The series certainly wastes no time drawing us into the action.
As the first episode opens, an RV is barreling through the desert. A man wearing only underwear and a gas mask is behind the wheel. Traveling with him are three unconscious men, and the floor is littered with broken glass and liquid. The driver careens the RV into a ditch. Once he's outside the vehicle, sirens approach in the distance. He records a farewell to his family on videotape and takes a stance in the road holding a gun, appearing as if he won't go down without a fight. Creator Vince Gilligan, who previously worked on 'The X-Files' and is writer/director of this pilot episode, had me curious and captivated in a just a few minutes, even before the opening credits rolled, a rare accomplishment in television.
When properly introduced, the audience learns that Walter White (Bryan Cranston, who won the Best Actor Emmy for his performance) is a high-school chemistry teacher and carwash cashier in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who at 50 years old struggles to make ends meet. He is married to Skylar (Anna Gunn), and together they have a high-school age son with cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte) and a daughter on the way. Walter learns he has inoperable lung cancer and may only have a couple of years to live. This causes him to think about how to take care of his family when he's gone.
After riding along on a DEA bust with his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), Walter learns that a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), sells methamphetamine and proposes the two go into business together. Although Walter's lack of knowledge about how the illegal-drug business operates gets him in over his head, his chemistry knowledge allows him to create some of the best meth ever. Walter has to walk a dangerously fine line as he works to keep his activities a secret while dealing with dangerous individuals and breaking more crimes all the while battling cancer and the effects of the treatment.
On the surface, 'Breaking Bad' appears to be about drugs and crime, but it is a much more compelling drama than that due to the work of the talented writing team. The series tells a dense, rich story about a family dealing with illness, and at its center is a man reacting to the choices made in his life. Some of which occurred previously and are hinted at throughout the seven-episode first season, which was cut short due to the Writers' Strike. Walter was a university professor, who almost won a Nobel Prize. In "Gray Matter," the viewer is introduced to Elliot (Adam Godley), a very successful former colleague and college friend Walter was in business with, who ended up with Gretchen (Jessica Hecht). Walter may have had Elliot's life, and I can't wait to find out what happened. The writers also do a very good job offsetting the darkness with humor in the situations and between the characters.
While the cast is very good, Bryan Cranston is the key element. He's outstanding as Walter, a man dealing with various emotions and burdens. At times, he seems overwhelmed, but whenever someone he cares about is attacked or in danger he springs into action and means business. With nothing left to lose after learning of his illness, he fluctuates between emboldened determination and resignation. It's hard to believe this is the silly, wacky father from 'Malcom in the Middle' but that only reinforces what a talented actor this guy is.
All in all, this is fascinating stuff, and like I said, I can't wait to see where it's all headed. Season one sets us up for what promises to be a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining series.
The video is presented with a 1080p/ MPEG-4 AVC transfer that preserves the series' 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The source looks very good, although grain does increase during bright, outdoor scenes and some white flecks appear during a tight shot of Tuco in 'Crazy Handful of Nothin''. Shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the series uses a lot of moderately saturated earth tones in its color palette, particularly when on location, and these are all handled quite well in this transfer. During the party in "Gray Matter," the theme was beige with almost everyone wearing the color. The blue sky is the only object that has any great vibrancy, but it too appears strong and saturated.
Blacks are used frequently in interiors due to the characters' illict work, and they are strong and effectively represented here. Consistent contrast throughout, but shadow delineation falters on occasion, although some instances may well be artistic intent. The depth is apparent and details are usually sharp; however, images in background don't always stay razor sharp and in focus. Other than minor mentions above, I noticed no transfer flaws. This is quite a nice video representation of the series.
The 5.1 DTS-HS Master Audio is impressive in contrast to other television series. The ambience in the surrounds does a good job augmenting the scenes. Objects are positioned in and move through the speaker system ably. During the pilot episode, fire engines convincingly move across the front speakers as the cross the frame. The subwoofer adds power to the explosions and thumps hard from the bass-heavy tunes, the latter sounding like a car has pulled up next to you at a traffic light. Overall, the elements are well balanced, although on occasion the softer dialogue can seem a bit too quiet.
Back in 2008, if you heard people talking about the best series on television and 'Breaking Bad' wasn't in the discussion, they must have missed its brief run in the beginning of the year, because there's no question in my mind that it belonged in the discussion. The scripts were very smart, proving to be unpredictable yet completely believable. Bryan Cranston led a talented cast and proved himself worthy of the Emmy that surprised a great many. The only issue I have with this season is the overuse of a wavering steadicam, a pointless and lazy choice that most times serves as a negative to the presentation. I highly recommend the 'Breaking Bad – The Complete First Season' and the only hesitation I have in calling it a must own is the subject matter, language and brief nudity may be too much for some viewers. If they aren't an issue, plunge right in.