Because I review a whole tv series rather than individual episodes, there is a chance of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the whole series yet, stop reading now!
Some shows have that rare but fantastic element that all are striving for – the perfect first episode (pilot). An episode that perfectly captures the tone and style of the show, introduces new characters, peaks an audience’s interest and maps out the general direction the series is going to take. It’s tough to do all of them, particularly in a usual forty-five minute running time. Something usually gives, be it the characters, theme or actual episode itself, not really going anywhere and taking too long to get started. That’s one reason why you should always give a show two episodes before you cast your decision.
Some shows get it straight away though. Some have a pilot episode that does it all. Sets up the series, makes you intrigued about the whole season and introduces characters that you want to get invested in. Lost managed this, but had a huge budget to do it. 24 also managed it, but had a very cool, unique timing device. Breaking Bad does it too, but this time its the characters and story that suck you in.
From the opening scene of the first episode, which we get the resolution to at the end, your interest and intrigue is peaked. Then when we actually meet our main character, we are even more intrigued. This isn’t a man you’d expect to catch in his pants in the middle of the desert, ready to commit suicide. This is where the show does something very clever: it uses its pilot episode to introduce its main character and manage to begin his rapid and dramatic transformation. This is clever because it’s a story we are going to follow to an even bigger extreme as the season progresses and it’s the biggest draw of the show. How does the family man become a drug dealer?
It helps that the main character is played by a fantastic actor. I’d been warned that it would be a jarring experience seeing Malcolm’s Dad doing some awful, dark and sometimes hugely immoral things, but nothing prepares you for Bryan Cranston’s chameleon-like transformation. He is perfect as the chemistry teacher on the edge. He balances desperate and deceptive so well and is so compelling to watch. As the season goes on we watch him kill people, deal drugs, lie to his pregnant wife and manipulate those around him. At no point are we against him though. At no point do we want Walter White to fail, in fact we are constantly on his side and it’s testament to Vince Gilligan’s writing and Cranston’s acting.
He is ably supported though and I feel sorry for Aaron Paul, who plays Walter’s partner in crime Jessie, because in any other show he would be the best character and actor in it. One of the key parts of the show is the relationship between the two central characters, which goes from hatred to mutual respect and reliance. Some of the best scenes are the desperate double-headers between the two and its the first few episodes, as the pair try to dispose of two bodies, that shape not only their characters but also the series as a whole.
It’s that dark tone of the whole series that adds the extra element. Not many shows go as dark and mature as quickly as this does. It doesn’t need any graphic scenes or shocking language; the theme of the show and the depths the characters are willing to go out of desperation is enough to give it an edge. It makes for absolutely compelling viewing. It’s a show built from dread. Just as you think Walter and Jessie may be ok, the show adds another twist or another element that piles on the pressure for the pair. You know they will probably get themselves out of the situation, but the cost to their lives and those of the people around them is what keeps you interested.
I haven’t seen a show as “must-see” as Breaking Bad in a long time. Not since The Sopranos or The Wire have I watched a show that I am desperate to see the next episode of as the credits on the current episode roll. Add to this a season cliffhanger and the introduction of a new character late on in the series that increases the tension further, and you have the makings for one of the best shows on television
Overall, Breaking Bad is one of the best shows on television. It has a perfect first season. The characters developed are interesting and change in such dramatic ways that you have to continue watching. The story is brilliant, unpredictable and tension-filled, making for compelling viewing. Add two of the best performances on television and you have a series that, if it builds on the strong foundations it’s already laid, can only get better.
Best Episode – Crazy Handful of Nothin’: An episode that demonstrates the full transformation of Walter. It opens with a fantastic scene, introduces a scary new character and ends in one of the coolest ways.
Best performance – Bryan Cranston as Walter White
Should there have been another season? – Yes, without a doubt. I can’t see enough of this show at the moment.
Season Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)