Sunday, 1 August 2010

Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season (2009) [DVD]

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Continuing from the truncated first season, AMC's award-winning Breaking Bad tackled its first unabridged year and succeeded in spreading its wings and taking things to the next level. Cancer-stricken milquetoast chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and dropout meth-head Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) continued their uneasy partnership, cooking crystal meth out of financial necessity and greed, respectively -- despite the fact Walt's health improves and Jesse finds a soul mate girlfriend who offers him an alternative lifestyle. Elsewhere, Walt's burly brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) found a DEA transfer to the El Paso "major leagues" was more of a nightmare than he could handle.

It's a fantastic season that swelled in confidence, packed full of marvelous performances, with tense and horrifying moments that linger in the memory. However, it's also true that the second-half isn't quite as strong as the first (which benefited from the momentum of season 1's finale), and the manner in which a piecemeal flashforward mystery is resolved will split audience reaction (inventively left-field or stupidly unpredictable?) But despite some flaws in the final cluster of episodes, Breaking Bad's second season is too brilliantly written and acted to cause you lasting concern. It's a more complete, complex, and expansive season compared to what came before (the introduction of Bob Odenkirk as crooked, misogynist lawyer Saul is recommendation alone) and cemented Breaking Bad as one of the finest television dramas around.

Episodically, check out my reviews written during the original broadcast:

2.1 Seven Thirty-Seven (4/5) "... confident, ghoulish, rough-edged, dark, compelling human drama."
2.2 Grilled (4/5) "... a tense and satisfying hour of entertainment with a superb ending that tightened the screws on Walter even tighter."
2.3 Bit By A Dead Bee (3/5) "... a less enthralling episode compared to the preceding [one], but no less tense and mesmerizing in its own special way."
2.4 Down (3/5) "... my least favourite episode of this second season, but still an episode with a lot of merit and some excellent performances."
2.5 Breakage (4/5) "... an important turning point for the season."
2.6 Peekaboo (4/5) "... great episode... fascinating and brilliantly acted."
2.7 Negro y Azul (4/5) "... excellent episode from a great series that takes it sweet time, but always delivers."
2.8 Better Call Saul (4/5) "... this episode just motored along and the plot really unfolded into fresh, exciting new territory."
2.9 4 Days Out (4/5) "... a wonderful character piece for Walt and Jesse, strengthening their shaky relationship, capped with a significant moment for [the] broader picture."
2.10 Over (3/5) "... started out on a mildly humdrum note, but grew and deepened along the way."
2.11 Mandala (4/5) "... another excellent episode from a season that's regularly above average and quite often a superb piece of work."
2.12 Phoenix (5/5) "... offered several surprise developments, and a ghastly climax to leave you feeling hollow."
2.13 ABQ (5/5) "... perfect acting, great scripts, with some big advancements in the storyline and some tragic moments that stick in the memory like a safety-pin."

DVD Review

Picture (1.78:1, Anamorphic Widescreen) A very good transfer, although these days I'm so spoiled by the clarity and vibrancy of Blu-ray that DVD releases look rather feeble. But in thinking back to my pre-HD days, this transfer does a solid job and showcases the show's excellent cinematography very well. Most importantly, it retains the show's beautiful mix of grubby and glossy visuals.

Sound (English Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1) There isn't much of a continuous soundtrack to Breaking Bad, so the show only occasionally bursts into life. That said, this box-set handles the audio very well and the DD5.1 mix subtly uses sound effects to build atmosphere. Some people may be frustrated to find there's no English subtitles available on this four-disc release.

Bonus Features

Breaking Bad: Disc 1 Bonus Features

Commentary for "Seven Thirty-Seven": Creator Vince Gilligan and star Bryan Cranston (who also directed this episode) are joined by fellow cast members Aaron Paul (Jesse), R.J Mitte (Walt Jr), Anna Gunn (Skyler) and Betsy Brandt (Marie) to discuss the premiere episode. Everyone does a fine job mixing anecdotes with interesting facts about the production process, and Cranston is brilliant throughout. I especially liked his response to Gilligan's amazement that he was able to direct and act in this episode: "my secret is that I don't do either one very well." Also interesting to hear that one shot of Skyler's pregnant stomach was shot months later, using Betsy Brandt's real stomach (who was pregnant throughout the season).

Deleted Scenes: "Loading His Gun" (0.58m), "Reflections" (0.20m), "Blueberry Muffins" (0.44m) I prefer to think of these as missing scenes that are so brief and unremarkable they're barely worth watching.

Inside Breaking Bad: "Seven Thirty-Seven" (3.29m), "Grilled" (2.56m), "Bit By A Bee" (3.46m), "Down" (3.27m). Gilligan, writer John Siban, Cranston, Gunn, Paul, Dean Norris (Hank), special effects expert Dennis Petersen, Mitte and Brandt discuss each episode's creation.

Behind The Scenes: "The Cast On Season 2" (2.51m) Gilligan, Cranston, Norris, Mitte, Brandt, Paul and Gunn broadly discuss what the season is all about. "Season 2 – What's In A Name?" (3.02m) Gilligan goes through each episode, revealing the meanings behind the titles and some of the story ideas (such as how "4 Days Out" was based on the classic movie Flight Of The Phoenix).

Season 1 Recap (1.32m) Exactly what it sounds like.

Breaking Bad: Disc 2 Bonus Features

Deleted Scenes: "Walt's Return" (0.53m), an unremarkable scene.

Inside Breaking Bad: "Breakage" (2.35m), "Peekaboo" (3.02m), "Negro y Azul" (3.59m) More brief making of featurettes on those respective episodes.

Behind The Scenes: "Making Of 'Negro y Azul' Music Video" (2.01m) finds staff writer John Shiban talking about the discovery of narcocorrido (drug ballad) music and the desire to add that into the show; and "The Tortoise Scene" (2.49m) finds Shiban and Gilligan talking about how decapitations are a real part of the Mexican drug cartel's scare tactics, while Dennis Petersen looks back at gluing a fake Danny Trejo head to the back of a tortoise. All in a day's work, huh?

"Negro y Azul Music Video" (3.17m) The excellent, unabridged music video that opened the aforementioned episode is presented in all its glory.

Breaking Bad: Disc 3 Bonus Features

Commentary for "Better Call Saul": Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, writer Peter Gould and Michael Slovis (the excellent direct of photography) are on hand to lead you through this episode in a track that's especially memorable for Cranston's impression of Dean Norris.

Commentary for "4 Days Out": Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Slovis and director Michelle McClaren talk about the excellent "bottle show" of the season; designed to cut costs with a limited location, it actually became a highlight of the season. This commentary is interesting for the insights into production worries about filming in the vicinity of an airport and in the middle of a desert.

Deleted Scenes: "The Yearbook" (1.00m) with Saul checking out Walter White in his high school yearbook; "Raincheck?" (0.45m) with Jesse kissing a leggy Jane in their home; "Waiting For Results" (0.45m) with Walter and Skyler in the hospital waiting room as he has a coughing fit; and "Internal Thoughts" (2.08m) with Walt looking at his bruised knuckles in his bedroom, before imagining his doctor while staring at himself in a bathroom mirror.

Inside Breaking Bad: "Better Call Saul" (3.12m) and "4 Days Out" (3.12m) with DP Michael Slovis and "Over" (3.37m) all offer fun peeks behind the curtain of production.

"Better Call Saul" Commercial (0.48) The delightfully cheap and silly advert for the show's shyster lawyer is presented here. It's just a shame Bob Odenkirk himself is missing from these extra features.

Trailers: "Breaking Bad" season 2 trailer (0.32m), "The Tudors – Season 3" (2.41m), "Damages – Season 1" (1.32m) and "The Shield" (1.40m)

Breaking Bad: Disc 4 Bonus Features

Commentary for "ABQ": Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Gunn, Brandt and Mitte are joined by recurring guest-star John de Lancie (who played Jane's father Donald) on this episode's yak-track, as they chew the fat about product placement, colour palettes and tell a few fun anecdotes.

Deleted Scenes: "Walt's Demonstration" (2.19m) with Walt teaching a class about liquids that can't be mixed unless an emulsifier is added; "Baby-proofing" (1.01m) has Walt making his family home safe for the arrival of a new baby; "Welcome Holly" (0.45) shows baby Holly being taken home for the first time; "Rescuing Jesse" (1.07m) has Walt helping Jesse get out of a slum with help from Saul's "cleaner" Mike; and "I'll Drive" (0.52m) finds Walt offering to drive Skyler home.

Inside Breaking Bad: "Mandala" (3.50m), "Phoenix" (3.42m) and "ABQ" (3.52m) are all expounded upon in bitesized, enlightening featurettes.

Cop Talk with Dean Norris: This is a faux-documentary piece that's perhaps the zaniest extra feature on the entire box-set, with Dean Norris interviewing real cops about their jobs. These are chopped up into chapters: "Cop Stuff" (2.10m) where Norris talks to various cops about their profession, many of whom look exactly like him; "Chick Cops" (2.10m) where Norris asks male cops about their opinion on female cops; "Donuts" (3.15m) where Norris shares some donuts with the cops because it's "the lifeblood of our force"; and "Stakeout" (3.10m) with Norris and the cops stuck in the back of a car eating donuts while on stakeout.

Behind The Scenes: "The Special Effects" (3.16m) with Dennis Peterson, "The Props" (4.32m) with Mark Hansen the prop master; "The Sets" (4.00m) with Robb Wilson King the production designer; "Locked In The Trunk" (1.32m) with Aaron Paul explaining how they filmed a sequence when Walt and Jesse were trapped in a trunk together; "Inside The RV with Aaron Paul" (3.05m) where Aaron Paul takes us inside the famous RV's set, with its removable sides; "The Crew" (3.29m) with a glimpse of a read through and some meetings; and "A Look Ahead" (2.05m) has insight into what season 3 will involve from Gilligan. I think these were my favourite featurettes of the box-set, as someone who enjoys seeing the physical craft that goes into creating a TV show's reality. You just don't think about the fact all the interior RV scenes aren't shot in a real RV, do you.

Original Webisodes: I dislike webisodes/mobisodes, and Breaking Bad doesn't strike me as a show that even warrants them. But these were fairly enjoyable, even if they essentially feel like a way to give some of the minor actors something to do. Here we have: "The Break In" (4.40m) with Badger helping Walt pick a lock in the dead of night; "Good Cop/Bad Cop" (2.48m) where Marie dresses as a slutty cop and teases Hank in their bedroom (it's not as erotic as it sounds, unfortunately); "Wedding Day" (4.41m) where a bearded Walt helps a white-suited Hank cope with cold feet on his wedding day; "Twaughthammer" (4.05m) is a candid video of Jesse's band, with a cheap music video intercut into the rehearsal footage; "Fallacies – by Twaughthammer" (2.58m) is the full music video (directed by Jesse Pinkman); and "Marie's Confession" (2.43m) has Marie speaking candidly to a camcorder about her troubles. Yawn.

Walt's Warning (2.46m): Bryan Cranston presents, which is a viral video the production undertook where viewers could interact with the audience. I had no idea this even existed, so it's worth a look.

Gag Reel (3.53m) Bloopers galore. For such a dark series, it's great to see the cast cracking up and having a lot of fun making it.

Season 3 Sneak Peek (2.15m) A scene from the third season premiere, with Walt cleaning his pool.

Vince Gilligan's Photo Gallery: Self-explanatory assortment of behind-the-scenes photos.