Continuing to cook top-quality crystal meth, terminally-ill chemistry teacher Walter White (Cranston) and former student Jesse Pinkman (Paul) are in over their heads. Joining forces with crooked lawyer Saul Goodman (Odenkirk) though, they begin to rise through the local drug trade and are on the verge of big money after an introduction to a smart, high-level distributor (Esposito). While Walter’s original plan was to cook enough to secure his family’s financial future, he’s unable to let go of his new wealth and power – despite his cancer going into remission and all the lies catching up with him at home…
Even though the first season was cut short by the writer’s strike, AMC’s award-winning Breaking Bad quickly established itself as superior viewing. A skilled, refreshingly-unpredictable mix of crime thriller, black comedy and family drama, it offered up a superb slow-burner which occasionally exploded in truly gripping fashion, while playing out in a manner which was both more accessible and exciting than the likes of The Wire or Deadwood. Thankfully, this longer, thirteen-episode second season is a consistent and confident follow-up chapter which expands the world creator Vince Gilligan introduced us to, taking us further down the New Mexico drug-scene rabbit hole.
As before, it’s often strikingly cinematic, peppered with memorable images (such as the eerie, floating teddy bear), shocking moments (a certain ATM machine) and apt, underlying symbolism. One example of the latter is the discovery of rot in the White’s house, which perfectly symbolises the core of season two – the moral decay of Walter’s soul. Though he started out as a good man trying to provide for his family, here Walt takes definitive steps towards becoming a feared drug lord (giving Jesse a gun to ‘handle’ problems, warning off a rival outside a hardware store), believably morphing into a ruthless badass. As his house of cards starts to fall apart under the strain of all the lies, Gilligan and co milk every ounce of tension from a number of terrific dilemmas, such as Walt having to choose between a hugely-lucrative, one-chance drug deal or getting to his daughter’s birth.
Again, Bryan Cranston is absolutely magnificent in the central role (the scene in the penultimate episode where he lets something bad happen is an acting masterclass), so much so that he overshadows a number of impressive performances. Such as Aaron Paul as loveable screw-up Jesse (who becomes something of a surrogate son to Walt at times), Dean Norris as Walt’s alpha-male brother-in-law Hank (who has a nice subplot involving panic attacks) and Anna Gunn as pregnant wife Skyler (who’s starting to put the pieces together), all of whom do sterling work.
Elsewhere, season two is also notable for the inclusion of two welcome additions (or three if you count Jonathan Bank’s fixer). The first is Giancarlo Espositio’s cool-as-a-chilled-cucumber high-level distributor Gus, who masquerades as a legitimate businessman; and the second is Bob Odenkirk’s brilliantly-shady lawyer, Saul Goodman (“Better call Saul!”). Both are great creations, and both really bring something to the show. Additionally, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s John De Lancie also has a nice small part linked to the opinion-splitting climax, which comes so far out of leftfield that it’s totally and utterly unpredictable. Some will love it, some will hate it, but nobody will predict it.
A consistent and confident follow-up year, the second season of Breaking Bad offers more of the same while expanding the canvas from last time. One of the best shows on the tele.