With the murder of lab stooge Gale ensuring that Walter (Cranston) and Jesse (Paul) are once again the only ones capable of producing the top-level crystal meth necessary, New Mexican drug distributor Gus Fring (Esposito) decides to keep them alive – for now. Reasoning that it’s only a matter of time before this changes, Walter scrambles for a way to get to him first, while Jesse struggles with the guilt of murdering the innocent Gale. Meanwhile, Hank (Norris) finds evidence which re-opens his Heisenberg investigation and Gus seeks to settle old scores with the cartel…
Quite rightly considered by many as one of the very best shows on TV (if not, the best), Breaking Bad continues to stretch the limits of what a television series can accomplish in season four. Whilst many fans were concerned with how unhurried the opening run of episodes were (even by BB’s normal standards), by the jaw-dropping finale there’s little doubt that Vince Gilligan and his team have, once again, provided a shining example of what serialised storytelling should look like. A consistently engaging blend of compelling family drama, tense characters moments and slow-burn thrills, there’s just nothing to match it on the box.
Admittedly, said fans do have a point about the ultra-measured first four (or so) instalments, but the eventual payoffs are unquestionably worth it. While the also-brilliant third season rose and fell in a series of ups and downs, season four is more a steady climb which builds towards the momentous run of final episodes. Despite opening mere moments after last season’s nerve-wracking finale (where Jesse had to murder Gale while Walt was held captive at the super lab), a lot of time is spent early doors on dealing with the fallout from these events while Gilligan moves all the pieces about. Though there’s frustratingly little of Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus during the first half as he and Walter attempt to outmanoeuvre each other from afar, this gives others a chance to shine. Such as Anna Gunn’s Skyler (becoming a valuable asset to Walt’s business) and Betsy Brandt’s perennially overlooked Marie (picking up her old kleptomaniac ways).
Still, there’s little doubt that it’s the strong finish which will have fans on the edge of their seat and hankering for season five. Surely one of the greatest runs in television history, the final six episodes offer remarkably gripping viewing for those who’ve stayed strong, taking all the careful build-up and unleashing a series of truly first-rate instalments. As Walt finds the net closing in on him while a still-immobile Hank (Dean Norris – terrific as ever) asks for help tracking down Heisenberg, there’s a number of tension-soaked scenes and impressively unpredictable moments.
Though fans also voiced concerns that Walt isn’t quite the central focus like he used to be, the magnificent Aaron Paul turns in more Emmy-worthy work and Jonathan Banks’ world-weary hitman Mike happily features more than ever. Arguably though, season four belongs to the wonderful Giancarlo Esposito, as Gilligan shifts his attentions to Gus’s long-running conflict with Mexican cartel boss Don Eladio (Scarface‘s Steven Bauer – perfectly cast), while the climax’s final shot of Gus is among the most memorable images you’ll likely see on the small screen. Utterly breathtaking.
As for Walt, we’ve always been assured that as the show comes to a close (with season five rumoured as the last) that we’d no longer be able to sympathise with him – and that time is now upon us. Though many shows like to claim that they’ve turned their main characters to the dark side, they rarely actually do. Breaking Bad, however, has done just that – and a lot more.
Although fans were worried about how unhurried the opening episodes were, by the literally jaw-dropping finale there’s little doubt that the fourth season of Breaking Bad continues to stretch the limits of what a television series can accomplish. You’ll need patience, but it’s worth it. Magnificent stuff.