Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Breaking Bad - Pilot (2008)


Not your ordinary mid-life crisis

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has just turned 50. He's living a mundane life as a high school chemistry teacher, whilst also working a second job at a Car Wash in order to support his pregnant wife (Anna Gunn) and his disabled son. After finding out he has lung cancer, Walter goes on a ride along with his DEA agent of a brother in law, where he witnesses a drug dealer get arrested, and notices Jesse (Aaron Paul), an ex-student of his, escaping from the scene. After tracking down Jesse, he proposes a partnership.

Before I give my review, allow me to explain my history with the show. I watched the first season back in 2009 when it aired over a week on 5USA, a channel that airs over here in England. I did not get to see the second season, as they did not air any promotion for the second series, and since then, no UK channel has bothered to rerun the show from the beginning or even pick up seasons 3 or 4. But having just watched the pilot episode, here's my review for it.




Vince Gilligan, the show's creator, wrote and directed this episode, and managed showcases his strengths in both fields. The writing is pretty great, as the episode is structured to begin with showcasing how mundane Walters life is and how frustrating it can get, and this gives us plenty of scenes which, in any other show, would feel boring or unneeded, but these scenes are neither, as they manage to greatly build upon Walter, his life and his growing frustrations. Take the scene where Walter's teaching a class, it actually shows us how Walter is good with Chemistry and his love for the subject, which is a good decision by Gilligan, as it actually shows us Walter's skilled with Chemistry, rather than having us believe it just because they've made him a Chemistry teacher.

Gilligan also manages to show some great skills in directing, with a strong example being the scene where Walter finds out he has lung cancer, but people are more likely to remember the scene that comes afterwards, when Walter quits his job at the car wash in a spectacular fashion. He also manages to give a great torrent of dialogue between the characters, with it never being boring, but often tense, funny and quite helpful when it comes to expanding the characters.

Let me reassure you, the gun pointed at me did not change the rating in the slightest

The biggest surprise this pilot manages to provide is not embedded within the plotting or the storyline, but it comes from Bryan Cranston. For years, I have only known Cranston for playing Hal, the awkward and bumbling father in Malcolm In The Middle and I could not picture him in the role as a drug dealer. But after seeing him here, I am astounded by how amazingly Cranston has managed to subvert the people's basic view of him and pull out a brilliant performance, like Heath Ledger managed with The Dark Knight and John Lithgow managed to do in season four of Dexter, but unlike those two, i'll be able to see more of Cranston in this role, and I look forward to it. A brilliant example of how far apart Cranstons current performance is from his acting in Malcolm is when he confronts the teen boys in the store who are mocking his disabled son, in a performance that will have you not wanting to mess with this man.

Walter is a great character, who is made to be quite the sympathetic lead, who's turn to drug dealing is handled in a believable manner that requires no suspension of disbelief, it feels very in character and is done very well indeed. Jesse, Walt's partner in dealing, is played by Aaron Paul in a way that you can sense the frustration his character is feeling, because he has basically been forced into working with Walter, under threat of him going to the DEA, and this is all done effectively and without the need to have Jesse vent his frustrations at Walter in a very explanatory way, and he looks to be an interesting character.

The last time a show's pilot episode gripped me this much was with the breakout show of last year, The Walking Dead. Breaking Bad's pilot episode is one that will grip you from the first scene and have you wanting more halfway through the episode. I look forward to getting through the rest of this show, and who knows, you may get whole season reviews from me on this.

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