Breaking Bad's Walter White might be television's all-time greatest liar.
"I didn't set out with that in mind, but when you lead a double life, you have to lie constantly," Vince Gilligan, the creator and executive producer of the AMC drama, tells TVGuide.com. "It's just something you have to do. Otherwise the rest of it isn't going to work."
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In the early episodes of the show's searing third season, which begins Sunday at 10/9c, the person Walt (Bryan Cranston) lies to the most is himself. Several of Walt's decisions and actions last season culminated in a mid-air plane collision that rained debris over his own house. Stricken with guilt over the two planes' 167 casualties, Walt begins Season 3 by telling himself that he's done cooking meth, and that he's not a criminal.
Then his distributor, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), offers him $3 million.
"He's so guilt-ridden that he doesn't want to have anything to do with this and he's absolutely convinced that he's out of it," Cranston says. "But all of a sudden, money comes in and the natural human trait is to be swayed and seduced by money."
It was money, after all, that originally turned Walt from a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher into a meth manufacturer. In Season 3, keeping his family financially stable is the least of Walt's concerns. His wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), finally learns what Walt's been up to, and her next stop is a divorce attorney.
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"This season is about Walt keeping his family intact," Gilligan says. "Walt's desperately fighting to keep and maintain the most important thing in his life, which is his wife and his children. The action he's taken has led to his family teetering on the edge of destruction. What he's worked so hard to protect is something he's on the verge of destroying."
Cranston, who also directed the premiere episode, says having Skyler learn Walt's secrets opens up new possibilities for the storytelling. "The conceit [was] that Walt has to maintain the secrecy from his wife or else the game's over," Cranston says. "That whole dogmatic belief comes crashing down when she discovers through an educated guess exactly what he's doing. Everything that we thought we needed to hold on to is thrown out, which is very courageous. You think that you need to hold onto it but then you realize maybe we don't. Maybe we put ourselves into more predicaments good for drama if we have her find out."
Meanwhile, Walt's relationship with his drug-dealing partner, Jesse (Aaron Paul) is equally unstable. Jesse, fresh out of rehab and sober for the first time in the series' history, carries his own guilt over the recent death of his girlfriend, Jane (Krysten Ritter). What Jesse doesn't know, however, is that Walt watched Jane choke to death after a heroin overdose and chose not to save her.
Unlike Walt, Jesse owns up to his mistakes. "I find it ironic that Jesse identifies himself as the bad guy," Gilligan says. "If you look at it, he's really not that bad at all, certainly not compared to Walt. Walt has done far worse, far darker things than Jesse is perhaps even capable of. A lot of things that Jesse finds himself feeling great overwhelming guilt over are things Walt is responsible for. Jesse thinking of himself as the bad guy will certainly lead to some surprising moments and some surprising behaviors from him."
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But there's more trouble on the horizon for Walt. Two silent drug cartel assassins from south of the border are on their way to New Mexico, blazing a path of destruction along the way.
"They're two gentlemen we like to refer to as the cousins," Gilligan says with a laugh of excitement. "They are representative of a larger, darker criminal world that Walt thinks he can move through, but which is actually very far over his head and can chew him up and spit him out. The cousins are a glimpse of things to come as Season 3 progresses — a dark glimpse of a new world that Walt is going find himself immersed in."
Amid all the distractions, it's easy to forget that Walt has lung cancer. Gilligan says Walt's health is still very much in play. "The cancer, which was very much a launching point for Walt, does continue to hang like a shadow over the entire series," Gilligan says. "The shadow it's casting over Walt has lessened, but it's still out there. It will not be forgotten, but the more interesting question right now is: In the absence of a motivating reason to do this — the ticking clock on Walt's mortality or an urgent need for money — why does Walt continue to do the bad things that he does?"
And the answers Walt provides for himself will likely be even more lies, Gilligan says. "This is a man who rationalizes his bad behavior in some pretty breathtaking ways," he says. "Walt has gotten pretty darn dark already, but I think you can look forward to more really bad decisions on Walt's part.
"We are still endeavoring to take a good man and transform him into something else entirely by the end of the run of the show," Gilligan says. "I don't know how long we have, so we kind of feel our way through it and take it day by day. It's like the exploration of a dark cave — we're kind of feeling our way through it with a book of matches, lighting our way through it a few inches at a time."
Cranston suggests that Walt's metamorphosis into a kingpin takes great strides this season. "Nobody really knows how quickly that cocoon is going to open up and that butterfly is going to come out, but it's already chipping away," he says. "And by the end of this season Walt makes another move from which he cannot reverse course. He's on his way."