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.


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

I.F.T., Green Light & Mas


S3E3 I.F.T.

Ranging from a plane blowing up and cascading stuffed animals in a pool to a re-creation of a certain John Woo masterpiece at the end of Season Four, Breaking Bad has no shortage of meticulously staged deaths. “I.F.T” opens with one such scene. In it, Tortuga (Danny Trejo) meets his demise at the hands of the perpetually stoic Salamanca Cousins, Leonel and Marco, who decide that Tortuga’s head didn’t have much of a need to stay attached to his body. Tortuga’s fate, all grisliness aside, was inevitable; being a snitch for the DEA makes a person persona non grata in drug-selling circles. Undoubtedly the biggest shame about his killing is that he never got to enjoy his new pet turtle, the creature that served as the source for his nickname.

From a broader perspective, however, his death is a shame because it wasn’t written for someone who deserved it much more. And that person is Ted Beneke.

Even though the Breaking Bad universe is replete with characters brushed — and in some cases dunked — in moral colors ranging from gray to inkwell black, no one on the show is as annoying, grating, or just overall bad as Ted — even though in terms of moral culpability his tax fraud is on the lower end of the moral continuum of the show. Ted, that Just for Men model of a human being, hasn’t hit the lowest of his low points yet on “I.F.T.” That moment comes toward the end of Season Four, when he tries to hold on to the massive amount of money Skyler gave him (after stealing it from Walt) despite it being resoundingly obvious that he could never keep that money without having the IRS blowing wide open his company’s already poorly-forged books. Actually, “I.F.T.” finds Ted at his highest point, for he finally gets to do what he’s always wanted to do most in the world: have sex with Skyler White. The three-letter acronym that forms this episode’s title is a safe-for-cable, punchy way of summarizing one of Skyler’s immortal lines: “I fucked Ted.”

That this line is delivered directly to Walt as he, in an attempt to invert his role in the domestic sphere to win back Skyler’s graces, makes the family a meal. (This image, though somewhat tragicomic, has nothing on Walt using a ladder to get the pizza that the threw on the roof in the episode prior.) Phrases like “bitch slap,” though not inaccurate, don’t quite suffice in describing just how devastating a blow Skyler has made. In saying those three words, she finds a way to reinforce the notion that the couple needs a divorce and, perhaps most importantly, rattles the cages of the invisible prison Walt has confined her in. Say what you will about Skyler White — Lord knows the sexists have taken to Facebook to let their ire out — but “I.F.T” is as harrowing a depiction there could be of the way Walt holds his family’s well-being hostage to his career as a prominent meth manufacturer.

One of the single most important scenes in all of Breaking Bad resides in the 47 minutes of “I.F.T.” Walt has entered back into his family’s home, which Skyler forbade him to do following her discovery of his meth manufacturing. “It’s my home, Skyler,” he tells her, beaten, as if he were kicked out without any warning or reason at all. Skyler’s attempts to bring divorce back on the table are completely ignored by Walt, whose chosen strategy in “I.F.T” is to sound bedraggled all throughout, in the hopes that he might arouse something like pity out of his wife. Understandably, she attempts to call the police, citing domestic disturbance, but what happens when they arrive is the bedrock upon which the prison Skyler is confined by is built upon.

Walt has her trapped at two ends. First, he is aware that she isn’t likely to tell the police about his illicit dealings for the trouble that would bring to the family and, as she tells her lawyer in “I.F.T,” the damage to Walt Jr.’s psyche upon finding out his father is a criminal. Secondly, by not wanting to tell the police, she thereby has no grounds to expel him from the family home. Whether Walt planned out this out to a T in advance or not is irrelevant; at this point in time, it’s plain that Skyler’s knowledge of Walt’s doings puts her in a lose-lose situation, and Walt will milk it for all it’s worth until he, to borrow the parlance of Harrison Ford, “gets his family back.”

Watching Skyler try to sneak around her husband’s actual line of work as the officer interrogates her is both heartbreaking and terrifying. All of the reasons the offer cites as to why Walt is allowed to stay — “His name is on the house,” “He’s not being violent” — are all on-paper legitimate, but this of course only adds to the tragedy. That the law manages to work in Walt’s favor in preserving his ability to remain in the house is both an incredible irony and another row of bricks in the wall of Skyler’s prison.

The cult of hatred for Skyler, one that creator Vince Gilligan has not unjustly identified as having a misogynistic streak, often overlooks this. It’s not just that Walt has taken it upon himself to rest his family’s financial future on an illegal venture; it’s that at every turn he utilizes all of his surroundings — including the very law enforcement he is evading — to create an environment wherein he forces Skyler into a series of impossible choices. His evil genius is that he knows that if Skyler turns in him, in her mind some of Walt’s culpability will pass on to her. This was already seen two episodes prior in the Season Three premiere, when all of Walt Jr.’s anger over Skyler forcing Walt out of the house rears its head as a proxy weapon of Walter’s, with the insidious purpose rewinding (and thereby negating) time, back to when the Whites were a “normal” family. Saying “I fucked Ted” isn’t just a nice bit of vituperation; it’s Skyler’s equivalent of a prison shiv, an unwavering statement of defiance and a tacit threat that, as long as she is going to stay locked up, she sure isn’t going to take it sitting down. They may both wear rings, there may be papers recognizing a legal union, but in Skyler’s eyes she and Walt are already done, despite his refusal of the divorce.

All of this aside, it’s an unchanging fact of Breaking Bad that no character is morally blemish-free. Hank takes out his frustrations stemming from his debilitating injury in Season Three out on his wife — and develops an unhealthy relationship with minerals. Marie has problems with shoplifting. Honorable a guy though Mike Ehrmantraut is, he also kills people for a living. Walt Jr. probably eats more breakfast than a human being ever should. When it comes to Skyler, there are a few concerns with some of the choices she makes, but unlike many of the characters, her choices are understandable. Walt’s spurring of Skyler’s divorce papers forces her into remaining married to him, and his toxic psychological warfare ensures that she not only lie to her family about Walt, but that she feels responsible for the tension caused by the web of lies she has to weave. Her affair, then, while perhaps not the purest of acts, is not a left-field action.

But if there’s one question that arises from Skyler’s decision to sleep with Ted, it’s this: WHY TED? There aren’t enough thesaurus entries in all known worlds under the word “milquetoast” to describe his personality, and with respects to smarts he’s an even worse criminal than Walt. Naturally, Ted’s utterly banal nature makes the sting of the affair all the worse, but still, the fact remains: TED. Ted. A lot of bad choices have been made in the Breaking Bad world, but few rank as high as Skyler’s sleeping with Ted. Even if it makes sense why she chose to do so. Brice Ezell


S3E4 Green Light

Depending on your viewpoint, “Green Light” is a nadir of sorts for Walt. He doesn’t have nearly enough money to justify the destruction he has wrought on himself and his family. His pitiable, but once honorable career is in ruins, partly thanks to that comically sexless and unsuccessful pass at the school’s principal. For all intents and purposes, his marriage is devoid of any shred of love or trust and is likely finished. As a byproduct, he has likely lost the trust of his son and his newborn daughter may grow up without ever even knowing him (check back at the end to see if that was actually a bad thing).

Walt has even lost influence over his beloved little business to overlord Gus Fring. More and more, Gus appears to be grooming Jesse as Walt’s successor, poised to overthrow Walt as soon as Gus gains full confidence that Los Pollos Hermanos: The Meth Division can run seamlessly in Walt’s absence. Oh yeah, and Walt is a cuckold who can’t muster enough strength to throw a pot through the window of Ted Beneke, the man shtupping Skyler. So there’s that too.

All Walt has left in his ever-shrinking world is his proprietary formula for the blue meth. He was once the creator, the impresario, the CEO, the visionary of The-Little-Blue-Meth-Company-That-Could. Because of his intimate knowledge of the product, he still got to manufacture it, oversee its quality and, when it suited him, he had the option to take his ball and go home. That remaining shred of control, the ability to hit the self-destruct button is all that remains, and it’s slipping through his fingers. What else could explain Walt’s rage when upstart Jesse shows up with a fresh batch of the blue, made free of Walt’s watchful eye? “That’s my product,” Walt growls.

In the civilized, law-abiding world, intellectual property is afforded numerous protections under the law. Copyright and trademark law offer the inventors, creators and dreamers of our society a set of safeguards to protect thieves from unjustly enriching themselves by stealing that intangible thing we call the “idea.’ On either side of the law, however, recipes are afforded no such protection. It’s why only a handful of people have ever really known the formula for Coca-Cola. It’s why secret family recipes are surreptitiously passed down by word of mouth or via crumbling ancient cookbooks. Trade secrets can confer immense economic advantage. For the owners of these secrets, only reverse engineering and the prospect of the corporate spy are the enemies. The successful keeping of a trade secret can mean life or death for a business dependent on its competitive advantage.

For the Southwestern American speed market, blue meth is better than Coca-Cola. The mere sight of it can leave a chubby gas station cashier in rural New Mexico all aflutter as it dangles and glistens in the hands of its pusher (although it’s entirely possible that Jesse Pinkman’s boyish stoner dude charm might have had a little to do with that as well … yo). It’s identifiable on sight, outstanding in its quality, and impossible to replicate without detailed knowledge of the ingredients and intricate process involved in its production.

Of course, nothing can exist in a vacuum. In the absence of rules, chaos fills the void until the collective can settle on a code of conduct. Since Walt and Jesse operate almost exclusively outside of the societal boundaries of the law abiding nine-to-five world, they’ve had to learn a whole new rubric that isn’t voted on, codified or easily referenced.

In “Green Light”, Walt and Jesse discover that the thugs, pimps and drug dealers who have come before them have mused upon even the seemingly high-minded issue of intellectual property.

Who owns the blue meth? It is an existential question. And Walt’s existence rides on the answer.

It’s an amusing spectacle to see Walt kicking and screaming in Mike’s clutches, indignant over Saul’s bugging of his house and angry that Gus has so thoroughly co-opted his dream of becoming a meth kingpin. Control is ever-fleeting in the meth underworld of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gus has it, and by extension his henchmen (including Jesse) who dutifully act on his behalf have some too, as long as they keep successfully carrying out Gus’ orders. Those who operate outside the realm of Gus’ monopoly do so with varying degrees of impotence. It’s that impotence that makes Walt writhe on Saul’s floor like a spastic child.

Even Hank, who despite his failure to find the source of the drug epidemic overwhelming his region, cannot be the lawman he wants to be. El Paso is the Super Bowl for a DEA G-Man like Hank, and he’s apparently powerless to stop the forward momentum from the impending kick upstairs without leaving the blue meth beat. He needs to decide: keep chasing the purveyors of the blue on the lower rungs of the agency, or leave it all behind for a chance at effectuating real change in a place more significant to the overall mission statement of the DEA.

For the men of Breaking Bad, blue meth has become their locus, their north star, their beacon on the hill, and they can’t even claim a chemical dependence on the stuff. Stopping the enterprise with a mountain of cash is the best decision for Walter and the family for whom he claims to take all these risks. Going to El Paso is the best thing for Hank and Marie, a childless couple whose purpose flows through Hank’s success as a drug enforcement officer. Jesse would have always been better served finding another path for his young life.

The blue has a hold on these men not because of what it does to their bodies or for the chemical reaction it touches off within their brains. The blue meth scratches another much more primordial, personal itch.

As Jesse tries to forge ahead without Walt, he realizes that the cartel won’t let him. He’ll be paid for half of the batch that he personally cooked and so will Walt. It’s the money split that the powers that be have decided upon. Those are the rules of the game. They have no control over them.

Of course Jesse and Walt and Hank will all keep playing. The blue means freedom. It means success. It means power. It’s life affirming. That feeling holds sway over their entire lives. It doesn’t matter who has the formula, or who has the equipment, or who has intel. The blue meth belongs to the world now and the world will find a way to supply the demand. Walt, Jesse and Hank are compelled to keep coming back to this deadly do-si-do because they all implicitly know where it leads, ever closer to that end they’re searching for. Robert Downs Schultz


S3E5 Mas

Season Three’s excellent episode, “Mas,” is the fifth of the season and serves as a critical moment in Walt and Jesse’s relationship, as well as in Walt and Skyler’s marriage. The episode sets up a great deal that would go on to have lasting consequences throughout the series.

As it begins, we get a flashback of the moment when Walt gave Jesse all his money in order to buy an RV. In typical early Jesse fashion, he took the $7000, headed straight to a strip club with his friends, Combo and Skinny Pete, then proceeded to get wasted and spend almost the entire amount. As he and Combo stagger out of the strip club the following morning, Jesse realizes that he has no way to get an RV that day until Combo offers to take the money and steals his own mother’s RV for Jesse, although Jesse is unaware of this detail.

As the action switches to the present, the RV is center stage yet again. Hank and Gomez are staking out a trailer park, but hit a dead end quickly. Hank’s obsession with the RV is tied directly to vindicating himself after his promotion to El Paso resulted in disaster. His insecurities led to panic attacks, which then led to trauma, ensuring his return to Albuquerque. Then as Hank seems as unpredictable as he’s ever been, he learns that Gomez has gotten the promotion to El Paso and is leaving.

While events in El Paso triggered panic attacks for Hank, to this point, he has yet to confide in anyone. Instead, he acts aggressively and single-mindedly and puts all of his energy in apprehending Heisenberg. The RV is his only real lead and therefore, he refuses to give up, even when it seems as if he’s exhausted all his resources. What makes Hank such a fascinating character is how extreme his personality can go. Hank is usually overblown — he’s frequently offensive and oftentimes completely socially unaware of how insensitive he comes off — yet Hank is genuinely good at his job and wants to do the right thing. It’s clear that he’s suffering from PTSD (there’s a wonderful scene of a conversation between Hank and Marie as he takes a shower and it’s so clear that he’s on the verge of falling apart), but even compromised, his instincts are always good even if his methods aren’t always orthodox.

One of the more integral parts of this episode revolves around Walt and Skyler’s disintegrating marriage. At this point in the series, Skyler is in a full-blown affair with her boss, Ted, and aware of Walt’s involvement in making and dealing meth. She is disillusioned and angry, but she is still reticent to completely cut ties with Walt. She rationalizes that he’s the father of their children, but more than that she is also seduced by the money Walt brings in.

As she consults a lawyer — who unequivocally tells her to divorce him immediately or she runs the risk of being charged with criminal behavior right along with him — Skyler is still unable to make the break. She begins to realize the emptiness of her relationship with Ted (beautifully highlighted in her delight, then disgust, with his heated bathroom floor), but she is not prepared to forgive Walt and return to their former married life. As the episode ends, Walt has signed the divorce papers, but Skyler seems less sure that that’s what she wants. And by staying in the marriage, she theoretically gains more control over their finances, and in turn, gains a level of control she feels she’s lost through all of Walt’s deceit.

Walt’s relationship with Gus Fring, is in some ways a parallel to Skyler’s own indecision. Walt is angry at Gus, but more than that he is angry that Jesse was able to cook a batch of his formula that was good enough to sell. His pride has been damaged, and Walt’s pride has always been his biggest weakness. His first instinct is to sever ties with both Jesse and Gus, but Gus is able to appeal to Walt’s ego enough to pique his interest in his latest proposition and forgo an immediate decision. As Gus reveals the superlab he’s put together, Walt is instantly vindicated and back on board. However, Jesse’s betrayal is not so easily forgotten. In fact, he is so angry that he enlists Saul in his plan to oust Jesse from their original agreement, and Saul, being completely self-serving, is quick to side with the more lucrative partner.

Although by the point in the series, Walt has proven himself in the drug game, he is still often reacting more than instigating. He is not a professional, no matter how much he would like to believe otherwise. Again, Walt’s pride and ego often leads him to view himself in an unrealistic light. There’s a scene in which he’s hidden away in Holly’s closet, trying to deal with the financial side of his business. The makeshift office is complete with Walt sitting in a toddler-sized chair that he has trouble getting up from. It’s a perfect metaphor for Walt’s role in the drug trade. He thinks he’s a big shot, but really, he’s more like a child, learning his way and stubbornly refusing help.

In another show, an episode like “Mas” would simply be used to set up the rest of the season, but because this is Breaking Bad, it is so much more. The series never wastes a moment and scenes that seem insignificant or unnecessary always pay off in the end. Details like the heated bathroom floor or Walt placing the signed divorce papers in Holly’s crib, all speak to larger themes and character attributes. This episode also puts into motion circumstances that would lead to a great deal of suffering for Jesse (Gale will be hired to work with Walt and that relationship only leads to tragedy), as well as Skyler’s greater involvement in the drug business” finances. J.M. Suarez

Sunset & One Minute


S3E6 Sunset

In the middle of the New Mexican desert, a tribal police officer receives a dispatch suggesting that he check up on an elderly woman whose family has not heard from her lately. The intense orange sunset, coupled with sheer emptiness of the desert, heightens the eeriness of the scene. The officer arrives at the woman’s house, persistently knocking on her door without an answer. Yet when he peers into a window, he spots a small Santa Muerte shrine that is surrounded by lit candles and a sketch of Heisenberg nearby. The cousins are there, eagerly awaiting Gus’ approval to fulfill their bloody fantasy to murder Walt.

The officer then discovers the elderly woman’s body behind the shed and immediately retrieves a larger gun from his truck. At his demand, one of the cousins emerges from the house, but refuses to get on his knees. While the officer is preoccupied yelling at him, the other cousin approaches the officer from behind and murders him with an axe. As we’ve seen before, they will do anything — and kill anyone — to avenge Tuco’s death.

A stark contrast to the dismal desert scene, Walt stares at a calming painting of the New Mexican desert in an impeccably furnished model condominium. Skyler disrupts his evident fantasizing, however, with a phone call informing him that she discovered his signed divorce papers that he left for her in Holly’s crib.

Whereas beforehand Walt attempted to break things to Skyler rather gently, he clearly does not operate that way now, going so far as to informing his wife about his decision to divorce ostensibly through their own infant daughter. But while he may not be of any emotional support, Walt still intends to cater to his children’s every financial need — which, to him, is the sign of ultimate power and masculinity. Although Skyler believes that using drug money to support his children makes them “accessories after the fact.” Walt happily reminds her that that has been the case for the past six months.

After he hangs up, Walt makes an offer on the model condo, furniture and all. “Name one thing in this world that is not negotiable,” he smirks at the realtor. Just like his Heisenberg persona, Walt’s new abode is just mere simulacrum of an already empty American dream, simply a hollow shell of happiness.

Fresh from that morning’s events, the impeccably dressed cousins arrive at Los Pollos Hermanos, bringing a chipper Gus to a complete standstill. With their signature, fixated stare, they await his next order. They visit every day thereafter until Gus approaches them, deeply disturbing the restaurant manager and customers in the process.

After seriously cleaning up his act in the hopes of starting his own prosperous blue meth operation, Jesse recruits Badger and Skinny Pete to help him. “We sell it safe. We sell it smart. We don’t get greedy like before,” Jesse says, trying to assert himself in the same manner as Walt. He even humorously suggests that they get a buzzer for the ignition, an extremely wise suggestion after his and Walt’s debacle in “4 Days Out”. But unbeknownst to Jesse, Hank’s SUV is parked down the street, and Hank is watching Jesse’s every move in the hopes that he’ll catch him with the RV.

Gilligan and his team are extremely attentive and creative when it comes to Breaking Bad‘s music selection, and “Sunset” is perhaps the most exemplary of this. As Walt prepares for his first day at the laundromat lab, Buddy Stuart’s jubilant “Sun Shine On Me” plays on as Walt endearingly prepares a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and gets properly dressed. Again, attention is drawn to how calculated and constructed Heisenberg is; Walt meticulously cuts the crusts off his sandwich, metaphoric of him deconstructing his identity as Walt (who is in the process of a nasty divorce that will separate him from his old life), yet puts on many layers of new clothing, symbolic of his reconstruction as Heisenberg. He then uneasily sits down in his living room chair, uneasily checking his watch.

Surprisingly, Walt is not taking off to work in the next scene, but instead is driving Walt Jr. to school. The two discuss the divorce, and Walt Jr. is, of course, heartbroken. Walt simply explains to Walt Jr. that “I am the man that I am,” referring to his renewed embracement of his Heisenberg persona. This is also a reference to Jane’s father’s advice on raising a daughter in Season Two’s “Phoenix”: “Just love them, I mean, they are who they are.” Ironically enough, Walt is not simply who he is, but a complete fabrication. He optimistically tells Walt Jr. that “I think you’re going to see much more of me from now on,” and “I am actually feeling very good about the future,” evidently uplifted by and positive about his new, more secure deal with Gus.

Compared to the RV, the lab at the laundromat is astounding; not only is it perfectly hidden, but it is filled with state-of-the-art equipment. Walt meets his new lab partner, Gale Boetticher, who immediately provides him with an extensive and impressive resume filled with higher degrees and specializations. Walt immediately bonds with the obedient, soft-spoken, and geeky Gale, who respects and values chemistry just as much as Walt does.

In fact, the two cooperate so perfectly that their time spent cooking is not disrupted by heated arguments, but instead set to Vince Guaraldi’s melodic piano piece “Ginza”. Visually, the montage is laid out very systematically, emphasizing the pair’s machine-like efficiency.

After a successful day’s work, Walt and Gale let of some steam and share a celebratory drink in the lab. Gale explains to Walt that he is in the meth business because he knows that there will always be a demand for hard drugs and he wants to be able to provide for customers the best product possible. “I love being in the lab because it’s all still magic,” he says. Walt agrees, and is moved when Gale recites Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”, which celebrates the enlightenment that sciences brings to one’s life, word-for-word. He even gets his hands on a copy of Leaves of Grass later in the episode, proving that despite all of the changes in his personal life, he is still committed to his love of science and higher learning.

With a score of fast food by his side, Hank is back in his SUV, watching Jesse from his side view mirror. His stakeout is interrupted by a call from Marie, who suggests that Walt may know more about Jesse’s personal life since Jesse had supposedly dealt Walt marijuana in the past.

Desperate for an excuse to implicate Jesse, Hank calls Walt, asking him if he remembers if Jesse ever had an RV since he believes that he is has a mobile meth lab. The blood drains from Walt’s face, and he curtly responds that he is not sure.

This time, Walt calls Jesse in a complete panic. But realizing that Jesse would be of no help, Walt hangs up on him without saying a word and instead calls Saul. Saul is not of much help either, so Walt decides to take the matter into his own hands.

Walt discovers Clovis openly repairing the RV while talking to Badger in the middle of his repair lot, and demandingly convinces him to destroy it before they all get arrested. Clovis complies, and as he and Walt walk to his office to make a series of phone calls, Badger decides to call Jesse to inform him about the RV.

Jesse instantly flees from his home, hoping to get to reclaim the RV before it is too late. This, of course, triggers Hank to follow him, leading us to the showdown that we have all been thirsting for and dreading at the same time.

Before we find out what happens, however, the scene cuts back to Los Pollos Hermanos, where the twins remain squeezed into one side of a booth. The manager finally has a word with them, but Gus interrupts her, finally appeasing them by telling them to meet him at sunset.

As Walt inspects the darkened RV one last time, he inadvertently walks us through his most memorable times with Jesse; he scoffs at a large bag of Funyun’s, Jesse’s famously favorite snack, and runs his hand over the lawn chair in which he sat when Jesse first found out that Walt had cancer. It is a peaceful, sweet moment, until Jesse barges in.

After a brief yelling match, it suddenly dawns on Walt that Hank is in the repair lot. If they want to escape jail time, Walt and Jesse must be a team once more. They quickly seal up the windows and remain completely silent, hoping for a miracle. In a hair-raising moment, Hank slowly circumvents the vehicle, trying every window in the process. He even attempts to pry the door open with pipe, but Walt yanks the door shut from the inside.

Walt and Jesse’s prayers are answered when Old Joe, the man commissioned to destroy the vehicle, questions Hank. He asks Hank if he has a warrant to search the RV, arguing that he could be breaking and entering into someone’s home. In what is hands down the greatest moment of the episode, Hank removes the pieces of duct tape over the bullet holes to convince Old Joe that it is not a domicile, which as a result shines three spots of light right onto Walt’s stomach. He suddenly gasps as if he was actually shot, perhaps foreshadowing a very violent death to come.

Soon Walt snaps right back into action and coaches Jesse on how to assert his rights and get rid of Hank. When Jesse asks for a warrant, Hank momentarily loosens his grip, saying, “Waited this long, we’ll wait a little longer.” He goes back into his SUV and calls his team to draft a warrant.

Walt immediately calls Saul, hoping that he’ll be of actual help this time. Suddenly, as Hank waits for his team to arrive, he gets a phone call from a woman informing him that Marie has been in a major accident and is being airlifted to a hospital. That woman is Saul’s assistant, who hands over the cell phone to a guilt-ridden Saul. In a matter of seconds, Hank rushes to her aid, leaving Walt and Jesse to destroy the RV in secret.

Nothing is audible as a heartbroken Hank bursts into the hospital, screaming at and shoving the staff. After a few seconds of silence, we begin hear is an echoed version of his obnoxious ring tone. At the other end of the line is a happy and healthy Marie, simply asking Hank what he wants for dinner. He calmly speaks with her and tries to conceal his emotions, but when the conversation is over, he angrily realizes that someone is onto him.

Accompanied by Los Zafiros’ calming ballad “He Venido”, Old Joe destroys the RV. We first see its destruction from the inside of the vehicle, and then see it completely crushed and flattened as Jesse and Walt look on. Their fruitful past is officially behind them, and their partnership no longer bears any physical trace. Only the two of them can keep alive their shares memories as they pursue separate ventures.

It is now sunset, and Gus drives deep into the desert near a mountain very similar to the one in the painting that hangs in Walt’s new condo. Approaching the cousins, he tells them that they are not to kill Walter White, not only because he is his new meth cook, but also because Walt did not necessarily kill Tuco — Hank did. Though the cousins have previously been told that DEA agents are off-limits, Gus reminds them, “North of the border is my territory, my say. As a show of respect, I say yes.” In his most menacing and monotone voice, Gus goes on to say, “The agent’s name is Hank Schrader. May his death satisfy you.” The cousins’ goals have been diverged, and it is only a matter of time until they find Hank. Karina Parikh


S3E7 One Minute

The cousins are upset.

One broke the toy of the other. They are kids in this notable flashback, and one runs over to Don Salamanca to say that he wished his brother dead. Sensing this, Don whistles for the other junior Salamanca to come over and grab him a beer. As he reaches into the ice tub of beverages, Don firmly places his hand over the boy’s head and shoves him into the ice water, drowning him. His brother is upset — this isn’t what he wanted. Don asks him how long he thinks his brother has under there. One minute? After an aggressive punch releases the younger brother, Don looms over the duo, imparting on them a motto that will stay with them for the rest of their lives: “Family is all.”

Hank knows this all too well. Having just been the subject of one of the most cruel cases of misdirection in history during “Sunset”, Hank immediately goes over to Jesse’s house, fuming mad over the fake phone call saying that Marie was in the hospital, and proceeds to viscerally beat Jesse half to death (again, props to the foley team for really bringing those biting, painful impacts to life — that scene is brutal). There is no mercy in his actions, and only after he sees Jesse’s bloody, unconscious face does he realize what he’s done.

As the episode progresses, Hank takes responsibility for his actions (starting with calling for an ambulance for Jesse), and, in doing so, is suspended from his job. While Hank has been subject to only the occasional moments of outright vulnerability in Breaking Bad, there is perhaps none more potent then the wordless exchange he has with Marie, waiting for him in the elevator following his dismissal from field work: she stands in the elevator, silent. He goes in and stands next to her. The doors close. The next shot is of him holding her tightly, crying, weeping over the fact that the one thing he loved most in his life — his job — is gone. Elevator door rings. The doors slide open, and Hank & Marie are facing forward, wordless. Those seconds in the elevator were the only moments when Hank could truly let his fears and worries flow freely. We always knew Hank had his humor to deflect his real feelings, but never did we see him so completely without his armor until this moment, brief as it was.

Meanwhile, Jesse really takes to heart Saul’s note about how his face is a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, looking like a pulverized meat catcher’s mitt. While the visibly shaken Walt tries to talk sense into Jesse, it’s obvious that Pinkman doesn’t want to hear it: his anger about his situation completely takes over the entirety of his soul. He will own Hank’s “crusty ass” from now ’til eternity, he’ll cook his meth however he sees fit, and if the cops ever get to him, he’ll walk away a free man because he has the ultimate hand: he can give the feds the almighty Heisenberg, and then wipe his hands clean of any conviction he could ever face. Walt has seen evil take on numerous forms (Tuco, Gus, even Krazy-8), but these were always external agitators. What is so unique about Jesse’s impassioned, slow-burning monologue of outright damnation (buttoned with a “bitch,” of course), is how this is a rage that is formed entirely out of Walt’s actions and circumstances. Heisenberg may never see himself in the mirror, but with Jesse’s swollen face, dripping with rage, this is as close as he’ll ever get, and he is shaken by what he sees.

So while Gale tries to impress him at work (and make no joke: Gale is impressive in his meticulous attention to details), Walt will find ways to assert his authority in the most underhanded ways possible, including insisting that Gale wrote down a number incorrectly on the temperature settings for one of the vats. Gale definitely wrote it down correctly, but Walt insists otherwise, aborting a whole batch of “sludge” and hanging it all over Gale’s fragile neck. After Jesse’s threat, Walt is in no mood to handle any situation where he is not completely in control. Gale turns from a better-than-expected assistant into a bargaining chip for bringing Jesse back (because at this point in Heisenberg’s evolution, Walt’s emotional bond with Jesse is too great, which is why he outright rejects Saul’s discussion of “options” for this whole Jesse situation).

Let’s also talk about one of Breaking Bad‘s greatest strengths: the ability for the writing staff to fully develop characters you don’t see for more than four minutes. Almost always gun sellers, too. When the Cousins begin looking for material to help in their dispatching of Hank, the deadly mute duo run into a motor-mouthed squirrel of an ammunition salesman who spends an inordinate amount of time discussing how he can’t wait to hurry this up so he can meet up with a girl who enjoys being peed on, and correlates girl’s liking being peed on to the climate they are in. We never hear from this character again, but credit is where credit is due: for such a dour episode, this standalone scene of comic relief is remarkably well-paced.

We need that relief too, because “One Minute” ends with what is arguably the single most thrilling scene in all of Breaking Bad‘s history, which, given Breaking Bad‘s history, is really saying something. Hank has turned over his gun and badge, is buying some flowers for Marie, talking to her on the phone as he walks to his car in a shopping center parking lot, feeling that things are going to be alright for the first time in awhile. Then he gets a call where a distorted voice tells him that two men are coming to kill him in one minute. He calls back Gomie to tell him this is a stupid prank and, hey, you should call be mack. Then, quietly, his nerves sharp, echoes of his post-turtle PTSD come in, and by the time he sees someone raise a gun to him in his rear-view mirror, Hank tries to escape out of one of the most deadly scenarios he has ever been placed in.

Yet why is this sequence so utterly thrilling? The reason is remarkably simple, and it’s why so many of Breaking Bad‘s action sequences work as well as they do: anyone can die. We’ve seen it with members of Jesse’s posse, with Jane, with Gus’ close personal henchmen, and (later) with Gus and Mike. The show makes no bones about the fact that anyone can die, and this is no exception. We truly don’t know what will happen by the end of this shoot-out, which makes each second singe with tension.

However, many have taken issue with the fact that the Cousins actually had a kill-shot already lined up for Hank, one brother half-crushed between cars, the other with a wounded Hank right at gunpoint who then decides that killing him with a bullet was too easy, instead breaking out their trademark silver axe to handle this “DEA scum.” In truth, going for the axe falls in line with the duo’s logic: they believe in honor first and foremost (most especially between each other), and although they are killers without remorse, a crushed brother’s request to make sure the job is done makes sense: a gun is too quick. If they’re going to kill the man who murdered one of The Cousins, using the elegance of the axe makes sense. However, this sense of honor is their undoing, as it gives Hank just enough time to put a specialty “on the house” bullet into his chamber …

The final shot of the episode shows it all: cars collided, bodies strewn about the parking lot, pools of blood drying on the cement, a car alarm going off well into the credits. The Cousins learned it when they were kids and learned it in their dying moments: one minute can truly change everything. Evan Sawdey

Kafkaesque & I See You


S3E8 I See You

I See You. A neat play on words for an episode that largely takes place in an intensive care unit but is also concerned with the tendency of certain characters to hide in plain sight. It occurs throughout the show, but in this episode, the levels of sheer brazenness are ratcheted up to unprecedented levels. With half the personnel of Hank’s DEA office decamped to the ICU (is it half? Two-thirds? Whatever the fraction, there’s a lot of them there) the obvious thing for the self-respecting meth kingpin to do is to avoid the place.

The gap between the Walter he is and the Heisenberg he is becoming is wider in this episode than it has been at any point since the First Season. It’s partly Gale’s doing. Walter finally has a kindred spirit, a man with whom he can discuss chemistry and be understood without having to explain himself. It’s tempting to suspect that had Walter known Gale for longer, none of this would have happened. He would have had the outlet for his intelligence that he lacked at home and work and he would have had someone who admired his skill as a scientist from a point of respect, rather than condescension. A friendship with Gale would have been therapeutic for the fortysomething Walter, but it’s too late for that now and Gale has to go.

Heisenberg decides that Gale’s time is up, but it’s Walter who dismisses him. All the characteristics are in place; the Latinate vocabulary, the unfinished sentences, the clumsy metaphors (Walter’s classical, Gale is jazz. “But there’s nothing wrong with jazz, oh no.”), and the unspoken apology when Gale realizes that his replacement is an inarticulate man-child who has probably just fallen down some stairs or something. Anyone who has lost his or her job to a younger, possibly stupider, candidate can sympathize with Gale. He’s genuinely hurt by it. More poignantly, it’s his first meeting with the man who will kill him.

In the ICU, Walter has to contend with the presence of the three groups from whom he has something to hide; his family, the cartel, and the DEA. That the Terminator-like cousin is interested in him is beyond the comprehension of Gomie and his colleagues. The terrifyingly determined villain’s expression may say “I see you,” but no one else does. He carries on phone calls with a desperately bored Jesse while surrounded by them and resorts constantly to pantomime.

“Oh hi, Reverend” he says, by way of misdirection, but there’s really no point. Nobody is listening anyway. Walter’s continued insistence on holding fake half-conversations is wearing thin. His pathetic pantomime of asking Skyler if she wants to know who was on the phone earns a well-deserved withering glare. Like a husband who has been caught cheating already, the perpetuation of the lie is what hurts. He may have to keep up appearances for the rest of his family, but Skyler already knows and for him to pretend otherwise is an insult too far.

Gus, a far more practiced illusionist, doesn’t even bother with the pretense. He’s more brazen, nobody would have doubted his booster credentials had he not laid on the chicken feast, but he wants to demonstrate something to Walter. His mission here is threefold: he wants to check the condition of the remaining cousin, he wants to intimidate Walter and, most importantly of all, he wants to teach Walter something. For Gus, Walter is both asset and liability. His cooking skills are worth serious money and give him an advantage over the cartel. Walter is also a loose cannon. Not only does he have a DEA agent in his family, but his ham-fisted efforts at concealment risk exposure at every turn. Gus is there to show Walter how it’s done. “I see you,” is the message. “And if I can see you, who else can see you too?”

Gus needs Walter to become a little more Fring-esque, and to learn to hide it better. Their conversation in the lobby is performed amid a swarm of agents without any silly pantomimes of fictitious ministers (Reverend? Really? When have we ever seen the Whites or the Schraders at service?) Gus simply gives himself a plausible reason to be in the building and walks in. At the end of the conversation he simply tells Walter to thank him and shake his hand. As Walter has tutored Jesse, so Gus tutors Walter. Thank him and shake his hand, Walter. He’s just taught you something and you should be grateful.

He should also thank Gus for the removal of a certain problem. That too, is conducted with the language of gentle half-truth and implication. “I am told the assassin that survived is gravely injured,” says Gus, as dispassionately as a news report. “It’s doubtful he’ll live.” It certainly is, especially with Mike around, operating as Gus’ guys always do, in plain sight. It’s a neat reveal, almost a practice run for the Lily of the Valley shot at the end of Face Off, performed wordlessly and leaving the viewer to make the connection without being served too explicitly. Michael Noble


S3E9 Kafkaesque

“Kafkaesque” probably takes second place standing for most evident literary allusion (Walt Whitman of course being the undisputed, and frequently returning champ). Like Whitman, Kafka is directly cited in the show’s dialogue. The writers aren’t exactly trying to hide the allusion, but unlike some of the subtler Whitman references, “Kafkaesque” lays it on pretty thick. The references work pretty well most of the time, and hit a number of characters in addition to Jesse (our Joseph K. stand-in), but I want to start with the biggest “wink wink” reference to Kafka’s The Trial: Jesse’s meet up with Saul at the nail salon.

If you’ve read Kafka’s The Trial, it’s nearly impossible not to catch the adapted reference. Jesse is dealing with a very unsettling observation that the way in which the world works is largely absurd and society’s systems are often nonsensical, which is clarified in a word — Kafkaesque — by his support group leader. With this literary allusion set in place, the scene we get wherein Saul tries to sell Jesse on the nail salon as a front for his money laundering leads into a conversation about why he needs to jump through all these systematic hoops to do something illegal. In short, if Jesse wants to continue to break the law, he needs to follow these rules for law-breaking success. The back and forth here is pretty much a twenty-first century version of a conversation between Joseph K. and the lawyer Huld (the inactive bedridden lawyer in The Trial), wherein the absurdity of society’s systems and the powerlessness it brings to its players becomes painfully evident. Ruminate for a second on the exchange that follows Saul’s question over what the IRS will think of Jesse when they find out he has more money than he’s been reporting:

Saul: You’re out on the town. You’re partying hardy. You’re knocking boots with the chicky babes. And ahh! Who’s this? It’s the Tax Man, and he’s looking at you. Now what does he see? He sees a young fella with a big fancy house unlimited cash supply and no job. Now what is the conclusion the Tax Man makes?

Jesse: I’m a drug dealer.

Saul: [buzzer sound] Wrong! Million times worse. You’re a tax cheat.

Jesse sums up the absurdity for the viewer in case anyone missed it: “So you want me to buy this nail salon so I can pay taxes? I’m a criminal, yo.” And yet, as an increasingly impatient Saul points out, if Jesse wants to continue being a criminal and not a convict, he needs to grow up and learn the rules. Like Kafka’s The Trial, this whole scene makes the absurdities stand out, compelling the protagonist (Jesse here) to strive for change in a system that is futilely unchangeable. If there were any chance of Jesse leaving this conversation in acceptance of his circumstances, it is flushed when Saul informs him that he takes seventeen percent of Jesse’s earnings whereas his equal partner, Walter, only pays in five percent.

Issues of powerlessness stemming from an unchangeably absurd system don’t only affect Jesse in this episode. Hank’s conversation with Steve Gomez gives us a little more insight into how Hank, who previously kept his post-traumatic stress pretty well hidden, is reflecting on the parking lot assassination attempt. “You were the only one who saw it coming,” Steve says in a kind of conciliatory “at-a-boy.” But Hank — asking aloud, “how is that supposed to make me feel better” — knows that even though he may have been onto something big, no one took him seriously. He was put on suspension, had his gun taken away, and even though he prevailed in the attack (not without injury), he only survived because of a last minute warning from an unknown source (our Kafkaesque unreachable government/godlike figure — Gus). Hank laments, saying that he was “a day late and a dollar short as usual,” but this episode’s theme suggests that it’s the system that has really failed him here. It’s a justice system that’s all convoluted function with no accountable reasoning or authority figures. This may not be entirely true for the viewer, as we are privy to some limited access to Gus.

I say “limited” access to Gus in order to acknowledge him as a potent figure who is pulling all the strings, but one whose power is also largely behind the scenes. His conversations with Walter last episode and in this episode really go to show his control of information in his careful dispensation of information. Walter does almost all of the talking. And even though Walter reasons out nearly everything Gus has had to do with Hank’s attack/salvation, and perhaps much of his impetus for Gus’ needing to do-so, Gus reveals almost nothing himself. He just offers Walter an option for an extended deal that ultimately keeps the system’s wheels turning. It’s one of the small nuances of his character that will over time add to mythology of Gus Fring as a kind of super villain. Whether he is right or wrong, Walter pragmatically explicates everything to excess, whereas Gus sits back, observes, and, rather than “putting all their cards on the table” as Walter suggests, Gus only shows what he needs to.

In addition to a broken justice system, Gus’ business (both Pollos Hermanos and the meth) plays a role in giving “Kafkaesque” its name. The cold open of the episode shows an advertisement for the chicken business that presents the integrity of homegrown achievement and self-respect in its product, only to transition into his mass production of methamphetamine, complete with assembly line workers and industrial sized kitchen and distribution center. The opening sequence ends with a backlit Gus (man in the shadows pulling the string), facing away from the camera as truck after truck leaves the facility. Later in the episode, Jesse recognizes the system that continually reasserts his lack of worth, and decides to try and break free (kind of). Like the box he was so proud of making in high school, he wants to reclaim something of the pride in product that is espoused in the cold open advertisement at the beginning of the episode.

But Jesse’s plan to break away from the system has its flaws. He’s still stealing from larger production system, and he’s preying on his own support group in a pretty capitalistically soulless fashion. Even the camera work during Jesse’s three support group scenes in this episode seem to follow Jesse’s transformation. In the first (when Jesse is given the term “Kafkaesque”) and third (when Jesse has re-entered the system with a scheme to sell to his peers) scenes, the circle is filmed from inside the support group circle. But during the second meeting, after the nail salon discussion with Saul, Jesse is in reflective mode, largely outside looking in at the world, and the entire scene is filmed from outside the circle to reflect Jesse’s displacement. It’s a nice touch in a series full of them, and really goes to show just how well the production team is communicating with one another just what’s supposed to be conveyed in each given episode.

Outside of the major nod to Kafka this week, there are some narrative and thematic elements that are important in the grand scheme of things to point out. This is one of the earliest instances of Skyler taking an active, and accepting, role in Walter’s business. Not to mention, it is one of her first major lying moments, of which she’s exceedingly good at (see also “Bug”, her Season Four parlay with the Ted and the IRS). I should note that it’s not just a role in the family business; it’s a commanding role. She comes up with the gambling lie without consulting Walter, much to his exasperation, though he quickly hops on board. Walter’s unusual compliance to a backseat role in this instance works in part because he finds the allegorical gambling story somehow flattering. It also allows him to say to his family, with a hint of pride, that he has earned “into seven figures.”

Additionally, for anyone who hasn’t given him his full due yet, Hank is exceedingly good at his job. As I said before, Steve recognizes him for being right about the blue meth coming back, and though Hank doesn’t see this as a kind of affirmation to his efforts (who could blame him in light of recent events?), it does feel like one of those moments wherein the audience can begin to gain a little sympathy for Hank. Because Hank is frequently portrayed as having a bit of a low-brow, even offensive sense of humor at work and with his family (especially in earlier seasons), it can be difficult to think of him as not only someone who is actually quite good at his job, but also someone who is worth rooting for. I think his rehabilitation (which spans the majority of Season Four) really nicely parallels the increasing moral decay of Walter in those future episodes. That is not to say that Walter hasn’t been in some state of moral decay since the show began, but Season Four is really where a lot of viewers notably seem to become more hesitant in cheering on Walter’s efforts. At some point, Hank becomes one of our “good” guys, always just one step behind catching his Heisenberg.

It is true that aside from being conversationally unpleasant, Hank has had some pretty bad moments — beating Jesse nearly to death after the fake hospitalization of Marie, and his upcoming attitude towards Marie after returning home from the hospital come to mind. His poor responses in these situations are emotional ones that we as viewers can reprimand the character for. We don’t (or at least it is rare if we do) get an emotional impetus for Walter’s more horrendous actions. He’s always calculating, and rarely expresses feeling in that action. It’s an important distinction between the two. Just before the scene where Skyler presents the gambling lie, we get a very short, unsettling shot of Walter (alone) standing in darkness over Hank (who is well lit) as he sleeps in the hospital bed. In consideration of the cliffhanger at the end of Season Five’s “Gliding All Over”, it’s especially clear that we are going to want to pay attention to the subtly laid distinctions between these two characters throughout the series as we prepare to see Hank and Walter contending more directly in the final eight episodes of the series. Brian Steinbach

Fly & Abiquiu


S3E10 Fly

As one particularly humorous episode of Community taught the world, there comes a time in the life of a television program when budgets need to be made slim. The result of this need is “the bottle episode,” a moniker whose name comes from the way the resources of the show reach a “bottling point” in the minimalistic structure of the episode. The formula is basic: few principal cast members are used, there won’t be any expensive sequences or shots, and the number of locations can be counted on one finger. To some this structure may appear limiting, but as Breaking Bad’s finest achievement, “Fly”, can attest, there’s a freedom that comes in being limited.

“Fly” is as bare-bones as a Breaking Bad episode could be. The sole location is Gus Fring’s super-lab. The only characters, save for some extras in the laundromat above the lab, are Jesse and Walt. The impetus for the dramatic tension of the episode is one pesky, seemingly un-killable fly that Walt claims has contaminated the lab. It doesn’t help that Walt is suffering from insomnia as he discovers the fly; when Jesse comes in the morning for the regular day’s cook, he finds Walt scavenging around the lab, makeshift baton in hand, looking calmly deranged. “Is that your fly-saber?” Jesse asks, in the first of many quips that keep the drama of “Fly” suffused with humor. Jesse’s insistence to cook in spite of the fly’s presence — which to him is hardly a contaminant at all — is the first source of conflict, but his and Walt’s arguing, which even leads to some physical altercation, gives way to some intimate, touching reflections on mortality, memory, and those that have since passed.

The theatrical staging of “Fly” hugely contributes to its dramatic potency. The fine American director Rian Johnson, responsible for works like Brick and The Brothers Bloom, helmed this episode; his graceful and nuanced camerawork prevents the proceedings from being too static, yet he keeps the setting limited such that it feels like a long one-act play. The theatrical reference points of “Fly” are broad and deep: Walt’s obstinacy in hunting for the fly is Beckett-esque in its absurdity, the undercurrent of bleakness in Jesse and Walt’s observations hearkens to LaBute’s misanthropic tone, and on a broader level the plotting of the episode follows modern drama’s willingness to toy with Aristotelian tropes. Writers Sam Catlin & Moira Walley-Beckett were gifted with the chance to explore Jesse and Walt with previously unseen depth, and they clearly took every chance they got.

And, no surprises, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were up to the writer’s challenge. Paul gets the funniest lines of the episode, doling out jokes and bits of wisdom left-and-right. On the nomenclature of varmints: “When I was coming up it was just possum. Now it’s O’possum, like it’s Irish or something.” What he would say if they had waterboys in the lab: “Gatorade me, bitch!” And there’s his view of meth addicts: “We probably have the most unpicky customers in the world.”

His always-reliable humor is the counterweight here to Cranston, who turns Walt’s hunt for the fly into a melancholy reflection on his profession in a drop of a hat. It’s a remarkable feat, one that’s more daunting a task than any of Walt’s maniacally evil monologues. He is quite convincing when he utters that famous line, “I am the danger,” but what gets more to the core of Walt is the weakness he displays as the fly continually evades his grasp. (Though it should be pointed out that Walt does get some of his best scenes of physical comedy here, in particular one involving his shoe getting stuck in a light fixture after he throws it up to the ceiling to kill the fly.)

“I’m healthy,” Walt tells Jesse, summarizing his most recent trip to his oncologist. By this time, cancer is much less a concern for Walt than the immediate need to cook, which is evident in the way he ignores his positive prognosis and delves straight into what ails him: Skyler’s inability to accept his “sacrifice” for the family. “I truly believe there exists some combination of words,” Walt opines, “there must exist certain words in a certain specific order that will explain all of this.” The analytic clarity he delivers this line with is unflinching evidence of his hubris, but there’s a sadness in it that wasn’t present in the early parts of the Third Season, when he was first trying to convince Skyler the rightness of his decision to enter the meth business.

Then, he was assertive and calculative; to him, Skyler was just misled and in need of correction. Now he’s beginning to realize that he may have been wrong, but not for the moral reasons brought up by Skyler. By saying his failings in selling Skyler on his new life has to do with “not being able to find the words,” he is re-asserting his rightness about meth, but admitting his weakness in being able to string together that “magical sentence.” Jesse, who stands in the background as Walt says all this, remains silent. He’s been in the drug game for long enough to know that “convincing” is rarely the trick. Too often do those who love and live with those involved in drugs suffer the worst consequences of that dark world.

Walt’s insomnia allows the goal of killing the fly to remain on the table. Jesse, not caring about the fly at all, decides to take action to make sure at least a little bit of a batch is made that day. He makes coffee for both of them, with a nice sprig of sleeping pills in Walt’s cup. This, unfortunately, doesn’t lead to Walt calmly passing out. Instead, the cranky chemist lulls about, not quite falling asleep but not quite awake either. The last time he was in this state was in his cancer surgery at the end of Season Two, where he let it slip to Skyler that second phone he didn’t have he, well, had.

And, sure enough, it proves to undo Walt here. Jesse’s ex-girlfriend Jane, the one who Walt let die as she choked on her own vomit in her sleep, becomes a topic of conversation when Walt brings up to Jesse that a few nights before her death, he met her father at a bar. The happenstance of the situation befuddles the mathematical mind of Walter — he even admits to trying to calculate the probability of meeting Jane’s father — and as Jesse expresses surprise at this admission, Walt finds it to be the time to fess up.

Well, sort of fess up. As Jesse climbs atop a ladder to whack at the fly, with Walt’s support at the bottom, the sleeping pill-addled man lets it slip: “I’m sorry.” Jesse thinks this is just an expression of sympathy and assures him it’s fine. “I mean, I’m very sorry,” Walt insists. If Jesse knew what Walt was really saying, he would probably jump down from the ladder and beat his face in with the “fly saber” until he bled out — confer this with Jesse nearly shooting Walt for the Ricin incident at the end of Season Four — but the irony of the situation is lost on him. Like many of the show’s tense scenes, this interaction gets the pulse rate up, but in the end it’s all for naught. What it does go to show is that while Jesse may be the best friend Walt has in the business, there’ll always be an ocean of distance between the two of them. Walt needs Jesse, but he could never admit the actions he’s taken at the expense of Jesse to rise to the power he has; necessity prevents him from being the island he so wishes to be.

Showrunner Vince Gilligan says of “Fly”:

“Having said that, even if that weren’t the case [that finances shaped the creation of “Fly”], even if financial realities didn’t enter into it, I feel as a showrunner that there should be a certain shape and pace to each season, and the really high highs that you try to get to at the end of a season — the big dramatic moments of action and violence, the big operatic moments you’re striving for — I don’t think would land as hard if you didn’t have the moments of quiet that came before them. The quiet episodes make the tenser, more dramatic episodes pop even more than they usually would just by their contrast.

Amongst myriad other reasons, Breaking Bad will go down in television history due its unforgettable scenes of visceral brutality. Images like Gus Fring straightening his tie before dropping dead or Tortuga’s head atop a turtle are hard to un-sear out of the mind. But the only reason those images are able to be as wrenching as they are is because of the way the writers of Breaking Bad methodically pace the show. No action is ever unrushed. Every second has its time to say what it needs to say. In the case of “Fly”, the show gets to just slow it all down, freezing time to the exact moment when Jesse and Walt are in the eye of the storm — or, rather, a storm, as tumult never manifests in a single form in Breaking Bad. The key ingredient to this program’s best episode is not spectacular violence or fiery monologues: it’s breathing room. In the grand scheme of Breaking Bad, “Fly” does nothing to advance any storylines; it instead encapsulates themes, provides interesting new symbols, and displays a mesmerizing amount of character development for both Walt and Jesse. In a show rife with bad moral luck, sharp turns of fate, and at times relentless violence, “Fly” takes the troubles of these characters to the staging of theatre, and the result is a masterpiece of television storytelling. Brice Ezell


S3E11 Abiquiu

Some of the best moments in television history have come as a result of stubborn writers, the moments when dialogue that has the ability to be interpreted multiple ways is written into the script. On one hand, viewers can find deeper meaning within a set of scenes that may further the plot. On the other, the characters’ words may actually be aimed at proving petty, gamesman-like points to network executives on behalf of the writing staff and/or creator.

For my money, these are the best moments the entire medium has ever produced. It’s a lot easier to do it with comedic tones (see: Arrested Development, 30 Rock, or even some moments of America’s The Office), though it’s still quite the task for even a light-hearted set to accept. To try and seamlessly work these moments into a drama would appear impossible, considering how doing as much would run the risk of compromising the very serious nature of the narrative at hand.

Coming off “Fly”, widely known as a bottle episode within Breaking Bad lore (meaning there was no real budget for production due to, in part, all the contract negotiations taking place at AMC at the time), Season Three’s “Abiquiu” opened with an oh-so-fabulous double entendre-like sequence. Leaning on its almost-always-successful flashback approach, it begins with Jane and Jesse debating the true value of Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting of a door, presumably days, if not hours, before Pinkman’s muse officially fell off the wagon (remember: Jesse blew off the exhibit to go cook with Walt in “Over”, the episode directly before “Mandala”, the episode Jane introduces her beau to the joys of heroin).

“Why would anyone paint a picture of a door over and over again, like dozens of times,” Jesse asks Jane.

“It was the same subject,” Jane asserts, “but it was different every time. She saw something new every time she painted it.”

“And that’s not psycho to you?” Pinkman quips.

“Well, then why should we do anything more than once?” his girl responds. “Should we just watch one sunset or live just one day … it’s new every time. Each time is a different experience. Sometimes you get fixated on something and you might not even get why.”

Forget psychobabble character development for a minute and consider: A) “Fly” was nothing more than a play shot on a television studio set. It was, essentially, the same thing over and over and over (that damn fly!) — so much so that there have been many a detractor to the episode’s relevance, moving forward.

This, then, leads to B) Who’s to say this wasn’t creator Vince Gilligan’s way of taking a shot at his show’s critics? Who’s to say those words weren’t aimed at the people who tried to get into Breaking Bad, but ultimately dismissed it as a one-trick pony because of its formulaic nature, what with Walt always finding trouble before always seeming to overcome it? Who’s to say the line “You get fixated on something and you might not even get why” isn’t supposed to imply to the networks that even though there may be a sect of individuals who can’t quite articulate their affection for the series properly, there is still an inherent magnetism to the story being told?

Dude’s a smart guy — don’t put those implications past him. From the lipstick on the cigarette to the Spanish-language version of Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” playing in the background while Jesse and his new friends are eating at that taco joint, Gilligan has his hand on everything. You can’t get as good as he is without the desire to offer up a few potshots every now and then, right?

Potshots is the word for Hank here, as he can’t help himself from firing them off at everyone around him, most notably Walt Jr. You can’t blame the guy for being frustrated with his recent luck, but to ask the teenager if he has any friends? Come on, man — that’s low. Kudos to the kid for brushing it off so easily, more than likely focusing all his attention on the prospect of a new car.

Oh, and don’t think that symmetry is lost on the viewers: from Junior’s play for a new vehicle early in the episode comes Walt and Skyler’s latest purchase … a car wash. The dynamite goes boom when we find out that the Missus is, herself, ready and willing to break bad, taking over money issues for the operation (not to mention her decision to never file divorce papers because “spouses can’t be compelled to testify against each other”). In for a dime, in for a kilo, this would be the point in the series where the dynamic of the Skyler character takes a leap of faith, for better or for worse. Making the decision to dive in this deep, as she will find out in the subsequent seasons, might not have been the wisest move of them all. Then again, what else could she do?

The best moments come from the single greatest supporting actor in the history of television (can’t say that enough) as Aaron Paul’s Jesse finds out that his new love interest has ties to his boy Combo’s death. Concentrate on that face as she explains what Tomas once did, and you should be sending check to Mr. Paul with a memo line that reads “Quick Acting Lesson.” From shock, to disappointment, to rage, to sadness, he nails about 82 different emotions in a 90 second span and not once do any of them become unbelievable.

Even better is his serious affection for children. Nary a season has gone by where Jesse hasn’t been influenced by a little kid, one way or the other. From a child with drug-addicted parents, to Brock’s apprehensive fist-bump, all the way to the tarantula enthusiast Todd shot and killed in Season Five (which would ultimately lead him to want out of the business for good), Jesse’s soft-spot is equally endearing and refreshing in such a darkly presented show.

The episode is at its darkest, however, when Walt ventures over to Gus’ house for dinner. Confused and uncomfortable, the scene was palpably more fluid than the time Jesse would eventually be called upon to do the same thing. The key moments are endless: Gus gives Walt a knife. Walt lectures Gus on how taste can impact memories. And then, of course, there’s the ah-ha! quote: “Never make the same mistake twice,” the drug boss tells his nervous newcomer.

Wait. Which mistake was that again? Colin McGuire

Half Measure & Full Measure


S3E12 / 13 Half Measures / Full Measure

Season Three’s concluding episodes, “Half Measures” and “Full Measure”, reveal some of Breaking Bad‘s most meta moments.

From roughly this point through the first third (or so) of Season Four, the series becomes one of continuous double talk, where large chunks of the dialogue are simultaneously about the show’s narrative action and about the composition of the show itself. Shortly after “Half Measures” begins, Walter and Skyler stand in their driveway debating the decision to purchase Bogdan’s car wash so that they can launder their drug money. Walter refuses to pursue this possibility because he believes that it is best if Skyler knows as little as possible about his work as a meth cook. “Plausible deniability” is what Walter wants his wife to maintain.

Skyler, as we should all remember, is a fiction writer, and she knows how to spin a tale better than her husband: “You took the seed money you won gambling. You invested it in the car wash that you helped run for four years. You hired your wife as a bookkeeper because — guess what? — she’s actually a bookkeeper. Now that is a story an auditor can believe.” Furthermore, she drives her point home with mathematical precision. Walter, when he was employed as a chemistry teacher only made $43,000 a year. The two of them could barely pay their bills when he was working. How can they explain their newfound wealth now that Walter is an unemployed chemistry teacher? The scientist cannot deny the validity of that question.

Skyler’s use of the word story is no accident, no colloquial convenience in this scene. Rather, what she and Walter reveal through their banter about the details of the lie they are fabricating — Walter’s motivation for providing his estranged wife with so much money, whether or not it would be more believable if Walter were once again living with his family — is the construction of subjectivity. Just as bodies are comprised of molecules, so are lives comprised of language — of narratives. As Walter and Skyler iron out the essential components of their plot, they not only coyly toy with the circumstances of their separation but also with the genre of the show itself.

In response to Walter’s suggestion that he move back into the house, for purposes of verisimilitude, Skyler smartly responds, “Wow … it’s suddenly a fantasy story.” Her comment, though obviously directed at her husband, is also directed toward the show’s audience. Depending on the audience’s identifications with the characters, and particularly depending on which twists and turns the show takes, Breaking Bad shifts — changes, to use Walter’s term — its genre. Part western, part family drama, part crime drama, and, in the most literal sense, part science fiction, Breaking Bad is also part fantasy, a show that often imagines the ecstasy of criminality. Early on, Walter and Skyler fuck furiously in the backseat of their Aztec, just after Walter briefed his high school’s parents about the stolen laboratory gear. In a moment of post-coital rapture, Skyler asks Walt: “Where did that come from, and why was it so damn good?” Walter’s response: “Because it was illegal.”

This fantasy element gets what is arguably its most stunning treatment at the start of “Full Measure.” Opening in the empty space of the Whites’ future home, the episode flashes back to a young Walter and a very pregnant Skyler as they are house shopping. When the two enter the house, the relator makes a few corny jokes about Walter’s job, imagining that, because he is a scientist, he must of course be working on fantastical giant space lasers. “Honestly, what I do would bore you senseless,” Walt quips. The young couple then tours the property, fantasizing about the future they see for themselves. Walter makes it clear that he wants to have three children and that he thinks him and his wife should be looking at larger, more elaborate houses. They need, as he says, to “set their sights higher.” “We’ve got nowhere to go but up,” he concludes.

What makes this scene so arresting is not so much the dramatic irony that adorns it — as the audience knows, Walter’s story is one of decent, not ascent — but is rather its careful dissection of the American Dream. In an American context, home ownership represents personal, professional, and economic achievement — a narrative of personal prosperity, in other words. The implication latent in the term “starter home,” which is exactly what Walter and Skyler are touring in this episode, is that home ownership is perpetually aspirational, one house leading to the next in a series of familial and architectural expansions (Walter requires “five bedrooms” in his house).

The ideology of upward mobility is obviously what drives American dreaming — that act of envisioning a future that is always more grand than the present. Clearly, this form of mobility is fueled by financial gain, the kind of financial gain that Walter, the enterprising graduate student, saw in the creation of Gray Matter (but that never materialized), or the financial gain that he hoped to find in a stable job as a teacher (but that never materialized), or the financial gain he believed to be inevitable in the profession of meth cooking (but that only comes with costs that far outweigh any profits). The opening segment of “Full Measure” builds Walter’s future failures into the framework of his house: despite all of his legal and illegal work, Walter is still trapped in a starter home. His life is static. He has not made any forward progress. Though he is an atypical man, he has very typical dreams; he desires a house, a family, and financial stability. However, as Breaking Bad repeatedly emphasizes, his dreams are not, and probably never will be, his reality. His life, as Skyler states, is a fantasy story. Walter never seems to be able to recover from the trauma of that realization — from the trauma, that is, of failure.

The notion of recovery is one of Breaking Bad‘s central themes, and it receives explicit attention in the episodes “Half Measures” and “Full Measures.” Ostensibly, these episode titles are drawn from the long story that Mike tells Walter in his living room. Discussing the end of his career as a police officer, Mike relates what was in all likelihood his final case: a response to a domestic dispute. Mike tells Walter that the unnamed male abuser in this case repeatedly assaulted his wife, but that she would never press charges against him. At one point, Mike threatened to kill the abuser when he was being brought to the police station. The abuser promised to repent, so Mike let him go. A week later, the abuser killed his wife. Mike, heartbreakingly, considers his decision not to kill the abuser a “half measure.”

The point of Mike’s story is to establish a parallel between his autobiography and the one that Walter is writing for himself. At the time, Walter is attempting to stop Jesse from killing the two drug dealers who murdered his friend Combo. Walter believes that coordinating Jesse’s arrest could keep him off the streets long enough for him to think better of his plan. Mike takes a different perspective: he thinks Walter’s idea is “moronic.” Also, as Mike’s story is meant to imply, Walter’s idea is a half measure, an incomplete attempt to solve a larger longstanding problem with Jesse’s erratic behavior. Jesse, at this point in the show, is in the midst of a shaky recovery from a hard drug habit, and Mike and Gus make it evident that they consider Jesse a “junkie.” Walter, Mike wants to make clear, needs to relinquish his loyalty to Jesse — fully relinquish it, that is — for the betterment of Gus’ entire business.

Though these episodes’ titular connections to Mike’s narrative are fairly obvious, what is less obvious — but yet is no less significant — is the connection that these episode titles have to Alcoholics Anonymous. Specifically, these episodes allude to chapter five of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the central text for that recovery program, as well as for many of its sister programs. Chapter five is titled “How It Works,” and it is the chapter that enumerates the program’s famous twelve steps. In the context of “Half Measures” and “Full Measure,” the following are the key lines from “How It Works”: “Half Measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”

The juncture of “Half Measures” and “Full Measure” is a literal turning point — a city intersection where Walter runs over the two drug dealers Jesse is about to (attempt to) shoot, now in revenge for Combo’s murder and for the killing of the 11-year-old Tomas, the brother of Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea.

This moment is the first time that Walter planned a murder and successfully carried it out; as such, it also represents a metaphorical turning point for him. The fallout of these murders is wide-reaching and highly destructive, and Walter’s life is never the same after them. Most immediately, this action entirely turns Gus against his cook, permanently marring their professional relationship. The eventual and ultimate result of Gus’ distrust of Walter is that the meek Mr. White must transform entirely into Heisenberg.

An added consequence of Walter’s decision is that it balances out the power dynamics between him and Jesse. Since these murders really leave Gus with no other choice but to murder Walter, the chemist, in turn, must plot to kill his replacement, Gale Boetticher. Given that Walter is kept under consistent surveillance by Gus, he must turn to Jesse to help him. As he lays out his plan to his student, Walter begs Jesse for his assistance: “You are the only edge that I’ve got. I saved your life, Jesse. Are you going to save mine?” Finally, when Mike and Victor apprehend Walter and make it clear that they are going to kill him, Mr. White makes one last call to his student. Walter begins the call calmly, covertly telling Jesse that he, Walter, is no longer able to kill Gale. Then, more frantically, he slyly commands Jesse to commit the murder himself: “It’s going to have to be you. Do it, Jesse!”

As Walter stands in captivity at the end of “Full Measure”, the import of Alcoholics Anonymous becomes clear. Walter and Jesse have discovered that their half measures — murdering Gus’ drug dealers — have availed them nothing. One of them is hiding out in an empty arcade; the other is seconds away from death. Their only recourse is to heed Mike’s oblique advice: “No more half measures.” For Walt and Jesse, their full measure is the combination of their respective killings. As those actions interlock, each man asking the other for “protection and care with complete abandon,” the two regain — recover — the control over the futures that Gus has been working so hard to eliminate.

With the conclusion of “Full Measure”, Breaking Bad‘s Third Season comes to a decidedly dismal end. However, this season does at least promise a future, no matter how short-lived it might be, for Walter and Jesse. That futurity, in a way, is as much backward looking as it is forward looking. When the young Walter White reveals that he hopes to have three children, the implications of his decision to save Jesse’s life — a decision that interrupts a family dinner with Skyler and Walter Jr. (baby Holly is surely somewhere in the house, too) — take on an added significance. Walter sees Jesse as part of his family.

Similarly, when Jesse tries to convince Walter that it is necessary for them to kill Gus’ two drug dealers, he emphasizes that young Tomas, the boy they employ to help them deal, is only 11 years old. The child’s age is intriguing, the two numbers exact replicas of each other. Is it possible that in Tomás, or in any of the other young boys in the show — Jake Pinkman, the young dirt bike rider who Todd mercilessly kills — Jesse sees his younger self, the person he was before he became Cap’n Cook? Maybe. Maybe it is also possible that these twin episodes suggest that, for Walter and Jesse, recovering a stable future requires that they not only right the past but also rewrite it. Joseph Fisher