Cat’s in the Bag…
…And the Bag’s in the River
Crazy Handful of Nothin’
A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal
The call to adventure trope had been done numerous times in many different formats. From sci-fi soap operas to fantasy quests across treacherous terrain, Breaking Bad breaks that mold by introducing this very same trope to the drug trade, bringing with it some incredible writing, fleshed out characters and an Oscar-worthy performance from Bryan Cranston. Although a little slow to begin with, the second half to this first season sets into motion a chain of events that propel this series to become the exciting phenomenon it ultimately ends up as.
The story in this first season revolves around high school chemistry teacher Walter White. Stuck between an unfulfilling marriage, several jobs to make ends meet and a constant overshadowed presence in the wake of his hot-shot DEA brother Hank, one cancer diagnosis changes Walter’s life forever.
Learning he has terminal cancer and limited time left before he passes away, Walter’s early timid facade fades, symbolically around the time he starts to lose his hair, as he struggles to find ways to pay for his expensive medical bills. One fateful afternoon sees him mixed up with former high school drop-out and prolific meth-dealer Jessie Pinkman. In his desire to raise funds to pay for Skylar and Walt Junior’s future, Walt creates one of the purest forms of meth seen in quite some time.
Thanks to Jessie’s know-how and Walter’s brilliant chemistry, together they set out to shift some serious gear but along the way hit numerous road-blocks and dangerous encounters. While Walt navigates the risky drug business and starts to understand how moving product works, the DEA and Hank catch wind of a prolific drug dealer and start to piece together what’s happening, unbeknownst to Hank that it’s his brother-in-law responsible for this. These two stories remain anchored to Walter’s simple front as a hard-working family man to avoid suspicion.
Written by Vince Gilligan, who is also partly responsible for overseeing the success of The X-Files, Breaking Bad’s story is layered with clever bites of foreshadowing and a really smartly written screenplay, one that drops hints and teasers at the start of almost every episode by showing off a scene that takes place later on in the story. Whether it be a bloodied Walt walking away from a building or the inside of Jessie’s camper, these segments help to build intrigue and play off that classic puzzle box idea to keep you around to find out what happens next. That’s before even mentioning the fantastic pilot episode which will go down as one of the best openings of any TV show.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and partly the reason Breaking Bad works as well as it does comes from the clever use of humour dotted through the show. It’s very subtle but it’s enough to lighten the mood of the episodes and prevent this falling too far into melodramatic waters. Breaking Bad gives no illusions about what sort of show it is though and when the tension is cranked up, so too is the tone as it swings closer to a tense, nerve-wracking crime thriller.
The scene composition is perfect too, with lots of hand-held cameras and long montage segments showing how meth is made and distributed for authenticity. One scene late on shows Walt talking to Skylar in the bath, obscuring the gun from her while the camera switches between a front and back view. It’a such a small scene but one that visually reinforces the secrets Walt is keeping from her.
Overall though, Breaking Bad season 1 is an excellent start to this series and one that sets into motion the journey ahead. This call to adventure story works incredibly well and Bryan Cranston brings a level of complexity and believability to Walter White that makes it easy to empathise with his struggles. There’s a lot to like with this one and despite a slightly slow start, Breaking Bad’s first season is certainly a cut above the rest.
Published: 28 May 2020 at 8.56 am on TheReviewGeek.com