After closing last season with a shocking mid-air plane collision inadvertently caused by Walt (and to a far lesser degree, Jesse), the third season premiere basically tells new viewers to fuck themselves, opting to simply rub the audience’s face in the misery and guilt of Jesse and Walt. There’s a couple of sick laughs along the way and the episode ends on climactic violence, but for the most part, shit is very grim in Alberquerque.
Walt and Skyler have been separated for weeks now, Skyler looking to get a divorce. Walt moves into a bachelor apartment complex (the perfectly named “Beachcomber”) and returns to work at the high school. His cancer is still stable and he’s been ducking calls from Gus from the Pollo Loco and quietly trying to rationalize his role in the airplane crash (as evidenced by the fantastically uncomfortable high school assembly scene). After not talking to Walt for weeks and not even discussing her marriage problems with her nosy sister Marie, Skyler tells Walt that she knows he’s a drug dealer and that she won’t tell anybody about his activities if he just grants her an easy divorce. Walt finally goes to see Gus to tell him he’s done dealing – not even Gus’ offer of three million for three months work can deter him…for now.
Meanwhile Jesse is in rehab where he learns to not necessarily “better himself” but instead to accept who he is. Since in his mind he is to blame for the deaths of dozens of people, Jesse accepts that he is simply “the bad guy.” Walt learns this when he picks Jesse up from rehab and lets him crash on his couch at the Beachcomber. With Jesse possibly on the verge of embracing his inner sociopath and three million up for grabs, cooking is no doubt on the horizon for Walt.
But even though Walt seems to be sticking to his guns at the end of the episode, criminal activity is coming his way in the form of two twin brother badasses from Mexico. In nearly wordless scenes throughout the show, we watch the twins post Walt’s “Heisenberg” police sketch in a kooky-ass shrine, ditch their fancy car and clothes for migrant worker threads, then steal across the border into Texas along with a handful of other illegals. But once over the border, the twins kill the whole truckload of passengers and then blow up the fucking truck (while of course doing the obligatory “too cool to look at my own explosion” walk). It’ll be exciting to see what kind of shit these psychos rain down on Walt and the gang next week.
So yeah, we don’t get any Badger or “Better Call Saul” hilarity in “No Mas” and there weren’t any classic Breaking Bad suspense sequences, but all the aftermath shit and character work in the episode was on par with similar Sopranos episodes. The episode was basically about everybody attacking their personal crises head-on with major decisions, but in possibly misguided ways. Skyler asking for a divorce was arguably the most notable example. After all, the fucking hugest event in the episode was obviously Skyler finally figuring out that Walt was a drug dealer. For the longest time it seemed like when that shoe dropped it was going to be like the “Who Shot J.R.” moment of the show. But (also in a Sopranos-like fashion) the show subverts your expectations and Skyler just kinda…figures it out on her own? Walt has a bunch of money so, yeah, he must be a drug dealer. She doesn’t imagine that he’s a meth dealer (she delightfully assumes he’s a pot dealer), but still, she figures it out and Walt finally stops denying it.
But that doesn’t mean that Walt is now honest with himself. Numerous scenes demonstrate how hard Walt is trying to convince himself that he is not culpable in the plane crash while Jesse is if anything putting too much of the blame on himself. But Walt does decide to take action in the hopes of possibly being a better person by telling Gus he’s out of the business. It’s clear that three mil sounds tempting to him, but still: he’s out. Jesse seems intent on not using and tells Walt very sincerely that that shit is in the past for real now. But the more alarming and possibly even more dangerous decision he makes in “No Mas” is his acceptance that he’s the bad guy. Who knows what consequences this new-found sense of self will have in later episodes.
Because consequences are the name of the game with Breaking Bad, a point creator Vince Gilligan makes more crystal-fucking-clear with each episode. The stakes were no doubt raised on how dark the show could go with last season’s finale and this episode pushes us into even more dire territory by dealing with the crushing emotional weight of the crash on our characters. I’m sure some of those nasty laughs and sick thrills will come back to the show soon enough, but for now we’re in dark-night-of-the-soul ulcer-land, and damn does it feel soberingly fucking good.