Breaking Bad is the hottest show on US TV. The Fan Can looks back at season four of the explosive drugs drama...
Screened: AMC, July 17 – October 9, 2011 (US)
AMC is making the best programme on TV right now, and it's not Mad Men. This year Breaking Bad pipped Matthew Weiner's masterpiece in terms of characterisation, twisty plotting and visceral excitement. It went from being a great show to a truly exceptional one, every bit as compelling as The Sopranos and The Wire in their respective heydeys.
If you're not watching yet, you really should be.
An introduction for newbies. Walter White (Malcolm In The Middle's Brian Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer. Broke and depressed, he decides that he has only one course of action: he's going to start 'cooking' crystal meth to raise money to leave behind for his wife and son.
The 2008 pilot has a very direct message: the news of Walt's impending death causes him to really start living. But the harsh reality of the drugs trade soon starts to hit hard. What starts as a small scale enterprise between Walt and his former pupil, Jesse Pinkman, rapidly escalates into something else entirely.
His 'product' is so potent that the local dealers start to take notice of Walt (or rather Heisenberg, as he becomes known). And then their bosses. And then the drug cartels...
With a premise like that you might expect the show to be a little downbeat. Cancer is, after all, hardly a laugh riot. But as with Dexter, with which it shares a some other (fairly superficial) similarities, Breaking Bad mines the situation for bleak chuckles. The show is thick with the random absurdities of real life and blessed with sharp, witty writing and a supporting case who are all adept at being funny, but not silly.
MILD SEASON FOUR SPOILERS AHOY...
Not that there were that many laughs this year. Season four finds the relationship between Walt and his criminal boss, the millionaire businessman (and secret drugs lord) Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) at an all time low.
Gus wants Walt dead but needs him alive and cooking, for the time being at least. Walt is desperate to find a way out of this mess and settles on the most direct course of action possible: kill Gus. What followed was an epic, season-long battle between two genius sociopaths.
Gus neatly demolished Walt and Jesse's relationship, and then retreated from view. Walt got increasingly desperate in trying to juggle his two lives: embattled meth cook and family man.
But then, around the halfway mark, it became clear that there was more than self-preservation at work here. This wasn't just a battle for Walt's survival, but for the sake of his ego too.
Like the famous gunner in the Star Destroyer at the start of Star Wars, you can trace every development in Breaking Bad back to Walt. In season two and three that looked tragic, but as Walt has grown in stature, so has his desire for recognition, money and power. This season reveals that Walt isn't just good at making drugs, he's good at being bad. And he likes it.
It's an astonishing performance from Cranston, who continues to find pathos and warmth in his character, despite his growing litany of unconscionable acts. He's not alone in his excellence. Aaron Paul plays Jesse as a haunted shell of the funny, slightly annoying stoner he used to be. Dean Norris is dependably loveable as Walt's brother-in-law Hank – coincidentally a DEA officer. Hank looks and sounds dumb, but in his dogged, methodical way, he's getting closer to the truth with every passing episode.
And Giancarlo Esposito as Gus is the scariest, stillest villain on TV. Part charming, immaculately suited CEO and part Terminator, he's a fascinating prophetic image of who Walt might yet become.
The second half of season four has a distinctly apocalyptic feel, as Walt steps ever closer to death or capture. The threats start to rack up. Will he be caught by Hank? Killed by Gus? Betrayed by Jesse? Or tripped up by his own foolish pride? No spoilers, but at various points throughout the year, these all seem like probable outcomes. But the game is very much not over yet. There remains a final season of 16 episodes to come. And as Face Off, the final episode of this season proved, you can't take anything for granted with this show...
See the season four trailer... HERE!
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