My son-in-law Brett told me about the television series Breaking Bad on the AMC Cable network right after the first season. Somehow, I ended up getting the DVD of Season 1 to watch shortly before the second season and as a result, I haven’t missed a episode yet. There is a reason this show has gathered the audience and won the awards it has, which are far too numerous to mention. What I will say, is there is a very large list of critics who have listed this show as among the best ever made and in the top ten of all time. For example, this fourth season carries an approval rating of 96 out of 100 on the review aggregator website Metacritic, an unheard of rating.
To fully understand the premise of Breaking Bad, one has to go back to the first season. Walter White, played by award-winning actor Bryan Cranston, is a high-school chemistry teacher who has been diagnosed with lung cancer. In order to financially provide for his family after death he ends up making crystal meth. He teams up with former high-school student Jesse Pinkman and enters the world of selling drugs. There is an unusual working relationship that develops between the two (along with Walter’s family) where he attempts to keep all things secret from his family. That is Season 1, though, and by the time we get to Season 4, most everything has turned to hell; his wife knows what is going on and while Walt started it all off with good intentions, the viewer is fully aware that there are moral consequences for actions. While one may have good intentions, how one goes about getting to those intentions definitely has a bearing on the lives of people who may be around, whether knowing and involved with those actions or not.
More times than not, the transfer of a television series to Blu-ray just isn’t necessary due to the lower-than-normal filming qualities of the show. I don’t have the Blu-ray rendition for review but the transfer, the quality of the show, sound and look is amazing! The series is shot on 35 mm film at a reported cost of three million dollars per episode, making it among the most expensive per-episode programs on television. That cost in filming and production is obvious. From the incredible set design to the ensemble cast including its minor characters, there are as many memorable characters of any show since The Sopranos.
While one doesn’t have to watch every season to appreciate this season, as I have mentioned in other reviews, the benefit of shows like this is that they allow a period of time where characters can be developed. The creator of the show has mentioned that he doesn’t view Breaking Bad as a series with many different stories or episodes; he sees it as a single story all playing together to get to a central theme. To fully understand the plights of the characters in this film, especially Walt and Jessie, you really need to start with Season 1. That said, it isn’t as difficult as one may imagine due to the reasonable prices of the videos. (I was able to find this season online from $19.99 - $32.99, depending on whether you want DVD or Blu-ray. One can easily find earlier seasons for less than that.) While watching, the viewer will become enthralled in the characters as there are changes, twists, turns, and surprises through out the season. The intensity develops from episode to episode until the final shocking episode of Season 4.
As coarse as Breaking Bad is in its language, imagery, and adult content, it is realistic… and the coarseness of the show is needed to drive home the point that there are consequences for actions. The lovable Cranston family from Season 1 is no longer such a lovable family. Yet in the brilliance of the direction of the show we still want to root for Cranston. The viewer longs for Walt and his family to come together and get their life back. His cancer is in remission, and there is after all no way the program can continue for four seasons otherwise; but he is now stuck in this world, dealing with unsavory characters and in a life likely not imagined when he first decided to become a high-school chemistry teacher. In that life, though, we the viewers can reflect on our lives and the decisions we make.
While some may emphasize destiny or predestination as a component of life, Breaking Bad clearly drives home the concept of free will. We all make choices and those choices have a clear impact on not only our lives but the lives of others we come into contact with. Those decisions often involve eternal consequences for those around us. In regard to these concepts, Breaking Bad plays like a book out of the Old Testament. Concepts and imagery that are as real as that of Breaking Bad cause one to justifiably make the comment, “If God is a God that would cause this, or bring this to happen to someone, then how can he be a loving God?” This show, while not denying the existence of God, drives home that we make decisions and are responsible for those decisions. While the issues related to God of free-will vs. predestination is far more complicated than this analysis, the reality as a discussion starter or a place to think is that Breaking Bad clearly brings home that there are consequences for the things we do including the inappropriate things that are intended to accomplish something of value.
There are other spiritual values to Breaking Bad including the easy judgments we often place on people for the lives they live, which we may consider inappropriate or evil. Breaking Bad illustrates there are circumstances that lead people to make the decisions they do. Without a moral compass, such as God, we are on our own in making those decisions. While it doesn’t excuse the actions one makes, or the consequences, to understand the why is important because it is in the understanding and the addressing of the why that one can make a difference. For example, in the world of Walter White, a fair and appropriate medical care plan would have helped; a way to better provide for school teachers may have helped. Of course there is also the issue of poor judgment, which each person has control over, but life is more complex than many realize and ultimately, we are either in this thing called life together, hopefully with the wisdom God can provide, or we are in it alone. If in it alone, the consequences compound due to not only our actions and consequences in our own lives but also in the lives of others around us, including those we love.
I love the moral dilemma and lessons from Breaking Bad. For fans of the show the DVD is a must. Season 4 has over 13 hours of special features. There are excellent commentaries where we get some wonderful insight into filming techniques, character insights, and more. There are also some pretty entertaining features such as a Karaoke by one of the show’s characters. Fans of the show, even those who have seen each episode on television, will enjoy this DVD and it is certainly affordable.
A final note, for those that don’t know, Season 5 is reportedly the last season for Breaking Bad. I am anxiously awaiting it. I hope there is resolve, repentance, and change in the characters that allows them to get back to their lives. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out for the life of me how the lives of the Whites or others in the show can end up in a good way. There are times that outside of the eternal, the decisions we make on this earth have finality to them. There are certain laws, spiritual, physical, and societal, that once broken have consequences. It will be entertaining and thought provoking to see what finality lies in Season 5. While I hope for good, it is possible that Walter White’s decisions have an unfortunate end. Of course in that, there are lessons to learn and life examples to apply. It is one of the things that makes Breaking Bad such an outstanding, worthwhile show.
To see this review in its original form, complete with video and more, click here