen, a startling act that left a smudge of her face mask on the fridge—a clue to mayhem that Walt, Jr. spotted when he arrived home moments later. Further evidence of Walt’s loss of control, his new sexual appetite was the seeming result of his near-death experience, courtesy of Tuco.
Skyler has other problems as well. She and Marie are on the outs and when Hank tried to intervene on her behalf, Skyler let loose, complaining of her “spoiled, kleptomaniac bitch sister,‘who ‘always manages to be the center of attention.’” Hank urged her to be supportive because, after all, Marie is seeing a counselor (kind of). The more immediate source of tension between husband and wife has to do with Skyler’s increasing sense of abandonment by a husband and son who “disappear for hours” and barely talk to her—and of course, the overdrawn checking account and the faulty water heater. The best he could come up with was to offer to take a look at the utility closet.
As Jesse and Walt plotted to get rid of Tuco, cooking up some poison for this task, Hank and the DEA continued to investigate local meth-related crimes, including Walt and Jesse’s theft of chemicals (“Try rolling it morons, it’s a barrel”) and, later, the murders of two of Tuco’s associates. Despite Hank’s inability to see how Walt fits into the picture, he’s quite good at his job, noting their suspects have chemistry skills, “Book smarts but no street smarts.” Most often, Hank’s job amuses him, whether he is laughing at the “world’s dumbest criminal” or posing next to a body at a crime scene. Hank was so amused by this last that he sent Walt a picture via cell phone, leading immediately to Walt and Jesse’s panic—as they were witnesses to this particular brutality.
This first episode of Season Two ended like all the other episodes—at the cusp of the next chapter. Just as Walt was trying to figure out how to tell Skyler all the problems he’s facing, Jesse showed up at his house. “What the hell are you doing here?” Walt demanded, just as Tuco emerged from the back seat of Jesse’s car. Walt had no choice but to get in. Again, Breaking Bad promises to be quite a ride.