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Reviewed by Will Harris
t has been suggested many times over many years that a hero is only as good as his villain, and there’s more than a little bit of truth to that statement. But when stepping beyond the clear-cut black and white of good versus evil and into the decidedly blurrier terrain of a man who starts out by doing bad things for good reasons and ends up doing evil things to protect the innocents who’ve been caught in his wake while also profiting from those actions…
Perhaps it’s a futile line of discussion, anyway, since there’s certainly no question as to whether “Breaking Bad” is a good show – indeed, it is the best show currently airing on television – but the moral ambiguity of its characters does make it a little difficult to define who the heroes and villains are, and never has it been more of a problem than in “The Complete Fourth Season.” Series creator Vince Gilligan has probably lost count of how many times he, star Bryan Cranston, and virtually every TV critic in the world has recited back his stock line about how he’s taking the character of Walter White on a journey from Mr. Chips to Scarface. At the end of the third season, Walt crossed the point of no return, making Season Four a highly disconcerting journey into the depths to which Walt is willing to sink to keep himself and his family safe.
Walt’s a pretty paranoid guy throughout Season Four, but as the saying goes, “It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you,” and after watching Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) use a box cutter to slit the throat of one of his most dedicated employees to underline the point (in blood) that no one whose actions risk destroying his empire are immune from paying the ultimate price, it’s a fair assessment that Gus won’t hesitate to take Walt out if he deems it necessary. Lest we forget, however, “Breaking Bad” is and always has been about more than just Walt’s transformation, and when Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) makes the decision to take out Gus’s other chemist, Gale (David Costabile), in an effort to help prolong Walt’s existence, it understandably results in a case of post-traumatic disorder, sending Jesse spiraling back into the abyss that he’d only just begun to escape. Another of Gus’s right-hand men, the unfailingly badass Mike (Jonathan Banks), proves to be his unlikely savior, but the end result is a schism between Jesse and Walt, one that Walt resolves in a fashion so heinous that viewers are still talking about it even now.
Walt’s increasingly devious methods over the course of the series have become infectious, particularly when it comes to his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), who uses her skills in the field of accounting to purchase a car wash to serve as a money-laundering facility for the family, leaving poor Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) the only member of the White family who’s still out of the loop. As for Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), however, he’s inching ever closer to realizing the true identity of the infamous meth manufacturer known as Heisenberg, and things are gonna get pretty damned real when that finally happens. The relationship between Hank and his wife, the kleptomaniacal Marie (Betsy Brandt), is highly fractured throughout much of the season, thanks to Hank having to battle back from being paralyzed after his attack at the hands of the Cousins in Season Three, but they appear to be back to some approximation of normal… whatever that means in their case.
“Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season” is a dark, turbulent ride through Walt’s continued devolution, one in which those few viewers who still maintained any respect for him at the beginning were left with stunned looks on their faces by the end. It also proves to be the end of the aforementioned Mr. Fring, although he goes on quite a journey himself, with Esposito’s cumulative work in Season Four resulting in one of the great TV performances of all time. Rest assured that, for as bold a statement as that may be, it’s no more hyperbolic than the suggestion that Breaking Bad is the best show currently on television – which is to say that both are, at least in the view of this reviewer, inarguable facts.
Special Features: Described as containing “over 15 hours of explosive extras and commentaries,” there’s little question that the producers of “Breaking Bad” have once again gone out of their way to provide their dedicated fans with as much bonus material as possible. It’s almost exhausting to detail everything included within the set, but here goes…
There are 13 cast and crew commentaries – one for each episode – which are supplemented on the Blu-ray edition by an equal number of video podcasts. Five of the episodes are uncensored, and there is an extended version of the season finale. In addition to numerous deleted, extended and alternate scenes, there are also eight featurettes (including “The Sets of Breaking Bad,” “The Science of a Hit Show,” and an elaborate examination of the season finale and how Gus came to look the way he did in his final moments), 21 episodes of “Inside Breaking Bad,” a couple of “Better Call Saul Commercials,” Gale’s full karaoke performance, and, of course, the obligatory gag reel.