In comic book mythology, there is a concept known as “becoming the mask”. It refers to the idea that when a superhero parades around in a secret identiy for so long, he will eventually lose part of who he was before donning his costume, and he will totally merge his identity with that of his superhero alter ego. The dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and Batman is one of the most popular examples of this trope at work. In the third season of Breaking Bad, particularly durings its final four episodes, the show’s writers explore this concept where Walter White begins to lose more and more of himself in his pursuit of wealth and security as his alter ego, drug lord Heisenberg.

The last four episodes brings the season to what can only be described as an explosive climax. Walt and Jesse have settled into a comfortable and profitable rhythm as cooks for kingpin Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). However, Jesse stirs up the pot by both A) stealing small amounts of meth from the cook when they go over their quota, and B) discovering that the little boy who killed his business partner way back in season 2 works for men who are employees of Gus. Walt and Skylar seem to be rekindling their romance and Skylar crosses over to the wrong side of the law by agreeing to get into business with Walt as his money launderer. Things explode into high gear when Jesse decides to take revenge into his own hands and go after the men who killed his friend, and now Jesse and Walt both have to make tough choices if either one wants to stay alive.

Giancarlo Esposito (along with the show’s writers) turn Gus into one of the most compelling villains to come around on TV since Stringer Bell or Al Swearangen. He reminds me a lot of Brother Mouzone from The Wire. He’s chillingly professional, but yet, undeneath that facade, you can really see a great and vengeful mind at work. This show has one of the best casts on televsion. No one is dragging the show down in the acting category. Hell, even Bob Odenkirk, who I normally think of as a crass comedian, does a great job as Saul, Walt’s attorney. He’s one of the best played TV lawyers since Laurence Levy on (once again) The Wire. And Jonathan Banks makes a frightening portrayal of the “cleaner” Mike who can one second share a touching scene with his grand-daughter and then murder a trailer full of assassins like he’s James Bond. Aaron Paul also shows just how far he’s come along as an actor over these seasons by adding so many layers to Jesse Pinkman that I think wouldn’t have existed solely on the strength of the show’s writing.

I can’t remember the last time a season of TV ended with a cliff-hanger that had me salivating at the mouth so much for the next season to air. The only things that really come to mind are Jack and Locke staring down the hatch and Jack blowing up a nuclear bomb on (all on Lost). Two episodes in a row this show delivered the kind of twists and turns that remind you of how great Breaking Bad is. Walter may have slowly started to become a villain and out of nowhere Jesse suddenly became the sympathetic protagonist of the show, but that is what makes great television. When writers take risks with the formula of the show (and as long as those risks work), then you keep your program from being stale. I only hope that season 4 starts out of the gate strong instead of limping through the opening stretch like season 3 did.

Score in Progress: A-