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Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season(TV) (2011)
Walter White is a down-on-his-luck chemistry teacher struggling to make ends meet for his wife and physically challenged son. Everything changes when Walter receives a startling diagnosis: terminal lung cancer. With only a few years to live and nothing to lose, Walter uses his training as a chemist to cook and sell crystal meth with one of his former students. As his status grows, so do his lies, but Walt will stop at nothing to make sure his family is taken care of after he's gone, even if it means putting all their lives on the line.
For more about Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season and the Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray release, see Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 28, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, Dean Norris
Directors: Michelle MacLaren, Adam Bernstein, Vince Gilligan, Colin Bucksey, Michael Slovis, Bryan Cranston
» See full cast & crew
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Review
The best season yet -- and that's saying something for this show.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 28, 2012
Can you be tough?
Season four of the incredibly addicting and absorbingly well-made "Breaking Bad" is about physical and mental toughness, manipulation, danger, and revenge. It's the very definition of dramatic chess, with pieces moving all around the board, but here, it seems, with half the moves made blindly and the other half two moves ahead, unknown to the other side until all that's left is reaction, not preemptive action. The show has drifted far away from the basics of the premise -- a dying chemistry teacher/cancer patient cooking meth to make some extra cash for his family -- and into something that would make J.J. Abrams or David Chase proud. Creator Vince Gilligan's "Breaking Bad" has become a richly-populated experience that incessantly builds towards unbreakable dramatic tension and unspeakable twists and turns, with episodes -- the season's final few in particular -- ending with "don't-stop-there, don't-stop-now" cliffhangers. The characters are amongst the best-written and finely-performed in television history, and the show's so good that it's impossible to look away, the very definition of irresistible television and the pinnacle of story-driven entertainment. In essence, this is a top-tier, front-line show that only improves with every passing season, episode, sequence, and second, with every move made, every batch Walter and Jesse cook, every threat to all the characters' ways of life -- be they on the front lines of the most dangerous and manipulative drug ring in the world or secondary characters whose lives are directly and inadvertently effected by the dangerous game of brinkmanship -- that all give shape to what has become the finest show currently airing on television and one of the best of them all.
These are tumultuous times for chicken entrepreneur Gus Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) methamphetamine empire. His new chef is dead, and former cooks Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) remain on the outs and unwilling to conduct business in a manner suitable to Gus' exacting standards. Yet the Los Pollos Hermanos owner has no other choice but to make an example of a minion and convince Walter and Jesse to return to work. Walter, certain that Gus is grooming Jesse to take over the operation and earning the boy's loyalty through a series of manufactured events, buys a black market Ruger LCR .38 special revolver for self-defense. Yet Jesse's in no condition to cook, or cook effectively. He's suffering through a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder following his involvement in a grisly murder and appears a lost cause, a dead man walking, merely waiting for his new and terribly unhealthy lifestyle to finish him off. Meanwhile, Walter and his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) continue to search for a means to effectively launder the money that's coming in, and they're in the process of manipulating an old acquaintance into selling his profitable business as a front for the cash influx. But buying the business means the creation of a cover story suitable for explaining the family's sudden windfall, a story which must pass not only general scrutiny, but the watchfully-trained eye of Walter's D.E.A. agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) who, while in rehabilitation for a debilitating injury, finds himself obsessed with bringing down the Southwest's meth empire. With Hank on the trail, Jesse potentially out of the picture, Skyler shaping herself into a criminal mastermind, and Gus several steps ahead, does former high school Chemistry teacher and cancer survivor Walter White stand a chance in the heavily-mined landscape of his own making?
To offer much discussion beyond the general qualities of a show like "Breaking Bad" -- particularly in this, its fourth and finest season -- would be to betray the process and ruin the surprises, any of the surprises, big or small, easy to see coming or impossible to guess, that await the audience with every episode. This is the sort of material that's best enjoyed going in armed only with the foreknowledge of the happenings within the previous three seasons, brilliantly captivating and marvelously-constructed seasons which have merely laid the groundwork for what is here a remarkable thirteen episodes, thirteen episodes of the highest order that only improve as the show navigates its way towards a breathtaking climax, a final ten minutes or so of shocking developments that seem to all but cap the series, or at least cap a portion of the series and open it up to explore one of several possible directions and settle some of the even more difficult and inevitable story lines. Indeed, one can only wonder where exactly 'Breaking Bad' goes from here (season five starts in July); yet considering what Series Creator Vince Gilligan has accomplished with the show -- even as season four appears to be the high water mark, the unbeatable pinnacle of the series -- audiences must assume that there's even more of the story of Walter White to tell, and certainly series veterans can take an educated guess and figure that much of the drama will come from inside the family rather than through external sources, though of course in "Breaking Bad" the interconnectedness between all characters is such that "family" doesn't only mean "blood." It's impossible to say what the future holds for Walter White and the surrounding characters, but it would seem that even with the frenzied pace and unbelievable resolutions to season four's problems, there's still plenty more stories to tell, more revelations to make, more impossible situations to escape, more deadly consequences to come.
At the heart of the show and what makes it tick beyond even the drama and developments is the cast's total immersion into the parts. Season four is largely about the growing chasm between Walt and Gus, and to call the respective performances -- and, of course, the characters as they are written -- anything less than two of the finest in television history would be selling them short of the acclaim they rightly deserve. Giancarlo Esposito's work as Gustavo Fring -- the chicken man who secretly controls one of the largest drug operations in the world -- has evolved to the point that it bests Emmy winner Bryan Cranston's performance of the show's lead character. Esposito's character has ascended to both arch villain and headliner status, and the performance is one of the most fundamentally sound, physically nuanced, and emotionally frightening audiences will ever see. Esposito paints his Gus as a man seemingly always in control, rarely showing even the faintest hint of outward emotion. Whether the character has perfected the art of compartmentalization and remaining absolutely in-control and superbly confident or if there's inside a raging inferno of hate and anger masked by one of history's coolest demeanors is up for debate, but the performance certainly demonstrates a command of "cool" even to the point that there are moments where it's difficult not to like the man, a short-lived notion to be sure but that comes more from a respect for a presence and calmness under fire and control of a situation than a support for actions.
But the praise for Esposito should in no way interfere with equal compliments to Cranston's body of work and his achievements in season four in particular. The face of "Breaking Bad" delivers another seamless, fully-inhabited performance, here putting on display the absolute physical and emotional drain that has battered the character to nearly the point of no return. His battles with cancer pale in comparison to the war with Fring, his deteriorating home life, and the growing divide with his partner-in-crime. Yet Cranston's Walter White remains mentally sharp even as he seems always backed into corners and on the precipice of disaster. Cranston's portrayal of the entire arc amazes, finding so much depth and determination and guts and street smarts to go along with what was initially a man merely well-versed in the chemical world. Cranston's efforts have ascended him to the same stratosphere of a William Shatner, a James Gandolfini, a Terry O'Quinn in terms of televisions leads who are absolutely defined by the iconic performance of a single, great character. Cranston's obviously the heart and soul of the show, and without his molding of the character to such a precision shape there would be no "Breaking Bad" as it is, as a dominant television force, a show that from within every episode comes unparalleled dramatic tension. The program is one of the most complete to date, with every second, each word, all characters, the complete arc all contributing to a gloriously-realized whole, a whole in which there's not a wasted moment, slow stretch, or unfulfilled promise. This is dramatic entertainment at its peak and a program that completely epitomizes the medium's potential for lengthy and complex but complete and endlessly entertaining and enthralling storytelling.
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season arrives on Blu-ray with a somewhat shaky, uneven, at times even disappointing 1080p transfer. Grain is evident at times, but the image also often looks smoothed over and flat. Softness, lifeless details, and a generally pasty appearance compete with some stunning images, some very naturally-textured surfaces and faces, some organic and accurate film-like presentations. Indeed, the best visuals greatly impress, and there are times when the impeccable clarity allows for audiences to see every scuff on the meth lab's floor, the texture of concrete and desert terrain, or clothes. But then there are those pasty, more undefined moments that leave audiences wanting more. Colors, on the other hand, are even and bright, the image capturing a range from bright blood red to dull city gray with equal precision. Flesh tones generally remain true, while black crush is never much cause for concern. The biggest problem here, however, is the severe banding that plagues nearly every episode. While not a constant, viewers will note some terrible low-light color transitions and bands of colors slathered along walls and various suffices in some shots. Light blocking and edge halos are also evident. When this Blu-ray is on, it's really on, but when it's not, it's problematic to the point of distraction.
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, on the other hand, is endlessly active and a pleasure to behold. The track is one of the most involved and satisfying out there, precisely and with purpose throwing sounds all over the listening area, all of them with sonic accuracy and with prominent but balanced volume and energy. To be sure, there are a few instances where it seems just a bit too aggressive, but generally the deluge of sound effects impress. Whether the liquid rush and mechanical moves of a car wash as heard inside a car, the rumbly din of the busy laundry service located above the meth lab, haunting rumbles at the start of episode four, and the chaos of gunfire as heard from inside the back end of a delivery truck, there's no shortage of startling and totally immersive sonic elements. A sniper attack in episode nine might be the finest moment of the entire season. Bullets whiz through the soundstage a moment before the crack of the shot is heard, creating a frighteningly realistic sensation, an audible adrenaline rush that recreates the sensation of falling under fire. The track can go a bit rattly at the very top and in the deepest lows, but generally, this is a finely-oiled machine of a soundtrack. Everything is extraordinarily well placed, all of the sonic elements matching the on-screen action and with a sense of accuracy and authenticity that's unmatched for a television program on Blu-ray. Of course, music delivery is clear and focused, and the opening title beats produce a heavy, satisfying sensation. Superbly faultless dialogue rounds out what might be the best and most exciting television-on-Blu-ray soundtracks out there.
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season contains a massive array of extra content. It's all listed below, first separated into a specific episode-by-episode breakdown, followed by a general grouping of the supplements as they are specific to no single episode and found on each of the included three Blu-ray discs. The highlight is the assortment of thirteen audio commentary tracks that cover the show from top to bottom, with actors, directors, writers, editors, producers, musicians, and of course Series Creator Vince Gilligan making contributions and offering fans a thorough and entertaining insight into the deepest details behind the making of the season and the series. Also included are various extras that focus on the season and look back at the series as a whole. Note that all supplements and episodes are listed on every disc, but actual content varies by disc.
Episode One, "Box Cutter:"
Episode Two, "Thirty-Eight Snub:"
Episode Three, "Open House:"
Episode Four, "Bullet Points:"
Episode Five, "Shotgun:"
Episode Six, "Cornered:"
Episode Seven, "Problem Dog:"
Episode Eight, "Hermanos:"
Episode Nine, "Bug:"
Episode Ten, "Salud:"
Episode Eleven, "Crawl Space:"
Episode Twelve, "End Times:"
Episode Thirteen, "Face Off:"
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
To put it simply, "Breaking Bad" epitomizes television triumph. This is one of the most absorbing, smartly-written, supremely-acted, unflappably brilliant productions ever to grace the small screen. It's complete, enthralling, and endlessly entertaining. This is true edge-of-the-seat drama, the kind that shouldn't end and actually hurts when it does. In fact, the only bad thing there is to say about season four of "Breaking Bad" is that, indeed, it does come to an end, but an end that will literally steal the audience's breath at the moment of a gruesome revelation, continue for precious additional minutes, and culminate with the season's final shot that cements a terrible truth and sets an unexpected tone for the fifth (and, it seems, unfortunately, final) season. Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season's Blu-ray release might feature slightly lackluster video, but this is otherwise the definition of a complete, must-own release considering the quality of the program, the fantastic lossless soundtrack, and seemingly endless assortment of extra content. Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season -- and the series as a whole -- receives my highest recommendation.
Breaking Bad: Other Seasons
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