One of the few programs that I've largely put on the backburner in the last few years has been Breaking Bad. It's been four years since the drama series debuted its first 7-episode season on AMC and only now am I catching up on what has been described as one of the best shows on television. On top of two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, star Bryan Cranston has gone three-for-three in Best Actor Emmys for the show, while Aaron Paul snagged a supporting win for the third season.
So I thought it would be fun, for me at least, to chronicle the series, season-by-season, while I catch up before the July 15th premiere for Season 5. Keep in mind I have no prior knowledge of any future seasons.
The series begins by introducing us to Walter White (Cranston), a 50-year old chemistry teacher with a rather mundane life. His wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), is pregnant with their second child. Their first child, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), has cerebral palsy. His family throws him a 50th birthday celebration. He's thrown a curve ball when discovering he has stage-three lung cancer. Life starts to close in on Walt. He reconnencts with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and before long, Walt is cooking crystal meth with Jesse, using his knowledge in chemistry to create the best meth money can buy.
Before long, Jesse's attempts to sell the meth lead the dealers back to their run-down RV in the desert, where Walt, in only his underwear, is cooking the meth. Walt senses the dealers are about to kill him and Jesse, and he poisons them in the RV with the poisonous fumes. This leads us back to the opening scene in the pilot, a pantsless Walt pointing a gun at oncoming sirens in the desert, which ends up being firefighters responding to a fire. This leaves Walt and Jesse with two presumed dead drug dealers. Of course, one isn't dead.
And so begins Breaking Bad.
The twists and turns created by Vince Gilligan (known best for his days as a writer on The X-Files) are phenomenal in the first season. Once Walt and Jesse find out that one of the drug dealers, Krazy-8, is still alive, barely, they have to do what seems impossible, especially for a middle-aged father with lung cancer: they have to finish the job. Jesse must dispose of the other body, which involves putting the body in acid, while it's Walt's job to kill Krazy-8. Once Walt puts a back story to Krazy-8, he has second thoughts. It's not until he realizes the drug dealer with a new lease on life is waiting to stab and kill Walt that Walt realizes what has to be done. He kills Krazy-8. He has opened the gateway to a hell he's never experienced before. He is a murderer and a drug dealer. The clock is ticking.
Enough can't be said for the acting abilities of the entire cast. Up top, Bryan Cranston is playing the part that will define his career. He has amassed a grand total of awards for playing Walter White and deservedly so. It almost serves as a lifetime achievement award for an actor who has stolen scenes on Seinfeld, Malcolm in the Middle and The X-Files, among other programs. His partner-in-crime, Jesse, is played with arrogant bravado by Aaron Paul. For lack of a less-pompous description, the two men escape into their roles, creating unique with multiple dimensions. Walter is a typical boring dad until cancer and drugs consume his life and force him to live on the edge. Jesse is a ne'er-do-well twentysomething reject in need of stability in his life.
Once things get cooking, so to speak, Walt and Jesse set up with a new buyer: Tuco (Raymond Cruz). Walt's condition is deteriorating and he needs to make big cash fast for his family before he leaves them behind with pennies. The thing is, Tuco is a psychopath with a short fuse. He's willing to turn on anybody to get ahead... or to just prove his point. In the closing minutes of the finale, Tuco beats down one of his associates for making an off-handed remark, leaving the young man bloodied and unconscious. It's only then that Walt and Jesse realize how deep the waters are now. They'll have to swim fast to keep afloat in the world of methamphetamines.
Many little scenes in the first season stand out, especially those involving the chemistry between Walt and Jesse. When they're together, it plays like a buddy (running-from-the) cop comedy, especially in a scene where they steal a barrel of methylamine from a guarded warehouse. Equally fun are the scenes in which Walt and Skyler try to understand each other and move forward with their lives in the wake of Walt's death sentence.
And to make all matters worse (and more interesting), Walt's brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), is a DEA agent. Talk about playing with fire.
Season 1 serves more like a prologue to the series; a prequel, if you will. It doesn't serve as much more than an introduction to all key characters and plotlines. But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. It's one of the most involving series to come to television in a while, which makes sense coming from the network that is bringing us Mad Men and The Walking Dead.
Be sure to check out my further dissections of Breaking Bad with my take on Season 2, as well as a preview to the Primetime Emmy Awards.
Until then, stay tuned.