This is it – the beginning of the end. After four fantastic seasons that progressively made the series grow stronger and stronger, we're just about there. I can't say that I agree with the decision that AMC and Sony made to split the 16-episode fifth and final season into two parts, but I'm really excited for where it's going. While this Blu-ray release labels itself as "The Fifth Season," it's really only the first half of season season five. I imagine that when the second half makes its way to Blu-ray, it will be labeled as "The Final Season." The eight episodes contained in this set don't quite function as a stand-alone season – there isn't a complete arc – but it definitely sets itself up for what should be an intense finale. And with the show's track record, it's fair to assume that 'Breaking Bad' is going to end with a very loud bang.
Season four ended with Mr. Walter White (three-time Emmy-winner Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, who also has two Emmys of his own) obtaining complete liberation from their smart, intimidating, and oppressive distributor - Gus Fring. Without a single obstacle in their way and with the best "cook" in the world, the sky is the limit for our anti-hero duo. There are so many juicy moments in the contained eight episodes, moments sure to make every fan of the series giggle with excitement, that I'm going to try my very best to keep the details vague for those of you who have not yet watched it.
There are three major results of Gus no longer being part of the picture: the DEA – including Walt's brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) – are pushing hard to find every known member of Gus' international operation; without a lab and distribution, Walt and Jesse must now find new methods of cooking and distributing their 99-percent pure crystal meth; and Walt's ego is out of control. If you just took down biggest meth operation in North America, wouldn't you have an inflated head as well?
The Blu-ray cover art contains the text "All Hail the King" emboldened on the front. This isn't a praise that we, the audience, give to Mr. White. No, it's a praise that he gives to himself. Having defeated the one man that very well may have been smarter than himself, Walt is out of control. As we see, it's his way or the highway. There isn't a trace of Mr. White in Walt anymore – it's all Heisenberg from here on out. It's always been obvious that this series is all about the erosion of good man. At this point, the once-good man no longer exists and, in comparison, Jesse begins to look like a saint. Walter White may no longer have cancer, but he is a cancer. He brings death, ruining lives and families wherever he goes. His intentions were good in the start, but that's no longer the case. The character that I once rooted for is becoming so evil that I cannot wait to see him meet his demise – assuming that's where showrunner, creator, and writer Vince Gilligan is taking the series.
But just because Gus is gone, it doesn't mean that other problems aren't going to arise. As we saw in her last scene from season four, Walt's wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) no longer views her husband the same way. She will continue to launder his dirty money through their car wash, but she's no longer happily cooperating and she's going to fight Walt's will until his - or her - dying breath.
Aside from past issues with competing cartels, Gus' operation was functioning flawlessly until Walt and Jesse came around. His team was silent and tight, their loyalty and trust never in question – but now that the DEA is applying heat and Gus is out of the picture, how quiet do you think his pressured henchmen will be now. And as if Gus' 10 major employees weren't posing enough of a threat, how do you think Gus' right-hand man Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is going to take the news of the season four's final events?
Season five doesn't feel like a complete season (which I why I'm assuming the cover art doesn't follow suit with the previous season releases by titling it 'The Complete Fifth Season'), but that doesn't mean that it isn't filled with greatness. There are plenty of extremely memorable moments – for the good or bad of the characters – and it's completely entertaining through and through. Starting with the season's opening tease, there are plenty of puzzling twists and ominous foreshadowing. The episodes found on this Blu-ray set might have been strengthened by running fluidly with the final eight, but at least this set allows you to catch up and get refreshed prior to the August 11, 2013 premiere.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Buena Vista bugged the hell out of me with their inconsistent Blu-ray releases of 'Lost' seasons, so I must tip my hat to Sony for maintaining continuity through the 'Breaking Bad' Blu-rays. Aside from the blue keepcases varying in width (due to the varying number of discs), the releases are identical in both physical style and menu set-up. 'The Fifth Season' release contain two Region-free BD-50s in an eco-LITE Vortex keepcase. Art is printed on the back of the cover art sheet that can be seen through the open case. The only new addition to the packaging is the inclusion of Ultraviolet copies of all eight episodes. Aside from a skippable Sony vanity reel, not a thing plays before the main menu of each disc. Episodes three, six and seven are "uncensored" and contain language or images that couldn't air on AMC.
The consistency in video qualities hasn't waned in the slightest from season to season. Season five is carried along by a near-perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that presents it in its original 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio. Please remember that 'Breaking Bad' is shot on film stock with a very particular style, so the (at times) heavy grain adds an appropriate look to the gritty series.
As always, the video quality is as clear as Walter White's blue meth. In all 374-minutes, there's only one tiny cleanliness flaw that caught my attention. In episode 507 at the 23:21 mark, there's a thin white scratch or hair towards the top right side of the frame over a black area of the screen. That's it. There's not another flaw in the physical transfer.
The southwest colorization is still exaggerated and heavily saturated – especially in desert settings. The sepia tones are poignant and fiery. These are the only settings that make use of strong filters. Every other setting has strong colorization that ranges all around the color wheel. As the story has turned darker, so has the lighting. There are countless scenes of Walt lurking in the shadows, only the silver lining of his silhouette carrying any light. Black levels are deep, many times the shadows are deep and mood-setting – an obvious design decision.
Fine details are consistent and impressive. A new character, the always-stressed and high-strung Lydia, has several head-swirling extreme close-ups. In the midst of these panic attacks, the small veins around her eye sockets can be seen bulging out. The suede texture of the iconic Heisenberg hat is perfectly visible. As Walt and company pace around a dingy warehouse, hundreds of individual dust particles can be seen floating through the air. So far, the entire season has only spanned one year of Walt's life, but the close-ups of his withered face perfectly show the stress that he has gone through.
The only compression flaws are the same ones that exist in the Blu-rays of the previous seasons. I noticed two very minor instance of digital noise on the first disc and three instances of minor banding on the second disc.
I've been waiting for a 'Breaking Bad' Blu-ray to bust into five-star quality and I couldn't be more pleased with season five pulling it off. This 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track takes the 'Breaking Bad' experience to the next level.
There are some fantastic examples of dynamic surround sound featured here. It's within this aspect that the sound of season five's Blu-rays are pushed into five-star area. Any time that we're in the lobby of Madrigal headquarters, the clickety-clack of shoes – especially Lydia's high-heels – against the hard tile floor cause great echoey sounds to bounce around the room. Mixed with the loud heels are the softer pitter-patters of men's soles.
Another exemplary setting is the open desert. Be it the sandy wide open fields or the rolling shrub-covered hills, the sounds of blowing wind toss sand and twigs through the air can be heard moving from channel to channel. In this same setting, the effects of dirt bike popping around the hills also denotes a great use of all channels and imaging.
Season five has built upon and strengthened the vocal quality. The ranges seem to naturally vary more. More depth is given to the voices. There's a new depth to Walt's voice. A heavier dose of bass is brought out. His voice now has the potential to be booming without being loud, adding a lot of indirect threat to his verbal commands. Who knew that the dad from 'Malcolm in the Middle' could ever be viewed as an extremely intimidating threat!
For the sake of removing confusion, allow me to classify the special features into two categories: there are those that are found within the "Special Features" section of the menu, and there are those that are found attached to each episode in the "Episodes" section of the menu. Don't be confused by the "Inside 'Breaking Bad'" special feature because different episodes of it are placed in different sections of the menu. For the sake of ease, the following list of special features will begin with those found in the "Special Features" sub-menu, after which I'll dive into the episode-specific extras. Stay with me, for there are over nine hours of solid features here - hence the five-star rating.
I truly believe that 'Breaking Bad' is the best series of all time. It's dark, comical, and exceptionally well written, directed, acted, and produced. The whole show has been building up to one huge arc that we are finally being lead to through the first eight episodes of season five. This Blu-ray set doesn't quite feel like a complete season, but it's building to the final eight episodes of the series. AMC and Sony should not have split the last season into two parts, but given the show's track record, it's certain that what's to come will be worth the wait. There are only a few compression errors within the nearly flawless video quality, but the audio quality has stepped up to a perfect five stars. With over nine hours of quality special features, this Blu-ray set is yet another must-own 'Breaking Bad' release.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.