TV miniseries review: Breaking Bad

I succumbed. Years after the series was a hit. After the hubbub. In a moment of weakness I started to watch Breaking Bad. And then I couldn’t stop. Almost two weeks have gone by and I am in the middle of season four. Out of five. Out of sixty some episodes. Needless to say, Breaking Bad is engrossing.

The premise is a high school chemistry teacher who finds out that he has inoperable lung cancer. We see him endure humiliation. Due to the implied low salary that high school teachers get pay, he works a second job. At a car wash. And washes a car for a disrespectful student of his who laughs and shoots pictures. The mighty have fallen, the snot-nosed jock clearly thinks.

Walt (Bryan Cranston) unravels. Frustrated at his place in life. Frustrated by the privileged situation his former colleague from graduate school enjoys—a colleague who started his own business after receiving his Ph.D. and now has millions—while Walt went into teaching. Walt became determined not to leave his family, with a wife expecting, penniless. He would make sure they had enough money after he was gone.

Where would such an opportunity come from? Enter his brother-in-law who works for the DEA. Hank (Dean Norris) takes Walt along on a meth lab sting. And that chance encounter with a former student who now deals meth is all Walt needs. Walt bumbles his way through the world of meth, becoming more hardened and willingly sucked into the life of hard crime.

Often times the episodes leave me cringing, usually from the ineptitude of Walt and his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul). They stumble from bad situation to bad situation, but manage to come out ahead. Or at least alive.

The characters are fully formed, morphing and reacting to the situations around them. My allegiance is never with one but changes in response to their actions. I cheer for one character one episode, hoping for a specific outcome. I recoil, horrified at their actions and turn to another character. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is certain.

Except this is a well-crafted crime drama. The story is engaging. The acting superb. The only hiccups I have seen involve seams between camera perspectives in a single scene. From one camera angle, the actor is sitting upright.  From another, slouching. From one camera angle, Walt’s hand is on his wife’s arm. From another angle, his arm is by his side.

Be prepared for violence. And moral ambiguity as well as moral certitude. Be prepared to be sucked in. Breaking Bad is not for the faint of heart who wants to watch an episode here or there. You will become a Breaking Bad junky. How, I wonder, will I get my fix after I watch the final episode?


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