Breaking Bad: Season 2
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Breaking Bad: Season 2



There is a lot of debate lately over health care. Pundits and lawmakers pontificate endlessly on the details of a piece of proposed legislation but far less words are focused on the emotional and financial effects a devastating illness can have on a family. One quirky series is centered just on this set of circumstances; ‘Breaking Bad’. It deals with a middle class family devastated by the news that cancer will likely end a man’s life. I enjoyed this series during its first season but last year I lost my wife of 37 years to cancer and I experienced a major stroke. It is impossible not to let changes in life not color watching these topics played out on TV. In this series a man, Walter H. White (Bryan Cranston) is told by his doctor that he has advanced, terminal cancer. Walt has spent much of his life living paycheck to paycheck supporting his now pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and their handicapped son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). This didn’t leave a lot of cash to put away in savings leaving Walt extremely anxious but his family’s survival after his death. This is a case of one of the most effective plot devices around; place a mild, reasonable man and trap him in the most unreasonable circumstances possible. Now most cable networks have followed the lead set by HBO and Showtime by creating original series programming. Here, AMC is entering the fray with ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Mad Men’ creating a new wave of award winning dramas that are but acclaimed by critics and supported by the fans. I did have some initial trepidation about a series like this being able to maintain the momentum past the freshman year. Much to my delight the cast and crew of this series have not only risen to the challenge but raised the bar once again making season two more exciting and intriguing than thee much lauded first.

A lot can be said about a series based on its pedigree. The creator Vince Gilligan wrote for both ‘The X-Files’ and its spin-off ‘The Lone Gunmen’. During his time on shows like those he obviously learned a lot about writing about the most bizarre situations employing the most incredibly regular characters possible. Walt’s solution for providing post-mortem financial security comes to him through the unlikely combination of circumstances. He has worked as a high school chemistry teacher for many years doing his best to educate his students on a field he is passionate about. Since his degree is in organic chemistry it is a simple matter to devise a way to manufacture the popular and very lucrative street drugs such as methamphetamine. As it turns out one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) now makes a modest living as a drug dealer but nothing close to the unheard of quality that Walt is able to offer. Naturally this is not the kind of side business you openly discuss with friends and family especially when one of your best friends happens to be an agent with the DEA. Initially Walt tries to conceal but his medical condition and side business but by the second season rolled around his cancer was out in the open and too many of his lies and deceptions are catching up with him. His cover story to explain the lengthy period of time cooking the meth has been things like holistic sweat lodges and other veneer thin excuses. His wife is at her wits end battling a secretive husband, bat guano crazy sister and the hormonal swings of pregnancy. In the second season Jesse has gotten a reputation with the drug dealing underworld for his association with a master class chemist known as ‘Captain Cook, Walt. The pair still needs their connections to this seedy underbelly of the drug world for raw material and distribution but soon one dealer, Tuco (Raymond Cruz) wants a monopoly on the super pure drug. Now Tuco is not just a drug lord with a mean streak, he is a certifiable psychopathic killer. He shoots one of his own loyal men just to prove a point he was making. Walt tries some chemical tricks to kill him but Tuco is more difficult to get rid of than a New York City roach. The criminal kidnaps Walt and Jesse adding another long unexplained absence that Walt has to account for with his wife. Later Walt has troubles finding a legal explanation for his sizeable ill gotten booty. That winds up using online donations and an East European hacker.

I realize that this may come off as an unlikely premise since the protagonist is manufacturing a deadly drug in wholesale quantities and is deceiving everyone that cares for him. It may seem like any other solution would have been preferable but remember this is ultimately a work of fiction, albeit a finely crafted example. The writing is impeccable. There is not a single wasted or superfluous moment to be found here. The audience is readily pulled into the dangerous and confusing world knowing full well Walter entered it with his eyes wide open to what he was getting into. In some ways this is a dark and twisted variation of the American dream and ingenuity. When a man’s entire life cannot provide for his family he relies on his education for the only solution he is able to muster. Selling this requires a group of actors with the talent to perfectly slip into their roles. Most people will recognize Cranston from his role as the much put upon father in ‘Malcolm in the Middle’. That series did prove that the man has a real knack for comedy but doesn’t offer an indication that he is capable of a dramatic performance of such incredible depth. Aaron Paul is another family face thanks to his regular role on HBO’s drama ‘Big Love’. He plays his character as a confused, frightened young man, the perfect counterpoint to Cranston’s controlled chaos. The release of the second season is the first time on Blu-ray and timed to coincide with the initial Blu-ray of season one and the television premier of season three. This is one of the best done shows on the tube and well worth having.

Posted 03/13/2010

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