BLU-RAY REVIEW: BREAKING BAD SEASON 5

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10.25.2013

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BUY FROM AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
MSRP $65.99
RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME 374 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES
• Inside Breaking Bad
• Chris Hardwick’s All-Star Celebrity Bowling
• Gallery 1988 Art Show
• Writer’s Room Timelapse
• Gag Reel
• The Writers of Breaking Bad
• Scene by Scenes: Directors Discuss Memorable Moments
• Chick’s ‘n Guns
• Nothing Stops This Train
• The Cleaner: Jonathan Banks as Mike
• Prison Stunt Rehearsal
• Jesse Plemons Audition Footage
• Laura Fraser Audition Footage

The Pitch

Same great taste, less filling.

The Humans

Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, R.J. Mitte, Betsy Brandt, Dean Norris, Jonathan Banks, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons, Bob Odenkirk.

The Nutshell

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul return in their Emmy-winning roles of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in the fifth explosive season of Breaking Bad. With Gus Fring dead, Walt’s transformation from a well-meaning family man to ruthless drug kingpin is nearly complete. Forming a partnership with Jesse and Mike (Jonathan Banks), Walt proceeds to make a killing in the meth business until the fruits of his murderous schemes are threatened by a new development in the investigation led by his relentless brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris). Executive produced by Vince Gilligan and Mark Johnson, the fifth season charts the murderous rise of Walter White as he reaches new highs… and new lows.

The Lowdown

DISCLAIMER: This review was written well in advance of the last eight episodes of the series when the second half of season 5 was still called “Season 6″ on Amazon instead of “The Final Season”. This review is just of the first eight episodes as my downright adorable naïveté will show in the following paragraphs.

This review contains spoilers for the first four seasons of Breaking Bad. If you have not watched these episodes then why on earth are you reading this review?

The finale for season 4 wiped the slate clean for Breaking Bad. Ted Beneke was apparently killed, Gus Fring exploded and took Hector Salamanca with him, the cartel was taken care of by Gus himself, all of Walter’s White’s and Jesse Pinkman’s enemies are dead. If this were a movie, Walter’s triumphant snarl of “I won!” would be the final word.

But Breaking Bad isn’t a movie and seems to delight in the uncomfortable aftermath of such fleeting victories. Episode one picks up only a few hours after the events of season 4. It turns out that Gus Fring’s operation really needs Gus to be alive for it to work out.

An attempt to destroy evidence only uncovers more and one of Gus’ distributors, Lydia, begins sweating Gus’ “head of security” Mike about eleven of Gus’ men who are now in police custody. Meanwhile, Walt and Jesse convince Mike to help them take advantage of the power vacuum left by the collapse of Fring’s empire. Unfortunately, the DEA is hot on Mike’s trail and an event midseason causes Jesse to lose his hard-on for meth cookery.

As public opinions of DC comics soured, their attempts to appeal to an ever-dwindling fanbase grew more desperate.

My words above in the pitch section sum up my thoughts on this series as a whole. On the one hand Breaking Bad has had a tendency in the past to become bloated with unnecessary side-plots and episodes that were dead ends and added very little to the bigger picture. On the other hand, while the fat has certainly been trimmed off, season 5 feels extremely lean. This, of course, isn’t Vince Gillian and company’s fault. AMC has a finite amount of money and they’re paying the lion’s share on their period, western, and post-apocalyptic shows. I don’t think that just because Gilligan CAN tie the show up in sixteen episodes means that he necessarily WANTS to.

In contrast to the glacial pace of prior seasons, season 5 feels rushed. The quality of storytelling is in no way diminished, but plots aren’t fleshed out like they should be and many characters don’t get a chance to shine. Walt does finally tell us why he’s so bitter about Gray Matter but he’s still very vague. We’re also given no further insight into who Gustavo Fring really was or what the consequences of killing him might have on Walter down the road. The cold open of episode one showing Walt returning to Albuquerque with a new identity a year after the start of the season seem to hint that season 6 might answer these questions but they’re really going to have to go double time to tie up all the dangling plot threads in only eight more episodes.

Another issue with this season is characters. There’s just not enough time to go into all the characters in depth like the show has in the past. The first four episodes are pretty much just about Mike and the second four about Walt. Hank and Skyler dominate the b-plots of each respective arc, but the latter does little more than sulk and the former feels like he has approximately as much screen time as Saul.

Half-Life 3 confirmed!

It feels like Jesse’s barely even in this show anymore, which is really frustrating since he’s transformed into Breaking Bad’s moral compass as Walt has grown colder and more terrible. Jesse is one of the show’s best characters, and hopefully they’e saving all the good Jesse stuff for next season.

It’s good to see more Mike this season and get more into his sotry. Even if Mike’s prominence pushes others out of the spotlight it’s at least a very good story and it’s refreshing to see such a calm and cool character get into tense situations for once. That said, I get the impression that this arc was initially much longer in Gilligan’s head as many of his moments of animosity with Walt don’t quite feel as earned as they should.

Speaking of Walt, he’s pretty much the villain now. He’s a selfish, arrogant, manipulative bastard and he’s not even trying to hide it anymore. Even the times when something so horrible happen to Walt as to make you feel sympathetic for him he does something despicable to ruin it. He still has a few moments of compassion and humanity but the prospect that the series may end with his violent demise feels a lot less dreadful than it used to.

Skyler has finally dome something which should have been easy and become a sympathetic character. I could credit this to Walt’s irredeemable behavior but in truth she’s just dealing with this situation the way she should have been all along. It’s still firmly apparent that these two shouldn’t be married but at least now things are bad because Walt’s not listening and not because she isn’t talking.

I think a good part of why Walt is becoming darker is so Hank can step into the hero role. You can see Hank getting tired of the sisyphean task of keeping drugs off the street and the Walt vs. Hank showdown we’ve slowly but inevitably been moving toward is just around the corner.

“Boone’s totem wasn’t the top, it was his wedding ring! He was in the dream world the whole time!”

It seems ill-advised to introduce new characters in a season that barely has room for the ones it has. That said, Lydia is a welcome addition to the cast if only to have a female character that isn’t a wife or girlfriend. Her little tics and habits are strangely compelling and she’s an important character going forward and I’m excited about where they might take her.

Todd on the other hand is an enigma. He’s devoid of personality but I think that might be intentional. I think there’s something very bad on the horizon involving him or he might just be worthless, who knows. Jesse Plemons seems to be a decent actor but there’s just not much to Todd at all.

As for everyone else: Saul is great as usual. Marie continues to grow more sympathetic with each passing moment. Walter Jr. becomes more depressingly optimistic and his love of breakfast remains legendary. Badger and Skinny Pete unfortunately only make a small appearance, though they are great in it. Huell and that weasely red-headed guy even get some memorable screen time.

Season 5 of Breaking Bad remains of the best shows on television. It’s beautifully shot, thoughtfully written, brilliantly acted, and masterfully directed. If you’re already a fan, then that’s not going to change. Still, it’s too much stuff in too little time and though the end result is satisfying there’s a feeling that something is missing.

There’s just not enough of Gomez’s Cheshire Cat grin.

The Package

There’s a lot of special features here, more than I really expected out of eight episodes. Just about every episode has a behind the scenes and a commentary track. The commentary tracks are great in theory, but a bit of mess in practice. Vince Gilligan has a lot to say about each episode, and most of those things are interesting. But everybody else has a lot of stuff to say too and every episode has Gilligan plus one or two other writers and at least two (and as many as four) actors, which is a lot of people working to talk about things in 45 minutes. Bryan Cranston and Bob Odenkirk are the most entertaining commentators and Gilligan has the most interesting tidbits but it’s just kind of a jumble to listen to.

There’s a lot to talk about here so I’m just going to touch on the features I felt were really good. There are a series of “Inside Breaking Bad” featurettes with the writers and actors talking about where season 5 has left everyone and what’s to come.

There’s a few mildly entertaining shorts. Chris Hardwick’s All-Star Celebrity Bowling is an entertaining enough diversion and enforces my crush on Betsy Brandt. The writer’s room time lapse is a nice look into the process behind writing the show though its main source of amusement comes from how often the guy on the laptop in the foreground checks his facebook page. The Gallery 1988 Art Show involves the cast and crew going to an art show stylized around the show.

There’s a really interesting featurette on the character of Mike and how he came about as well as how Jonathan Banks came to get the part. There’s also a short detailing what was involved in the train robbery episode that’s just really interesting in how it details all the ridiculously complicated shit that’s involved with getting a train to pull up, stop, and then move on. They even interview the show’s snake wrangler who is a registered badass that just picks up a rattlesnake barehanded and shoves it in a bag.

The crown jewel of the special features is Chicks ‘n Guns. It’s a special scene filmed just for the DVD that fills an important storyline gap in the final episode of the season. It features Jesse, Skinny Pete, a stripper, and Saul. It’s a great scene and it’s a shame it wasn’t in the episode itself. My advice is to watch halfway through the final episode just until after Jesse appears and leaves the first time, then watch Chicks ‘n Guns, and then play the rest of the episode.

Rating:
★★★★★

Out of a Possible 5 Stars



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