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There’s some television shows, such as Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and CSI (any cop procedural show will fit the bill as well) that do not have to make an attempt whatsoever in order to pull in massive ratings. Once shows that were considered contenders for Emmy awards, they’ve become the butt of jokes in the TV community. In a way, they’re the TV equivalent of fast food; it’s fun while it’s around, but in the long run, you’re left unsatisfied, craving a little something extra and nursing clogged arteries for the rest of your life. Okay, maybe not the last one, but I’m assuming everybody understands my little diatribe. On the other hand, there are shows that win every award under the sun (“Mad Men” and “30 Rock” jump immediately to my mind) yet fail to pull in the ratings of the aforementioned “fast food” shows. I realize that there are probably numerous fans of Grey’s Anatomy and CSI that are throwing food, drinks or anything sharp at their computer monitors, cursing me for saying these horrid things, but it’s just my opinion.
One show that has avoided the limelight for quite awhile is “Breaking Bad,” a darkly funny, yet intense drama about a high school chemistry teacher who, upon learning he has terminal lung cancer, turns to cooking meth with a former student in order to help his family pay for his cancer treatment. On paper, it sounds like everything an award-worthy show is made of: a dark yet original premise, a great lead actor (Bryan Cranston, who completely sheds his role of Malcolm’s dad from “Malcolm in the Middle”), a solid supporting cast and writing that keeps you on the edge of your seat. However, besides Bryan Cranston, the show hasn’t broken into the forefront of the award ceremonies the way that its AMC neighbor “Mad Men” has. It’s a shame, because Breaking Bad’s narrative pull is much stronger than “Mad Men.” It’s true that “Mad Men” is a great show, and it’s massive accumulation of awards is proof of that, but “Breaking Bad” is much more relatable in this day and age. It asks that age-old question, with a little twist: Would you steal a loaf of bread if you’re family was sick and starving? Or in Walter White’s case, would you cook a bunch of meth and sell it to crazy drug dealers to raise money for chemotherapy?
The show is in it’s third season, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The buzz around the last couple of seasons have been incredible, and with the season four episodes in, it’s impossible to see the show not getting a nomination for Best Drama. While the ratings have been less than stellar in the past, it’s been raking in more and more people. In fact, Season 3 premiered a month ago to record high ratings for the show (the premiere, ‘No Mas,’ grabbed 1.954 million viewers, a great number for a cable television show). While it’s true that the ratings have quickly declined from the second and third episodes (1.545 and 1.327 million viewers respectively), the show has proven to be able to hold solid numbers and deliver one great episode after another. You know that even if an episode is slower paced than usual, they’ll make up for it with character development. Actors and actresses should be hoping and praying that they get a role on this show, because as it gains momentum, so does its quality. Bryan Cranston has certainly carved himself a small niche into the list of “greatest television actors currently living,” and Aaron Paul has given the performance of his life as Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s partner-in-crime.
For those of you who have not seen the show, here’s a very quick refresher course on the show up to this point: Walter White, who has terminal lung cancer, decides to resort to cooking methamphetamines with a former high school student of his, Jesse Pinkman, so he can afford chemotherapy without putting his family in debt. His early attempts to cook are disastrous, and even as he starts to get the hang of things, he makes the mistake of getting involved with a violent drug dealer named Tuco, who quickly grows sick of Walt and Jesse and attempts to take them out. After Walt and Jesse escape Tuco, they realize they’ll need a lawyer to help them with the legal side of the drug business. Enter Saul Goodman, an eclectic and hilarious personality who quickly invents a number of hare-brained schemes to hide their drug dealing from the long arm of the DEA and other government agencies. Eventually, Walt gets involved with a big time dealer named Gus, the exact opposite of Tuco. Gus is cool, calm and collected; he offers Walt a great amount of money for his meth, and while he works on getting the deal to go through, Jesse’s addiction to meth eventually evolves into an addiction to heroin and other dangerous chemicals. Jesse begins to grow jealous of Walt’s ability to make money and, along with his girlfriend, attempts to blackmail Walt for the money he made on his deal with Gus. This all culminates in Jesse’s girlfriend over-dosing on heroin; Walt has the opportunity to save her and makes the decision not to, since she was threatening to take his money. The girlfriend’s father, who is an air traffic controller, is so distraught at her death that, in a grief-fueled stupor, he allows two airplanes to collide, killing hundreds of innocent people.
Okay, if that was a lot to take in, that’s because it absolutely is. In just twenty episodes, “Breaking Bad” was able to take Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and throw them into a chaotic world of drugs and violence, a world that neither of them really understood, and as a result, they’re still paying the consequences. While I can’t tell you to rely completely on my refresher of the first two seasons in order to understand what’s going on (watching the first two seasons on DVD would help; there’s too many little details that add to the quality), I can assure you that the major portions of the show you need to know about can be found in the previous paragraph.
The premiere of Season 3, ‘No Mas,’ takes place shortly after the events of Season 2; as Walt’s neighborhood continues to recuperate from the plane crash, Walt finds himself in a position that he’s not used to: a man without a family. Skyler leaves him, and while he spends his time at a hotel, he attempts to stop himself from spiraling out of control. In one particularly funny, yet uncomfortable scene, Walt speaks to an audience full of grieving students and essentially tells the entire assembly that they’re fools for being so upset over a plane crash that’s not even close to being one of the worst plane crash tragedies of all time. Many people may see this as an awful, selfish thing for Walt, once such a likable guy, to say, but the truth is that Walt’s life is spiraling out of control; he’s just attempting to avoid his own crash. Jesse, meanwhile, has left rehab and is clean for the first time in years. The previous two seasons have gotten us used to seeing Jesse as nothing more than a drug addict who makes all the wrong decisions and struggles to live up to Walt’s expectations. However, this new apathetic Jesse allows Aaron Paul to flex his acting chops. It’s easy to act apathetic in a movie or television show, but to let that mood completely infect you until you can’t tell the different between actor and character shows real talent, and this is what we see him doing throughout the first three episodes. While the first three or four episodes of this season focus mainly on watching Walt’s family life disintegrate before his very eyes and Jesse’s confidence grow upon cooking his first batch of meth without Walt, we also get a lot of focus on two mysterious twins. They’re bald, dressed to the nines in sharp blue suits and have leather shoes with eerie skulls planted on the end of them. They don’t speak, which adds credence to their eeriness, and they have no problem with blowing up an entire truck full of illegal immigrants when one of them recognizes them for who they are. They’re as close as humans can get to evil incarnate, and of all the people they can be looking for, it’s Walter White. And they don’t want to find him to have a cup of coffee; they have more sinister things in mind, involving a giant axe with a blade so clean and spotless it could double as a mirror.
People who think the show doesn’t work when Walt is not cooking meth will be frustrated with the first four episodes, which is basically one giant episode that leads up to the destruction of Walt’s family life. While the premiere is fast-paced and moves the narrative along quite nicely, episodes two and three (titled ‘Caballo Sin Nombre’ and ‘I.F.T’ respectively.. and if you want to know what I.F.T stands for, just watch the final scene of that episode. It’s a game-changer, that’s for sure) are slow, crawling along at a snail’s pace. This doesn’t make them bad; in fact, we get enough great scenes between characters to make up for the lack of events occurring. However, last Sunday’s episode, entitled ‘Green Light,’ was a great way to take us to the next step in Walt’s life. Walt has already lost his family, but has made up for it with a new batch of money from the drug deal with Gus. It seems that everybody wants a piece of him, whether it’s to kill him (the twins), use him (Gus) or profit off of him (Saul and Jesse), and things appear to be coming to a head.
It’s impossible to touch on everything that happened in the first four episodes. I didn’t even get a chance to touch on Hank and his continued PTSD from the events in El Paso. Not to mention that he’s dangerously close to discovering Jesse. “Breaking Bad” is one of those shows that you have to watch for yourself to experience each and every emotion. It’s easy to read what I write and decide, “Yes, this is a show I’d love to watch” or “This show sounds worse than ‘The Hills.'” However, if you find yourself wondering what you should watch on a Sunday night after “Desperate Housewives” has come to an end at 9:00 PM, flip on over to AMC and check in with “Breaking Bad.” Unlike CSI and other similar shows, “Breaking Bad” is like fine dining; each scene and event in every episode will fill you up until you find yourself unable to finish your dessert. Take away all of these awful food analogies, and you have this basic fact: “Breaking Bad” is the show that you should be watching.
Cumulative Score of Season 3 so far: 8.9/10 (it will definitely get higher as the season progresses, but right now, the show is in transition mode; attempting to jump from one plot to the next)