After watching the first season of Breaking Bad, it is almost impossible to point out any flaws in this show, as it is just so well polished. The show has that rare ability to just completely draw the viewer into the world of the protagonist, Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), to the point where the viewers' own thoughts and emotions become enmeshed with those of Walter's. In a sentence, Walter is a middle-aged chemistry teacher that found out that he has terminal lung cancer, and resorts to manufacturing crystal meth, as a means to support his family.
On the surface, the idea of a fifty year old middle class white man turning to a life of selling drugs may seem somewhat far-fetched, but Bryan Cranston and the cast and crew of the show make it work. Walter is a character that has spent the majority of his life being the victim that is unable to express himself and reach self-actualization. At the beginning of the series, Walter is miserable with where he finds himself in life. He has communication and intimacy issues with his wife, needs to take care of his special needs son, teaches a class of misbehaving students with no interest in chemistry, and works a second job at a car wash to help pay the bills. But a man can only take so much. After getting diagnosed with lung cancer, his views and behaviours change as his suppressed side beings to take over. Instead of the cancer being an inhibitor to his life's goals, it becomes a catalyst, when Walter is reacquainted with his former drug dealing student, Jesse Pinkman.
Jesse is the guy that did not take school seriously, and had no discipline in his life, eventually leading him to a life of petty crime. However, he does possess an adequate amount of streets smart, and knowledge of the drug dealing scene. After losing his partner and laboratory, Jesse is unexpectedly tracked down by Walter, and to his surprise is presented with a ridiculous business proposal. In theory, a street level drug dealer and a chemist should make the perfect team, but in practice, they constantly end up having to compensate for each other's severe inadequacies, which sometimes leads to some great scenes of unexpected comedy. In Jesse's case, he has few values, minimal direction in life, and has more guts than brains. As for Walter, he has absolutely no idea what he got himself into, knows nothing about the people involved in the drug scene, and is driven by irrationalism.
Due to his genuine ignorance and unmatched chemistry abilities, Walter is able to turn defeat into victory, as the drug scene is just not used to dealing with somebody like him. When Walter does end up being victorious, it usually involves a chemical reaction resulting in people getting hurt. In these scenarios, Walter has taken his enemies into his own arena, and pulled off an incredible upset against them.
Despite the fact that Walter is doing a horrific thing by cooking crystal meth, it is hard to not cheer for him, especially in the scenes of destructive vengeance. It's just that Bryan Cranston is just that convincing in his acting. The most emotional scene from the first season takes place during the intervention, when Walter's family, headed by Skylar, attempt to persuade him to take treatment for the cancer. Walter replies with one of the most captivating speeches ever, that ask the people around him to give him permission to let him finally get to make his own choices in life, and to let him die with dignity.
The slower paced scenes like this one are great at adding tension, as they further entwine the plots, add to the layers of deceptions, and foreshadow the future. The classroom scenes are great examples of this. These scenes connect Walter back to his old life of getting stuck in his unfulfilling dead end job to support his family, continue the facade that he wishes to maintain, show the emotional state that he is in, and above all, his teachings are directly linked to what the episode is about, leading to references to themes, characterizations, and plot foreshadowing. What makes Walter a great chemistry teacher is that he does more than just number crunch, and theory work, but he actually goes that one step further and demonstrates the real life application of chemistry.
As for the DVD set itself, it is packed with a lot of extras, such as deleted scenes, interviews, and commentaries. The only bad thing that can possibly be said, is that the first season took place during the time of the writers' strike, so there are only a total of seven episodes in the season. But like a deadly drug, and the lifestyle of people that work dealing it, the DVD set has the same effect: once people get exposed to it, they want more of it.
Hey Cam, thanks for introducing me to the show!