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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Breaking Bad Season 3

I am slowly, slowly getting caught up with Breaking Bad!  Click here for my review of season one and here for my review of season two.

Much has been written about the way the Breaking Bad burns through story-lines, taking plot-lines that other shows would drag out for years and dispensing with them in just a few episodes.  In watching season three I was struck by how much less that was the case than in the first two seasons.  I found season three to be far more leisurely paced than I was used to the show being.  I like this adjustment!   Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT of plot and circumstance crammed into season three, but I was pleased that the show took a little more time than before to explore these characters and situations.

Prime example: the finale of season one introduced a new big bad drug-lord, Tuco.  But he was dispensed with by the end of season two’s second episode.  In similar fashion, at the end of season two we met Gus the Chicken Man.  But rather than knocking him off quickly, I was pleased that the show kept this character around throughout all of season three and, presumably, now into season four.  Season three was a little more of a slow burn than previous seasons.

I disliked the plane crash ending of season two, and was eager for that to be forgotten about and for the show to move on.  And while I was pleased that, with the season three premiere, the show was indeed moving on, in hindsight I am glad they didn’t just totally ignore such a major event and that there were some references made to the plane crash and to the tragic fates of Jane and Donald (John DeLancie).  (I was thrilled to see that Walt’s involvement in Jane’s death wasn’t ignored, and that it became such an important plot point in the episode “Fly.”  I really thought Walt was going to spill the beans to Jesse in that episode!!!  I suspect this isn’t over…)

The show takes its sweet time in bringing Walt and Jesse back together at the beginning of season three.  While I was a little impatient for that inevitable event to happen, keeping them apart for a while makes sense following the events at the end of season two.  I am glad the show didn’t rush the two back together in the premiere, and I thought the exploration of Jesse’s grief and guilt following the death of his girlfriend Jane at the end of season two was the most compelling story-line we had seen for the character thus far.

I loved the continued involvement, throughout the season, of Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), a more “civilized” drug-dealer than we had seen in the show so far.  And also more well-off.  Gus sets up Walt with quite a fancy-schmancy new lab.  I loved that new setting.  It was time for these characters to move beyond Jesse’s van, as iconic an image and a location as that was.  Bravo to the show’s writers for realizing that the show couldn’t stay in Jesse’s van forever and that it was time to move on.  Think about how many TV shows find increasingly convoluted ways to keep their characters in the same setting and to maintain the status quo for years and years.  I love that Breaking Bad doesn’t do that.  (I highlight of the season for me was the final adventure with the van, in which Walt and Jesse get locked inside with Hank outside in “Sunset.”  That was a phenomenal episode.  And then getting to actually see the van get crushed and destroyed?  So great!)

Plus, Gus’s world and the new lab give us lots of wonderful new characters and situations to explore.  This keeps the show fresh and exciting.  I particularly loved the character of Gale.  What a great, weird fellow.  Just like Gus — and also Walter White himself — this is a very unexpected persona to find involved in the world of drugs.  I loved this character, and I must admit to feeling bad for Gale when we watch how Walt screws things up for him!

Getting back to Gus, what a wonderfully fresh, fascinating character.  I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of this character in this season, so I hope we get to see a lot more of him in future seasons.  (I have remained, thankfully, unspoiled!!)  I loved Walt’s awkward dinner at Gus’ home, and I loved seeing Gus get tough with Hector and the bad-ass Mexican cousins.

Speaking of Hector, it was great to see him back.  I love the tight continuity this show continually demonstrates.  It’s great to see Walt’s actions continuing to come back and bite him in the ass.  (A great example of the show’s tight continuity: the connections we discover in “Half Measures” between Jesse’s new girlfriend Andrea and the death of Combo back in season two.  Her brother Tomas was the kid who did the deed??  I did not see that coming!!  What a phenomenal connection.)

Hank’s story took an interesting turn this season.  Poor guy.  It was great getting to see the show realistically explore the PTSD that this tough-guy was faced with following the events of season two.  I also loved seeing how close Hank got to Walt and Jesse during his investigation of the R.V., and it was great getting to see him be a heroic bad-ass in the parking-lot shoot-out.  I was not at all expecting to see this main character get crippled the way he was.  That story-line in the second half of the season was pretty heartbreaking, but very compelling.  I like how surprised I was all season long by the journey of this character.

Less compelling — as I have found to be the case since the beginning of the show — was all the drama with Skyler.  I just wasn’t that interested in Skyler’s fling with Ted Beneke, and her hostility and anger towards Walt — while it makes perfect sense from a character standpoint — got old fast.  It’s a tough role, because the audience is pretty solidly in Walt’s corner at this point in the show.  We’re rooting for him, even as he does some pretty bad things.  And so Skyler, who has ample reason to feel angry at and betrayed by Walt, is positioned as the enemy of the character the audience is pulling for.  That’s tough to overcome, and I don’t think her story-line was interesting enough to pull that off.

Speaking of Walt, Bryan Cranston continues to crush it with every episode.  He brings such force to the role of Walt, showing us at a character who, on the one hand, has huge and unexpected depths of toughness and steel (holy cow what Walt does at the end of “Half Measures”!!), and who on the other hand is such a pathetic figure.

I was thrilled that Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) was a more major player this season, appearing in almost every episode.  Holy cow, what a wonderful character!  Saul just owns the screen whenever we see him.  I love how involved they made his character this year.  (How great was the first meeting between Saul and Skyler in “Abiquiu”??  So great!  Bringing those two characters together was genius.)  I’m also really growing to love Saul’s tough-guy right-hand-man (who we learn is actually working for Gus!  Love it!) Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks).  With very little screen time Mike has become a terrific, compelling character.  I hope we continue to see a lot more of him.

The season ends on a brutal cliffhanger.  It’s a terrific ending, my favorite ending of a season so far.  Thankfully I already had season four on my book-shelf so I didn’t have to suffer through a year-long wait to get to see the resolution!

I am still not in love with this show the way I had expected to be after reading about all of the acclaim it received during its run.  As I have written in my previous reviews, I respect this show as a hugely well-crafted show more than I am really in love with it and desperate to watch each next episode.  There are a lot of great characters, but so many of them are so unlikable, and so much of what happens in the show is so unhappy and so unpleasant, that this isn’t a show that I find myself devouring at high speed.  I don’t want to watch three or four episodes in a row.  My heart just can’t take it!  I find myself spacing the episodes out when I watch.  Which is why I am moving through this show at a slower pace than I had originally expected.

Still, all that being said, the show is definitely growing on me.  I feel that with each episode that I watch that I am slipping more and more into the embrace of the show.  I’ve been comparing my experience of watching Breaking Bad to my experience watching Mad Men.  That’s also a show with a lot of unpleasant characters in which a lot of unpleasant things happen.  I liked that show from episode one but didn’t fall in love with the show until its fourth season.  I wonder if the same will be the case with Breaking Bad.  I definitely think season three was the strongest season so far, and boy did that finale cliffhanger leave me eager to move on to season four.

I will be back here soon to let you all know how that goes.

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