Sony // 2013 // 385 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // December 19th, 2013
"The special love I have for you, my baby blue."
One of television's most exciting dramas comes to a close on Blu-ray with the release of Breaking Bad: The Final Season -- the accurate if confusing name for what was originally called the second half of the show's fifth season. Over five-ish seasons, show creator Vince Gilligan and an all-star team brought to shocking life the story of chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his tortured protégé Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
Since I was crazy about avoiding spoilers when I watched the show, I offer this warning: while I will avoid specifics for these episodes, references to previous seasons are fair game. Really, though, if you are reading this without having seen any of the seasons just stop and watch the show.
Breaking Bad: The Final Season has eight episodes across two discs:
* "Blood Money"
* "Rabid Dog"
* "Granite State"
The end of Breaking Bad's fourth season marked a turning point in Walter White's bloody rise to meth overlord. With his competition eliminated, Walt grabbed power with his trademark mix of ego, smarts, and poor decision-making. As Season Five came to a close, it looked like all the violence and emotional turmoil had been worth it. Walter White appeared to have gotten away with it. Then his DEA brother-in-law ruined it all by having to use the bathroom.
One of Breaking Bad's strengths over its first four seasons was the writers' meticulous approach to Walt and Jesse's antics -- beginning with the pilot episode, which ended with the pair using chemistry to off a rival drug dealer and save themselves. Most shows would have let the meth MacGyver triumphant moment stand, then jump ahead to a wacky new adventure in episode two. Instead, Breaking Bad's second episode picked up where the first left off, with Walt and Jesse cleaning up their murderous mess. The strict approach set the template for rest of the series, with the writers following every lie, every decision, every act of violence to its conclusion -- creating a polished series that always played straight with the characters and the audience.
Beginning with Season Five, the show's timeline accelerated. Whether because the focus shifted, or Vince Gilligan realized they only had 16 episodes to wrap up the story, the pace quickened, building to a season finale montage that leapt forward a few months, glossing over the specifics of Walt leaving his meth-cooking career behind. This Final Season moves at a more consistent pace than the fifth season, but these eight last episodes operate in the same hurry-up mode. The showdown set up by the previous season finale happens quicker than expected. Even so, there's a lot to pack in so the story can catch up to the flash-forward teaser from the fifth season premiere. I'll leave it up to fans to argue whether that cold open -- which found future Walt with a full head of hair, a New Hampshire driver's license, and a massive machine gun -- was worth the effort it took the writers to fit it all into this last season. The end result is too damn compelling to care. The foreknowledge allows for some of the best moments in the season, including the heart-wrenching climax of the Rian Johnson-directed "Ozymandias" -- one of the show's best episodes -- and a series finale that sticks the landing.
Most great TV shows do one thing really well: plot twists, character development, sharp dialogue, or cinematography. Breaking Bad is one of the very few that's great at everything. It's a show full of jaw-dropping twists that's not afraid to pause so a character can deliver a five-minute monologue. It focuses on the small things as well as the big things, and more often than not those small things snowball into big things -- not because it's convenient but because it's believable. This Final Season has all the things that make the show great, packed into a tight eight episode arc and delivered by actors who fully inhabit these characters. While Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul get the most (well-deserved) attention, this season also features exceptional work by Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, and Betsy Brandt -- with special commendation to Anna Gunn and Dean Norris. As Skyler and Hank, they were both criticized in early seasons as flat characters, but this final season makes up for it as Gunn and Norris are given a lot of emotional heavy lifting, playing people pushed to the extremes on either side of Walt's mad crime spree.
Breaking Bad: The Final Season on Blu-ray highlights Gilligan and his team's dedication to quality and attention to detail. The 1.78:1 1080p image is razor sharp, showing off every new wrinkle in Walt's face and his plans, equally strong in scenes set in dark night and sun-bleached day; in the deserts of New Mexico or snowy New England. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix delivers blockbuster intensity compared to most TV dramas' paltry sound. While the mix favors the front speakers, rear channels are put to good use for music, effects, and this season's many heavy weapon shootouts.
This Final Season also bests most TV sets in the quantity and quality of bonus features. Breaking Bad fans are an obsessive group (I should know), and there are plenty of insights and information to satisfy lingering curiosities. This set includes:
* Cast and crew commentaries on every episode, with appearances by Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, RJ Mitte, Laura Fraser, Robert Forster, producer Melissa Bernstein, writer Sam Catlin, sound editor Nick Forshager, writer Peter Gould, writer Gennifer Hutchison, producer Stewart Lyons, director Michelle MacLaren, producer George Mastras, producer Diane Mercer, composer Dave Porter, writer Thomas Schnauz, and writer Moira Walley-Beckett.
* "Blood Money Table Read" (41:28): The season's lone table read, of the premiere episode.
* "Walt's Confession" (6:13): Walt's "confession" tape is even more diabolical in this full version.
* "Jesse Pinkman Evidence Tape" (4:57): Longer edit of Jesse's confession, covering several of White and Pinkman's worst hits.
* "The Layers of a Sound Mix" (5:39): The opening text explains how this featurette breaks down the sound mix of a "Blood Money" scene into its three main components: production audio, music, and sound effects.
* "Ozymandias Trailer" (1:10): Moody desert imagery under a reading from Shelley's classic poem creates a memorable trailer for this season's high point.
* "The Main Event" (14:24): A detailed look at filming a major character's exit from the show.
* "The Final Showdown" (10:01): The story of how they figured out how to use the machine gun they wrote into the cold open of the Season Five premiere comes down to squibs, squibs, and more squibs.
* "Life of a Show Runner" (9:36): A featurette dedicated to Vince Gilligan's many talents.
* "Alternate Ending" (3:39): Fair warning: this probably isn't the alternate ending you wanted, but it's still fun.
* "Alternate Ending -- Behind the Scenes" (5:06): How a throwaway idea on set became a Blu-ray extra.
* "Fire in the Hole: M60 Test Footage" (1:01): If you show a gun in Act One, it's going to get a dedicated bonus feature here.
* "Inside Breaking Bad" featurettes for every episode: "Blood Money" (6:42), "Buried" (9:04), "Confessions" (6:45), "Rabid Dog" (7:25), "To'Hajiilee" (7:27), "Ozymandias" (7:25), "Granite State" (8:01), and "Felina" (9:47).
* Deleted and Extended Scenes: for "Buried" (1:33), "Confessions" (2:40), "Rabid Dog" (2:32), and "Granite State" (2:41) -- with a bonus scene for "Felina" presented in script form.
* Gag Reel (6:17)
* "Breaking Bad Mythbusters Special" (42:37): For now, at least, this Blu-ray set comes packaged with a standalone Blu-ray (in a paper sleeve) with the Mythbusters episode dedicated to testing two of the show's famous first season moments: dissolving a body (and bathtub), and Walt's mercury fulminate bomb.
While it's tough to see a great show end, it was a joy to watch Breaking Bad bring one of TV's most compelling stories to a close. Vince Gilligan and his writers packed a lot into these final eight episodes, sending Walter, Jesse, Skyler, Hank, Marie, Saul, and the rest of the characters who survived the first five seasons on one last, thrilling ride. Some may argue that the series peaked a couple of episodes prior to the finale, but the gut-punch of "Ozymandias" does nothing to diminish the feat of creating a closing episode worthy of the 61 that came before it -- a satisfying finale that's equal parts tragic and triumphant. This Breaking Bad: The Final Season Blu-ray set softens the blow of losing the series with hours of fun and fascinating bonus features and a top-notch presentation.
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 385 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Table Read
* Gag Reel
* Bonus Episode
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Download
* Official Site
* Facebook Page