'Breaking Bad' Gets Badder In Season Three

By KEVIN SULLIVAN

A pen-sketched portrait of Bryan Cranston's character, Walt White, appears in an eerie temple on AMC's "Breaking Bad."
A pen-sketched portrait of Bryan Cranston's character, Walt White, appears in an eerie temple on AMC's "Breaking Bad."

Two grown men slowly crawl on their bellies through a desert village. Soon, others join them, as they painfully progress, inch by inch, towards a make-shift, Latin American temple. Inside, next to a scarecrow goddess, hangs a small, pen-sketched portrait of another ominous figure - Heisenberg. So begins the season three opener of AMC's critically acclaimed series, "Breaking Bad.""

The series follows the tragic fall from grace of Walter White (a.k.a. Heisenberg), an upstanding chemistry teacher turned morally bankrupt drug dealer. Bryan Cranston has won two best actor Emmys for his portrayal of Walt, who first decides to cook crystal meth after he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. His plan is to stash away enough money to financially support his pregnant wife and teenage son with cerebral palsy. It's a noble plan. But then in season two, Walt is unexpectedly cured, and any remnants of nobility have long since evaporated.

The third season’s opening scene is a harbinger of more bad things to come. Cranston told Here & Now's Robin Young that the men crawling on the ground are worshippers of Santa Muerte, a dark off-shoot of Catholicism. "The Santa Muerte is a deity that does not discriminate on what your prayers or wishes are," Cranston said. "You could wish for someone to get well or you can wish for someone to die."

A macabre statue of Bryan Cranston's character, Walt White, represents his moral decay.
A macabre statue of Bryan Cranston's character, Walt White, represents his moral decay.

Cranston hints that the men might be involved in a drug cartel that's unhappy with Walt's encroachment on their business. The men never speak a word in the season opener, but the audience gets an undeniable sense that they’re coming for Walt.

They might also be coming for Walt's partner in crime, and former student, Jesse Pinkman. Aaron Paul has garnered an Emmy nomination for his role as the burned-out drug dealer, and he told Robin Young that he researched the role by watching another pop culture phenomenon, A&E's reality series, "Intervention."

"You just see how the drug completely has controlled them," Paul said. "And in the beginning they kind of have a choice, but by the end, it's not even their fault any more. At the end of the day, the drug has control of them, it's hard to fight."

Cranston said he had expected criticism of the show, because it deals with crystal meth. But he said the show handles the topic deftly. "I think that's a testament to the show that people realize it's not about drug use or manufacturing. It's not glorifying that," Cranston noted. "It's about this good man, who makes a bad decision and how that's compounded and it starts this downward spiral."

Walt's grim journey has taken him down rabbit holes he scarcely knew existed. And with each moral line Walt crosses, he takes one step closer to the man he is destined to become.

"He will become a drug kingpin by the end of this series," Cranston said. "What makes a man do that? What elements could change someone from one type of a person to another. And my character is currently in that transition. In this third season, he is going to make another several leaps. He is down a path that he can't return on."

The third season of "Breaking Bad" premieres on AMC Sunday at 10 pm.

This program aired on March 19, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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