First of all, this review is littered with spoilers. So, in order to not have a bunch of hidden text, I will preface this review with the following: if you haven’t seen this season or show…DO NOT READ! You’ve been warned.
Breaking Bad, the AMC ratings juggernaut, ended it’s 5 year run on Sunday, September 29th to rave reviews. Was it worth the emotional anguish through all 62 episodes? Check out my review below to find out what I think…
Everyone has their “jam” as far their favorite TV shows are concerned; a show that gets them emotionally attached to its characters in a way that almost feels like your on the show/living in their world. You know them, feel their pain and share in their triumphs. Breaking Bad is my jam! Now, I admit that I was late to the party. If it weren’t for Netflix, I wouldn’t even know about this spectacular show and it’s amazing cast. Once I witnessed that mostly dissolved body of a former gangster fall through the ceiling and splat on the floor, I was hooked! I watched every episode twice (I, of course, wanted my darling wife to witness this masterpiece of storytelling as well) and loved every minute. Every gut wrenching tear that was shed, pulse racing near death-experiences and impossible situations were all brilliantly acted and even more brilliantly captured. Vince Gilligan (creator and writer/director of most of the shows) made this contemporary western relevant, gritty and, at times, hilarious. His masterful camera work and outside the box thinking sets a new standard for quality in television and his vision is already bleeding over into other current shows. AMC took a chance on this chemistry teacher who “broke bad” and turned to a life of meth making to help pay for his cancer treatment bills…and the viewers wound up all the richer for the experience.
What is good drama without great acting? Not much. But in the case of Breaking Bad, standout performances were not short in supply. Bryan Cranston (of Malcolm in the Middle fame) is nothing short of brilliant in every scene that he is in. His performance of the (de)evolution of chemistry teacher, Walter White is both endearing and terrifying. He will go from bumbling dad trying to teach his son how to drive to being a frightening depiction of a drug czar in a matter of moments. Anna Gunn, who plays the role of Walt’s wife, Skylar, does a great job as well. The real triumph of acting here is that of one Aaron Paul. Paul plays former drug user/amateur meth cook turned master meth chemist. The growth of his character from punk to drug lord to emotional wreck is truly a marvel of acting. Season 5 is his Opus, however. Anyone who can appreciate acting will watch his range of emotion and just marvel at what he can do. There will be many more jobs for him in the future.
The bit players are also some of the best on TV. Dean Norris, who plays Walt’s brother-in-law Hank, does a phenomenal job on the show. His portrayal of a loud mouth DEA agent (pretty inconvenient for a secret meth cook, eh?). He comes off as brash and over-confident, but the character is quite savvy and actually…well, we’ll save that for later. Jonathan Banks plays the ultra-badass Mike to very convincing effect. Lastly, my favorite tertiary character of the show, is one Saul Goodman (better call Saul!). Saul is a sleazy lawyer who mainly deals with dirt bags and is always trying to get one over on his clients…and is the shows main source of comic relief. Bob Odenkirk dis such a great job with the character that AMC greenlit a prequel BB spinoff just for that character. Can’t wait!
Now, on to the story. The last time we saw Walt, he was celebrating his victory over the now faceless Gus Fring. We also learned that Walt is capable of some pretty insidious things in order to get what he wants, including poisoning a little boy to convince Jesse that Gus needs to die. Season 5 starts off like the others: beginning with the end and filling in the gaps over the run of the season. You see Walt, complete with bushy beard and a full head of hair, eating at a diner on his birthday. After checking the trunk of his out-of-state car for his massive automatic rifle, he takes off to his house in Albuquerque…which is now abandoned and walled off. You see him gather up the Ricin pill (from all the way back during the Tuco shenanigans) and then the story reverts back to present day.
After the whole Ted debacle, Walt is looking for some extra cash…time to cook! Walt convinces Jesse to rejoin him and Mike to handle the operations of the business. One thing is amiss however: where are they going to cook? The guys hook up with a shady pest control company named Vamanos (through connections made by Fring/Madrigal associate Lydia Rodarte-Quayle) and develop an ingenious mobile meth lab. They use this in houses that are being sprayed by Vamanos and no one is the wiser. Two problems arise, however. 1) The aren’t making any money (due to hush money being delivered to former Fring employees who are locked up…we’ll get back to them in a minute) and 2) they are running out of methlamine. Looks like it’s time for a train job!
The train robbery episode is one of my all time favorites. Walt discovers that there is a large shipment of methlamine being moved via train. With the help of Jesse, Mike, Todd (who was working with Vamanos Pest Control) and Kuby (one of Saul’s cronies) stop the train and remove the methlamine and replace it with water. The last scene is a pulse-pounding climax where the train begins moving again and the guys barely get away with the heist. Just when they think they’ve gotten off scott-free, they turn and see a boy…who Todd promptly shoots and kills. After this debacle, both Jesse and Mike call it quits.
Well, Walt still wants to cook. At this point, Walt needs the names of Gus’ ex-employees so he can get him off the payroll. Mike refuses…so he doesn’t need Mike anymore. After paying Mike his $5 million from the agreement with the super-douchey Declan (who will work distribution now) Walt confronts Mike. After a heated argument, Walt impulsively shoots and kills Mike. Walt then gets the names from Lydia and, with the help of Todd’s uncle Frank (who happens to be a former convict with ties to the Aryan Brotherhood…he’ll be a problem) orchestrates one of the most frightening scenes of any show I’ve ever seen: he kills all 12 of the informants in prison in less than 2 minutes. Walt then gets Lydia to distribute his Blue Sky meth to the Czech Republic and makes an obscene amount of money. While laundering Walt’s money, Skylar convinces Walt to permanently retire. During a family cookout, Hank reads through a copy of Leaves of Grass in Walt’s bathroom and sees the initials “W.W.” and “G.B.”. Recalling a conversation he had with Walt earlier, Hank realizes that “G.B” is Gale Boetticher (Walt’s former meth assistant under Gus) and that Walt is, in fact, the infamous Heisenberg.
Walt discovers a tracking device on his car and realizes that Hank knows his secret. He then buries his money in the desert in an attempt to secure his earnings. Meanwhile Jesse, still distraught over what he has done to get his $5mil, starts tossing cash out of his window all throughout Albuquerque; this, of course, alerts the police and he is hauled in. Lydia is still selling meth to the Czechs, but Declan and Todd’s product is not up to Heisenberg standards…so she has Declan and his crew killed. Walt then meets Jesse and convinces him to start a new life with his money. Right before Jesse leaves, he realizes that it was indeed Walt who poisoned Brock (his girlfriend’s son) and framed Gus; he then goes into a frenzied rage and attacks Saul who confesses that he knew about the Ricin pill. Jesse then goes to Hank and confesses all of Walt’s sins. Walt then contacts Uncle Jack to have a hit put on Jesse. Dum-dum-DUM!!!
Jesse calls Walt and tells him he’s going to hurt him where he lives. Walt then receives a picture text that appears to be an uncovered barrel of money. Jesse tells Walt that if he doesn’t meet him in the desert where the money is, he’s going to burn it all. Walt rushes to the site of the money, but soon realizes that it was a setup. He calls Uncle Jack and tells him where he is and to bring his men to come and save him. Jesse arrives with Hank and Steve Gomez in tow. This leads Walt to call off Jack and to surrender to Hank. Well, Jack shows up anyway and subsequently murders Gomez. Walt desperately tries to save Hank by telling Jack of the location of all of the buried money but Hank, in all of his understated wisdom, tells Walt “You’re the smartest man I’ve ever met. But you’re too dumb to realize he made up his mind ten minutes ago”. Jack then not only murders Hank, but he also takes most of Walt’s money. Walt, distraught over Hank’s death, gives up Jesse (who was hiding under a car) and tells Jack to kill him. Todd, however, convinces Jack to let Jesse live to help continue to make meth for Lydia.
Todd and his cronies break into Skylar’s house and threatens her to not tell the DEA about Lydia’s involvement (he’s sweet on her). Jesse meanwhile has been cooking for Todd (like a slave; attached to a rope on a dog walker), but tries to escape. He’s caught and for his punishment Todd executes his girlfriend, Andrea, on her front doorstep. After Walt escapes with his one barrel of money, he goes home to get his family and leave town. Skylar realizes that Hank must be dead and pulls a knife on Walt. Walt leaves after Walt, Jr calls the police and gets Saul to set him up with a new identity in New Hampshire. After seeing his former colleagues Gretchen and Elliott on Charlie Rose, Walt decides that his months in New Hampshire are over with and it’s time for one last run as Heisenberg.
Walt coerces Gretchen and Elliott into getting his money to his kids (in a very funny, devious way) and then heads to the final showdown with Jack and his men. Before this happens, however, Walt goes to visit Skylar and baby Holly one last time and bid them farewell. Walt then meets Lydia and Todd at a coffee shop to discuss a new business proposition. After he discovers that Jesse is still alive and cooking, he leaves them to their tea. Walt then meets Jack and his men at his compound. Jack dismisses the business proposal and is going to have Walt killed. Walt then calls Jack a liar and demands to see Jesse. Walt, after tackling Jesse to the ground, activates an automated M60 machine gun that was hidden in his trunk .This gun decimates the building they were in and kills everyone but Todd and Jack. While Todd marvels at the carnage “Mr. White” has caused, Jesse gets his sweet revenge by choking Todd to death with the same chains he locked Jesse up with. Walt grabs a gun and confronts a mortally wounded Jack. Jack pleads to Walt to not kill him saying that he’ll never find the barrels without him…that is, he would have said that if Walt hadn’t ended his sentence with a bullet to the brain. Walt then walks up to Jesse and tosses him the gun saying “Do it” and “I want this”. Jesse refuses and tells Walt to “do it yourself”. Walt then takes a call from Lydia and tells her that she’ll be dead soon since she flavored her tea not with Stevia, but with Ricin. Jesse then notices that Walt took a slug to the gut while saving him, but Walt sends him on his way. While Jesse celebrates his new-found freedom, Walt walks into the meth lab. While marveling at the mobile lab he and Jesse created, he bleeds out and dies. The camera pans out to the song of “Baby Blue”.
I will preface this wrap-up with this statement: Breaking Bad is my favorite show of all time. Take that as a grain of salt on what will be a glowing review and a true fan’s analysis. Everything about this season was perfect to me. The acting, which was always spectacular, was on another level this season. Aaron Paul not getting a Best Supporting Emmy is just a travesty; when he’s in the car and Todd kills his girlfriend…man, I almost tear up just thinking about it. Walt also does just fabulous; looking at his face after Jack murders Hank and the following look of hate in his eyes when he spots Jesse…just fantastic! Also, Vince Gilligan did something seemingly impossible: he satisfied a massive fan base by killing off one of the most iconic personas in recent entertainment history. His writing and directing were just perfect and we, as fans, could not have asked for anything more. Some may say that some of the story elements were a little predictable (i.e. everyone pretty much knew Hank was gonna get it when he figured it out), but even though I knew The One Ring was going to get destroyed or Luke Skywalker would beat The Emperor didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the overall experience. And this was a euphoric experience for me. My only problem with this show? It ended. I will no longer be able to revel in the devious exploits of Walt White/Heisenberg and his buddy Jesse. It makes me sad, but I am that much richer for the ride. Like the old saying goes, all good things come to an end.
Thoughts From Trey Elliott
Breaking Bad, as an entire series, is one of the greatest journeys on which television has ever taken me. Being able to watch as Brian Cranston’s Walter White takes every important and meaningful relationship he’s ever had and destroys them one by one is a sweet combination of exhilarating and gut-wreching. The fifth and final season of the show however, was an odd experience for this particular lover of television. The loose ends are all neatly tied up in a mixture of completely predictable and occasionally surprising ways, but not a single character, minus maybe Andrea, doesn’t end up exactly where you’d expect. The acting and cinematography though, are still incredible week in and week out. This season wasn’t the series best for me, but luckily even a good season of Breaking Bad is great by any stand measurement. Goodbye Walt, thanks for the memories.