(Originally posted at CineVue)
Mere months away from the final batch of episodes of Vince Gilligan’s critically acclaimed televisual juggernaut that will round off the show’s judicious lifespan, fans now have the chance to reacquaint themselves with the first eight in Breaking Bad – Season 5. Following on from the suspense-laden, action-packed fourth season, which saw Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) struggling to overcome the extenuating forces stopping him from becoming the undisputed kingpin of his local crime underworld, SeasonFive – part one sees Gilligan diligently slotting every miscellaneous element into place before an almighty send-off, all the while delivering a prelude that is just as exhilarating and cunning as season’s before it, perhaps even more so.
After overcoming the sinister grip of meticulous criminal kingpin Gustavo Fring last season, whose Machiavellian hold over the duo’s methamphetamine drug syndicate proved to be his ultimate undoing, Walter quickly begins establishing himself as the ruthless new head honcho of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cementing his transformation from well-meaning chemistry teacher and family man to full-blown drug lord, Walter partners up with various sources – including shady handyman Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) – and fully subsidises a supremely lucrative venture that once started as a means to a protective end for his family.
Now his cancer is in remission, Walter begins to lose sight of his original motivations yet continues a venture into the capitalism of narcotics fuelled only by greed and the thirst for power. However, the fruits of his nefarious, and increasingly homicidal, schemes are threatened by a new development in the investigation led by his relentless brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), a DEA agent circling closer to his long sought-after prey. As explosive events conspire to challenge his ascension, Walter begins to recognise the difficulties and unease that comes with his wearing of a most perilous of crowns.
Thriving within what some are calling the latest “golden age of television”, where a handful of shows channel and challenge their more filmic equivalents, Breaking Bad has remained a fixture for audiences with a hankering for phenomenally handled and acted drama. These preliminary episodes represent the show at its towering best, offering breakneck narrative advancement with the sort of visual flairs and complex story arcs many shows merely dream about replicating. It’s all too rare for a show as packed with incident and events as this to remain fresh and inventive, yet this is testament to Gilligan’s careful maintenance and delineation of a well-constructed story peppered with engaging, deeply realised and relatable characters.
The acting is, as usual, astounding; from Cranston’s colossally frustrated Walter to Aaron Paul’s moralistic yin to his partner’s unsettling yang, and there isn’t a weak episode in the bunch, filled as they are with scenes of relentlessly high stakes plot development. A scene of Walter and his increasingly frightened wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) gazing at the mounds of illicit cash his empire has amassed is as powerful as anything the show has conjured before, detailing both the lengths this man will go for the preservation of his family and the enticement of megalomania.
Packed with in-depth special features, Breaking Bad – Season Five is a bracing preface to – based on this evidence alone – a final portion that will be a monumental event and an almighty cause of sorrow for fans the world over.