Jul 162010
 

After the groundbreaking, multiple award winning, first season, Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle) returns as Walter H. White; an exceedingly boring, debt ridden, high-school chemistry teacher who gets diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and makes the drastic decision to start manufacturing crystal meth, that will then be sold on the streets, in order to leave his family with a large financial cushion after he’s gone.

The First series saw Walter receiving his diagnosis, and attempting to enter the drug trade with the help of on of his drop-out former students; a young stoner, street dealer, and wannabe cook, named Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, Big Love); who was at first apprehensive of wanting to work with someone who’s usually as straight as Walter, but soon changes his mind when Walt begins to cook the purest crystal meth ever seen in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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The next section contains no season two spoilers, but mentions events from the first season, and should not be read by anyone that hasn’t seen the first series, and doesn’t want to know how it concluded. – Highlight to read.
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When the first series ended, Walt had just made a rather large drug deal with a psychotic drug baron known as Tuco (Raymond Cruz, The Closer); the quick to anger psychopath who’s in charge of all the major drug trade in Albuquerque, has ties to the Mexican Cartel, and finished off the first series by beating an employee to death with his bare hands for no real reason at all; so it comes as no surprise that the first few episodes of the season are concerned with the partners (Walt and Jesse) struggling to reason what they have agreed to, and being very scared of Tuco.

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Season One spoilers end.
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But the series doesn’t end there, as there’s still plenty going on with Walt’s family; his pregnant wife Skylar (Anna Gunn, Deadwood) is growing ever closer to her due date, and begins to wonder where Walt keeps disappearing to without a word of explanation, and his son Walter Jr. (R.J. Mitte) is still struggling to come to terms with his father’s illness, and lead a normal life despite being afflicted with Cerebral Palsy; and possibly most important of all within Walt’s family circle is his loudmouthed D.E.A. agent Brother-in-Law Hank (Dean Norris, Little Miss Sunshine), a man that is desperate to not only bring major drug-dealers like Tuco to justice, but appears to be closing in on the newest (and apparently extremely dangerous) major cook/supplier in town; a man that goes by the pseudonym Heinsenberg, and is none other than Walter White himself.

Other than that, there’s still plenty happening, with many new avenues of the drug trade being explored; such as distribution problems, employee issues, turf disputes, and the problems that arise from not only trying to produce such large quantities of an illegal substance, but deal with other major players in the business, and try and find a way to launder and spend any acquired cash.

Jesse’s also well served this series, as he has his own family issues to worry about, and a has a number of extremely difficult moral choices to make and justify in order to keep him and Walter afloat in such a dangerous sea, as well as working out how to be an effective boss, when he employs his friends to help with sales, and even gets his own love interest; which comes in the form of his new, tattoo-designing, art-loving, ex-junkie, landlady.

Just like in the first series all of the character portrayals are dead-on perfect, and exceptionally well cast, as Bryan Cranston is excellent as Walter; because he’s always completely believable, and excels in not only the scenes where he’s acting tough, or playing up the series comedy element by bumbling his way around a deal and putting Jesse down, but is pitch perfect (and able to evoke an enormous amount of empathy) in all of his emotional scenes (which surprisingly enough don’t only originate from family troubles and cancer news); his opposite (Aaron Paul) was also a sound casting choice for the young, think-first, act-later, drop-out that first opened the door for Walter into the drug scene, and latches onto him as a father figure; as he’s able to pull off the ‘wigga’/punk style with ease (even if it is a little annoying at times) and also excels in the difficult emotional scenes (particularly when displaying worry or panic); and the supporting cast also deliver unusually strong and convincing performances for a TV show.

Looking back, it’s surprising just how good Breaking Bad has managed to stay, because not only were the expectations for series two immeasurably raised after the brilliant first series aired, but it was hard to imagine just how the story could possibly carry on for much longer after the heights Walter and Jesse reached in the first season, and the way in which that ended, but the writers have truly outdone themselves with this offering; as every episode seems to get better than the last, and the blending of drama, comedy, action, and pure emotion, is something that is rarely seen on TV or films, and is sure to make every viewer laugh, cry, be happy and pleased, emotional and saddened, and even tense up with panic and anticipation in certain situations; and the direction and style of the show is as unusual and classy as ever, making for another piece of American TV gold.

The second season of Breaking Bad is every bit as good as the first (only it’s brilliance won’t come as so much of a shock to those who have already since the previous series) in terms of overall story, believability, and execution; with great music choices, set design, filming style, and top-notch acting from all involved (including a guest role from Machete’s Danny Trejo); and is a series that comes highly recommended; as it’s the perfect carry on for fans who are already hooked, but not really the place to begin following Walter’s journey (the first season is a much more logical, and better, place for that), as particularly in the first couple of season two episodes it does help to know who everyone is, and what exactly has come before, as while there may be a season one recap in the special features, there’s no ‘previously on Breaking Bad’ before each episode to fully explain things.

Picture:

The first thing that Breaking Bad fans will notice when watching the second season is the noticeable improvement from the DVD transfer of the first series; as while the strong contrast levels, inky blacks and feeling of depth are still apparent (the black levels on this transfer are actually more natural in appearance than those of the first), the colour palette has changed and become somewhat warmer (better showcasing the natural yellows of the New Mexico desert, but making the skintones often appear somewhat redish), the detail had improved slightly (but still isn’t the highest it could be).

Just like the first series, season two of Breaking Bad is only receiving a DVD release in the U.K. (unlike the United States, where both series have now been released on Blu-ray Disc), and as such can’t realistically compete (in terms of picture and audio quality) with either the U.S. Blu-ray release, or other U.K. TV series that have received a high-definition release (such as HBO’s True Blood), but that still doesn’t stop the DVD surpassing the first series in quality, and being an all solidly stable release all round.

Audio:

Again similar to the picture quality, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that transports all of the sounds from Breaking Bad’s second season onto DVD is every bit as good as the last mix, and even seems to surpass it in many respects; the dialogue is always perfectly crisp, consistently clear, and excellently levelled (which all come in handy in a series that relies mostly on its dialogue, rather than hard-hitting action sequences), and the rear speakers get a good workout from numerous ambient noises, and a fair few directional effects; which all sound fantastic, and help to create a very immersive audible experience.

Numerous music tracks used in the series are all perfectly represented, and accentuated by the soundtrack’s high level of detail, and the use of weighty and powerful bass rumbles; which come into play not only in the music tracks, but during action scenes where gunfire and explosions take center-stage, and where background effects (such as passing trains) are more prominent; and while overall the track might not have the same level of crispness and clarity as some of the newly released high-definition TV releases, or be likely to truly astound any listeners, it sounds fantastic for a TV DVD, and shouldn’t disappoint a fan of the show in any way.

Extras:

Again similar to the season one DVD, season two comes packed with a large array of special features that are sure to please its fans, and includes a collection of audio commentaries; available for several episodes, and featuring most of the series main cast, writer, the creator (Vince Gilligan, Hancock), and the series’ cinematographer, they all prove to be interesting, informative, and fun listens; as well as a number of deleted scenes from nine of the seasons thirteen episodes; that are almost all worth watching, and many probably only cut to save time; short featurettes entitled ‘Inside Breaking Bad’ ; that explores the key elements of each episode, and an eleven part Behind the Scenes feature that contains cast and crew interviews, and explores everything from the series’ special effects and props, to crafting specific scenes (such as the infamous tortoise sequence, and making the Mexican music-video) and examining the series’ iconic R.V.; making it a thorough examination of the series production that manages to stay light-hearted, and informative (as all the best making of’s are).

Other than that there is still a range of more light-hearted featurettes, such as the gag-reel, a feature where Dean Norris (who plays D.E.A. agent Hank) talks with real life policemen about serious issues such as stakeouts, women police officers, and donuts, and the collection of short promotional webisodes that accompanied the series; and prove to be fun character moments that are worth a watch, but thankfully aren’t essential to understanding the plot.

Rounding off would be an examination of Breaking Bad’s viral marketing campaign; which is interesting for anyone interested in technology, and how promotional material is produced and received, but likely to be passed over by most viewers; a sneak peek into the show’s third season, and Vince Gilligan’s photo gallery; which as the name suggests is a collection of Vince’s behind the scenes photos, and while there are some gems in there, the static nature, and slow pace, of the gallery are likely to bore all but the most die-hard fans.

All in all the bonus features for Breaking Bad: Season Two are brilliant; as there’s plenty of light-hearted and fun features, as well as the more traditional making of and audio commentaries, which are all exceptionally well produced, thoroughly extensive, and extremely easy to watch/listen to; and it’s hard to think of a way in which they could be more comprehensive and more interesting (as even though there are so many individual features there are none that feel like simple filler material); and as such there’s next to nothing that fans of the series could grumble about, with this fun and comprehensive, excellently produced, collection of extras.

The Bottom Line:

Breaking Bad is a difficult show to summarize without giving too many details away, but fans of the last series will be pleased to know that it has continued on perfectly from the first series; after a seemingly difficult road was ahead after the last season finished; and remains every bit as tense, dramatic, emotional, and fun, as it ever was; with every episode seeming to surpass the previous one in terms of quality.

It’s an interesting (if not controversial) subject; not only watching an average high-school teacher start to cook crystal meth and enter the drug world, but seeing how far an ordinary man (with a bit of talent) is willing to go for his family when they need him; and one that’s handled very well, because the show’s creators are constantly walking a tightrope between glorifying drugs and drug use (as well as how easy it is to make money from it) and condemning it, but always stay exactly where they should be; showing the problems that entering the trade can cause, the emotional anguish that it brings, and the constant fear and danger that Walt and Jesse find themselves in, whilst often throwing in the odd bit of slapstick and silly humour, in order to break up the tension, and keep the show real and inviting.

The second season definitely isn’t the place to start watching Breaking Bad (even with the season one recap); because you will miss out on the brilliant first series, and not have such an invested interest in Walt and Jesse’s lives; but with picture and audio quality this good, and an all-but unbeatable collection of special features, Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season is a real DVD must (or a sound Blu-ray import for readers with region free Blu-ray players); read the season one review, buy both seasons, and watch them back-to-back, you won’t regret it.