Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season

(2011) **** Unrated
612 min. AMC. Director: Bryan Cranston. Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito.

/content/films/4050/1.jpgThe AMC series Breaking Bad has often been called "addictive," and the descriptor isn't merely a pun on the show's depiction of addicts and drug dealers. This most unusual dramedy of errors is one of the most riveting hours on television, what you might get if you cooked up a special blend of Weeds (suburban drug dealer), The Sopranos (crime saga meets domestic drama) and The Shield (gangland thriller that's a little sick and a lot badass). Thanks to creator Vince Gilligan (a veteran of The X-Files) and star Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad continues to shock and delight in its irresistible third season.

For his portrayal of high-school chemistry teacher turned drug manufacturer Walter White, Cranston has won three consecutive (and well-deserved) Emmy Awards, the most recent for his work in Season Three. The third season picks up with Walter literally picking up the pieces from a mid-air plane collision for which he is indirectly responsible. By season's end, Walter will have gone deeper into badness, albeit still with the overriding motivation of protecting his family and his principal partner in crime, the strangely endearing punk Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Walter and Jesse are very much at odds, with the latter having cleaned up in rehab but still deeply depressed by the fatal overdose of the love of his life. Walter has more immediate concerns: as his pushed-to-the-brink wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) demands a divorce, Walter confesses the truth he has so tenaciously hidden from her, a seismic shift for the series. Unbeknownst to Walter, the wages of Season Two have arrived in the form of "The Cousins" (Luis and Daniel Moncada), two silent but terrifying assassins seeking revenge.

The season's central storyline deals with the evolving business arrangement between Walt and Gus Fring (a brilliantly measured Giancarlo Esposito), the local businessman whose Los Pollos Hermanos fast-food chicken chain is but a front for a thriving crystal meth distribution empire. Gus offers Walt $3 million for three months of work "cooking" meth in a state-of-the-art laboratory that appeals to Walt's still-strong inner scientist. In remission from his lung cancer, Walt has determined to end his career as a drug dealer, but Gus appeals to his ego, circumstances conspire, and Walt relents; this leads to a comical though short-lived bromance with new assistant Gale Boetticher (David Costabile of The Flight of the Conchords), whose Master’s in organic chemistry positions him as the polar opposite of Jesse, Walt's underachieving former student. As ever, Walt's brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) stays hot on the trail of Walt's criminal alter ego "Heisenberg," a pursuit that keeps Hank in mortal danger.

It's somewhat miraculous how much ground Breaking Bad covers in its celebrated third season. In addition to the creeping-menace suspense and black humor surrounding Walt's various sins (take the wickedly funny high school assembly in the aftermath of the plane crash), Gilligan crafts an entirely credible, funny-sad divorce subplot that ably serves Gunn and RJ Mitte as the Whites' angry, confused teenage son Walt, Jr. The show’s stock in trade is backing Walt into seemingly inescapable corners, wild cliffhangers that culminate in the staggering one-two punch of the season's penultimate episode "Half Measures" and finale "Full Measure." Superb acting all around contributes enormously (though always pitch-perfect, Paul tends to go undervalued next to his partner Cranston), but credit is also due to the fertile imagination of Gilligan and his writing staff in devising the cracked cast of characters, including the great Bob Odenkirk's prime slime Saul Goodman (“Better Call Saul!”), Jonathan Banks' always surprising cleaner Mike, and the unforgettable paraplegic, furiously bell-ringing Don Salamanca (Mark Margolis, in an always astonishing silent performance).

The beautifully produced Breaking Bad takes full advantage of its Albuquerque, New Mexico locations, and makes terrific use of source music, invariably chosen for kitschy irony. The crack directing staff includes Gilligan and Cranston, as well as feature helmer Rian Johnson (Brick), whose gripping episode "Fly" makes a virtue of that TV necessity known as the "bottle show" (in it, Walt becomes the Ahab to a housefly's Moby Dick). The banter between Walt and Jesse—who eventually reconcile—is always pure gold, whether they're bickering or showing unlikely insight into each other. Above all, though, the show's raison d'être is in its title: the series explores the ways ostensibly good people can be pushed to the point of “breaking bad," and season three fascinatingly expands the number of characters to whom the title can apply.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/7/2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony gives Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season a sizzling hi-def package in a three-disc Blu-ray set. The transfers here are fantastic, with crystal (meth) clarity and perfectly calibrated color and contrast; some minor digital noise here and there doesn't much distract from the beautifully textured, tight, solid picture quality. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are surprisingly robust for a TV series, especially one with limited action like Breaking Bad: the mixes consistently impress with a strong low end, subtle and precise ambience, and effective directionality.

The awe-inspiring collection of bonus features begins with nine engaging commentary tracks: commentary on "Más" with creator Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk and co-producer Moira Walley-Beckett; commentary on "Kafkaesque" with Gilligan, Betsy Brandt, writer George Mastras and director of photography Michael Slovis; commentary on "Half Measures" with Cranston, director Adam Bernstein, visual effects supervisor Bill Powloski, writer Peter Gould, Jonathan Banks and Slovis; commentary on "I See You" with Gilligan, Cranston, Brandt, RJ Mitte and writer Gennifer Hutchison; commentary on "Sunset" with Gilligan, Dean Norris, writer-director John Shiban, editor Kelley Dixon and music supervisor Thomas Golubic; commentary on "One Minute" with Norris, director Michelle MacLaren, writer Thomas Schnauz, composer Dave Porter, Daniel Moncada and Luis Moncada; commentary on "No Más" with Cranston, Paul, Gunn, editor Skip Macdonald, Porter and Slovis; commentary on "Fly" with Gilligan, Cranston, Paul and Walley-Beckett; and commentary on "Full Measure" with Gilligan, Paul, Gunn, Bob Odenkirk and Banks.

“White Heat: Cranston on Fire” (3:13, HD) details the shooting of a fire gag, with comments from Cranston and Gilligan, while “Pizza of Destiny: Cranston’s Greatest Shot” (2:23, HD) similarly takes a closer look at a special take, with Cranston, Gould, and Gilligan.

“Silent But Deadly: The Brothers Moncada” (8:36, HD) focuses on actors Luis and Daniel Moncada and their fearsome characters; the Moncadas comment, as do Gilligan and Cranston.

“Team S.C.I.E.N.C.E.” (4:03, HD) is an amusing CGI-animated short purportedly directed by the fictional Jesse Pinkman.

“Inside Breaking Bad (1:15:07 with "Play All" option, HD) collects AMC promotional featurettes with Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Gunn, Odenkirk, Mitte, Norris, transportation captain Dennis Milliken, Banks, Slovis, and Josh Foley of the transportation department. There's one behind-the-scenes featurette for each episode, as well as a few odd others, including ones in which Cranston and Paul answers fan questions.

Thirteen “Mini Video Podcasts” (1:08:12 with "Play All" option, HD) hosted by Dixon boast guest lists that include Cranston, Paul, Gilligan, Porter, Gould, Brandt, Mitte, Norris, Mastras, MacLaren, writer Sam Catlin, Walley-Beckett, Macdonald, Shiban, Golubic, Schnauz, producer Melissa Bernstein, Hutchison, Odenkirk, director Rian Johnson, and visual effects supervisor Matt Beck.

Also here are six “Better Call Saul Commercials and Testimonials” (10:21 with "Play All" option, HD) featuring Odenkirk; The Breaking Bad Family Photo Album (HD); “The Music of Breaking Bad (4:34, HD) with Gilligan, Porter, and Golubic; “Hit and Run” (3:19, HD), with Gilligan, Gould, and Powloski explaining the season's money special effects shot; “AMC News Visits the Breaking Bad Writers’ Room” (3:33, SD) with Gilligan and Walley-Beckett; and the season's “Gag Reel” (3:17, SD) of bloopers.

In all, this set will give fans old and new hours of quality entertainment, and with the Blu-ray set only a few dollars more than the DVD set, the price is right to splurge on HD.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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