Breaking Back: A season-by-season retrospective (Page 1 of 5).

The voyage of Walter White is one of the greatest character arcs to ever occur on television. And, Breaking Bad is one of the most intriguing and compelling shows on TV. With its final episodes on the horizon, it is also one of the most anticipated finales in television history (at least cable television history).

[Related Article: Life After Breaking Bad]

Bryan Cranston stars as Walter White and has evolved into a marvelously dramatic actor. Cranston, a long-time actor, was probably previously best known for his comedic role as the patriarch, Hal, in the series Malcolm in the Middle. Initially, it was difficult to imagine Cranston in this role. But any concerns were quickly put to rest after one episode.

With that, let’s take a look at five seasons (well, four and half) of Breaking Bad.

Note: This article does assume familiarity with the show and does contain a few (limited) spoilers.

And, of course, while Breaking Bad is all good and fun, it does cover some serious issues. You can find support for meth addicts here.

Continue on for the Season-by-Season Reviews:

A Review and Look at Season 1

The premise is simple enough. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  And, yes, he believes he is going to die. Unfortunately, Walt has not left much in the way of financial security for his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), and son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) so he decides he must figure out a way to leave a legacy behind for his family. His answer: to manufacture and sell methamphetamine.

Once an elite scientist, Walt manufactures an extremely pure form of crystal meth, identified by its blue color. The blue meth is instantly liked by those who partake and begins to build a reputation as a premier product.  To aid in his journey to the bad side, Walt enlists the help of a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who happens to have a few low level connections to help sell the product. Over the course of the season, through various trials and tribulations, Walt and Jesse find themselves with a distribution partner who can help them make more money and widen the reach of the blue meth. This new partner, Tuco (Raymond Cruz) is wild and unpredictable.

Walt must continually contend with his cancer, the effects of treatment, the drug world which he is becoming more and more a part of, his tenuous relationship with Jesse, and some interesting family relationships.  His wife, Skyler, has a sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt) who has her own set of issues. And, of course, there’s Marie’s husband, Hank (Dean Norris), a DEA agent unknowingly tracking Walt and his associates.

The season concludes with Tuco exploding in violence in front of Walt and Jesse. The two become alarmingly aware of the seed underworld to which they are now fully entwined.

Beginning with the pilot episode, Breaking Bad is immensely compelling, and, like Walter White’s blue meth, extremely addictive.

Initially, Walt’s motives are borderline altruistic.  He wants to provide for his family after he is gone, simple as that. Walt stumbles through the first season, sometimes with empathy, other times shamefully, often fearfully, and sometimes dangerously.

The family dynamic between Walt, Skyler and their cerebral palsy stricken son, Walter Jr., is captivating. Skyler and Walter Jr. desperately want to be a part of Walt’s treatment, but Walt continuously pushes them away along with anyone else who tries to help. As Walt becomes more involved in the realm of meth manufacturing, he isolates himself from those who love them the most, conflicting with this goal of taking care of and providing for them.

The relationship between Walter and Jesse is that of a surrogate, each to the other, as father and son. Often the two are at odds. Their bound, however, is not founded in love, but fueled by a drug making frenzy.

As Walt breaks from the world of the mundane, it is simultaneously easy to like and dislike him.  But it is the amazing acting of Cranston who transforms Walt into someone the viewer cares about, and roots for, even on his descent into the illegal.

Walt takes on the alter ego of Heisenberg when conducting his meth transactions. He tries to give of the persona of being dark and dangerous, but ultimately, he realizes he is barely an amateur in the sometimes lethal world now consuming his life.

Season 1 is very good with flashes of greatness.

Grade: A-


Review by Gordon Shelly, special to Influx Magazine