A couple of months before the most recent Christmas, I had mentioned to my dad that I was interested in watching the TV show Breaking Bad. I had read nothing but great things about the show, and Bryan Cranston had won like three straight Emmy’s for his portrayal of its main character. Lo and behold, when I woke up that Christmas morning, I had the first two seasons of it under my Christmas tree. Within like two weeks, I had watched both seasons in their entirety. It was one of the freshest and most entertaining dramas to come on cable since Battlestar Galactica, and Bryan Cranston quickly jumped over Terry O’Quinn (Lost‘s John Locke) as the most talented leading man on television. While the third season (the one I’m reviewing right now) falls prey to some fairly significant dragging out of plots and several filler episodes that keep it from reaching the magic of the first two seasons, it’s still pretty spectacular TV programming.
For those of you unfamiliar with the basic premise of Breaking Bad, it is as follows. Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that he has terminal lung cancer and only has a few months to live. Walter wants to be able to provide for his family, even after he is gone, and so he decides to start manufacturing crystal meth. Since Walter at one point worked on a team that won a Nobel Prize in chemistry, he soon discovers that the meth he makes is far superior to anything else on the market. He enlists the help of a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and together they navigate the underworld. The tension of the series is formed from both the fact that neither Walter nor Jesse really have it in them to be criminals and that Walter’s brother-in-law is a DEA agent, and unbeknownst to him, Walt becomes his actual main target and obsession.
The third season picks off days after the end of season 2. Walt’s wife, Skylar (Anna Gunn) has left him because she has discovered that he is a drug dealer. Walt’s cancer is in remission. Walt is dealing with the guilt and depression of both his wife leaving him and being responsible for a catastrophic plane crash that was fairly directly caused by his actions. Jesse is fresh out of rehab and trying to remain clean. They have just pulled off the sell of their career that netted both Walt and Jesse half a million dollars each thanks to dealing with the mysterious, Gustav, a consummately professional and mysterious crime lord. The first 5 episodes of the show chronicle Walt’s attempts to leave the meth game and salvage what remains of his family life while Jesse wants to get back into the game while maintaining his sobriety and his sense of guilt at the accidental overdose death of his girlfriend Jane.
I can’t begin to say enough amazing things about the acting on this show. Before Breaking Bad, I primarily knew Bryan Cranston as Tim Watley on Seinfeld, as in Jerry’s dentist. I knew he had been on Malcolm in the Middle as well but I never watched this show. However, over the course of three seasons of this show, Bryan Cranston gives in every single episode of the series a masters class on amazing acting. I don’t know if Walter White is one of the best TV characters of all time but Bryan Cranston quickly became one of the best TV actors of all time alongside James Gandolfini and Ian McShane. His transformation over the show’s three seasons is just a site to behold. Aaron Paul, while initially grating and abrasive in the first two seasons, also delivers a stand up, knock-out performance in the show’s third season. These two deserve every award and accolade that is thrown at them because in terms of acting, this show is in a league of its own.
The first two seasons were sky-rocketed to greatness on an impeccable sense of pacing and timing. While character development was still key and the foundation of the entire series, every episode was filled to the rim with tension, surprise, twists, and shocks. I would end up watching three or four more episodes than I planned to in one day because I simply had to know what happens next. The first five episodes of season 3 suffer from being so much slower than their predecessors. Walt’s journey back into cooking meth is just dragged out way too long. The show’s at its best when the dynamic cooking duo of Walt and Jesse are together and finding themselves in one scrape after another. It’s not at its best moping for five straight episodes and licking past seasons wounds. The show definitely picks up by the end of this season, but these five episodes are unfortunately slow.
I would normally have reviewed the first season of this show first but my dad and I are currently watching the third season. I’ve seen it already, but he hadn’t. I want to preserve my thoughts for posterity’s sake, since that’s the whole point of this blog in the first place. If you’re reading this and haven’t seen the other two seasons, I highly recommend that you check them out and I apologize that I ruined any of the plot, but I did give you a spoiler’s alert.
Score in Progress: B+