Breaking Bad: Season One Movie Review
You've never seen a television drama like Breaking Bad, cable network AMC's second foray into original drama (following the groundbreaking Mad Men). And while the pitch-black landscape of southwestern meth manufacturing will never have the glitzy appeal of Mad Men's 1960s Madison Avenue, Breaking Bad still demonstrates the promise of cable's new model. Aiming for a niche audience has taken all the riskiness out of "creative risks," and filmed entertainment is the richer for it.
Walter (Bryan Cranston) was once a promising medical researcher, but compromises reduced him to teaching chemistry to bored Albuquerque high schoolers. Money is always tight, of course. To support his pregnant stay-at-home wife and his disabled son, he moonlights at a car wash across town. Worst of all, he drives a Pontiac Aztek. Even Walter's birthday party is an exercise in minor emasculations.
Just when Walter's fate seems irreparably grim, his doctor informs him that his persistent cough is actually lung cancer, stage three, inoperable. And Walter never even smoked.
Life deals ugly cards to everyone eventually. But a man has to provide for his family, even after he's dead and gone. And if that means cooking and wholesaling meth, so be it.
Determination born of desperation fuels Cranston's stunning lead performance, which earned him a deserved but still surprising Emmy. Fans of Fox's long-running Malcolm in the Middle appreciated Cranston's loveably hapless and vulnerable dad Hal, but they'll barely recognize the hapless and vulnerable Walter, especially after he transforms from henpecked mid-lifer to amoral drug manufacturer.
Upon coming to terms with his impending death, Walter decides to keep his cancer a secret from his family until he can figure out how to leave a financial legacy. He catches a whiff of meth's profitability from his DEA agent brother-in-law, and soon Walter is teaming up with Jesse (Aaron Paul), a failed ex-student of his who has turned to dealing to support his own drug habits.
Walter's chemistry expertise produces nearly perfect crystal, which attracts large quantities of cash from Albuquerque's most violent men. Walter and Jesse soon find themselves thrust into an ugly underworld that suits neither of them, but Jesse at least knows when to be afraid. Through their travails, their partnership grows only more strained and uneasy, whether they're flipping a coin to decide who has to kill a psychopathic dealer, or planning a theft of raw materials to expand their operations.
The persistent tension owes much to the creative direction of Vince Gilligan, one of the primary writers of The X-Files. While Breaking Bad doesn't feature any UFOs, it is assuredly about a man trying to find his place in an alien world. And it also builds an improbably hilarious joke around splattered human remains.
Because of the 2008 writers' strike, Gilligan was forced to compact a lot of story into a mere seven episodes. Emotionally gripping and always deliriously dark, Breaking Bad offers further evidence that some of the most compelling and original filmed entertainment will never appear on the big screen at all.
Don't act like this has never happened to you.