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AMC's 'Breaking Bad': 'Warning -- Extremely Volatile'
July 15, 2011  | By Eric Gould
The 2011 critics' preview DVDs for AMC's Breaking Bad,which launches Season 4 Sunday night at 10 ET, are subtitled: "Warning: Extremely Volatile." And, as usual with this sly show, it's an understatement...

dante1.jpgSince series creator and head writer Vince Gilligan is on record predicting that the story of meek chemistry teacher turned meth-making murderer Walter White probably can sustain itself for one more year, our journey with Walter, at this point, puts him approximately at Dante's seventh circle of hell (out of nine) --the circle known as "Violence," with its unhappy occupants of tyrants, murderers and squanderers.

Not that Gilligan's vision hasn't covered these nightmares before. This season's first three episodes, however, revisit these themes in bigger, broader, more merciless strokes. It's a brilliantly, patiently unfolding tale of a good man gone bad, descending towards metaphysical damnation on the plains of the modern American West.

And, when Walter's Inferno is said and done, Breaking Bad may endure as one of the few shows that has kept the pressure high enough each week that we viewers absolutely must know what happens next.

That's saying a lot -- but Gilligan and crew deliver the goods again, starting Sunday.

The stakes were never higher than at the end of last season's finale. Walter had fallen out with Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the southwest fried chicken and meth king -- served separately -- and was facing certain execution at the hands of Gus' henchmen, Mike and Victor.

Meanwhile, Jesse (Aaron Paul), Walter's partner in crime and former high-school science student, was racing to pre-emptively eliminate Gus' other meth-lab chemist, Gale, in order to save Walt. (With Gale gone, Walter presumably would be too valuable to kill merely on principle.)

The direction and pace of Breaking Bad has been so pitch-perfect, moving between levels of madness, domestic banality and black comedy, it's difficult to say how, or if, it could improved. It's been that good.

And Season Four does not relax.

Loyal viewers know that Breaking Bad is so compactly written and orchestrated that discussing one plot line gives away the others -- so not much can, or should, be divulged here before it airs.

The show has never pulled punches, and often is a difficult thing to watch, much in the way The Sopranos was. But Gilligan's view often seems more like a scientific study (its central character is a chemist, of course), with these characters packed like molecules in extreme circumstances. It often feels like a sober, anthropological study of bad behavior finding its own worst consequences.

Gilligan is simply, yet superbly, connecting the inevitable descending dots of a life of crime -- and all of those dots, especially the grisly ones, are here. For that reason, the mayhem in Breaking Bad feels honest, inevitable, and never gratuitous.

Broadly, we'll see Walt and Jesse descend more deeply into a hell of their own choosing, and watch as the seriousness of their predicament becomes much harder to maneuver. Walt's wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) continues her mini-"breaking bad," in finding ways to launder Walt's money. The grueling recovery of Hank (Dean Norris) from last year's assassination attempt also grinds forward in all-too-realistic detail.

Also continuing: the show's long story arc that may well end with Hank, a DEA agent, uncovering that the elusive and dangerous "Heisenberg" -- the infamous meth-lab cook flooding the market with his 99-percent-pure "Blue Sky" -- is none other than Hank's mild-mannered brother-in-law, Walter.

Perhaps most disturbing, as this fourth season begins, is Jesse's continued unraveling, given his unavoidable choices. It's a first-rate study, by Aaron Paul, of a dabbling hip-hop "playah," having to now emotionally deal with the all-too-real "gangsta" life for which he never bargained.


The art direction in Breaking Bad remains in the forefront as one of the main characters, and switches back and forth this season from benignly filmed domestic scenes to outlaw ones bathed in saturated jewel tones of red, blue and green.

It's a nice, ironic conceit which the Breaking Bad art direction team makes with the pretty colored lights highlighting the drama's most treacherous circumstances and locations: crack parties, dive bars, meth labs.

Even Walt has an increasing sheen to go along with his new, bad money. He's got a full goatee, more stylishly striped shirts, and is increasingly appearing that he can't ever return to his old self, or his old life. And you often are left wondering, even though he's in great peril much of the time, whether, if given the choice to revert to his benign old ways, he would want to.

The old Walt was an enslaved nebbish, not really alive. The new one, even with a terminal prognosis of lung cancer and sociopathic men surrounding him, has never been more so. Or more dangerous.

Finally, I consider it fair game to discuss a two-second shot from episode three, "Open House," which finds, next to Hank and Marie's bed, a (seemingly) innocuous Hummel figurine of a little village boy chimney sweep riding atop a smiling pig.


Breaking Bad viewers know to pay close attention to such things. It's disturbingly close to the recurrent flash-forwards of the pink teddy bear afloat in Walt's pool throughout Season 2 -- heartbreaking fallout foreshadowing a plane crash Walter indirectly affected in the season finale.

We'll know soon, I suspect, whether the figurine has something to with Marie (Betsy Brandt) and her recurring kleptomania, or perhaps it's a harbinger of Hank's resumption of his epic quest, out of his wheelchair and down the dirty chimney to finally clean Walt out. (Remember that the Mexican cartel sent out a snitch's head on the back of a turtle in Season 2.)

Whatever the meaning, we know it will be worth waiting for, and -- in TV terms -- breaking good.




india said:

hey! where can i get that figurine, i collect pigs & love breaking bad! pls advise

Comment posted on August 1, 2011 8:12 PM

EricG said:

Hey there, India:

It's a Hummel figurine, entitled, (I think,) "Goebel Chimney Sweep". I found this one online at ebay.

(http://cgi.ebay.co /ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=170679676270+&item=170679676270)

And thank you for watching The Cold Light Reader's Antique's Road Show.



Comment posted on August 9, 2011 3:10 PM
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