Breaking Bad, "No Mas": always look on the bright side of life

Quick Take: Breaking Bad, "No Mas"
"You're a drug dealer." – Skyler

breaking bad - walt

Review: Breaking Bad, "No Mas"
(S0301) You might say that I found myself in something of a Breaking Bad fugue over the weekend, deeply immersed in its darkly compelling, bitingly funny, and dusty trails, a (drug?) trip through some of the bleakest and most beautiful television drama landscapes that ever have existed. In short, I watched seasons one and two so I was ready, with the mind blowing events that closed out the second season freshly imprinted on my brain, to absorb season three.

Breaking Bad is a show about choices, and a show about the consequences of those choices (and how perfect that the town Truth or Consequences was mentioned during the climactic/anti-climactic air traffic controller scene during the season two finale?). It's a show about figuring out who we are, what kind of mask we wear for the public, for our families, and for ourselves, and what the real truth is. It's often a raw and primal and naked one, that truth, and this show is not afraid to deep dive into its dark heart.

Breaking Bad is so damned good because it makes us believe innately that a seemingly mild mannered high school chemistry teacher who has been diagnosed with cancer can transform into a lying, conniving, and often brutally efficient crystal meth cooking and slinging drug lord. That is the truth of this show, and it rises to the level of art that only the rarest and best of television shows ascend to. (Amazingly, Mad Men, a fellow drama on newcomer AMC, belongs precisely in this class as well.)

Consequences play out indeed to open the third season. The mid-air collision and plane crashes that leave 167 people dead directly tie back to Donald Margolis (John de Lancie, who played the great Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation), who is distraught over the drug overdose of his daughter Jane (Krysten Ritter). Jane of course was Jesse Pinkman's (Aaron Paul) girlfriend and co-dependent drug compadre. Now, though Jane did indeed overdose, our very much anti-hero and series lead Walter H. White (played by the astonishingly good and rangy Bryan Cranston), had very much the opportunity to save her, or at least to try.

But in a way a little bit like Tony Soprano could have tried to save his cousin Chris when drug-related activities took their toll, Walter consciously chose not to save her. "It seemed like a better idea at the time," Walt believes. And it left a distraught (but perhaps drying out) boyfriend and father in its wake. And 167 dead people.

And that's to say nothing of the consequences hanging over the White home. When we last left the brood, mom and wife Skyler (Anna White, who does the most with every scene she's in a very understated way) had demanded that Walter move out as his lies were getting further ahead of him than usual. Sklyer was willing to live with a certain amount of mystery, it seemed, or was learning to live with Walter's excuses, no matter how uneasy they made her. But the simple phrase "which one?" in response to her question about a cell phone right before Walt's lung surgery changed everything.

When Walt tells the high school assembly that "we survive and we move on," he's really talking to himself. Though his cancer is in remission, it seems his series of extreme risk taking, law breaking, and ethical bending has yielded little more than multiple homicides, mounds of potent crystal meth on the streets, a drug overdose that could have been prevented, and the beginnings of divorce proceedings. And, of course, a plane collision that has left 167 people dead. I get the feeling that there are two Walts now. There's the earnest, aw shucks chemistry teacher with the can do attitude and an anecdote about science for every situation, and there's a dead-to-marks criminal mastermind that doesn't take guff from anyone who gets in his way. The two sides are clearly at war with one another, which is why you get scenes where Walt lights stacks of hundred dollar bills on the barbeque before dumping the grill into the pool and nearly flaying himself alive in the process.

When Skyler finally learns that Walt is a drug dealer/manufacturer (and it's via wife's intuition more than anything, don't you think?), it reminds me of the Mad Men season three episode where Betty Draper (January Jones) confronts Don Draper (Jon Hamm) with evidence of his past, and then it all comes out. The big difference here is that Skyler runs off quickly without hearing the detail that Don provides Betty, so she really only carries off with the horror of the initial revelation and its most painful elements. It's tragic to see Walt, even with all his mistakes, unable to articulate that he did it all (at least for a while) for her and the kids. And how crazy great is Cranston in conveying all of those emotions – those above and just beneath and deep under the surface – all at once?

Later, Walt turns down an extraordinary offer of $3 million from Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the owner of Los Pollos Hermanos, for three months worth of meth manufacture, saying that "I am not a criminal." It's a turning point for him in realizing that the excitement and power and money he gained in the drug world is literally meaningless and literally destructive when it comes to his "real life" and to his family.

We'll see if that attitude holds.

More thoughts on No Mas:

  • "It's amazing what partners hide from each other." - Skyler's divorce attorney
  • "A half a million in cash." – Walt, not-so-jokingly referencing what's in bag that Hank (Dean Norris), his brother-in-law and DEA agent, is holding
  • "I guess what I would want to say is to look on the bright side." – Walt, to a high school auditorium of shell shocked kids
  • What's going on with the creepy shrine and the creepy crawling peasants and the creepy gun strapped dudes out in the absolutely gorgeous (and gorgeously show) New Mexico country? And that's not counting their creepy and disturbing massacre of a bunch of border-crossers out on the Texas border. And, oh yeah, the creepy shrine has a hand drawing of "Heisenberg" on the wall. Not good for our chemistry teacher. Not good at all.
  • You have to love Skyler's sister Marie (Betsey Brandt), who plays the self-centered and annoying but basically well meaning sibling perfectly here. "Don't be hard on Walt Jr.," she insists, alluding to the fact that anyone, just anyone, would be dying to know what scandalous thing Walt Sr. did to get kicked on out of the house.
  • "You're a drug dealer." – Skyler
  • "I accept who I am." – Jesse. "And who are you?" – Walt. "I'm the bad guy."
  • "I am not a criminal… it's not who I am." – Walt
  • Bryan Cranston directed this episode too… wow.
  •  

    Video: Breaking Bad, "No Mas"
    Check out the full episode, available for now from AMC, nice!



    Recap: Breaking Bad, "No Mas"
    Walt deals with the aftermath of the plane crash and Skyler's anger as Jesse comes to a new realization about himself. A new threat to Walt appears. Skyler considers her next move.

    From Around the Web: Breaking Bad, "No Mas"

  • TV with Alan Sepinwall:  One hundred and sixty-seven people died in that crash, to be added to the butcher's bill after Jane, and Combo, and Spooge, and Tuco, and Krazy 8 and Emilio, and all the victims of the blue meth we never see. So many dead, so much pain caused, nearly all of it traced back to Walt's decision to enter the drug trade... and Walt still doesn't get it.
  • Tim Goodman: The Bastard Machine: There's certainly an ominous overtone to the new season of "Breaking Bad" - and rightfully so. This is about fall-out that's been coming from the very moment that Walt broke bad. Call it karma, or the world's worst luck, but Walt's best laid plans are in tatters now.

  • TV Squad: At rehab, Jesse seemed at peace with the flowers and all, but in group, he challenged the leader to justify his expertise. What he got in response was the kind of story that Jesse wished he'd never heard. Gilligan never lets us forget that drug use is filled with collateral damage. 
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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