Recurring Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betty Brandt, RJ Mitte
I have never actually heard a bad word about this show. Usually when a show jumps to the top very rapidly, there is usually someone who puts their hand up and announces that they do not like it. For example, the Walking Dead has its own critics that don’t understand the hype and I, myself, am not a massive fan of Game of Thrones. However, no one has ever found anything bad to say about Breaking Bad. As I finally finish Season Two, I can do nothing but agree.
Season Two picks up directly where Season One left off. Walter and Jesse are dealing with a psychotic dealer called Tuco, who murders someone directly in front of them. Sensing that Tuco is unpredictable enough to kill them for witnessing the crime, they begin to try and come up with another way to go about their meth-dealing business. At the same time, Jesse falls in love with a recovering drug addict, Hank gets a promotion that throws him into the firing range of several dangerous people and Skylar begins to get more suspicious of her husband, especially when rumours of a second phone crop up.
My favourite thing about Breaking Bad is the way it will let a scene drag on. While most shows will cut to the action as soon as possible, Breaking Bad decides to let some moments sink in, getting every brilliant line of dialogue out of them. For example, one episode opens up slowly with a scene where Badger, now an employee of Walter White and Jesse, sells drugs. The scene is one camera angle that just lets two actors bounce jokes and lines off of each other. It works really well and while any other director might have let the scene get boring (Walking Dead used to do this a lot), the show-runner knows exactly when to end the scene or shake things up. Then other times, the director will a cut a scene very quickly, so we barely see anything. Our imagination takes over. It allows the show to always remain fresh and always exciting.
Other elements of direction help the story along well. This show has a terrific soundtrack, made of songs you won’t know, but suit the atmosphere so well. One episode opens with a mariachi band singing a song about the urban myth that is Heisenberg. Another episode throws us into a montage, where Walt and Jesse cook meth for a straight weekend. A good soundtrack breathes life into a show and it is just another reason Breaking Bad is such good television. Another layer of direction is humour. I know so many shows that would have taken the subject of cancer and drug addiction and treated us to hours of wallowing in the sadness of it all. But Breaking Bad always sees the funny side of a situation. We could be reeling from a shocking death or mind-blowing plot twist and then the show would hit us with a joke at the perfect time, turning this serious atmosphere into the perfect set-up for a punch line. I can see several people not liking this take on a serious subject, but in my opinion, it makes a bitter pill very easy – and enjoyable – to swallow.
What I really liked about Season Two was how Walter and Jesse are beginning to shift personalities. Jesse started as this fairly unlikeable drug-dealing character that constantly let down his family and tried to manipulate those close to him for money. Walt was the stand-up family guy who was selling drugs for the good of his family. We all liked him. However, Walt is beginning to turn to the dark side. The season sees the power go to his head and he begins to treat his family and Jesse like his puppets. He seems much more comfortable with the prospect of murder to achieve his goals and the way he treats meth-dealing as a straight-forward business is great to watch. The transformation into hero to drug lord is thrilling to watch and I cannot wait to see him evolve further in later seasons. However, I expected all of this from the show – it is pretty much the leading reason to watch Breaking Bad. What I wasn’t expecting was Jesse becoming a more likeable character. This is mainly because he falls in love (Script-writing 101 when you need to make a nasty bloke relatable), and he begins to get torn up by some of the actions he commits. He feels more regret that Walt does and we feel that he becomes the puppet of the show, caught in Walt’s web of deceit.
The finale isn’t that exciting. It feels more a penultimate episode than the ending of the season, bringing up more answers than answering them. I wouldn’t have minded as much, but almost every episode begins with a haunting scene of the aftermath of an explosion. Every time the show returns to this scene, we end up seeing a little bit more of the scene and the full extent of the devastation slowly hits us. Meanwhile, in the actual episode, we see little clues as to what actually happened. The clues are always underplayed, so they are painfully obvious, but the episode never outright points them out, cheapening the moment. Again, brilliant direction. Sometimes the clues are red herrings, but they get our heart beating as we begin to suspect that some of our favourite characters are actually doomed. But while the show ends telling us what the answer is, the season ends there and then, so we don’t get to see the actual climax. We are left screaming at the screen, wanting more. Needing more.
Final Verdict: Breaking Bad excels because of very sharp direction and a great script. It is carefully balanced, precise and always achieves exactly what it sets out to do.