AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following review was published in the Yellowknifer on August 10, 2011. It focused on the show from Season 1 up to the Season Premier of Season 4.
In a suburban home in New Mexico, a man in a housecoat sits alone by a pool. After a moment of thought, he throws thousands of dollars in a barbecue and sets it ablaze. Immediately he changes his mind and accidently sets his arm on fire trying to put it out, throwing the money and himself in the pool. This begins the third season of Breaking Bad, a dark portrait of suburban life and drug dealing, and of the best written TV shows running.
The man in the housecoat is Walter White, played by three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston. Walter used to be a family man and chemistry teacher. As the show stars, his life seems to be at a dead end. He is paid so little that he has to take a second job at a car wash.
That all changes when he finds out he has terminal lung cancer. Now Walter worries that he won’t have much money left for his family, especially with the inevitable, expensive chemotherapy.
After Walter encounters former student and meth-addict Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, he thinks he can use his skills to make and sell crystal meth. With an RV and ‘borrowed’ chemicals, it’s the beginning of a beautiful, if unethical friendship.
Soon their blue crystals lead Walt and Jesse into a nightmare reminiscent of a David Lynch film. Along the way they meet an array of memorable characters. Among them is Walt’s brother-in-law, a Drug Enforcement Agency Agent name Hank, played by Dean Norris. This would seem a bit contrived, but the scenes with Hank are written with grounded realism, especially the traumatic effects from a gunfight with a dealer. As for the kingpins, the one who leaves a major dent is Gus Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito. At first glance, he is a gentleman manager of a fast food restaurant. In this drug deal, he still keeps a dignified, trusting composure. Still, Espositio suggests that Mr. Hyde might not be far a way with a secret plan, or an exacto knife, under his sleeve.
Cranston earned all three Emmys for his performance whose actions are both understandable and deplorable. What’s most amazing is how much he says with his face. When he negotiates with kingpins, his face seems to be calculating his every move, knowning the other man will kill him unless he can think fast.
At first, Jesse seems to be just a dim-witted bum. He does provide most of the humour. In one dark and funny scene, he tries to decompose a dead body in a bathtub, only for the tub to crash through the floor.
As the show progresses, Aaron Paul shows more brains and heart as he tries to match wits with Walt, often failing. In the third season, Paul expresses the trauma of his lifestyle finally taking its toll on him even when he continues dealing.
Due to the increasing trend of story arcs, not much can be said about the show without giving too much away.
To get the full effect, Breaking Bad must be seen starting from the first episode.