Review – Breaking Bad S1-5

By Adam Lock
Published: September 25, 2017 (Last updated: February 8, 2024)

A high school chemistry teacher with terminal lung cancer decides to try and make some extra money for his family to live on when he’s gone by embarking on a career manufacturing crystal meth with a former student. When he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the age of fifty, Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) world crumbles around him. He knows he can’t afford treatment and cannot bear the prospect of leaving his wife, son and unborn child in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt when he eventually dies. Instead, he enlists the help of former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine. Walter needs to make roughly $750,000 before he can retire from the business, and with the purity the boys can achieve, they’ve little competition, and it doesn’t look like it will take them long to reach their targets. Of course, what would be the fun in having everything go to plan for them?

In 2008, Breaking Bad took the world by storm when it announced the arrival of Netflix and online streaming. Season one consisted of eight episodes, and came very close to never being made. The writers first took the pilot script to HBO who rejected their proposal thinking the show would never take off. How wrong were they? Netflix came along and snapped it right up and five seasons and many Emmys later, they have what has been rumoured to be one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The reason you are getting a review of the whole series as opposed to a rundown season to season is due to the fact that I don’t have Netflix. I watched Breaking Bad after Spike TV gained rights to it, and so for the past couple or three months, I have watched all five seasons. They all came pretty thick and fast (during my exams, I might add) and it just wasn’t do-able, so I shall now cover the whole show.

Season one laid the foundations for the programme to be built upon. In all fairness, when it comes to the storyline, it wasn’t all that great. Not an awful lot happened for two reasons. The first being that it only consisted of eight episodes due to a writers’ strike, the second being that no one knew how the public would react to the series, therefore they did not want to get too deep into anything as there was always a chance that it could end after the first season. However, it proved a hit and properly took off in season two, and this was when it really started to grab my attention. Big time drug dealers start appearing and the lives of both the meth cooks begin to get very erratic. I suppose you could say it started to get exciting due to the arrival of very unpredictable characters that made the lives of our two criminal masterminds very difficult.

Now, season two certainly stepped things up a notch, but then season three came along. Oh… my… word… This was where the stakes were raised. BIG TIME. Walt and Jesse got themselves a lawyer, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who set them up with a new distributor, Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Gus was a total madman who definitely livened things up. However, this season was where the show’s very experimental nature was revealed. They made a whole episode centred on Walt and Jesse trying to catch a fly, for God’s sake! And they pulled it off. I think it was this season that really showed the balls Breaking Bad had.

Season four was based mainly around Walt and Jesse’s many plots to kill Gus. After a hit on someone close to him, Walt realises that the net is closing in – Gus clearly has a problem and so Walt decides it is either Gus or him. That really is all I can say about that without giving too much away.

And as for season five? This is where it all ends. The boys are looking for their way out and all the loose ends of the story are tied up. And then there is, of course, the finale, but again, if I say much more, I’ll end up ruining it for you.

The reason for the show’s success, I believe, was down to the numerous, wonderfully complex characters that were created by the writers. They made characters that drew the audience in – each individual in the show would attract different people, hence why it was so versatile and received the attention it did – and because you got attached to these characters in such a way, you found yourself going back for more. Some of them had very addictive personalities, and when you paired this with the circumstances they often found themselves in, it more often than not made for very entertaining, very gripping viewing. To cut a long story short, it’s a big thumbs up for the people built into the story, and an even bigger one for those who wrote it.

All this talk of characters brings me on to some of the actor’s performances. I’ll start with Bryan Cranston, aka Walter White. He was very good! I would imagine he was very grateful for his job here as it propelled him into the limelight and has earned him a string of roles since. He really got into the role of Walt, and it certainly showed. I very much enjoyed watching him as the criminal mastermind using 30 years of science as the basis of his drug dealing empire. And when he’d start threatening people taking on the persona of his alter ego, Heisenberg… oooh, he was brilliant!

Then, of course, there is Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman. Before this, I had never seen him in anything, I had barely even heard his name mentioned outside of Breaking Bad. However, after watching his flawless performance as the junkie/manufacturer/recovering addict, his name should be known by everyone – universally recognised and universally respected. Jesse had demons. And the raw emotion displayed by Paul in his performance was awe-inspiring, I honestly don’t know how else to put it.

Throughout the course of the five seasons, many characters came and went, and there were those that travelled the journey with the two cooks. Anna Gunn played Skyler, Walt’s wife, and whilst I didn’t particularly like the character, I must admit that her performance was spectacular. There was also RJ Mitte who played Walt’s son, Flynn or Junior depending upon the mood he was in. The stand-out detail about this though is that Walt’s son was written as a cerebral palsy sufferer. Mitte also suffers with the condition, however fortunately for him, his is a milder form. This meant he had to adapt his speech and movement for the role, and I greatly admire the dedication he showed for his role. Walt’s in-laws were played by Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris. The family setting was very important as the whole reason the meth cooking started was due to Walt’s diagnosis, and it showed the strains that sort of predicament takes on an entire family.

However, business associates also, inevitably, had to come into play. My favourites? Gus Fring and the lawyer, Saul Goodman. Gus (played by Giancarlo Esposito) and Saul (Bob Odenkirk) were both very charismatic people and were extremely entertaining to watch. For this reason, I think I may have to give the spin-off series, Better Call Saul, a go.

Unfortunately, there was something that I really didn’t like. The finale. Quite honestly, how you can spend five years building something of that quality to end it like that I do not know. The final episode very nearly caused me to fall into a severe depression. It was way too rushed, and I feel as though the whole of season five and very possibly the end of season four were to blame for this grossly anti-climactic finish. Too many characters got involved too late on and the fact that they all had to be silenced one way or another was the sole reason for such an unintelligent finale.

Overall, I greatly recommend that you watch Breaking Bad. The whole series is simply spectacular, even if the ending is something that I’d rather not talk about. Watch the first season, pick a favourite character, and then enjoy the rest of the ride.

TV, TV Reviews