Blu-ray Review: Breaking Bad Season 5

STUDIO: Sony | CAST: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Jonathan Banks
RELEASE DATE: 6/4/2013 | PRICE: Blu-ray $65.99, DVD $55.99
BONUSES: commentaries, exclusive scene, featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel
SPECS: NR | 566 min. plus supplements | Television drama | 1.77:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Program | Audio | Video | Overall

In the interest of full disclosure, I think Breaking Bad is television’s best show. Ever.  And I’m eating right and keeping myself in good health so as not to miss the second group of Season 5 episodes—the series’ concluding eight installments—which premiere on AMC on Aug. 11. Diving into this Blu-ray collection of the season’s first eight episodes is a great way to prep for the show’s long-awaited (but too premature) swan song.

According to creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad was intended to tell the tale of what happens when “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface.” Its story of a milquetoast, brilliant-but-underachieving high school chemistry teacher becoming a premier crystal meth cook to provide for his family upon his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer has evolved slowly—transformations of this sort don’t just happen overnight. But in Season 5, with a very long list of decedents caused directly or indirectly by his actions, Walter White (Bryan Cranston, Contagion) is in full-on Heisenberg mode (his bad-ass alter ego), and thus much closer to Scarface than Mr. Chips.

Breaking Bad: Season 5

Bryan Cranston (l) and Aaron Paul take it to the limit in Breaking Bad: Season 5.

With the vanquishing of Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito, Alex Cross), the big bad of Seasons 3 and 4, Walt’s only remaining enemy is his own hubris as he tries to expand his drug trade. Flush with more cash than his family will ever need—or that could even be laundered—he seeks to earn more, telling his associate Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, Smashed), “I’m in the empire business.” His only limitation is methylamine, a necessary ingredient for the creation of crystal meth in the BB universe, and much of Season 5 revolves around his efforts to secure a constant supply. To that end, he, Jesse and adversary-turned-partner Mike (Jonathan Banks, Identity Thief) strike an arrangement with Lydia (Laura Fraser, TV’s Lip Service), the logistics chief for a multinational corporation that has lots of the vital chemical. The season’s most ambitious, pulse-pounding installment, “Dead Freight,” has the crew staging a Western-style train heist, one in which no living person can even know the train was robbed. It’s a crime that the Walter White of Season 3 would never have even dreamed about.

As in previous seasons on disc, Gilligan rallies his troops for the audio commentaries that accompany every episode. He participates in most of them, alongside many of the lead actors, the writers, the editor and cinematographer and, in many cases, the segment’s director. This is a congenial crew, and the comments and laughs flow easily, so you can forgive them for not staying strictly in synch with the scenes as they unspool on the screen. Fortunately, there’s a lot of insight, so ardent fans will greatly enjoy the tracks.

The supplements, spread over the two discs, are mostly good, though some have appeared online previously. The highlight is an “exclusive scene” that was produced specially for the DVD and Blu-ray release. Entitled “Chicks ‘N’ Guns,” the eight-minute scene was created by the show’s junior writing staff and bridges an expository gap from Episode #508, “Gliding Over All.”  The scene is accompanied by a featurette explaining its genesis, where it fits in story-wise, and why the writers and Gilligan thought it was worthy of production after the fact. It’s a treat to watch.

There’s also a savory 15-minute piece, “Nothing Stops This Train,” that delves into the logistically challenging train heist sequence. We learn that the episode was directed by George Mastras, one of the show’s senior writers, a first-time directorial feat that Gilligan likens to helming Lawrence of Arabia out of the gate.

Other extras include a look at the show’s writers and an amusing time-lapse of the writing process, a compilation of the directors talking about memorable moments, a piece on “The Cleaner,” a gag reel, and even an art gallery highlighting Breaking Bad fan art. There are also some deleted scenes, the produced-for-the-web “Inside Breaking Bad” segments for each episode and the completely unnecessary highlights of a cast and crew bowling tournament. The Blu-ray package also includes an UltraViolet Digital Copy.

The first eight episodes of Season 5 succeed as both a dramatic reboot after the intense cat-and-mouse game of Season 4, and as a piece-mover for the series’ final installments. We’re here witnessing a new reality in which Walt reigns supreme, but in which law enforcement in the form of his DEA agent brother-in-law (Dean Norris, TV’s Under the Dome) is on the verge of picking up his scent.  It all makes for terrific entertainment, and portends a wild conclusion to this outstanding series

 

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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.