Judge Clark Douglas once tried producing some crystal meth pop rocks. Yeah, that was a bad idea.
Our reviews of Breaking Bad: The Complete First Season (published February 16th, 2009), Breaking Bad: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published March 17th, 2010), Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season (published March 24th, 2010), Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season (published June 7th, 2011), and Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray) (published June 5th, 2012) are also available.
The end justifies the extreme.
"I'm not sure who that was yesterday, but it wasn't me."
Facts of the Case
Walter White (Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle) is a high school chemistry teacher who has been diagnosed with cancer. The doctors estimate that unless there's some sort of miracle, Walt only has a year or so left to live. Walt isn't exactly in great financial shape, and he's worried about leaving his wife (Anna Gunn, Deadwood) and son (RJ Mitte) behind with a large pile of bills and expenses. In the first season, Walt determined that he would use his knowledge of chemistry to produce and sell crystal meth. To do this, he partnered with a former student named Jesse (Aaron Paul, The Last House on the Left) and went into business with a dangerous thug named Tuco (Raymond Cruz, The Closer). Meanwhile, Walt must do what he can to stay clear of the law. This is a particularly difficult challenge for Walt, as his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris, The Heartbreak Kid) is a DEA Agent.
As Season Two begins, the collaboration between Walt, Jesse, and Tuco goes south very quickly. Walt and Jesse soon find themselves working on their own, attempting to build their own crystal meth empire rather than relying on others to help them out. As the season progresses, the risks get greater, Walt's relationship with his wife gets worse, the financial troubles keep piling up, Jesse starts to feel increasingly paranoid and the DEA starts to get wind of Walt's activities as his infamous "blue crystal" becomes increasingly popular. There's no question that Walt has already broken bad in a lot of ways…but how much further is he willing to go in order to reach his goal? Will he lose his family in the process? For that matter, will he lose his soul?
The 13 second-season episodes are spread across three Blu-ray discs:
The first few episodes of Season Two are every bit as good as the episodes from Season One. The rest of the season is even better. That's really saying something when you consider just how good the first season was. To watch the second season of Breaking Bad is a fascinating, gutwrenching experience: the show simultaneously grows bolder in terms of what it attempts to accomplish and more accomplished in terms of its structure and craftsmanship. This is a season that plunges our characters into some dark, intensely uncomfortable territory. I can't remember watching a program that managed to put a knot in my stomach on such a regular basis.
In the first season, there were quite a few moments in which the viewer was able to identify with the plight of Walter White. Sure, what he was doing was dangerous and illegal, but he was attempting to provide for his family. This season, Walt's behavior becomes increasingly difficult to justify as he continues to dismiss more ethical options and allows significant moral compromises to become a part of his everyday routine. The character is really permitted to evolve in a fairly dramatic way over the course of the season, as he moves further and further away from being "Walter White, Chemistry Teacher" and closer to becoming the famed, stone-cold "Heisenberg" (as he is known on the streets). Before long, the collateral damage of Walt's actions seems to heavily outweigh any potential rewards. Cranston captures this personal evolution in a manner that's truthful and genuinely frightening; all of the praise the actor has received is richly deserved.
While Walt's personal journey is at the core of the program, the show handles all of its supporting characters and subplots in an equally complex and compelling way. The blustery Hank is fleshed out in remarkable ways this season, as he starts to feel in over his head after getting a promotion and moving into a riskier job. Anna Gunn continues to masterfully avoid ever become the clichéd "frustrated wife," creating a character with a lot of dimension and taking proactive measures to prevent Walt's secretive actions from ruining her life. Aaron Paul's essay in misery rings remarkably true throughout the season, particularly during some heated personal exchanges he shares with Walt and his disapproving parents. The season is also blessed with strong supporting turns from Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show) as a sleazy lawyer, Krysten Ritter (27 Dresses) as Jesse's new friend/girlfriend, John De Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as the girl's father and Danny Trejo (Heat) as an aging DEA informant.
The season is also overflowing with superb, suspense-filled set pieces. Consider the violent negotiations that occur between Jesse and a pair of junkies during "Peekaboo," or the nerve-rattling scene involving an old mute man and his dinner bell during "Grilled." And what about the abundance of memorable images to be found in this season? I'll never forget the garish image of the burned pink stuffed animal with a missing eyeball that opens the first episode and appears periodically throughout the remainder of the season, leading up to that bewildering finale that plunges the show into meta-textual territory only casually flirted with before. How about the grill in a plastic case? Or the tortoise? Or the image of a character wandering naked through a grocery store? Or the look that crosses Walt's face when he's forced to make a grave decision?
The show always looked a little less glossy than most programs during the HD television broadcasts, but that has everything to do with the artistic intentions of the filmmakers. The show has a rather consistent sheen of grain throughout, along with slightly desaturated colors that amp up the grit and grime of the proceedings. Detail is solid, blacks are nice and deep (on a semi-related note, I loved Jesse's exclamation that his new television, "Makes the blacks like, uh, totally more black, yo, and I got the Dolby 6-point whatever surround stuff…") and flesh tones are accurate. The show isn't a visual knockout, but it looks quite stellar in HD. Audio is very strong; one of the strongest television mixes I've heard, in fact. The action scenes are genuinely explosive, sound design is complex and immersive, and the insinuating score weaves through your speakers with strength and clarity.
The reasonably generous batch of supplements is spread across the three discs, with the largest chunk of them residing on the third disc. The menus are a bit cumbersome to navigate, as every disc menu looks exactly the same and offers the same options. Basically, if you're on disc one and click on an extra that happens to be on disc three, you get a notice saying, "Please insert Disc 3." Anyway, here's what you get:
• Audio Commentaries: Four episodes are blessed with audio commentaries, which feature the likes of creator Vince Gilligan, actors Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt and John De Lancie, writer Peter Gould and cinematographer Michael Slovis.
• Inside Breaking Bad: 13 making-of featurettes are offered under this category, each one digging into a specific episode. These are reasonably engaging, but they tend to be a bit clip-heavy. They run about 3-4 minute each.
• Behind the Scenes: A collection of brief featurettes on a variety of subjects. These play like promotional pieces created for use on AMC, though I can't be absolutely certain of that. The following featurettes are included: "The Cast on Season 2," "Season 2—What's in a Name?," "Making of Negro y Azul Music Video," "The Tortoise Scene," "A Look Ahead," "The Special Effects," "The Props," "The Sets," "Locked in the Trunk," "Inside the RV with Aaron Paul" and "The Crew."
• Deleted Scenes: There are some deleted scenes included alongside most of the episodes, which can be accessed either from the special features menu on each disc or the individual episode menu.
• The Writer's Lab—An Interactive Guide to the Elements of 'ABQ': This is a reasonably engaging BD-exclusive feature that allows the viewer to navigate through a series of screens breaking down the creation and structure of an episode.
• "Better Call Saul" Commercial: The complete version of the commercial seen in the show.
• Cop Talk with Dean Norris: A handful of brief scenes in which the actor talks with cops about cop stuff. Mildly engaging.
• Walt's Warning: A quick discussion of the viral marketing campaign for the show.
• Breaking Bad Webisodes: These six original "minisodes" (adding up to about 22 minutes total) are very enjoyable, dialogue-heavy short films that indulge in some moments that might be too slightly goofy for inclusion in the actual show…actually a couple of them would be way too goofy for the actual show, but they're delightful nonetheless. The minisodes featuring Hank are simultaneously hilarious and disturbing.
• Gag Reel: The usual collection of giggles and blown lines.
• Season 3 Sneak Peek: A 2-minute scene from the third season.
This isn't sock-folding television. It's a show that demands your full time and attention; a bleak and bitterly funny journey into darkness that boasts some of the most nuanced and fully-realized performances to be found on the small screen in recent years. For all of its dark drama, it's also an addictive, entertaining experience that will undoubtedly cause many viewers to plow through these thirteen episodes in no time at all. In an era that has been very good for television, Breaking Bad has quickly established itself as one of the strongest dramas in the medium. The second season is a magnificent achievement; here's hoping that the seasons to follow can meet the same standard.
Walt's guilt increases every day, but the show is most definitely not
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