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Breaking Bad Watch: Survivor’s Guilt

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Spoilers for the season three premiere of Breaking Bad coming up after the jump:

I covered part of the premiere episode of Breaking Bad in my preview post Friday, but I’ll say it again: having started its run setting a frantic pace and constantly upping the stakes, Breaking Bad has learned the dramatic power of setting up a menacing situation and letting it play out slowly. It was appropriate, then, that it should begin—and what a visually stunning opening this way—with two scary men crawling.

And then, having set up the premise of two quiet, terrifying as hell Mexican assassins on the trail of “Heisenberg,” the rest of the top-shelf premiere, “No Mas,” did what they do: moved toward its target, steadily, deliberately and with killer confidence.

It’s redundant at this point to say how good Bryan Cranston is in his role, but I continue to be awed at how he can show us the gears whirring in Walter White’s mind, as—even while he demonstrates that he has turned into a deathly competent criminal—he works to convince himself that he is still a good man and a good father. In that opening scene, in which Walt starts burning his drug money and the dumps it into the pool to extinguish it, it’s as if he’s drowning the part of himself that’s repentant for what he’s done.

He gives an excruciating speech to the school assembly downplaying the enormity of the plane crash. He tries to talk Jesse out of self-blame even as Jesse is trying to take responsiblity for who he is. And even as he “comes clean” to Skyler—who, heartbreakingly, in her worst imaginings can only conceive that Walt might be selling pot—he believes that he can talk her into seeing his decisions his way.

And then there was that chilling, burning final scene, which, as Alan Sepinwall already pointed out, was very No Country for Old Men. Walter can deny all he wants. But slowly, surely, something is coming.

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