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'Breaking Bad' season premiere review: Are those rattlesnake skulls on your boots, or are you just glad to see me?

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The third season of Breaking Bad got off to a great start this week, with an episode titled “No Mas” directed by series star Bryan Cranston. The opening moments were like watching a Sergio Leone spaghetti-Western made fresh, as two villainous-looking cousins wearing cowboy boots with little rattlesnake skulls in the toe-tips walked through harsh sun and dusty air to make clear their ultimate goal: to kill Cranston’s Walter White.

Meanwhile, we were treated to some fine scenes of Aaron Paul’s Jesse in rehab. Fragile from the accidental drug-related death of his girlfriend, Jesse was a soft target for the clever combination of hard-headed 12-step tenets and soft-headed New Age philosophy being swirled into his noggin. “Self-hatred, guilt accomplishes nothing,” said the group leader played with excellent oiliness by Jerre Burns.

The show was filled with striking images, such as Walt burning a huge amount of money, suggesting a break with his meth-cooking criminal past.

But nothing is simple or clean-cut on Breaking Bad, and as much as Walt wanted to set things straight in his marriage, Skyler (and what a great performance by Anna Gunn, taking the wronged-wife role and doing fresh things with it all the time) wasn’t letting him off the hook. Having discovered the tip of her husband’s criminal iceberg (“You’re a drug dealer”; “I’m a manufacturer, not a dealer”), Skyler wants a divorce, which kind of screws up Walt’s ideal, which is to return family life to the way it once was.

The wonderful thing about Breaking Bad is that no character remains the same over the course of a season, or even just a few episodes. Think how timid and scared Walt was when Breaking Bad first debuted; now look as his shaved head and goatee, his hard eyes and guttural speaking voice, and realize how much Walt, almost without realizing it, has slipped into the skin of a man who has nothing and everything to lose. But unlike the old Walt, who quailed at that prospect, the current Walt takes action.

Next week: The return of Bob Odenkirk’s oleaginous lawyer, Saul Goodman. Trust me, he’s still a great weasel!

What did you think about this week’s premiere? Did you sing along with Walt to America’s “Horse With No name”? What will the rattlesnake-boot boys do next, do you think?

Follow @kentucker

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