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Summer in a Meth Lab: The Breaking Bad Season Three Diaries

Alex Casey has never watched a second of Breaking Bad, nor read anything about it. Going in completely blind, she has committed to watching the whole series over summer in the lead up to spin off series Better Call Saul‘s arrival to Lightbox in February. Contains spoilers, obviously.

Day Seven, Thursday 25 December (yes, it’s Christmas Day) 2pm

Watched: Season Three, Episode One

Talk about dreaming of a (Walter) White Christmas. The season opens with people crawling across the desert to a shrine in Mexico, which strongly reminded me crabs migrating across land. It’s the jarring and bizarre sort of opening I’ve come to expect, throwing all points of reference out the window and letting us crawl around to pick up the pieces.

crabs

There is a terrifying set of twins that join the crawl party wearing shiny silver suits and pointy boots, the kind you might see worn by certain young gentlemen on Auckland’s waterfront at 2am. They approach the shrine and guess who’s pinned up there like bloody Marilyn Monroe? Only Heisenberg.

wassup

Walt, as ever, is flailing manically. He tries to torch his sweet drug dosh, but realises it won’t solve any of his problems. He’s about to close a $3 million deal with Gus anyway, might as well keep raking in the Benjamins. Skyler is heading for divorce, and I suspect those Pitbull-inspired twins (they have the aesthetic of the singer and the temperament of the dog breed) are coming in hotter than a Fireball.

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Jesse is still in rehab, we have learnt that his drug sponsor ran over his daughter whilst drunk. It’s incredible how when any minor character is given more than a moment of screentime, they will always reveal the world’s darkest stories.

Here is a great lingering shot from behind the salt and pepper shakers in Los Pollos Hermanos. I nominate it for weird shot of the ep, a classic Breaking Bad ‘watch the conversation from slightly too far away” staple:

pollos

Day Nine, Monday 5 January 8pm

Watched: Episodes 2-3

I have been in the official wilderness – no phone, no TV, no internet. Kayaking around Adele Island, surrounded by pirouetting seals and penguins, I couldn’t help but say out loud “man, I can’t wait to watch Breaking Bad when we get home!” It’s official, Breaking Bad > sloppy bit of nature.

Pinkman is 45 days sober, and looking mighty fresh. Again, the subtle costuming reveals much about how the character is doing. For example, Pinkman has taken to wearing a little cardigan because he is no longer a hoodlum. His hair is also quite a lot longer now – I’ve found it key to keep an eye on hair. Skylar’s hair, for example, is getting lighter with each episode. I don’t know if this is relevant, but for such a meticulous show it’s a bloody obvious change. Maybe it’s relevant. Can someone tell me if it’s relevant?

Breaking Bad (Season 4)

We also see the rise of the Evil Twinnies in this episode – they are making a beeline for Walt via Tuco’s grandaddy. Using a Ouija board, he spells out “WALTER WHITE” using his classic bell communication technique. This is great and all, but you don’t have me believing that old people in a retirement home would ever use a Ouija board. That’s reserved strictly for cool teens

Episode three opens with the origin story of the tortoise who would end up a slow moving vehicle in the world’s grisliest parade float. The twins make it to Gus HQ, where he unwraps a delightful little platter of cherry tomatoes for his silent but violent guests. They still haven’t spoken a damn word, and have killed SO many people. Possibly rivalling the twins in The Shining for scariest twins ever.

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Day Ten, Tuesday 6 January 6pm

Watched: Episodes 4-6

Jesse is starting his own little drug ring again, swapping meth for gas with an innocent little clerk who I feel deeply sorry for. Walt storms Beneke Inc. after finding out that Skyler has slept with Ted. He has a major pot plant rage before getting scooped up by trusty Mike, resident ‘stop Walt and Jesse from doing something stupid’ advocate. Walt needs all the help he can get tbh – those Evil Twinnies have just drawn a sickle outside his house :/

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In episode five, Hank has turned down El Paso because he’s close to cracking Heisenberg (and has suppressed his severe PTSD). He has gone RV mad, searching through all the RV’s in town and taking time out to cry in the shower. I love Hank’s character. I love that despite representing one of the staunchest TV archetypes, he is probably the most emotionally vulnerable character on the show at this point.

Gus shows walt the ballah new lab he will be working in, hidden deep beneath a laundromat. Appreciate Gus’ commitment to ensuring his money laundering comes with a nice wee pun.

Episode six introduces us to the lovable Gale (once husband of Mel from Flight of the Conchords) and farewells the blessed RV. I actually felt deeply sad seeing it get crushed down at the junk yard, like we’ve lost a character of sorts.

We also get our first run in with a Walt Whitman poem. Walt Whitman, Walter White – I see what you are doing here.

welcome gale

I noticed in this episode just how much the décor and the shot composition work to isolate Walt from the people around him, particularly his family. Here is a good shot to illustrate my smart point:

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Hank’s RV chase reaches a head as he finally locates the rolling meth lab, with Jesse and Walt trapped inside. A very thin yellow door is the only thing keeping them from getting caught, but they still manage to make it out. With the help of the clued-up Fake Kramer and Jesse yelling “this is my own private domicile and I will not be harassed…bitch”, they live to see another day. That was the line of the episode, for sure.

Day Eleven, Wednesday 7 January 9.30pm

Watched: Episodes 7 & 8

Great flashback opening with Tio Salamanca and the young Evil Twins. Bellissimo wheelchair foreshadowing.

wheelchair

Hank beats the shit out of Pinkman in his own home – that guy has officially lost the bloody plot. Walt starts to fake-hate Gale to get Pinkman back as his lab assistant. But then who cares about anything because suddenly there is a MASSIVE showdown between Hank and the Evil Twinnies, Hank rams one twin into another car, gets shot a million times (once in the butt lol), and then shoots the other twin square in the head.

Tarantino ‘boot shot’ of the episode:

tarantino

What an end to an episode. I feel like I’ve been crushed between two cars. My legs are definitely having problems moving. 

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In episode eight, Hank hoons into hospital and Walt is forced to wait with the family. Left to his own devices in the lab, Pinkman deploys a hilarious montage including the spectacular and inevitable yellow jumpsuit inflation:

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Walt goes to see the surviving Evil Twinnie in hospital (now with 50% legs). After spotting Walt in the window, he crawls across floor towards him, a very bloody homage to the Mexico scene that opened the season. Nice.

Gus brings his delicious chicken for the whole hospital to enjoy, the perfect example of hiding in plain sight/under a mountain of delicious fried chicken. Magic Mike kills the remaining twin – they can’t have anyone else getting Walt. It’s an incredible dynamic of false protection, they are only keeping Walt safe to serve their own interests. And those interests seem to flip like a Funyun on a windy day.

Gus sends snipers to a rival Mexican cartel – he now has the meth market (and the chicken market) stitched right up. 

Day Twelve: Thursday 8 January 9pm

Watched: Episodes 9 & 10

Episode nine opens with an amazing apocryphal Los Pollos commercial. I wish there was an Emmy for Best Food-to-Meth Transition Shot, this would take the absolute cake.

The fancy meth factory is in full swing, Willy Wonka style. Burying the meth bags in buckets of chicken batter. This episode feels a lot lighter and funnier than those prior, there’s something ironic about a class A drug being stashed in a class KFC drug (secret chicken batter). The hilarity continues with Jesse’s bizarre appropriation of “kafkaesque”, a word he picked up from his sponsor:

But the laughs stop as Hank finally wakes up, and is clearly paralysed from the waist down. Skylar offers to pay for Hank’s treatments with the drug money, she lies and says Walt accumulated a small fortune counting cards. It’s amazing how quickly and skilfully Skyler has adapted to this life of crime. She’s a really good liar, not to mention she’s blackmailing Walt due to his (assumed) involvement in Hank’s attack. Go Skyler, way to make lemonade.

I feel like you could use “Kafkaesque” to appropriately describe the episode that follows, if for nothing more than the heavy insect imagery and the relentless trapping in one location. ‘Fly’ is an incredible bottle episode set entirely in the lab. It comes at welcome time in the series – slowing down the pace and bringing the focus back to the relationship between Jesse and Walt.

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Hopelessly trying to clear the contamination in the lab (a fly), Walt and Jesse get some quality time together, sharing concerns about Opossums (Jesse) and nearly confessing to killing Jane (Walt). As Walt slowly falls asleep whilst holding a ladder for Jesse, we are reminded of his ailing health.

Those little nudges are necessary at times, it’s easy to forget that he isn’t as invincible as his huge moves and little black hat suggest.

Day Thirteen: Friday 9 January 10pm

Watched: Episode 11

The focus of this episode is finding a place for Walt to stash his cash. Saul wants him to buy a laser tag business, smart Skyler suggests he buys out the carwash he used to work in. She’s getting bloody involved, and she’s frankly loving the money laundering life.

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In a deeply sad turn, Jesse finds a new meth-user girlfriend, Andrea. It’s not long before we realise that she is the older sister of Tomas, the young boy who shot Combo. Jesse goes from villain to hero with the swish of a cardigan, vowing to free Tomas from his gang trappings. And not get his older sister back into meth. I sure hope.

Day Fourteen, Saturday 10 January 3pm

Watched: Episodes 12 & 13

It’s the middle of a sunny day, but I can’t wait anymore.

Skylar and Walt meet outside her house to talk money laundering. The camera is pulled metres away as we hear them talk to the point where we can barely see their face – the total opposite of what a secret conversation should look like onscreen. They are there in the plain open for everyone to see, just like their fragile plans.

Jesse’s poison-burger plan to kill Tomas’ drug overlords backfires, and the poor little boy gets shot. Walt swings in at the last minute and runs the bad guys over.

Give me that risin, I can’t make it through the stress of another ep. But I must.

The final episode of the season opens with young Walt and Skyler buying their home together. Walt wants three bedrooms for their three predicted babies (little does he know that Jesse will end up being the final adopted child.)

young

Gus goes to talk to Gale about how soon he could run the lab solo. At this point, I naively thought he was being supportive and talking about Gale’s career goals, and didn’t realise that it was because he was planning to kill Walt. Must remember to stay alert and aware of subtext at all times.

goals

Walt is picked up by Mike, taken to “clean something” in the lab. Again, I forgot to use my brain and asked out loud why Walt was so upset at the prospect of scrubbing a barrel. It was really a euphemism, and Walt was being sent to his death. All the while, Jesse is heading to Gale’s crib to pop a cap in his cardigan ass.

Gale opens the door, Jesse is crying and then fires the gun.

Oh my god, Jesse the killah. RIP Gale.

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