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Season 3, Episode 1: “No Mas”

13 Jul

Breaking Bad, 3-1: “No Mas”

Opener

We see a yellow-tinged, cloudy sky and a desert road, then a dog under a porch, a pick-up, and a Mexican man leading a donkey. Another Mexican man in a battered cowboy hat crawls on the ground, as the truck goes by. Soon we see other people crawling down the road in the same direction.

A fancy, dark car comes down the road, and two young, bald-headed men in dark shirts and fancy suits, wearing metal-skull-toed boots, get out. These are the cousins that Tuco was expecting just before his death: Leonel and Marco Salamanca. They get down on the ground and start crawling, too, as weird, suspenseful music plays.

Finally, the cousins stand up and enter the shrine of Santa Muerte, Saint Death. The shrine contains all sorts of skull-headed god and goddess figures, one superhero figure, red candles, and one black candle. The main skull figure wears a lit rectangular crown.

The two brothers seem to be praying, and one pins up a crude but accurate drawing of Heisenberg, ripped from a spiral notebook. Apparently, they want help killing Walt. Wikipedia says that many Mexican criminals, including drug dealers, pray to Santa Muerte, often for help in the successful completion of a job.

Scene 1: various TV news stations, the Whites’, a lawyer’s office

KOB News reports one or two crashed aircraft on the east side of Albuquerque. Another station says it’s a Boeing 737 and an 8-seat KingAir 350. A third reports “a wide debris field” and a death toll of 167. Apparently, the crash was due to “improper air traffic control,” “a lone air traffic controller…Donald Margolis, a 19-year veteran who recently lost his daughter to a drug overdose.”

Walt, wearing a light gray robe, sits and throws lighted book matches into an already-debris-filled pool. “Better Call Saul” is on the inside of the matchbook cover. Suddenly, he gets up and puts bundled cash on the barbecue grill, douses it with lighter fluid, and sets it on fire. Then, just as abruptly, he has a change of mind, and tries to put the fire out with his hands. His robe catches on fire, and he throws the grill in the pool, then jumps in himself, throwing water out to douse the remaining flames on the pool edge.

Skyler, meanwhile, wearing a blue ribbon commemorating the plane crash, is consulting a female lawyer about divorcing Walt. “You’ve moved out?” the lawyer asks. “It’s best if you can maintain residency in the home.” Skyler tells the lawyer that she and Walt have been married for 16 years and have a 15-year mortgage on their house. The lawyer asks about other debts and assets, saying, “You’d be amazed at what I’ve seen partners hiding from one another.”

Hank’s dark blue SUV pulls up at Casa Blanca as Walt’s fishing the last of the cash out of his pool. As Hank calls his name, he finds the bear’s eyeball in the pool filter, and puts it in his pocket. His beard and moustache seem darker, stronger.

Hank: “Hey, buddy! It’s time…” Wearing a blue ribbon on his brown shirt, he helps Walt pack up his stuff. They fight over the sports bag containing Walt’s cash. “Hey, what you got in there? Cinder blocks?”

Walt, deadpan: “Half a million in cash.”

Hank laughs. “That’s the spirit!” He laughs again, grabbing the bag and throwing it in the back of his SUV.

Scene 2: Serenity, Casa Blanca, Walt’s place, the high school gym

Jesse, in a life-giving green long-sleeved T-shirt, is planting yellow flowers in a stone circle outside the chiminea-shaped building housing the hot tub pool. He looks good (healthy), but serious.

Then a therapy group is meeting in the same outside area: ten, including the leader. The leader/therapist, a middle-aged man, asks how many are there for “self-improvement,” and a few raise their hand, including Jesse. “See,” the leader says, “That’s your first mistake. You should be here to learn self-acceptance.” Jesse looks up.

At Casa Blanca, Skyler, holding pink-print-jammied Holly, asks a somewhat despondent Flynn if he wants another waffle. Walt starts to leave a phone message, giving his location (The Beachcomber), and Flynn picks up. “No, I’m not okay,” he says. “I want to know what’s going on! Nobody’s telling me jack around here! Whatever…I don’t even care anymore. Can you just give me a ride to school?” Skyler says nothing, though she’d planned to take Flynn to school herself.

Walt’s making a P, B, and J sandwich when his second cell phone, encased in plastic in a suitcase, rings. “Pollos,” he reads on the display. Dressed in brown pants and a black shirt, he cuts the crusts off his sandwich.

Later, there’s a gathering of students and faculty in the high school gym to talk about the plane crashes. Vice principal Carmen calls on a girl who asks why, “if there’s a God, He allowed all these innocent people to die for no reason?” She says she hears “that boom over and over again.”

Walt, standing with the other teachers and staff in the middle of the gym floor (the kids are in the bleachers), looks disturbed. He has little patience with this kind of soppy emotion, plus an incentive not to think too much about the crash. When Carmen asks him to speak, we’re reminded of his speech at the party celebrating his cancer remission: he completely misreads how other people are feeling, and goes with his own unique perspective, a version of “it could always be worse”: “I guess what I want to say is to look on the bright side. First of all, nobody on the ground was killed, and that’s gotta be a minor miracle. It was our country’s 50th worst air disaster – tied for 50th. No one even remembers the Tenerife crash of two 747s that was much worse, because people move on, and you will, too.” Carmen takes the mike.

Scene 3: back to the Mexican countryside

The Salamanca brothers converge on a poor family’s ranchito, and steal some clothes from the line, exchanging them for their fancy suits (they keep their boots, their guns, and their concealed shoulder holsters). They put their dark glasses in their pockets, as the tension mounts for the fearful family. One of the cousins hangs their car keys on the horn of a goat the little girl in the pink shawl is herding; then the two walk down the road. The relieved parents run to the child.

Scene 4: Casa Blanca, Serenity, Walt’s place

When Walt drops Flynn off after school, the boy goes inside and demands of his mother, “Why you gotta treat him like this?”

After he’s gone to his room, Marie says, “Outta the mouths of babes, huh?” When Skyler objects, she adds, “I can’t help you get through this, Skyler, if you won’t tell me what it is.”

“You know what?” Skyler responds. “I don’t remember asking you. If you want to be supportive without prying, that would be great…”

The Serenity therapy group sits around a fire in the dark outside area. The leader says, “It’s that voice inside your head – that sneaky bastard, 24-7 voice – that tells you you’re not good enough. To be what? President of the United States? But are you good enough to deserve your share of human happiness? Good enough to be okay with who and what you are? I say, yes!”

The fire sparks up, shockingly, in front of Jesse, wearing the green long-sleeved “T” we saw him in last and a plain light-colored jacket.

“But it doesn’t matter what I say,” the leader continues. “It’s your voice – you’re the only one who can fight it. Jesse, we never hear from you. What’s goin’ on? You can tell us.”

Jesse: “It’s, like, what makes you the experts?”

Leader: “I don’t think I ever said I was that.”

“But you’re the one sitting here, right? Telling us thus and so – be happy, forgive yourself – blah, blah, blah. Have you ever really hurt anybody?”

“I killed my daughter. July 18th – my birthday – 1992. I was high on cocaine and I was drunk. I was out of vodka, the stores were going to close in a matter of minutes, and my wife refused to make the run for me. So, I got in my truck, all mad. My 6-year-old daughter was playing at the end of the driveway…”

Jesse: “How do you not hate yourself?”

“I did for a long time. But it didn’t stop me from drinking and getting high. It just made it that much worse. Self-hatred, guilt – it accomplishes nothing. It just stands in the way.”

“Stands in the way of what?”

“True change.”

Walt, in his Beachcomber bedroom, looks at the eyeball and drops it. It rolls under his bed, and before he can retrieve it there’s a knock at the door. Skyler asks if it’s a “good time to talk,” they sit down, and Walt asks if she wants to start. “Okay…” She gets out a folder of legal papers.

Walt bristles. “Why are you doing this? Are you trying to punish me? We are happily married. I am happily married. We just…I love you, Skyler, and I would do anything for you. You bring me these papers, but there’s a whole other side to it. You haven’t heard my side yet.”

“You’re a drug dealer.”

“What?”

Skyler has tears in her eyes, and her mouth twists. “Yeah. How else could you possibly make that kind of money? You’ve been selling pot with that Pinkman kid…No? Oh, my God, Walt! Cocaine? No?”

“Methamphetamine…I’m a manufacturer, not a dealer per se.” Skyler gets up to leave. “There are angles to this – we need to talk it through!”

Skyler: “I’m going to make you a deal, Walt. I won’t tell Hank, and I won’t tell your children or anybody else. But only if you grant me this divorce and stay out of our lives.”

“No, Skyler.”

“Let me get the hell out of here before I throw up!”

Later the same day, Walt picks Jesse up at Serenity. Wearing a black jacket, T-shirt, and pants, he’s being discharged. Inside the Aztek, he says, “Your windshield’s broken.”

“Yep.”

They go to Walt’s, where Walt says he’s experiencing “a little friction in the marriage right now. Strictly temporary. I’m just taking a little break. That’s you – there.” He points to the couch.

Jesse looks like a waif with his little backpack, his hair sticking up, and his baggy clothes and dejected posture.

Walt continues: “Listen, uh – your money – Saul’s got it for you. So as soon as you’re feeling better.”

“I’m better.”

“You’re better. Really? The rehab helped?”

“Yeah. I’m not using.”

“That’s excellent. Very good, Jesse. Very good. You know, in spite of how bad things got, it really could be looked at as a wake-up call for both if us. I mean – just to get our lives together again.” Jesse sits on the couch, eyes closed, face upturned. “On the straight and narrow.”

Jesse: “You been following this airplane crash? You know it was Jane’s dad who accidentally crashed them together? ‘Cause he was so torn up.”

Walt: “Let me stop you right there.” He sits on the coffee table, close to and facing Jesse. “You – are not responsible for this – not in any way, shape, or form. All right? There were many factors at play. Collision radar on the jet may not have been working properly…It’s all 1960s technology. No, really – I blame the government.”

Jesse: “You either run from things, or you face them, Mr. White.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“I learned it in rehab. It’s all about accepting who you really are.” Jesse is sincere, innocent, clear, and handsome – no longer a teeny bopper. “I accept who I am.”

“And who are you?”

There’s a pause, and Jesse says, “I’m the bad guy.”

Scene 5: Los Pollos

Walt sits waiting in his usual booth; Gus helps customers, then comes over. “Is the food to your satisfaction?”

“Very much.”

“It’s good to see you again.” They shake hands. “May I?” Gus sits down, wearing the blue ribbon that honors the plane crash victims, and tells Walt he has an offer for him.

But Walt cuts Gus off at the pass. “I’m done. It’s not you. I admire your professionalism. I’m just making a change. I’m at a kind of crossroads…I am not a criminal. No offense to any people who are, but – this is not me.”

“I’d like you to hear my offer.”

“It won’t change my mind.”

“Three million dollars for three months of your time. Three months, then out.”

“Three million?”

There’s a long pause, and Gus smiles. “May I take that as a ‘yes’?”

Walt says, “I have money. I have more money than I know how to spend. What I don’t have is my family. The answer is still ‘no.'”

Gus smiles pleasantly, and gets up. “Enjoy your meal.”

Scene 6: on the border

We see a gold-tinged desert landscape, being crossed by a hay truck with a dusty windshield. There are two rows of migrants seated on benches inside. “Texas!” a young male migrant exults. “I’ve crossed several times, and there are three bumps at the border.” He goes on and on about the job he has waiting, and the car paint jobs he can do. The silent cousins are sitting opposite him, wearing the clothes they took off the line. When the boy notices the decorations on the tips of their boots, and suddenly shuts up, they know they’ve been recognized.

We see a long exterior view of the truck again, and hear muffled gunshots. The driver pulls over and gets out, hollering, “What the hell’s goin’ on in there?”

The cousins get out and shoot the driver as he tries to run away. Then they shoot holes in the truck’s gas tank and light cigarillos. The gas streams out, and one of the cousins throws his cigarillo into it. The cousins walk away, and there’s a huge explosion and fire behind them.

Robin Pierson at TheTVCritic.org describes the cousins as “comic book figures,” and I agree. He doesn’t mind; I do, because I value realism – though, for all I know about the Mexican drug trade and Mexican folk religion, this could be realistic. It just has the flavor, as presented, of comedic exaggeration, even, almost of racism. Though, goodness knows, the news of drug violence south of the border gets worse every year.

I also don’t think it was necessary for the cousins to kill everyone on the truck. After all, why would illegal migrants and/or a coyote betray them to the authorities? They’d be even less likely to try to send a warning to Walt (or Hank). This was just gratuitous violence – likely presented to show us the evil of the drug trade, especially in Mexico and along the border, and the power, violence, and malevolence of the Salamanca brothers.

Killing Tuco was bound to have consequences, but I don’t care for the way this element of Season 3 is used.

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