Review: The First Season of _Breaking Bad:_ misfits, choices, and tight plotting
May 21, 2016 9:11pm CST
I have plenty of guilty pleasures I fear. One of them is watching films or television with characters of questionable morality. I love watching karma playing out and people getting what they so justly deserve in life. And sometimes, really black, dark and mordant humour is something that I crave. With AMC's (American Movie Channel) original series, Breaking Bad, I got all that, and then some. From the first episode I was hooked, and wanted more, with the only unhappy cry from me was that the first season was only seven episodes. But oh, the story that unfolded before me, set in the stark reality of the Southwest, in a town that I knew very very well -- Albuquerque, New Mexico -- I was hooked as readily as any fish on the line. Middle aged Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a brilliant chemist, teaching a high school class full of students who would mostly rather be somewhere else. His wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) is lovely and very pregnant with their second child, and she works part-time, helping to raise their eldest child, Walt Jr. (R J Mitte), who is a high school student afflicted with cerebral palsy. They manage, but just barely, and underneath this middle-class exterior, some pretty powerful emotions are simmering away and just waiting to blow. Walter's in-laws, Hank (Dean Norris) a big-mouthed, swaggering DEA agent and his wife Marie (Betsy Brandt), a closet kleptomaniac, are close to the Whites, even if they both have behaviours that would drive any person to barricade themselves inside the house once their car rolls up in the drive. They love Walter and Skyler, and adore nephew Walt Jr., which does help to overcome a lot of the things that make you want to slap them around a bit. On the other side of the fence, there's full-time goof-off, screw-up, and all around druggie, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). He was once a student of Walter Sr.'s, and had flunked in magnificent fashion out of chemistry class. Not to mention the rest of life. Now he's a small time hustler in the drug world, working at cooking meth, and slinging some pot on the side. How these lives intertwine and collide is the basis for the series, and the twists and turns everything makes, well, it all hit a strong chord with me. Now, on with the show, and don't forget the popcorn. Pilot Somewhere out in the desert Southwest, an RV is zipping over a dusty road, and a pair of men's pants goes flapping and flying in the breeze in its wake. A moment later, it veers off the road and into a ditch, and a middle-aged man in shoes and just his underwear come leaping out, a cloud of reddish smoke behind him and rips off the respirator he is wearing. His green shirt is hanging from the passenger's side mirror, and he yanks it on. Then oddly, he picks up a small video camera, his wallet and arranges them tidily on the ground after recording a farewell message to his family. Then he holds up a large, very large, handgun as sirens wail and come ever closer. This is Walter. His life is about to go into the toilet. How he comes to be in that RV and his predicament is shown in this opening episode and oh, is it a doosey. This episode has an optional commentary from the creator of the series, Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston, along with some deleted scenes. The Cat's in the Bag Things have gotten complicated for Walter and Jesse. Jesse in his usual breakneck speed got in contact with two of his dealer buddies -- Krazy 8 and Emilio -- to move their batch of ultra-clear, pure meth. The problem is, Jesse didn't quite think everything through, and now there's a dead body in the RV, and the injured, living one in the basement, locked up for the time being. Walter, being the smart one, gets the supplies together for taking care of things. Jesse, for his part, just wants to find somewhere quiet and smoke his brains out. ...And the Bag's in the River Jesse, to no one's real surprise, manages to mess up the disposal process, and takes off, leaving Walter to not just to the janitorial duties, but also to do something with Krazy 8 ( down in the basement. It's a journey through hell for Walter, as he has to decide whether or not to kill a man, especially after he has a discussion and discovers a bond with him. It's one of the more harrowing episodes of the season. In the meantime, Hank has a little talk with Walt Jr. about the perils of pot. Skyler is becoming uneasier about Walter's disappearances and fears that he might be seeing someone else. Cancer Man Walter comes clean about the cancer situation to his family, and it's not an easy business, especially when everyone has something to say. The vanishing of Emilio and Krazy 8 into thin air has attracted the notice of Hank and the DEA, not to mention that the meth is the purest, cleanest meth anyone has ever seen -- and that sends a flurry among the law enforcement crowd. And Jesse is smoking far too meth, and his paranoia sets in, sending him into a flight back home to the none-too-loving arms of his family. Gray Matter Once upon a time, Walter had a colleague who has created a wildly successful business. Now he and Skyler have been invited to a birthday party at the man's lavish home, only to discover that it's awkward and that they are very much out of place. A family intervention follows soon after, and pressure is put on Walter to get cancer treatment. After Jesse's family kicks him out again, Jesse tries to go straight but the lure of meth is just too strong, and he tries to cook with an old buddy named Badger (Matt L. Jones). Needless to say, it doesn't go too well, and when Walter and Jesse meet again, it's a bit of a relief. Crazy Handful of Nothin' Walter is busy cooking while Jesse is out hustling meth -- but the cash that's coming in and the amount of turnaround isn't enough for Walter. He needs money, a lot of it, now. So after getting a stern talking to, Jesse goes out to meet the new distributor in town, a rather nasty sort named Tuco (Raymond Cruz). For all of his efforts, poor Jesse is beaten to a pulp, and Walter realizes that he is going to have to take a step that he doesn't want to -- violence. A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal Marie gives Skyler a very useless sort of baby shower gift -- a baby tiara, for cryin' out loud -- and when Skyler goes to return the present, she finds out that Marie has stolen it. This puts her into a very difficult sort of situation, as she can't exactly drop the dime on her sister. Walter and Jesse find out why Tuco is such a crazy SOB, and they step up the scope of their production to meet the demand. What can I say? This is one of the best things to ever roll across my television screen. Smart, independent and full of contradictions, this series is clearly for adults, even though it is unrated. Most adults would probably find this series offensive, what with the sex, drugs, violence, and the ambivalence about right and wrong that is a constant theme. For me, however, it's that last that makes it such a fascinating show to watch. I certainly don't condone drug use where meth, heroin, and the like are concerned -- I've seen the human wreckage that it leaves behind and it's not pretty at all. Because once everything is stripped away, both Walt and Jesse are pretty much good people at heart, they're just driven to behaviour that most of us would never, ever consider doing. Jesse knows he's lost, that the lure of easy money, adrenaline and the hypnotic pull of drug use has wrapped him up so tightly, he knows that he can't get free. Walter is much more complicated than that. Trapped in a job -- actually two once the series starts -- he wants to break out but doesn't have the nerve to even contemplate it, until fate deals him a blow that frees him of all inhibitions and away he goes. It's this pull of his secret life and the fact that he will do whatever it takes to provide for his family that makes him such a fascinating character to watch. For me, I could certainly sympathize with Walter. I've been there myself, and yes, having to cope with cancer is that devastating. It changes your life, your thinking and your priorities, and the feelings of having everything knocked out from under your feet is so beautifully depicted here, and I found myself both laughing and wincing at the outcomes. While this isn't for everyone -- the violence, foul language, nudity and sex is pretty vivid and doesn't hold back much -- it's a series that I intend to stay with. As of this writing, April 2010, season two is available on DVD and season three is airing. What is also good is that it can easily stand up to repeat viewings, and each time I've rewatched an episode, I kept picking up little hints and clues, not to mention some strong memories of Albuquerque for myself. The DVD is packed with all sorts of goodies, and presented on three discs. Some episodes have deleted scenes, commentaries, and each episode can be viewed with short recaps of the previous episodes. There are also several featurettes that go into the making of the series, the backgrounds of all sorts of elements in the series, screen tests, interviews and sadly, far too many previews for other Sony productions. The only audio language is English, and subtitles are provided in French, Spanish and Portuguese, but oddly, not in English. Oh well. This season picked up quite a few awards nominations, with Bryan Cranston getting the Emmy nod for Best Actor in a Drama Series for two seasons so far. He deserves it in this one too. All in all, a vigorous thumbs up and a five star recommendation from me.
4 people like this
• Los Angeles, California
22 May 16
I have seed the entire series and it's brilliant on so many levels. You can discuss the show and characters endlessly there's that much to ponder and examine. One of the greatest TV series ever made. Bryan Cranston is sublime.