Thursday, June 17, 2010

Breaking Bad Rewind Review – “Pilot”

Review by Amanda White

Breaking Bad
Season 1 – Episode 1

"Who's in 'Breaking Bad'? Bryan who? Bryan Cranston? Wait, that guy who played the dad on 'Malcolm in the Middle'? I don't want to see that."

Yep. That was my first impression of AMC's 'Breaking Bad.' I didn't want to have anything to do with a show that starred the dad from 'Malcolm in the Middle.' Now, mind you, I had only seen a couple of episodes of that show when I made that statement, one of which that was all in French. But, my first impressions of it and of 'Breaking Bad' were not good. Finally, desperate to watch something on TV, I let my husband convince me to watch the first episode of the critically-acclaimed AMC show. And wow, it did not disappoint.

The first episode opens with a pair of khaki pants flying in the wind, a runaway RV, and a man in his underwear and a gas mask at the wheel. Not a bad way to start an episode, if you ask me.

The RV crashes, and sirens can be heard in the background. Another man, fully clothed, but also in a gas mask, is slumped over on the dash of the RV. Two men lie motionless on the floor, along with broken beakers, flasks, and a brownish liquid sloshing around. Things are not looking good.

The man in his underwear jumps out of the RV, grabs a video camera, and, with sirens in the background, films a video for his family:

"Skylar, you are the love of my life. I hope you know that. Walter Jr., you're my big man. There, uh…there are going to be some th…things that you'll come to learn about me in the next few days. I just want you to know that no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart…."

Walter Sr. may be filming this video for his wife and son, but it's also meant to give us a precursor for what's to come in the story, and in my opinion, a brilliant and effective way to accomplish this task. The rest of the episode follows suit, gradually setting the scene and feeding us information about each of these flawed characters without miring us in too many details.

We learn that the man in the underwear, Walter H. White, is a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher. We learn about his family, which includes his pregnant wife, Skylar, and his teenage son, Walter Jr. We learn that he's unhappy with his job, and, in one of the many realistic details of the show, is forced to take up a second job working in a car wash to make ends meet. And we also meet Jesse Pinkman, the small-time drug dealer who ends up becoming Walter's partner in producing and selling crystal meth.

We also learn that Walter's suffering from inoperable lung cancer.

What I love about the show's writing is that the first episode gives you some seemingly predictable scenarios; scenarios that you know are going to come up again later in the season. For example, we learn during Walter's 50th birthday party, that his brother-in-law, Hank, just so happens to be a DEA agent. Since it's no big secret that the show deals with Walter's involvement in crystal meth production, it's pretty obvious that Hank is going to be a major player in the series. But thanks to the show's smart dialog and amazing actors, you're still left wanting more even though you have a good idea of what "more" might entail. And as someone who has seen all of the first and second seasons, and even part of the third season, I can honestly say that there are still plenty of twists and turns ahead.

But all in all, the first episode is a nicely wrapped package that perfectly sets the scene for what's to come in the series. And I think it's worth mentioning that if the first episode was enough to turn a naysayer like me into a diehard fan, it's certainly a testament to the show's awesome writing, acting, and direction. And Bryan Cranston? He's no longer that guy from 'Malcolm in the Middle'; he's that effing great actor on 'Breaking Bad.'

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