Monday, 1 October 2012

Breaking Bad Season 4 DVD review (Spoiler-free)

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk, RJ Mitte

Created by: Vince Gilligan

For nearly every television series there is at least one seminal season; for Breaking Bad it is most definitely Season 4*. Vince Gilligan and his band of writers and directors have expertly crafted 12 episodes of pure dynamism, drama and delight, unlike anything seen on television before.

Having finished Season 3 on excruciatingly tantalising and tense events, Season 4 does not ease you in. Instead, it pins you to your seat from the moment the smoky title fades into the episode. Episode 1 has little dialogue and one gruesome murder that may deter anyone walking in on or randomly switching over to the Emmy award winning show, but to those that know and love Gilligan’s incredible programme, it is a welcome continuation to the rough and ready thrill-ride that is Breaking Bad.

Season Four mostly centres around Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and the “palpable fear that...[he] represents” (to quote Esposito) as he comes into conflict with Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Cranston, in interviews on the special features, explains the season with great clarity by stating, “Walt has to live with this tension [hostility from Gus] throughout the season – he doesn’t know what his fate will be...The noose keeps tightening around his neck, and around his family’s neck, and it’s just anxiety-ridden”. “Tension” does not begin to cover it and by the gripping, momentous finale you are left bawled over by the sheer bravado of the show.

Performance-wise it is flawless and multiple Emmy Award-winners, Cranston and Aaron Paul, are on top form as always. The latter, especially, has some incredibly raw moments of dejection and exasperation that he embodies with extraordinary prowess. As the two leads continue to win over the audience, the villain, in the form of Esposito’s cold, brooding Gus, never escapes your mind for a second. The presence of the “Chicken Man” is continually felt and, at times, you are intrigued as to his personality and back-story. Fortunately, one episode includes a brief but brilliant flashback to Gus’ humble beginnings which sets up a triumphant 10 minute sequence in a later episode and, overall, fleshes out this near-inhuman shadowy figure.

Along with an ever-evolving examination into the lives of Walter, Jesse, Skyler, Hank and Gus, the entire design of the show seems to have progressed. Michael Slovis’ cinematography is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the design and the overall look is both ethereal and gritty – an inspired combination to present a story of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned meth cooker/criminal. In Season 4, Walter White’s narrative crux is based around his metamorphosis into a Machiavellian monster and Slovis’ darkened perspective does wonders at helping to represent that. It also adds a dramatic weight, much like Gordon Willis’ The Godfather: Part II cinematography (an interesting parallel with stories chronicling a man changed – sometimes for the worse – by power), by entrenching both the characters and the viewers into figurative black pits of peril.

Sound is similarly engaging and for those with surround sound systems, the cinematic style embraced by Gilligan and co can be truly experienced. One episode in particular – ‘Crawl Space’ – uses a low boom and bass of a heart-beat sound effect that ripples through your living room (and through your body, as you feel and hear the pump concurrently), leaving you completely worn out by the compelling final minute. Furthermore, with Dave Porter’s original score and a variety of well-chosen soundtracks, your eyes will not be the only bodily receptor being indulged.

For fans only used to streaming the episodes from internet providers, the DVD gives them the opportunity to educate themselves on the workings of the show with an array of behind-the-scenes features. On every disc is an ‘Inside Breaking Bad’ featurette where the cast and crew talk about a particular episode and elements surrounding it. These are always interesting and should not go unmissed (plus, who doesn’t want to see and hear more of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul). What’s more, there are some great segments on the show’s popularity, the colour scheme (which is the most fascinating) and set explorations. The deleted and alternate scenes are included but by no means necessary viewing because, as fans know, the show is crafted within a meticulous inch of perfection, and what hasn’t the made the cut hasn’t for good reason.

Breaking Bad is, without question, the best TV show on right now. The fourth season (if 2-3 hadn’t already) proves its worth and cements it as an immortal, unique series – as pure and addictive as Walt and Jesse’s cook. Go out and buy this DVD collection right now – its merit is immeasurable and whatever you pay for it, you will reap the rewards from the entertainment-factor alone.

*(unless by the end of Season 5 that crown has to be re-established)

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Blogomatic3000

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