The new season of Breaking Bad takes its leading characters on an intense and heavy ride, writes Scott Kara.
Where and when:
10.30pm, Thursdays, Four.
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, who plays Walter White's meth-making side-kick.
When you cook the best crystal meth in New Mexico and deal with some of the meanest, most ruthless crims around, something has to give.
And so it is for high school chemistry teacher-turned-drug dealer Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) and his young sidekick Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). In the first series of the offbeat and often brutal drug caper, it was more like a drama-comedy. Even though Walt had terminal lung cancer, the fact he was new to this seedy underworld made for many laughs among the nastiness.
Then things started going seriously awry for Walt and Jesse in the second series, with Walt's wife Skyler finding out about his double life, and Jesse's girlfriend Jane dying of an overdose (something Walt could have possibly prevented) after which he checked into rehab.
When the third season makes a long-awaited return to New Zealand screens tonight at 10.30pm on Four - they are up to season five in the US - it's about to get darker.
"The darkness is taking over these characters and eventually they are going to break, bad," says actor Aaron Paul who plays Jesse. "There is a lot of craziness about to come your way. It gets darker, and darker, and more explosive," he continues with a laugh.
The Breaking Bad story started after Walt got his his diagnosis and turned to making and dealing methamphetamine to pay his family's bills after he was gone. And it's been a madcap, sinister violent ride ever since.
Tonight's episode picks up in the aftermath of the fatal airliner crash in the skies over Walt's house in Albuquerque. While Walt is trying desperately to keep his family together after Skyler forces him to move out, Jesse is at an all-time low because he blames himself for Jane's death and the part it played in the plane crash (it turns out the air traffic controller responsible for the accident was Jane's distraught father).
"He has the weight of the world on his shoulders and is so unbelievably depressed," says Paul. "But he learns in rehab about self acceptance, and accepts that he is the bad guy, so during the entire season three he is trying to convince himself and others that he is the bad guy. He is in a very dark and sad place and trying to put the pieces back together. He's not in a happy place, I'll tell you that."
Jesse's transformation - or should that be a tumultuous spiral - throughout the series has been even more dramatic than the moral and mental decline of Cranston's increasingly loathsome character (oddly though, you can't help but have a soft spot for Walt).
In the carefree days of the first season, Jesse was a brat just out of high school and now he thinks nothing of melting a body in an acid bath.
"Oh yeah, Walter White has completely screwed his life up, for sure," laughs Paul.
"At the very beginning, when Walt blackmails him to go into business with him, he is shocked by him. He had completely changed from that chem teacher he knew from school. And then it just keeps going down this dark and twisted rabbit hole. And he is shocked by it. It's very intense and pretty heavy," he says.
Though Breaking Bad has more of a cult following in New Zealand, in the US it has a devoted fan base.
"And it might not be the biggest numbers out there but our fans are diehard and they live and breathe Breaking Bad."
Ironically, the darker the show has got the more popular it has become in the States.
"I just think it took a while for people to catch on. Each year we seem to pull in more viewers and I think it's just word of mouth from these fans just talking and telling people, 'you gotta watch this show'. It's just an adrenalin rush for people, this show, they can't get enough."
The key to its success is how it asks more questions than offers up answers - and the evolution the characters go through is extreme and intriguing.
"This show is a story of change and the characters are constantly changing within themselves and they just keep pushing the envelope. And after each episode ends there are so many questions you want answered, and you are just so shocked by what you've just seen.
"Each time I read a new script I'm like, 'wow, are they really going to make me do this right now?'. So I just have to hold on to the reins tight and take this ride."
Paul admits, "I was a shit actor", before getting the part in Breaking Bad and you can tell he is in awe of Cranston, who has won three consecutive Emmy awards for his portrayal of Walt.
"Working with Bryan and the rest of the cast is like going to an incredible acting workshop every day - and I'm lucky enough to work with Bryan every day so he is a mentor of mine and I owe so much to him."