There are very few series that I've watched religiously and even less for which I've arranged and hosted weekly viewing parties at my home – but 'Breaking Bad' was one of them. In fact, it's the most worthy of them. I'm amongst the many that deem it "The Greatest Series of All Time." I'd felt that it was moving that way all along, but couldn't say for sure until now. With this conclusive season, I can say with full conviction that 'Breaking Bad' is the most entertaining, satisfying, intelligent, and perfect series to have aired. I unapologetically loved 'Lost' and all of its flaws from beginning to end, but it wasn't perfect. 'Breaking Bad,' however, was. No series has ever remained so strong from beginning to end. Between January 20, 2008 and September 29, 2013, AMC delivered 62 episodes of pure brilliance – and now you can own it all.
In my review of the Season Five Blu-ray set, I said "it's fair to assume that 'Breaking Bad' is going to end with a very loud bang." From the teaser intro to episode 501 that revealed Walt purchasing an M-60 machine gun, we all knew it was coming. And in this, the second half of the last season, we get that payoff. We finally get to see the full vision of creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan's described story arc of watching a man transform from Mr. Chips to Scarface. If you haven't made it to the end of the series yet, then fear not – no unwarned spoilers lie ahead.
I was a bit bummed when AMC split the series' 16-episode final season of 'Breaking Bad' into two parts. The cliffhanger ending of the first part (which is labeled 'The Fifth Season' on Blu-ray) didn't give the first eight episodes an arc. It simply ended with D.E.A. agent Hank's revelation that his brother-in-law Walt is the mastermind meth-cooking kingpin known as "Heisenberg." This was a great moment for the series, for sure – but it didn't feel like a proper finale. The nearly year-long wait for the final eight episodes (which are labeled in this set as the 'The Final Season') to air on AMC was excruciating – but absolutely worth it.
I love a good movie or series that immediately kicks off with great tension. The first episode on this set has the balls to start off with the inevitable – Hank's confrontation with Walt. We knew it was coming, but who expected it to happen in the first of the final eight episodes? I expected this to happen near the series finale, but Gilligan and his awesome crew of writers had a lot more planned to happen between the two events – seven episodes to be exact. The first four episodes of 'The Final Season' feel like the beginning of the end, while the final four episodes flow together like one fluid climax that you simply cannot stop watching once you start. Week-to-week televised viewing was torture, so I envy anyone experiencing it for the first time on Blu-ray.
'Breaking Bad' has been worthy of accolades all along, but this final season really knocks it out of the park. The central actors – Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte and Bob Odenkirk – deliver their finest performances yet. The writers' beautifully crafted and scripted episodes offer them their finest moments. The tension and uncertainty of the series has never been as elevated as it is here. Who knows how many Emmys this finale season will win, but it ought to be a lot.
Now, let's talk about the actual finale – which calls for an all-cap bold font SPOILER ALERT. The finale episode gives absolutely fitting resolution to the series and its surviving characters. One may have wanted more of a grandiose climax, but anything bigger would not have been true to the series. I have yet to meet a 'Breaking Bad' fan that isn't satisfied with the finale, even though he/she would have rather seen Walt and Jesse change fates. Two of my brothers would have rather seen Jesse end up in a pool of blood than Walt – which now gives me a reason to be frightened of them. Being a snitch, they wanted to see Jesse die instead of Walt. I'm glad that they didn't have this much conviction when I would rat them out to our parents when we were kids!
Personally, I enjoyed watching Jesse get away. Over the course of the series, we've watching submissive Jesse do whatever he was asked. We've watched him lose everything and get manipulated back into it time and time again. We saw him try doing good, only to get sucked back into his dishonest and unhappy rut. On the other hand, we watched Walt do worse and worse things – solely for money and power. He had plenty of opportunities to walk away scott-free, but he never once took it. I loved seeing Jesse speed off in the opposite direction of his puppet master and enjoyed watching Walt get what he deserved with nobility. I couldn't have been more satisfied with their fates. END SPOILERS.
'Breaking Bad' is the series equivalent of Walt's extremely pure blue meth – its perfection, clarity and value are unmatched. Like an old friend, I miss it. I miss getting together with "the guys" each Sunday night to see where it took us. We didn't realize how great we had it while it was still running. The final season aired concurrently with the final season of once-great 'Dexter.' Watching the last new episodes of 'Dexter' and 'Breaking Bad' each Sunday night showed a perfect contrast of mediocre and great television, respectively. 'Breaking Bad' signaled just how far the mighty had fallen. It set a new bar for television, a bar that I don't suspect will be raised for a very long time – which is why I'll gladly revisit 'Breaking Bad' from beginning to end every year or two for a long time to come.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Buena Vista bugged the hell out of me with their inconsistent season releases of 'Lost,' but thank heaven that Sony has maintained continuity through the 'Breaking Bad' Blu-rays. Aside from the blue keepcases varying in width (due to the changing number of discs), the releases are identical in both physical style and menu set-up. 'The Final Season' release contain two Region-free BD-50s in a two-disc eco-LITE Vortex keepcase, as well as a third Blu-ray disc (BD-25) containing the special 'Breaking Bad' episode of 'Mythbusters.' The 'Mythbusters' disc comes in a white paper case with a circular clear plastic window. An image is printed on the back of the cover art sheet that can be seen through the open case. Just like the 'Season 5' release, 'The Final Season' includes a code for Ultraviolet copies of the final eight episodes. (Many have had problems with Ultraviolet episodes missing from Vudu accounts, but the quick fix is to unlink and relink your Ultraviolet account with your Vudu account to get the full season to appear.) Aside from a skippable Sony vanity reel, not a thing plays before the main menu of each disc. Episode six is deemed "uncensored," meaning it contain language or images that couldn't air on AMC; episode seven is "extended and uncensored;" and episode eight is "extended."
The consistency in video qualities hasn't waned in the slightest from season to season. 'The Final Season' features yet another near-perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot on film stock, there's a nice amount of grain giving a gritty feeling to this extremely gritty season.
Details are just as strong in 'The Final Season' as they are on the other Blu-ray releases. By this point in the series, all of the characters have been beaten down. Cranston's appearance as deathly Walt is legit. He truly appears to be deteriorating. His face and neck look like weathered leather. Before confronting Walt, Hank looks terrible too. His large facial pores are clearly visible. Aaron Paul looks tired, exhausted from being trodden on for so long. At one point, Saul's face gets mangled in a scuffle. The beads of sweat and blood running from his nose make the violence seem even more genuine. When Lydia climbs down the ladder into the underground cooking operation of the Phoenix distributor, not only can you see the tiniest bits of hovering dust particles floating through the air, but you can see countless grains of sand fall into buried bus with her.
Black levels are consistently solid and colors are naturally vibrant. Many scenes take place in the desert, which is now less sepia-toned than the previous seasons. An earthy filter is still used to give the desert a nice wasteland appearance, but it's not as crazy as we've seen in the past.
The only flaws with 'The Final Season' are the same ones that popped up in the past releases – noise and aliasing, both of which aren't common nuisances nor are highly noticeable when they do appear.
'Breaking Bad: The Final Season' Blu-ray once again explodes with a five-star 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that truly adds to the viewing experience.
The track's dynamic surround sound is absolutely fantastic. It's exemplified in the very first moment of the very first episode. Just like first episode one the last season set, the teaser features footage from the final episode. We're shown the White's home in a condition that we haven't before seen. It's fenced off, boarded up and riddled with tagging that reads "Heisenberg." The pool, which has since been drained, is a hot spot for skateboarders. With the camera placed within the empty pool, you can hear skateboards rolling around from all channels. They seamlessly move from speaker to speaker.
The special feature "The Layers of a Sound Mix" intricately breaks down the first episode's scene where Hank loses it on the drive home from the White's house after the shit-hitting-the-fan revelation. It's obvious that this scene was chosen because the sound is absolutely phenomenal during the episode. The creative mixing is absolutely unique in a non-traditional and unexpected fashion – but the expected effects is also just as impressive. When Hank and Walt have their verbal showdown in episode one, the sound of a remote-controlled car driving back and forth in the Schrader's cul de sac can be heard in the background. Effects like this are always used to ping around the channels. Skylar's high heels clack as she exits the restaurant following Skylar's interrogation. When Lydia is stowed away in underground bus lab and the Nazi's open first on the Phoenix drug lord's company, the muffled and distant shoot-out pops all around the theater. Dynamic effects like this are completely common.
The music and vocal tracks are also strong. Although the dialog ranges from whispers to shouting, they're balanced with the other elements to ensure that nothing is lost. The music sounds great, especially in the the closing of the second-to-last episode when we get the extended theme song as we're built up to the climactic finale. This 'Breaking Bad' set isn't lacking in the slightest.
I was (and still am) a die-hard fan of 'Breaking Bad.' Of all the series I've ever watched, it's stacked up as the greatest I've ever seen. It never faltered or waivered. There's not a bad episode in there. The series stayed strong from beginning to end. If anything, it only got better the deeper we got into it. Its brilliance is unmatched. The series concluded with an absolutely fitting and satisfying ending. The video and audio qualities on this set are superb. There are plenty of special features – although I'm a bit disappointed that the two-hour retrospective documentary is only included in the Complete Series packaging. I'm dying to see it, yet I feel like I've been stiffed by Sony. I've been purchasing and reviewing these discs for some time now, yet they're punishing me for it by not giving me the bonus disc. Instead, those who have just now decided to buy the series get it, while I – who have been buying them up all along – don't have a way to get it. Lame move, Sony. Way to screw over the long-time fans. That aside, this Blu-ray set is still a must own. With or without the bonus documentary disc, 'Breaking Bad' is still a series that deserves to be owned.