Anna Gunn, Dennis Norris,
RJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt,
Krysten Ritter, Bob Odenkirk,
Raymond Cruz, Giancarlo Esposito
Complete Second Season
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All photos © AMC
Reviewed by Jamey Codding
ryan Cranston was drawn to the role of Walter White because, as he says, he had never before seen a show turn its primary character around 180 degrees into a completely different person. Walt's metamorphosis shifts into hyperdrive during the second season of "Breaking Bad," as the high school chemistry teacher graduates from a small-scale crystal meth producer to a full-fledged drug kingpin. The most unlikeliest of kingpins, no doubt, but a kingpin who, as we learn in these 13 episodes, nonetheless cannot be taken lightly.
Series creator Vince Gilligan says his show's second season is all about consequences, and boy, are there all sorts of consequences flying around here. The season opens with Walt and "business partner" Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) being kidnapped by Tuco (Raymond Cruz), a batshit crazy Albuquerque meth distributor who wants Walt to cook for him and him alone because, well, Walt (or more accurately, Heisenberg, Walt's alias and alter ego) makes the best meth in the region. Of course, he only started cooking as a means to provide for his family after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, but when Walt realized just how much money he and Jesse could make through a partnership with Tuco -- enough money to need the services of slimy attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) -- he got greedy. Walt's thriving business invariably leads to increased tension at home with wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and teenage son Walter Jr. (R.J. Mitte), tension tweaked even further by the imminent arrival of the couple's second child. But while Skyler ignored her instincts in the first season and continually gave Walt the benefit of the doubt in the face of one fabricated story after another, she reaches her limit in the wake of Walt's mysterious disappearance and demands some honest answers. The lies continue to pile up, though, and just as Walt's business takes off, his marriage and relationship with his son begin to crater.
Things aren't going much better for Jesse. His parents kicked him out of his house (formerly owned by his now-deceased aunt) when they found a meth lab in the basement, but with a little extra padding in his wallet these days, Jesse starts renting a condo from Jane (Krysten Ritter), a recovering addict who lives in the unit next door. Sparks eventually start flying and Jesse soon finds himself in the first meaningful relationship of his life. Wrenches are thrown into the works, of course, by Jesse's growing responsibilities within the booming meth operation, with Jane managing to get herself tangled up in the complicated mess. And whereas Walt's actions and consequences typically took center stage in the first season, Jesse is given more breathing room this time around, particularly in "Peekaboo," an episode that allows Paul to explore a kind of emotional depth we've never before seen from Jesse. This depth is even further revealed in the season's tragic final two episodes.
It's tempting to trumpet "Breaking Bad" as the best show on TV after Gilligan and company followed up a sensational (albeit abbreviated) debut season with what arguably qualifies as an even better sophomore effort. While we realize there's plenty of competition for that title -- a group of contenders that likely would include fellow AMC drama "Mad Men" -- it's clear at this point that "Breaking Bad" can go toe-to-toe with any other series on TV. Cranston, who now has won two Emmys for his work on the series, deserves every bit of praise he's received. We've seen Walt do some truly horrific things during his evolution, many of which happen in this second season, but somehow Cranston convinces us to overlook the blood on Walt's hands and continue to pull for the guy. The same could be said for Paul's portrayal of Jesse, a kid whose life has been derailed by one lousy choice after another. The chemistry between Cranston and Paul (often and aptly described as an "Odd Couple" kind of synergy) is off the charts in the second season as Walt fills more of a fatherly figure role with his former student while demanding more and more of him professionally. Gunn and Mitte, meanwhile, continue to shine, particularly Gunn, whose Skyler finally finds a backbone in her dealings with Walt and even reconnects with a past office crush. And lest we forget about Betsy Brandt and Dennis Norris, who play Skyler's sister Marie and brother-in-law Hank. Marie has her own demons to work through while Hank, a DEA agent of all things, tries to follow Heisenberg's scent while discreetly coping with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder following an encounter in the season premiere.
As if the episodes themselves weren't enough of an attraction, this set (like its predecessor) is crammed with all sorts of extra goodies. The "Inside 'Breaking Bad'" featurettes offer fascinating looks at all 13 episodes from the likes of Gilligan, Cranston, Paul and just about every other notable castmember, and that's in addition to the cast and crew commentaries, as well as a total of 11 behind-the-scenes featurettes. There also are six original webisodes, which give the cast members a chance to cut loose a bit with some truly funny short videos ("The Break-In" and "Wedding Day" are our faves), and for more laughs, check out the gag reel and the "Better Call Saul" commercial.
The words "dark" and "edgy" are liberally thrown around by critics these days, to the point where it feels cliché to use them in reference to a show as brilliant as "Breaking Bad." And yet, the fact remains that this is one of the darkest and edgiest shows on TV, and one of the most disturbing and compelling. The creative team behind "Breaking Bad" has given us one "Oh, shit!" moment after another in two short seasons, all while delivering a story with limitless depth and detail, built on the shoulders of fascinating characters who have all, in one way or another, been affected by the evils of an unforgiving and devastating drug. We may not like the man Walt is becoming, but we damn sure can't stop watching his transformation.