This season begins where Season Two left off, in the aftermath of a mid-air plane collision, caused by a grieving air-traffic controller. With the tragedy affecting the whole community (some more than others), out of the sombre tone comes the very cold business of keeping up with the cooking – Walter (Bryan Cranston) finds out that when you shake on a deal with Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), you do not let him down, whatever the circumstances.
Domestically, the Whites go from bad to worse. With his marriage all but over, Walt comes clean with Skyler (Anna Gunn) about his involvement, who in turn finds it increasingly difficult to live with her husband. Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) new-found sobriety leads him to accept the past, but his pain is never far away from the surface, making his and Walt’s partnership acutely tenuous. Fighting on all fronts, Walt takes shelter within the guise of Heisenberg and focuses on production, eventually taking Gus’ offer of a purpose-built meth lab on his premises. He becomes increasingly calculated in order to keep one step ahead and remain invaluable to the operation.
Season Three benefits from having three relatively new faces on the cast list: Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks (Mike) and Bob Odenkirk (Saul). Together, they bring a new focus to the show, as the component parts to the business are personified by each.
Saul’s wealth of experience on the criminal law circuit is extensively tapped by Walt and, more surprisingly, Skyler. Beyond Bob’s seedy exterior lies a sharp asset to Walt’s thriving trade. Meanwhile, we see two very different sides to Mike; a caring, gentle grandfather and a man essentially going about his work as Head of Security for Fring. Jonathan’s laconic manner and calm gait make him equally likeable and chilling. And above them all, Gus, keen to protect his assets, uses chess-like moves to manipulate the world around him, which only increases the tension between him and Walt.
There are some wonderful performances from old faces too: a special mention must go to the versatile Dean Norris, who plays Hank, DEA agent and Walter’s brother-in-law. Hospitalised, Hank is about as playful as a caged grizzly after being repeatedly poked by a stick. And the pokes keep coming.
Visually, there is still plenty to admire as well. The cinematic shots and the use of light and landscape are as consistent as ever. The result is a more settled and established drama – Season Three feels more like a slow burning building than a stick of dynamite.
But Breaking Bad still hits you over the back of the head with a shovel when you least expect it. Halfway through the season, One Minute (Episode 7) perfectly demonstrates how to blow an audience away with a shocking and riveting storyline – sometimes, you have to take your fedora off to the writers. And don’t underestimate the dramatic finale of “Half Measures” (Episode 12) and “Full Measure” (Episode 13), which will bring you back, craving one more hit.
As Saul says: “Believe me there’s no honour among thieves. Apart from us, of course.”
Breaking Bad is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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