BREAKING BAD: “No Mas” Review

This review was written by contributing writer Ethan Ogilby, who’s pretty badass himself. The post contains spoilers.–PCN


“You either run from things, or you face them,” Jesse (Aaron Paul) tells Walt (Bryan Cranston) in the Season 3 premiere of Breaking Bad, unwittingly nailing Walt’s current shortcoming. While Walt may be ready to choose family over meth dealing, at least for today, he’s far from ready to face anything or anyone. Despite the glimpses of his solitary self-loathing, Walt never makes any sort of acknowledgment of his wrongs. He thinks that getting out of the meth game should fix everything, but in this episode he learns (even if he refuses to accept it) how far from the truth that notion is.

In the premiere, Walt has entered even more severe stages of justification and denial, and though his meth obsession has led to him likely losing his family, he’s still not quite capable of really leveling with Skyler (Anna Gunn). He admits he has manufactured drugs, but he doesn’t get near an apology and is indignant when Skyler hands him divorce papers. Walt has hidden the truth from Skyler for so long that he thinks revealing the basics to her should be enough for her to forgive him, but he can’t even understand that their problems run much deeper than the logistics of his actions. On top of that, when Skylar first accuses him of being a drug dealer, he briefly denies it, even though he probably had no other story to explain anything because lying to her has become so ingrained in him.

Walt also has to find a way to ignore the guilt of more blood on his hands than ever before. Even if the crash was due to butterfly-effect-type circumstances, Walt can piece together, just as Jesse does, that whoever was at fault for Jane’s death (undeniably Walt, though Jesse has no idea) is ultimately responsible.

But Walt is running away from this tragedy just as quickly, whether it’s by making painful assembly speeches about moving on (though the logic seemed a bit strained that Walt would be asked to say something, even if the payoff worked well) or by trying to convince Jesse that the crash was due to a mechanical problem and lack of government oversight. Walt knows he’s done wrong, but he wants so desperately to believe otherwise that he’ll try and sell his fantasy to anyone who will listen. And so, we wonder, if these catastrophic circumstances can’t snap Walt into reality, what can?

Well, probably more gangsters. Now, over the fantastic final episodes of Season 2, Vince Gilligan and Co. earned my trust, deftly intersecting their various story lines into a gripping, crazy, and even poetic finale. The rise in the show’s quality coincided with the elimination of over-the-top, cartoonish drug dealers, Tuco (Raymond Cruz) being the worst offender. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by The Wire, but all the supposed “thugs” in Breaking Bad didn’t convince me they were serious villains. I’m holding out hope that these new silent cousins match the realism of the rest of the show’s current state, but if their shooting rampage and Nic-Cage-movie-style walkaway from the exploding truck are any indication, perhaps I should prepare myself for more cringe-inducing bad guys.

Initially, I sort of had the same hesitation about Jesse, who has turned into the best non-Walt element of the show. While Jesse didn’t dominate the screen today (not that I expected him to) we did get some excellent scenes with him, as well as some solid, seemingly permanent character development. The campfire scene in particular really resonated, when the audience was as blindsided as Jesse to find that this seemingly by-the-book square running the discussion had actually done something as unforgivable as anyone there, we could believe that such a revelation might be a wake-up call for Jesse.

Unfortunately, in classic, tragic Breaking Bad fashion, Jesse doesn’t come to the conclusion he probably should have and instead embraces his criminal persona. Even if he’ll refrain from using drugs himself, it was sad because once again we find Jesse, who is at heart more moral than Walt, falling victim to circumstance and taking the easy way out.

Which leads us to both of our main characters getting about halfway to where they need to be, then abandoning the course. Walt agrees to some facts, but he’s not getting at the truth, certainly not about himself. And while Jesse more or less makes peace with what happened, it’s only because he seems ready to carry the blame of Jane’s death with him indefinitely. With the pair now at least temporarily living together, it’s probably only a matter of time before their self-hatred boils over into more bad decisions.

What did you think of the premiere? Think it’s heading in the right direction?

All photos courtesy AMC



  • Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Good recap of the premiere, Ethan. This show has shown it has some very compelling characters and great writing. That being said, the Michael Bay-like explosion and walk-away sequence you cited did seem a little over-the-top. That action movie cliche, for me, seemed a bit out of place in a show that does more with its superior writing and acting. I’m hoping this is just a blip and not a turn in the series to appease some (or to draw in a younger demographic). Thanks for this.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I’m getting fed up with all the denial Walt’s indulging in. Hard to root for him if he keeps that up. I say, Run, Skyler, run!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    One of my many frustrations with the show has always been the lack of real bad guys. Directors on this show seem to only have a cliche idea of what it means to be threatening and they seem to insist their actors do some sort of lame ass version of a bad guy. When I see this onscreen, I can’t help but laugh and then the show loses all credibility for me. To be fair, it isn’t just with this show that I experience this problem, but it is one of the reasons I no longer watch this show in particular.

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