Recurring Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks
Breaking Bad always has these little scenes, where an episode will open and feature something totally random. Hundreds of people crawling along a desert, like some sort of bizarre ritual. A hooker not mentioned for an entire season going about her daily routine. We are wondering where Vince Gillian is going with the scene, and, slowly it becomes clear. The answer is never anything less than brilliant.
When we left off, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman had gone separate ways. Jesse, coming to the revelation that meth was tearing his life apart, dragged himself to rehab. Walter White was also leaving the drug trade, as his wife realised his dark secret. She files for divorce, leaving Walter fighting to keep his family together. However, the meth world isn’t quite ready to let the infamous Heisenberg go just yet. Walter’s own stepbrother, Hank, is tracking down any trace of the blue meth that simply came and then went, the dangerous Gus still wants to use Walter’s product and two mysterious brothers sneak into America from Mexico with the murderous intent of avenging their cousin, Tuco.
Vince Gillian knows how to write a series. No matter how confident we are that we have got the storyline sussed, we are always left amazed at every direction the writers dive down. The story of Breaking Bad is always unpredictable, yet when we stand back at look at it, the episodes always follows a certain set of rules and themes. Gillian is almost like a magician, using sleight of hand and distractions, so we are never in on where the writers are going. Every character goes down a completely different road than we ever expected them to. Take Skylar. Despite the hate surrounded her character, she is actually a really interesting figure. Skylar really comes into her own in Season Three though. She is one of the more innocent characters here, yet the first half of the season sees her painted as the villain and made out to be a horrible person (a microcosm for public opinion?). However, and I won’t spoil it for you, because her character arc took me totally by surprise, in the second half of the season, Gillian does something truly incredible with Skylar. Again, it suits the theme of the show, so it seems weird we never thought it on the table, but that is the mastery of the writers. Hank also continues his three-dimensional expansion, becoming one of the most interesting cop characters on television. The story twists and turns, a rollercoaster ride genuinely coming across as the ideal metaphor here.
The acting is never anything less than superb. Of course, Bryan Cranston is, once again, phenomenal, but Season Three gives the supporting cast time to shine. Dean Norris is given much more to do, as his post-traumatic-stress throws him down a dangerous road. Aaron Paul is given a brutally awesome monologue in his hospital bed. Even Betsy Brandt, who always came across as a character that nobody seems to know what to do with, gets a little more to do. But it’s not even just the main cast list. Guest stars are allowed moments of brilliance, when the story gets a chance to slow down. Time is taken out of the finale to show new assistant, Gale, singing along to a Spanish song with perfect timing. It has nothing to do with anything, but little details like this make is harder, if not impossible, to hate on these characters.
Season Three also has the major benefit of finally getting a true villain. In Season Two, the idea was that Walter White was the true bad guy of the show, which, of course, needs to be absolutely true. But Season Three squeezes in more opponents for Heisenberg to face off against. The two brothers, briefly mentioned as Tuco’s cousins from the last season, come back with brutal consequences. They are sharks, swimming ominously in the peripherals of the show, never really coming into play, other than looking cool or threatening. And then suddenly, they strike and the aftermath sends the viewers reeling. Gus also makes for a much more prominent character, getting upgraded to the main cast this time around. He is quietly menacing, never showing off with a tremendous gesture of anger. He just sits back and lets his dark presence do the acting for him, yet it never comes off as lazy; more like carefully planned and orchestrated. Eventually, we even get Jonathan Banks’ private detective character, who has always come across as awesome, but here, he gets to show it off, jumping between sides constantly, so we are never sure who is going to get the brute force of his deadly talents.
But maybe the one thing that makes Season Three better than any other season of Breaking Bad is the fact that there is more of a pay-off. Breaking Bad likes to drag scenes and details on for quite a while. Yes, it always works, and it is the fact that the writers are so talented that we are more than happy to spend an entire episode that consists of Walter and Jesse trying to kill a fly that has escaped into their lab, but Season Two lacked that powerhouse punchline that made the wait worth it. Here, the long scenes and character development climax fantastically. ‘One Minute’ features one of the most gut-wrenching shoot-outs I have seen on television in a long time and I had absolutely no idea how it was going to work out. And then there is the ending to the entire season. Again, we have no idea where Vince Gillian is going with it, but when that final few frames play out, we are left with our hearts in our mouths, gob-smacked and impressed at how amazing a show Breaking Bad truly is.
Final Verdict: The best season yet. The characters are developed even further, delivering terrific performances, and the story is beautifully constructed, amazing us at every turn.