When mild-mannered, underachieving chemistry teacher Walter White (Cranston) is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he’s desperate to ensure his family are financially secure. Surprised at just how lucrative the drug trade is after discovering that former student Jesse Pinkman (Paul) is now a dealer, Walt reluctantly partners up and uses his considerable chemistry skills to cook top-grade crystal meth. Despite initially struggling with this darker path, Walt slowly becomes a serious player in the New Mexico drug trade…
Part compelling character drama, part measured crime thriller, the truncated first season of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a potent cocktail of unpredictable writing, dark humour and fantastic acting. Despite the fact that each episode opens with an intriguing teaser (skinhead Walt striding away from an explosion, anyone?), it’s important to note that the show is very much a slow-burn experience, consistently ratcheting the tension to unbearable levels before unleashing breathtaking payoffs that are always worth it. As Walter progressively breaks bad, it’s also hugely satisfying to watch as he awakens from the life-slumber he’s been in for years and discovers his mouse-that-roared spirit, occasionally fighting back against the bullies and little niggles that most of us choose to suffer through in normal, everyday life.
But yet, as our formerly submissive hero becomes increasingly capable of morally-questionable acts, the storytelling coughs up some wonderful dilemmas as food for thought. What if, for example, circumstances left you with a captive hostage who would slaughter your family if you let them live, but you couldn’t bring yourself to commit murder? Making such questions all the more affecting is a phenomenal turn from moustached lead Bryan Cranston, who evolves convincingly over the short-run from hen-pecked family man to intimidating meth-player with nothing to lose. The whole cast deserves credit, though, especially Aaron Paul given that he manages to ensure the potentially-clichéd Jesse has surprising depth, while Dean Norris is a stand-out as Walt’s macho, well-meaning brother-in-law Hank, who works for the DEA…
A slow-burning cocktail of compelling performances, dark humour and wonderfully unpredictable writing, season one of Breaking Bad is a great start to what is now rightly regarded as one of the best shows on television.