The relationship between Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) begins to fray. Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) hatches a plan to ensure Jesse will remain part of the operation. Skyler (Anna Gunn) struggles with financial mishaps. Hank (Dean Norris) believes heís discovered a new lead on the meth manufacturer known as Heisenberg. Marie (Betsy Brandt) returns to an old habit. And two long-simmering feuds finally come to an explosive head.
I donít really have anything new to say. Pretty much everything I have to say about Breaking Bad was already said in my review of Season Three. Just take that review and insert the word ďstillĒ every so often.
This is still one of the best shows currently being broadcast. Itís still one of the best shows ever to be broadcast. Itís still an exceptional piece of work. Itís still consistently smart and surprising (which is why Iím not going to get into specifics [some of what follows does spoil things from earlier seasons, though, so anyone who hasnít seen the first three seasons should stop reading and go watch them]).
Itís still an amazing combination of character study, drama, suspense, and jet-black humor. Iím still in awe of how it manages to do what it does so well. And Iím still kicking myself for waiting so long to start watching it.
Copyright © Ursula Coyote/AMC
What you have here is the showís penultimate season. Season Five is scheduled to begin airing in July of this year, and itís to be split into two mini-seasons, with eight episodes airing during each. You never know whatís coming with this show, but I really have no idea what to expect from the final act.
This seasonís finale is one of the most upset-the-apple-cart pieces of storytelling youíll encounter in any medium. Ten minutes before it ends thereís a moment that left me stunned--my mouth agape, my mind racing. Imagine my surprise when an even more shocking moment came at the very end. The last shot of this season--the camera slowly, steadily isolating an innocuous-looking object--is a mind-f**k of epic proportions. There couldnít be a more perfect ending for the season. It answers one question, raises a thousand more, causes you to reexamine earlier events, makes you wonder what in the world is coming next, and makes you wish you didnít have to wait to find out. Thatís perfect storytelling.
Creator Vince Gilligan and his collaborators continue to expertly combine the written with the filmed, creating one of the best examples of a visual novel. The rhythm of Breaking Bad is more akin to what youíll find in the written word, but the visuals are never less than cinematic. You get long dialogue scenes, but you also get David Lean-esque shots (told you I didnít have anything new to say) that require you to hunt for the important figure or object. The pace slows down to allow for asides and small character moments, but spurts of violence are often frenzied and chaotic. Gilligan and his cohorts simply know what to do at any given moment. Whatever it takes to achieve the desired effect, thatís what gets done.
Some key pieces of the seriesí backstory are revealed this season. Thereís an extended flashback to Gusís initial involvement with the cartel, and we get to see what poisoned that relationship. This part of the story contains its own share of surprises, which I wouldnít dare spoil. So why am I bringing it up? Because I was happy to see Steven Bauer playing the head of the cartel; seems only fair Manny Ribera would eventually get his own drug empire.
As I said earlier, I have no idea whatís coming in Season Five, but I doubt Breaking Bad will suddenly morph into a Capra flick. Iím sure whatever is coming will be epic (and I mean that in three or four senses of the word), and Iím sure it will be painful, dark, irrevocable, and inevitable. I likened the last season to a lit fuse that is inching toward a boom.
This season provides a boom (a couple, actually), but it now looks as if the proverbial fuse is tied to several more fuses, and that next season will be a series of booms. Itís not going to be pretty, it wonít be easy, and no one will emerge unscathed or unchanged; itíll be just as messy and real as what has come before. And if the quality matches what everyone involved has so far worked so hard to achieve, Breaking Bad will go down as one of televisionís greatest achievements.
Copyright © Ben Leuner/AMC
Note: As was the case with Season Threeís Blu-ray release, some of the episodes here are presented in uncensored form, featuring language and sexual content a little too extreme for basic cable. Also, the cut of the season finale included here runs four or five minutes longer than the broadcast version.
The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio; the 1080p transfers have been encoded with AVC, and this seasonís thirteen episodes are spread across three 50GB discs.
The video presentation isnít quite as strong as that of Season Four, but itís still in the upper range of what you generally get from Blu-ray presentations of television series. The most severe problem here is banding; this season features a number of time-lapse transitions, and colors in the horizon tend to band as the sky darkens/lightens. Moirť is also noticeable on a few occasions.
On the plus side, the decision to shoot the series on film once again benefits the presentation. Grain provides texture, black levels are strong, thereís a good illusion of depth in the image, and the visuals are smooth and detailed. The expansive color palette looks excellent; hues run the gamut here, and the encode never falters in reproducing them.
The sole audio option is a series of English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. The sound design once again makes that of most TV shows sound amateurish, approaching the level of what youíd expect from a big-budget feature. Relentlessly active when called for, pin-drop quiet when it needs to be, the mix is consistently convincing and immersive.
Dialogue always sounds excellent, retaining a natural quality throughout. Effects (including some very realistic gunfire), atmosphere, and ambient sounds fit into the mix perfectly. Dave Porterís terrific music sounds great. The low end is deep and tight, at times ridiculously so. (Prime example: Jesse blows some of his money on one of those high-end sound systems that double as a lightshow and proceeds to disgrace it with Flava Flavís ďUnga Bunga Bunga,Ē which thumps like mad.)
Copyright © Ursula Coyote/AMC
English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available. (Note: There appears to be a player-related issue with the subtitles. There are scenes here where much of the dialogue is in Spanish, and some players arenít triggering the English subtitles for these scenes. One of my players did, one didnít. If yours doesnít, youíll have to activate/deactivate them with your remote.)
Every episode gets a commentary track. You get a good mix of participants, including Gilligan, members of the main cast, producers, writers, and directors. These tracks are well worth sampling.
Deleted, extended, and alternate scenes (24 minutes total, SD) are spread across all three discs. Thereís nothing substantial in any of them (had there been, it undoubtedly would have been reinstated), but theyíre still worth a look.
A gag reel (5 minutes, SD) offers the expected collection of flubs, screw-ups, etc.
Twenty-one installments of Inside Breaking Bad (82 minutes total, HD) are also included. As before, these short (they run an average of roughly four minutes) making-of pieces focus either on one specific episode or one specific aspect of the showís production (set design, stunts, etc.).
ďFace OffĒ: Inside the Explosive Finale (23 minutes, HD) offers a rather thorough look at the planning and execution of one of the aforementioned mind-f**k moments from the season finale.
The Sets of Breaking Bad (9 minutes, HD) offers a look at the design and construction of a few of the showís key sets.
Superlab Tour (3 minutes, HD) is a guided tour of the lab set.
The White House (4 minutes, HD) is a guided tour of Hank and Skylerís home.
The Invisible Driver (4 minutes, HD) offers a look at the stuntwork used in a car crash from this seasonís sixth episode.
The Real Family of Breaking Bad (4 minutes, HD) is a compilation of behind-the-scenes footage shot by the cast and crew.
Cast Chemistry (6 minutes, HD) focuses on Walt and Jesse, dipping into their relationship, the changes the characters have undergone, and Cranstonís and Paulís performances.
Color Me Bad (5 minutes, HD) explores how set design, location work, costuming, and other visual components are used to enhance the showís mood.
The Science of a Hit Show (6 minutes, HD) is a chat with creator Vince Gilligan, who discusses the showís initial conception and its evolution over the course of its four seasons.
You also get a couple more Better Call Saul commercials (2 minutes, HD).
One episode includes a snippet of Gale Boetticher--the David Costabile-portrayed character who was murdered by Jesse in the climax of Season Three--performing a karaoke version of one-hit-wonder Peter Schillingís ďMajor Tom (Coming Home).Ē Click on Galeís Karaoke Video (4 minutes, HD) and youíll be treated to the full performance.
Exclusive to this Blu-ray set is a series of video podcasts (130 minutes, HD). Thereís one for each episode, and various members of the cast and crew chime in with their thoughts.
Why canít all television shows be this good?
Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray Review