DVD Flashback ‘Friday’ – Breaking Bad – Seasons One and Two

*Yeah yeah, I know it’s not Friday. I was too excited to wait.

After years of saying I’m going to do it, I’ve finally begun watching Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad has been on the back burner for a while despite many friends and readers recommending it to me, because it’s always easier to dive into a quirky sitcom that someone suggested than a heavy serialized drama. I knew I’d watch the show eventually, it was just a matter of finding the time to do it. Well, now I have time.

Pro: I’m on an extended vacation right now!
Con: My contract job ended after two years, so until I get something new I’m on a strict budget.
Pro: August is the best time to be off work! I can spend hours reading outside. (No, seriously. I once fainted from heat exhaustion because I was really into a book and forgot to move out of the sun. If reading were a summer Olympic sport, which it totally should be, I think I’d medal.)
Con: After being blessed with a rare hot, sunny, amazing July that I tried to enjoy when not cooped up in a windowless office (well, no window by my desk anyway), I’m off in August and it has suddenly decided to alternate between rainy and cloudy days. Major. Bummer.
Pro: More time to watch TV and movies!

So that’s a protracted way of announcing that Rob and I got Netflix recently, and that made watching Breaking Bad a lot easier. This weekend we mainlined (pun intended, deal with it) the first two seasons, and that was on top of hitting the beach and hanging out with friends and other required activities that keep me from turning into a pale, lonesome couch potato.

And guys? It’s as good as you’ve been telling me.

OK. First I’ll talk about the show in general terms for those of you who’ve yet to watch, and I’ll let you know when to skedaddle so the veterans and I can talk about the first two seasons in more details.

For Newbies

Breaking Bad is about a high school chemistry teacher who begins cooking meth after receiving a very dire cancer diagnosis. His wife is pregnant with an unexpected baby, his son has cerebral palsy, he’s already working a crappy second job to make ends meet, and his insurance is not going to cover his medical expenses. (Not to get all political on a pop culture blog, but God bless the U.S.A. , huh? This show makes me glad I’m Canadian.)

So Walter White, a man who it seems has been quietly, secretly miserable for a long time, teams up with a small-time dealer and druggie who’d once been his student, and becomes a drug lord. Because Walter White is brilliant, and Walter White can cook the best meth that junkies or cops have ever seen.

The intriguing thing about Breaking Bad is that it has a predetermined end, a clear story arc from the get-go.  The creators of this show have always known what they were doing and what kind of story they were telling. Obviously, I’ve only seen the first two seasons of the five that will eventually air. (The fifth and final season began in July, but will be broken into two parts, concluding in 2013.) But the show is essentially about a protagonist becoming an antagonist. Not an anti-hero, but a villain. We’re not there yet, but in the first two seasons you can begin to see the shades of evil in Walter, a character who’s introduced to us as a pretty harmless guy – a dedicated teacher, a loving husband and father, an all around decent dude. And that’s what makes Breaking Bad a fascinating television program.

The show can be violent, yes. It’s dark. It’s not, I think, as complex or well-written as Mad Men. But it really draws you in, it leaves you hanging at all the right times. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are terrific in their roles as Walter White and his young train wreck accomplice Jesse Pinkman. It’s a show you should definitely watch.

OK, let’s get down to business

Season one is only seven episodes long, and after three or so I still wasn’t sure what to think. It’s not that I didn’t know whether I liked it – I was certainly intrigued enough to stick around. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it yet.

Episode five, “Gray Matter”, is when I really got into it. What happened to Walter White? He is obviously a brilliant man, he was a promising chemist with a large future ahead of him. How did his colleagues from university go on to found a large company and make tons of money while he ended up a low-paid high school teacher? Not even a college professor, but a high school teacher – with a brain meant for solving problems that no one else could. Where did his life path take a turn? I love how the show has slowly revealed information. Two seasons in and I have no idea, but I’m dying to know and am basically foaming at the mouth to begin season three. (This is the problem with watching a show with your significant other. To watch an episode or twelve without them is the pop culture equivalent of having an affair. There’s a whole episode of Up All Night about it, which is why I love that show.)

Then in episode six, we see how bad ass Walter can be, when he causes that explosion in Tuco’s den using fulminate of mercury. It’s insane, and I don’t care that the plausibility of this has been questioned because it was So. Damn. Cool.

By the end of season one, Walt and Jesse have pretty much secured themselves as legitimate dealers by working with Tuco, but we know he’s a drug addicted madman. It’s the perfect ending for the season.

savewalterwhite.com

Season two is thirteen episodes long, and much meatier than season one. We dig deeper into Walt as a person, his relationship with his family, his growing relationship with Jesse.

The stuff with Tuco in the first few episodes is good, but the season gets even better once Tuco is dead. Two new characters were added and brought a lot to the show, I thought – shady lawyer Saul Goodman, and Krysten Ritter as Jesse’s addict girlfriend. Poor Jane. She was 18 months clean when Jesse moved in next door! And poor Jesse – he’d never done heroin before Jane. It was a great depiction of how completely toxic two people can be for one another.

In season two, I think you can really begin to see Walter develop into a scarier, more evil person. The lie to cover up his disappearance after Tuco kidnapped him and Jesse was rather sociopathic, but what, was he about to tell Skylar the truth? He missed the birth of his daughter because of a drug deal, but hey, it was for 1.2 million dollars. That’s a damn good college fund, right?

I think the moment that revealed Walt to be his most evil so far was episode twelve, “Phoenix”, when Walt saw Jesse’s girlfriend Jane choking on her own vomit as the two slept off their heroin high and just let her die. He let a woman die, basically to teach Jesse a lesson. It was a fascinating, terrible choice. He did it because, presumably, he wants Jesse clean. But he let an innocent girl die. She was kind of a bitch once she was back on heroin, sure. She was bad for Jesse. She knew who Walt was and could destroy his life if she wanted to. But he let her die.

The one thing I’m a little unsure about, going into season three, is this plane crash business. The connectivity of it all is interesting. Walt has a drink in a bar, unknowingly with Jane’s dad. That conversation inspires him to go back and talk to Jesse again, where he makes the decision to let Jane choke. Jane’s dad is so devastated that when he goes back to work as an air traffic controller he’s distracted, and two planes collide above Walter’s house. I’m just not sure how important this will be in season three.

But I am very intrigued by other developments. Skylar left Walt after realizing he did indeed have a second cell phone, and I can’t wait to see what happens with their relationship. And Walt is funneling his drug money through the donations website that his son set up, and the media attention that garnered can’t be good for a drug kingpin who needs to keep a low profile.

Color Me Intrigued

Before watching Breaking Bad I’d heard that the use of color in the series had meaning, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for it as I watch. It’s fascinating, and probably much more complex than what I was able to absorb. I’m sure there are people who’ve watched the series more than once and could write some kind of college thesis on the topic.

There are the names – Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, even Skylar reminds you of sky, and thus blue. The name of the company Walt helped name was Gray Matter. And of course, there’s the blue meth. There’s also what each character wears.

So far, we’ve seen Jesse in a lot of red and black, and yellow when he was with Jane. (Who wore black, always.) Walt is often in green, Skylar in blue, Marie in purple, Hank in orange. It will be interesting to see how these palettes shift as the series continues and characters transition from bad to good, or vice versa. We saw Walt in some bright pink shades around the time of his daughter’s birth, and they really stood out from the usual landscape of the show.

So what does it all mean? I think it’s pretty open for interpretation, which is why it would make a really awesome college thesis. Red seems to be used a lot for crime, and Jesse switched to wearing yellow when he was happiest – with Jane. Why use green for Walt? Because of money and greed? Naiveté? I’m also not sure why Skylar would be in blue, other than her name. I’ve read that Marie is in purple because her character likes royalty – it makes sense, since she has that sort of social climber personality. Orange is a color for caution, which is why it might be used for Hank as a DEA agent.

This is all pretty much speculation, but it adds an interesting layer to the show.

OK, who watches Breaking Bad? I’m hearing great things about season five so far, but please keep the comments spoiler free until I’m all caught up!

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About Jill

Pop culture junkie and TV aficionado. I write sharp and snarky TV recaps at www.couchtimewithjill.com
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23 Responses to DVD Flashback ‘Friday’ – Breaking Bad – Seasons One and Two

  1. Kristin B says:

    This is one of those shows that I’ve been constantly meaning to get into, but just haven’t… One of those “eventually” sort of shows. There’s been so much buzz about it lately, I guess it being the last season puts that all in perspective now.

    As I’m currently entering the good ole “extended vacation” phase (I love that description, by the way! So much better than trying to explain to people that you’re presently unemployed and then dealing with their awkward “I pity you” eyes + disapproving nose scrunch)… but yes, maybe now you’ll be doing some reviews of this, I might have to move it up my TV priority ladder. Because shows always become much more desirable to watch when I know I can depend on reviews to read! :D

    • Jill says:

      Right? It’s the best way to explain it. And I also find it so awkward to tell people that you’re in between jobs, even if for you it’s a good thing at the time.

      I’m 2/3 through season 3 now and still liking the show, so you should definitely check it out! I’ll be blogging the other seasons as well.

  2. Yay, finally! I’m kinda the opposite of you in that I find it easier to commit to a drama over a comedy, but man even though I grew to love the show, watching the first few, really bleak episodes was tough. Have you gotten to The Fly episode yet? I’m interested to know your thoughts on that one. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ve really been loving this current (half) season. I

    • Jill says:

      I haven’t gotten to Fly yet, but I’ve heard about that episode before and am really intrigued. It’s episode 10 of season 3 and we watched episode 8 last night, so I’ll be writing about season 3 as a whole soon and will talk about that episode for sure.

  3. Zoe says:

    First of all, best of luck on your job search! While I know it really is awkward to tell folks that you’re between jobs, networking is absolutely the best way to find the next one. So get yourself out there and tell as many people as you possibly can that you are actively looking. Call anyone you ever thought held a good opinion of you and ask them outright if they can help (and also offer to share your own contacts as appropriate). In a recession, no one is shocked that a friend they respect is suddenly unemployed, AND the competition for the few existing openings is much fiercer. Having a friend or acquaintance pass on your resume can make the difference in landing your next job! Fingers crossed for you!

    On to Breaking Bad: Like you, I came in late. I watched the first three seasons in one week and started watching new episodes as they aired in Season 4. Your review actually reminded me of a few important scenes that I had long forgotten.

    The use of color is incredibly important in Breaking Bad. If you go back and read interviews with Bryan Cranston, you’ll gain a lot of insight into how color is used with his character and then you can extrapolate it to the other characters.

    Cranston pictured (and Vince Gilligan agreed) that early Walter White should almost disappear into the background. His clothing colors should be bland browns, beiges, taupes. They took the natural red out of Cranston’s hair and made it a mousey, forgettable brown. They gave him a practically transparent moustache. Cranston said he wanted folks to wonder why one would even bother to grow such a thing on his face. He wanted everything about Walter’s appearance to suggest depression, impotence and insignificance. In fact, he gained about 20 pounds and worked on a slumped over, downtrodden posture as well. “Gone to seed” sort of appearance-someone who had just given up. (Cranston himself is actually an avid runner, so he had to work at gaining the paunch.)

    As Walter breaks bad, you start to see color in his wardrobe. Green especially. Green seems to signify transformation in many of the characters, so it’s a good color to watch. As you go on, you’ll see the color motifs repeat and change as another way to signal each character’s emotional state. Don’t want to say more than that as you are so early in your viewing! But from what you’ve already noticed, I think you’ll be able to read quite a bit through the color schemes you’ll see as you move through the series.

    • Jill says:

      Thanks for the advice and good wishes! I have a couple of prospects I think so hopefully one of them works out, and this will just be an exceptionally well-timed vacation!

      Breaking Bad is definitely an easy show to binge on like that – I’m already finished season three and will have a blog post up on it sometime next week! I noticed how Walt was in a lot of bland shades in the very beginning, it was a really interesting choice. That’s one of the best things about the show, the artful production and shooting. I noticed he was heavier than I remembered too, interesting to know he put on that much. It really is the character of a lifetime, and so surprising from the dad on Malcom in the Middle!

      I LOVED season three, can’t wait to write about it.

      • Zoe says:

        Looking forward to your Season 3 review!

        And, when I first lost a job, I was the rising star at my company. It scared people that I even was eventually laid off. But I kept on networking and helping other folks along (many friends also joined me in collecting unemployment benefits). I even formed a club for us! We met once every two weeks and at first folks had a hard time believing we weren’t all going after the same positions. But I made it clear exactly what I wanted, and that I knew exactly what they wanted, gave the doubters a few leads and we were on like a houseafire. And I did get my next job out of that, from a “doubter” no less. ;).

        I hope your welcome vacation is as brief as you also hope it will be. Hang in there!

  4. Zoe says:

    And, because I am a huge dog lover: in the pilot, when Jesse goes over to Crazy 8’s house and that young female Rottie was tearing up a dummy–they had to add in the growls in post. That little Rottie b*tch was the sweetest, most trainable thing ever! The cast and crew did a podcast on this that I can’t find now, but they said the dog was very trainable but not vicious in any sense. So the barks and growls that made that little girl seem menacing were added in post-production. Makes sense to me as someone who has trained dogs for 30 years. :)

    And I still, to this day, feel that if there were an Emmy for “Best Use Of A Dog”, it would have to go to LOST. If you were a Lost fan, you know what I mean. When Vincent followed the raft out to sea in the Season 1 finale, I got practically hysterical. (Side note, I got a reviewer to ask Lindelof if that was scripted or if Jack Bender did it spontaneously, and yeah, Bender did it off the cuff. I though so, as he is a HUGE dog lover.) And then they had (a clearly different) dog lay down by Jack as he died in the finale. O. M. G. Every time I see a yellow Lab I cry.

    Odd thing: I was on Twitter during the Lost Finale and I immediately knew that the Lab was not Madison (the dog who had played Vincent for years). It took me out of the story. Madison was not a young Lab when the series began, and now, 7 years later she was replaced by another yellow Lab. I begged anyone I thought had access to the crew to tell us that Madison was OK and hadn’t died or fallen ill. And Kristen on E! finally told me that Madison was OK, but not available for the shoot. I retweeted that like there was no tomorrow. So many of us dog lovers had been so upset about Madison, but were so relieved to know she was OK.

    • Jill says:

      Interesting! I never watched Lost and always felt left out, so if I have the time I might try and watch it on Netflix.

      • Zoe says:

        LOST is worth your time. At least for the first 4 seasons. It took a turn after that which in my opinion was not good, but as I had been such a die-hard fan (and sometime contributing blogger) I had to see it through to the end.

        It’s not that it became a “bad show”; it just became a different show. But I did actually love the series finale.

        I didn’t bother to purchase any seasons after Season 4 on DVD though. The first 3 seasons of that show are still some of the best TV you’ll ever see IMO. The money poured into this series is totally evident on the screen. And it still has the best original score ever written.

        I think the network was part of the problem–LOST became such a cash cow that it inevitably ran longer than it should have, and, in the end, the writing team turned out to be better at creating mystery than resolving it… The series finale was satisfying for me although I went from obsession (Seasons 1-3) to devotion (Season 4) to habit (everything that came after that). I didn’t have all my questions answered, but the series finale let me say good-bye in a cathartic and satisfying way.

        While you can binge on LOST with DVD viewing, it actually worked better with space between episodes so you could ruminate and discuss it. A lot of the fun of LOST was the thinking in between airings. Pace yourself a bit if you can!

      • Zoe says:

        I inadvertently became the local LOST pusher, like it was a drug.

        Whenever I had friends or relatives staying with me for a few days and I had to address household crap like doing the laundry or food shopping or washing the dishes, I sat my guests down with the Season 1 LOST DVD. They had usually viewed 1-2 episodes while I went about my chores. And then they BEGGED me to just sit down already and keep watching with them–PLEASE?! “And you do have popcorn, right!” Hokay. Twist my arm ;)

        It’s so very, very easy to be seduced by this series… I hooked more people onto it than I ever thought possible. First taste was free, as they say….

  5. Zoe says:

    Sorry I was so yappy.:( Apparently I went way over the line and I promise not to darken your door again. I didn’t mean to hijack or derail your blog. Or give you unsolicited or unwanted advice. I’ll shut up now. ;)

    • Jill says:

      Not at all, I love getting comments! I just didn’t get around to checking them for the past couple days. :)

      • Zoe says:

        Glad I didn’t inadvertently offend you! :) I can be pretty yappy though, so I worried.

    • Dana says:

      Enjoyed your views on Lost. Jill I recommend it as well, A friend turned me onto it two years ago and I watched the first 4 seasons within 2 weeks and watched the last season in real time. I cannot say that I loved it, the same way I loved other series like Mad Men or FNL but I was captivated by it, it was a very unusual format. I especially liked the first three seasons.

  6. jose says:

    I’m glad to see that you are watching Breaking Bad. Your review has actually made me think about it a little differently. I never really noticed a pattern with the colors that the characters wore, except for Marie and her purple obsession. It makes me want to rewatch the series to look for that. The other thing I never considered that Walt was turning into a villain in the series. Probably because he was always against people who were obviously much more violent than he was. Krazy 8, Tuco, other people….

    The other reason is because, at least early on the bad things he does seem to weigh on him pretty heavily. The best example I can give is the way me makes his sandwiches. In season 1, he cuts the crust off of the sandwiches he makes for Krazy 8. In later seasons, he continues to do this and I always interpreted it as him feeling regret over that murder every time. Anyway, I enjoyed your take on it and I’m looking forward to more posts about the show.

    • Jill says:

      I was lucky enough to have heard something about color being used in different ways on Breaking Bad, so I’ve kept an eye out for it all along. Skyler’s character is really one to watch there.

      Good point with the sandwiches! I’m almost finished season 4 now (reviews to come) and one thing I’ve noticed is that Walt is feeling less and less remorse about what he does, and more pride.

  7. Pingback: DVD Flashback Friday – ‘Breaking Bad’ Season Three | Couchtime With Jill

  8. Dana says:

    OK, I’m on Season 1, Episode 6 and it is captivating enough to keep going but so far I am not really taken in by it. It kind of seems like Weeds without the absurdity. It’s a good series, but as you said, it is not as well written as some other dramas. Other than Walter I am not all that engaged, although like you, I want to know why it is that Walter ended up a Chemistry teacher when all of his peers from academia seemed to hit the big time. So far that is what is largely keeping me engaged in it.

    Maybe it just takes a little longer to be totally drawn in by it or maybe I am falling prey to that thing where too much good advance press leads to disappointment. I am not disappointed by it, like I said it is a good show but I am also not captivated.

    Unlike you I find it easier to commit to dramas than to comedies, I am having a rather rough time with comedies these days (tried 3 times to get into Community and it just didn’t take, couldn’t get through two episodes of Parks and Recreation, Chuck and dropped Cougar Town).

    I’m going to try to get through season 2. I feel like if I can get through season 1, it will get more interesting.

    • Jill says:

      I definitely preferred season two to the first season, looking forward to hearing if you become any more engaged with it!

  9. Dana says:

    OK, just finished season 2 and you were right, it does get meatier this season. I love the addition of Saul, it’s a good development in terms of plot because you cannot keep having Walter and Jesse deal with psycho street dealers as that would become old very quickly but also Saul is a comic relief of sorts that I think the show was seriously lacking.

    One thing that bothered me a lot in season 1 was Hank, he was always a step or two away from Walter and Jesse and it seemed unrealistic that he would always be so close and that Walter, being fairly naive about the drug trade would continue to be able to duck him so easily. The DEA personal connection is so far not doing much for me. Actually Hank and Marie don’t do much for me and don’t enrich much.

    Like you I am curious about where things are going in season 3. I still don’t think the writing or character development is as good as Mad Men, Sopranos, etc. and unlike a lot of others I don’t think BB is in that class of show but I am continuing on.

    • Jill says:

      I loved the addition of Saul as well. Breaking Bad resides in a more unrealistic universe than some other shows, so I think that comedic factor works well for the show.

      I didn’t love Hank’s character in season one, but he’s really grown on me. I’ve never found it a stretch that he wouldn’t connect Heizenberg to Walter because I don’t know why he would. Walt was always this guy that he thought was really weak, bland, boring. The opposite of Hank’s kind of tough-guy character. I don’t think his mind would ever connect Walt to meth.

  10. Music began playing any time I opened this site, so annoying!

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