Breaking Bad: Season 4 Review
In a perfect world, serialized television would be the best example of great television. A series would just keep building on its plot through the characters (always staying true to them). As the plot continues to the series would build momentum with every episode and every season. Every episode would be better than the last. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. Many series pull off serialized storytelling well enough to create a compelling series (such as Lost). However, even a show such as Lost peaked in its early seasons and never really passed the mark of success it created. So while many shows have used serialized storytelling successfully, none have used it perfectly. That is until Breaking Bad appeared on the screen.
Breaking Bad started off as a well acted series about a man trying to make a living in an indecent way. With season 2, it built a base of momentum that led to a mind-boggling finale. In season 3, it yet again built on this momentum by introducing new characters into the mix that ratcheted up the tension. In season 4, the series brought tension and chaos to unimaginable levels. The result is that Breaking Bad, a once above average thriller, is now the best series on television, and it is only getting better.
There are many reasons for this consistent progression. One of them is that the series has slowly become the master of the twist. Sure, shows such as Lost arguably had crazy and more ambitious twists. However, Breaking Bad succeeds with pulling off twists in that every single one used is organic. Every twist is done with the characters in mind to the point that every twist seems realistic. yet it is the most insane show on television.
Another reason for this progression are the actors, who have now completely set into their roles. Bryan Cranston, as the arrogant Walter White, is giving the greatest performance in television history. The change from (as creator Vince Gilligan describes it) "Mr. Chips to Scarface" is completely natural. You don't notice the change at all while watching an episode. Yet when you compare it to the pilot episode, the transition is startling. Nobody on television can hold the screen like Cranston does and, like the show itself, he always seems to stop itself. I thought he wouldn't be able to top his "I am the one who knocks monologue" to his concerned wife in "Cornered", yet he topped it with his confession to his son in "Salud". Then he topped it again one episode ever in one of the scariest scenes I have ever witnessed. As Walter runs out of options, he breaks down and Cranston tops it all off with the most desperate "hyena" laugh I have ever heard.
Co-stars Aaron Paul and Giancarlo Esposito are no slouches either. Paul continues to deliver one of the most heartbreaking performances is ever and shows that he can hold his own against Cranston (Just watch his square off scenes with Cranston in "Bug" and "End Times"). Esposito, meanwhile, created one of the most complex villains that has ever appeared on the small screen. Originally, Gus Fring was just a nemesis. Now he is a man with underdog story come true (that also just happens to do a lot of bad things). The best thing I could say about Esposito's performance is that he makes you feel a little upset with Gus Fring's ultimate fate (The last image of the character was one of the creepiest things I ever witnessed).
A third major reason for this constant progression is the writing. Vince Gilligan and company really are masters at story telling. They leave little hints seasons in advance before they bring about their reveals and twists. Who would have thought a tiny glance from Walter at a plant in "End Times" would end up having such major consequences in future episodes? The writers left that little hint to one of the most important moments in this series history. A lesser series would have just pulled a twist with out anything coming beforehand to justify that twist. Another example of this comes from Walter's "I am the one who knocks line", which perfectly foreshadows his actual transformation into the "one who knocks" by season end. It makes the season just seem so cohesive (Also completing this cohesiveness is Cranston's perfect delivery of "I won" in the finale, bringing his fall to villainy ever so closer). Gilligan and company are also great with dialogue. This series is the closest thing to a Coen Brothers or Tarantino film on television. The dialogue is snappy and perfectly combines a sense of seriousness and comedy.
Finally, I can't leave out the look of this series. Many images from this past season are completely ingrained in my head due to Michael Slovis's masterful work. There is the western-esque images of Walter entering a bar, the claustrophobic view of the crawl space, and the haunting last moments of Gus Fring.
Breaking Bad has become the best show to air on television since Lost. It brings riveting performances, masterful writing, and gorgeous cinematography all to one place. The question is where does this show go from here? And is there any chance Walter can be saved from himself now that he has clearly crossed the moral line (once again)?
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