I've loved many series in my lifetime – 'Quantum Leap,' 'Lost,' 'Arrested Development,' 'Band of Brothers'/'The Pacific,' and many others - but this is it. 'Breaking Bad' recently entered my life and quickly become my favorite show of all. This isn't just one of those times that I find myself on a temporary high because it's present; no, this show is the real deal. Most series take a few episodes (or maybe even a full season) to find its tone, flow, and voice – but not 'Breaking Bad.' This one had it from the very first episode and it has never waned. Most series tend to lose interest and creativity season after season – but not 'Breaking Bad.' 'Season One' was filled with intrigue and a rich layer of black comedy, 'Season Two' with a large amount of tension. But 'Season Three' is as good as it gets – so far.
The third season opens with a mysterious sequence that warrants the same amount of instant interest that the first season opened with. This time around, we see a serene pueblo in Mexico. The beauty of this small town is quickly trumped by the curious visuals of a man crawling on his elbows and knees through the dusty street. First we see just one crawler, then another, then we see that a group of people are following his trail. Soon, two scary-looking shaved-head thugs show up in swanky 'Scarface' attire. Once they exit their high-end car, they too drop to their elbows and knees and begin the journey. From this point on, we follow these two brothers. Where are they crawling? To a Santa Muerte (Saint Death) shrine where followers pay respect to everything done (or undone) by Death. What are these two misfits doing there? Posting a hand-drawn picture of the cook of the famed blue crystal meth that's infiltrating all markets in the southwest, Heisenberg – or as we know him, Mr. Walter White (Bryan Cranston). These two want him dead.
The opening sequence introduces us to the driving force of this season – strong forces are at work to put Walt in the grave. When you think of it this way, it's quite disturbing: people are actually praying for Walt to die. If you're a cancer patient in remission, this is probably the last thing you want people doing for you. You've already been knocking at death's door and now others are desperately seeking help in getting old man death to let you in?!
So far, Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) have been trying to keep their meth business afloat with local Albuquerque clientele, but if you remember their new acquaintance from the end of season two, they now have the opportunity to play in the big leagues. Widespread drug distributor Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) knows that Walt makes the cleanest and most perfect meth out there, so naturally he wants Walt to become his full-time employee. But with Jesse going clean after the tragic ending to season two, Walt is without his partner. That's not to say that Jesse isn't a major player in this season. In fact, his role is crucial. He's not just a mop-boy, he's an unpredictable force to be reckoned with. When Walt's D.E.A. brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) closes in on Jesse, things get extra heavy. If you haven't watched season three yet, you'll see what I mean in episode six ('Sunset').
As amazing as season three is – from beginning to end – it's impossible to talk about it without mentioning one specific moment. Know that I respect you, so I'll keep it vague and spoiler-free. There is one moment that has earned the title "The Best Scene Ever Made For Television" in my opinion. During a certain episode (which I'll leave unspecified so you don't see it coming), without any indication whatsoever, you'll feel a knot bunch up in your stomach for something that you can sense coming. When I watched it, without a clue as to what was about to happen, I knew that "something was off," that worlds were about to collide. The scene was abnormally calm. My four-year-old daughter was playing in a room adjacent to my theater room, so I paused the Blu-ray and asked her to go visit her mother in the back of the house (out of fear that she might poke in to see what all the ruckus was), then I let it rip. What ensued was a scene so brave and awesome that I re-watched it two more times, one of which I made Mrs. Hickman join me for just so she could behold "The Best Scene Ever Made For Television."
One of the key factors for the success of 'Breaking Bad' is its ability to keep you from being able to predict its future. This became apparent to me with the teasing intros to season two's episodes that kept showing debris in the White's pool and body bags on the driveway. With any tease or hint, you can come up with your best explanation of how we get from Point A to Point Z and you're never going to be correct. The combination of the characters, the black humor and the unpredictability of its plot is what makes 'Breaking Bad' the best currently running series. With season four headed to Blu-ray in June and just one more extended season to run on AMC, now is the perfect time to get into it. You can blow through the first four seasons and watch the fifth and final season with the rest of the devoted followers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has once again done a superb job in delivering 'Breaking Bad' on Blu-ray. The season three set is comprised of three BD-50s in a slightly-thicker-than usual keepcase. The swinging arm that holds two discs in the middle of the case is made of sturdy plastic and actually locks into the main case on the righthand side (over Disc 3) to prevent it from dangling loose. A sweet collage of artwork is printed on the back of the cover art and is clearly visible through the keepcase. Included is a four-page episode guide and a sweet flier for the series (pictured below) that I want printed on a t-shirt. Aside from a skippable Sony vanity reel, not a single thing plays before the main menu. Be sure to have your Blu-ray player's firmware upgraded or it's going to take a few minutes for the main menu to fully load. Three episodes (303, 305 and 310) are presented in their uncensored form.
The fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of season three is right on par with that of season two. A high amount of grain is visible during the gritty scenes (yes, this series actually shoots on film) and the color scheme changes depending on the location of the scene. Those are intentional decisions that are never distracting, but actually convey the feel required for given scenes.
Black levels are still deep – especially when we see our cooks doing their dark work in their new lab. The room itself may be a deep and ominous blood red, but a bold darkness hides in the corners and in the background.
Sharpness and detail are just as strong as ever. Season three isn't at all lacking in this area. The only flaws to be found are very minor instances of aliasing and small traces of digital noise. Bands and artifacts never arise and DNR and edge enhancement aren't applied. It's sure is marvelous what Sony has done with this great AMC series.
Only one audio option is presented – a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Unlike the first two seasons, this third season ups the ante for the way 'Breaking Bad' sounds.
As referenced in the previous seasons' reviews, there was a reoccurring flaw with the first sets that left some dialog a little too quiet. That's not the case with season three. This time around, the vocal levels are just as strong and dynamic as those of the effects and the music (as rare as music may be).
The effects continue to function on a very high level. There's always something to be heard. 'Breaking Bad' truly succeeds in the way of ambiance and environmental sounds. Whether in the desert, in the lab, in a parking lot or in some weird chemist's apartment, you can always hear something going on in the speakers around you.
Here we go, folks. Get ready for the most extensive set of special features you've ever seen. While each disc has a sub-menu titled "Bonus Features," when you click on the individual episode list, you'll see that each episode has at least one special feature of its own. Deleted scenes aren't clumped together in one feature; here, they're attached to the given episode so that you know where each scene belongs. For this section, I'll break the special features down by disc and episode. Try to keep up.
'Breaking Bad' is devilishly delightful and the third season has once again raised the bar. (If you haven't seen the fourth season, just wait to have the bar raised even higher). Walt and Jesse once again get in over their heads and have to do the unthinkable and unpredictable to weasel their way out. The characters are just as strong as ever, as is the tense story. 'Breaking Bad' has quickly jumped to the top of my Favorite Television Series list and I wouldn't be surprised if it makes its way onto yours. With season four about to hit Blu-ray and the final season just around the bend, now is the perfect time to hop aboard if you haven't already. Sony has once again done an outstanding job bringing 'Breaking Bad' to Blu-ray, with near-perfect video and audio qualities. The amount of special features on this three-disc set is staggering. Bravo, AMC and Sony! Keep 'em coming!