Breaking Bad Frame-By-Frame: Season Three

Gus Fring. The Cousins. Poor, poor Gale. As the stakes increase, so do the perils (and number of flies), and Walt soon realizes that he's under the command one of the most terrifying villains in television history.

Gus Fring. The Cousins. Poor, poor Gale. As the stakes increase, so do the perils (and number of flies), and Walt soon realizes that he's under the command one of the most terrifying villains in television history.


S3E1 No Mas

Breaking Bad's Second Season ended in an explosive manner, which leaves the Third Season's premiere episode to pick up the flaming pieces and put us back on track. Vince Gilligan admitted that the writers had put themselves in a corner by mapping out the entirety of Season Two in advance, which left them to pull together all the loose pieces, culminating in a season finale many fans found to be a let-down. That the result of all the foreshadowing was a plane crash set in motion by Walter's callous "murder" of Jesse's girlfriend, rather than having to do with the rising tension as Walt makes his grab for power in the drug world, seemed anti-climatic.

Thus as Season Three begins, Gilligan and company chose to go back to letting the story tell itself frame by frame, with the writers reacting in the moment as they craft where the characters will go. Thus the mysterious cousins who enter the story via the pre-credit sequence are there singlemindedly to kill Walter White, with the writers not yet realizing exactly where they plan to take the plot. Fans expecting a repeat of last season's eerie foreshadowing shots of debris and body bags were stunned when the cousins find their way to Walt in only the second episode of the season, or that it all leads to that epic attempt on Hank's life in "One Minute".

Leave it to Gilligan to throw TV-writing conventions to the curb. At the very least, no one's going to ever call the man boring. And he'll never do the same thing twice. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We open the episode with a recap of the plane crash, as the Albuquerque community catches up to what we already know -- grieving father, distracted at the controls, leads two planes to collide killing 167 people in what Walter will later casually point out is only the 53rd worst air disaster of the last 50 years. But there's more than that fireball looming over Walter, as we well know. Skyler wants him gone, and has forced him out of his own house, away from the family he's sworn to protect with all that methmaking. She confronts him with the fact that he must be a drug dealer: "Otherwise where else could you make that kind of money?" She assumes weed or crack. When he admits to manufacturing crank instead, she nearly vomits in disapproval.

Her divorce attorney later tells her that, knowing Walt's a meth dealer, she should move for an immediate divorce and a restraining order, but Skyler can't quite pull the trigger. Saul's right as usual -- she understands that she can't expose Walter without destroying Walter Jr and exposing her own culpability. Thus begins three seasons of vacillating as Skyler tries to adjust and come to terms with just what amount of Walter association she can stomach. In turn she digs herself deeper and deeper into his world as an accessory after the fact.

Walter's speech during the school assembly, meanwhile, proves the most telling. He clearly must rationalize his involvement in the chain of events which led to the plane disaster by minimizing the entirety of it. He tells the students that people move on, and misreads the entire room by going on and on about worse disasters which have occurred. In these scenes Walter comes off as a cold-blooded sociopath, completely lacking in empathy, only looking at events from his own self-aggrandizing perspective. It's the first of many hints that Walter's personality may always have been closer to Heisenberg than the mild-mannered teacher he pretended to be for all those years.

He'll later do the same thing when talking to Jesse, who post-rehab seems to be in a place where he can understand the role he played in it all, though he thinks he alone is responsible for Jane's death -- he'll never know what role Walter played in the whole affair. "You're not responsible for this!" Walter tells him, going on to suggest he alone knows the true details of the plane crash, that it's more due to malfunctioning radar on the planes or some other nonsense. "I blame the government," Walt says. Jesse, unmoved, responds cooly. "You either run from things or you face them."

Jesse is central to this episode. For all intents and purposes he's come through rehab without any desire to get back into the drug game, though we know that will eventually change. He's aware enough to understand the role he played in everything which has happened, and more than that he truly loved Jane, which leaves a void he's trying to fill or hide, whichever he can manage. He asks the rehab counselor how he can live with himself knowing he'd killed his daughter, and I don't think he found the answer up to snuff. Self hatred might accomplish nothing, but we know from watching Jesse through future seasons that he's always quicker to turn his hatred and disgust onto himself before ever figuring out what role his association with Walter plays in things. "I'm the bad guy," he tells Walter. That's his version of nihilistic self-awareness. There's no hint yet that he's ready or willing to turn the hate toward Walter, who arguably deserves it more than anyone.

Meanwhile it's going to be a while before Walt starts cooking again. He tells Fring there'll be no more meth for him, because he's losing his family. Even a $3 million offer for three weeks of his time does nothing to motivate Walter toward action. Clearly Fring has a motivation to keep Walter and his blue meth close, absorbing a one-time competitor into the fold while at the very least being able to study what makes Walt's meth so much more potent and pure. It's just a matter of finding the right way to get Walter to move from wanting no more of the business to needing every drop of power he can get.

To that end, we close out on the cousins again, crossing the border in search of the man they blame for Tuco's death, leaving everyone in their wake in flames. It will be a long while before Walter understands just how much of a danger these two pose to him and his family, and he'll never know how close they'll come to killing him personally, but they're the catalyst the show needs to draw Walter back into the drug world for good. They're the only two with a sense of purpose at this point, as cold and calculating as that purpose is. The remaining characters are all in a sense of stasis, awaiting something to push them back into action.

Knowing that the writers went into the endeavor knowing as little as we do makes re-watching the Third Season even more of a thrilling "by the seat of your pants" experience. The choices Walter will make over the course of the next twelve episodes will prove remarkable in their ability to affect everyone around him, drawing all those he claims to care the most about into a web none of them can possibly escape unscathed. Jonathan Sanders


S3E2 Caballo sin Nombre

Holy shit, Walter White is pissed.

If there's a single takeaway from Season Three's "Caballo sin Nombre" (somewhat predictably translated to "A Horse With No Name"), it's that the high school chemistry teacher is allowing his anger to wash over him like a non-believer getting baptized in a sea of holy water. Ironic, considering how he should be thanking the good lord that the Salamanca twins didn't get around to using his frame for fire wood ... yet. 

Oh, who am I kidding? If anyone in their right mind actually thought that two creepy dudes from Mexico would chop the series' main character up with their immaculate-looking ax in the second episode of the Third Season, then they might as well call up Jesse's parents for a "How stupid am I?" themed dinner party. Here's an idea, guys: How about you nut up, take your son in and learn about what forgiveness truly means, rather than tell him he could look at his newly renovated childhood home through "pictures on the Internet." (Fun note: Producers were confronted with a problem when the house used in seasons one and two was sold. Luckily for them, however, the new owners agreed to let the show continue to use the structure after they remodeled it, thus the storyline that Jesse's parents were fixing the thing up).

Jesse: 1. Mom and dad: 0.

Speaking of scores, Walt Jr. is ready to swing at any pitch he sees these days, defiantly snapping at his mother for calling him Flynn (still an absurd and idiotic nickname), all but begging Skyler to take her husband back, noting how she "can't even say his name anymore." He's looking to connect with anything, though, and he sets up one of the more poignant throwaway lines the show has ever offered when he winds up at the front door of his father's living space.

"Oh, come on," Walt tells Junior as he whines about having to go back home to his mom. "It's not devil's island." 


Anyway, back to Mr. White's anger. Frankly, he's lucky he didn't get shot (wait -- who am I kidding, again!), stepping out of his car to confront a police officer after being pulled over for singing along to America's ... er, for having a busted up windshield. It marks one in a series of sharp changes in direction for the show's anti-hero, and it's also one of the few times he is actually confronted with repercussions for his actions (side: Can anyone name another time in the show's history when he was forced to apologize to someone who felt the brunt of his reckless temper?). 

Maybe the most interesting moment of the episode came during Walt's exchange with Mr. LWYRUP, Saul Goodman, who uses a quick, three-word sentence to sum everything up: "One word -- blowback." It's said after Walter wonders aloud what might happen if his estranged wife goes to the cops with the information she now has. In response, the Lawyer Of All Lawyers uses the aforementioned phrase while trying to convince his client that the consequences would be too much to bear for Skyler, Hank and the rest of his family. Knowing that a meth dealer was operating right under his brother-in-law's nose would subsequently make said brother-in-law the laughing stock of the DEA, not to mention the possibility that Hank could lose his job would instantly become very real and very immediate. 

Thing is, he's right. When or if it comes down to an exclusive fight between Hank and Walt, this is a notion that should probably be revisited. Especially at this point, when Walter has so much blood on his hands and Hank has been through so many ups, downs and in-betweens, one has to wonder if both Hank's professional and personal life would suffer as a result from going this long without nabbing the one guy who is truly behind all this mayhem, should he be faced with the proposition of exposing his wife's sister's (kind-of) husband. Leave it to Saul to come up with one of the more affecting lines of foreshadowing Breaking Bad has seen.

Another moment of irony? Check Walt Jr.'s room filed with posters, the most visible of which displaying the band Lucero, a country-punk outfit who's been around longer than you might think. Around the time they filmed the season, the group would have theoretically been promoting 1372 Overton Park, their slightly acclaimed 2009 Universal Republic set. Among the record's song titles: "What Are You Willing To Lose?" "Can't Feel A Thing". "Goodbye Again"/ And the eerily applicable, "Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble?" Creator Vince Gilligan loves his details, and to think these minor implications were lost on him is kind of like thinking that it wouldn't be Jesse who was that house's new owner as he walked up to the front door, his parents ridiculing him for simply being around. Never say never, friends. Never say never. 

Actually, never is a word Walt subliminally (read: foolishly) flirts with as he and Saul sit down early in the episode for a telling piece of dialogue that would prove as hollow as that oversized pizza box he ended up throwing to the air in a fit of rage. "I can't be the bad guy," he says to his crooked lawyer. 

Oh, yes you can, Walter. Yes. You can. Colin McGuire

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