As much as I love and love to return to “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “The Shield,” “Lost,” and a few others, I can point to moments in each where for just a moment the storytelling slipped. This is not the case with creator Vince Gilligan’s ongoing morality play, “Breaking Bad,” whose fifth and penultimate season has just been released on Bluray.
Bryan Cranston returns as Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned drug lord who is now exactly where he wants to be. Having dispatched with his only competition at the end of last season, Walt now has a wide swath of territory all to himself. All he needs is a new place to cook and some hard-to-find chemicals. The ingenuity involved to solve those and other problems are the stuff of a top-notch feature film. And Walt’s cold ruthlessness hasn’t yet reached bottom.
The real power of “Breaking Bad,” though, has always been its overarching themes and the long-form storytelling that unfolds like a great novel. Walt’s wife might be a co-conspirator, but like his young partner Jesse (a truly fantastic Aaron Paul), she is just is not built for murder. Moreover, both are terrified of the man they first knew as a milquetoast schoolteacher but who now whistles like a man without a care in the world after disposing of the body of an innocent child.
There are two things I am truly loving about the evolution of these characters. The first, obviously, is the curve ball that is the arc of Walter White’s character. What I expected — a good man finding himself over his head and unable to get out — is not at all what is happening. We are witnessing a man embittered over a regret from his past willingly embrace evil to “get his.” There are a couple of lines of dialogue addressing this directly that literally gave me chills.
I also love how Walt’s DEA brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, has evolved from the typical comic-foil brother-in-law to the show’s hero. Wait till you see the closing scene of the season.
In August, AMC will broadcast the sixth and final season. The story seeds planted in this fifth season make me both giddy with anticipation and heartsick that this exercise in artistic perfection is about to come to an end.
“Breaking Bad: Season Five” is available at Amazon.com, and there is a ton of terrific extras to hold you over until August.