BREAKING BAD: SEASON 5, VOL. 1 – Blu-ray review

“Breaking Bad” took up where “Weeds” left off, with an average person facing financial woes turning to drugs as a way of solving the problem . . . but with the drug progressing from marijuana, in “Weeds,” to crystal meth in this award-winning AMC series.

Most people would probably say that drug dealing and manufacturing is a bad thing, and that anyone caught up in a business that ruins so many lives is a bad person. But anyone who knows an underpaid or underappreciated teacher—and that’s basically everyone who knows a teacher—has to be rooting for Walter White (Bryan Cranston) just a little bit, even if the former high school chemistry teacher gets caught up in illegal activities. And however misguided his solution, the problem he faces evokes even more sympathy. Walter had been told he has terminal cancer. Realizing that with a teacher’s salary he hasn’t built up much of a nest egg, he wants to make a large amount of money to provide for his family after he’s gone—and that family includes a teenage son with cerebral palsy.

As in “The Sopranos” we get both the crime-business side of the characters and also their family lives. And “Breaking Bad” features writing that’s every bit as sharp. Like Tony S. and his crew, the “Breaking Bad” gang just seems to get better each season.

Fans who were wondering where this series could possibly go after it built to a Season 4 blow-up found out very quickly that White is in too deep to let anything get in his way. His personality has changed, and this season he builds new alliances and figures out a creative way to rebuild a meth lab that he and his co-“cooker” Jesse (Aaron Paul) can not only work, but also co-own. That means forming a partnership with their former drug lord’s muscleman (Jonathan Banks) and dodging a federal investigation following the Season 4 climax.

This season, as Walt’s marriage to Skylar (Anna Gunn) continues to deteriorate, new evidence found by investigators led by none other than Walter’s brother-in-law (Dean Norris) pose tremendous challenges for him to overcome on his way to becoming, finally, a drug kingpin. But he also broadens his distribution and becomes more ruthless in dealing with people who threaten his enterprise.

Though the packaging doesn’t say so, “Breaking Bad: Season 5” is really “Breaking Bad: Season 5, Vol. 1.” Only the first eight episodes are included, with the remaining eight still coming on another release:

Live Free or Die
Hazard Pay
Dead Freight
Say My Name
Gliding All Over

Though medium and long shots pick up a little more grain, close-ups remind you that the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to two 50GB Blu-ray discs is a decent one, with little in the way of compression issues, decent enough black levels and detail, and colors that, even when they’re not properly saturated, still look natural. The producers opt for color washes and filters to create different looks for some scenes, and those too look excellent. “Breaking Bad” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

The featured English DTS-HD MA 5.1 is hugely dynamic, and in the episode where the guys construct a huge electromagnet to try to wipe out evidence on a computer being held in a police impound room, you don’t just hear every creak and pull on the metal, you feel it. The LFE channel has a tremendous presence. I personally would have preferred less variance between the volume of dialogue and the volume used for special effects and music-driven action sequences. I constantly found myself adjusting the volume up or down. Additional audio options are in French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Let’s start with what Sony cautioned reviewers not to reveal: a Blu-ray exclusive “Chicks ‘n’ Guns” scene that features nudity and strong language—a teaser, really, for the second half of Season 5. Another Blu-ray exclusive is a collection of directors recalling their favorite or most memorable scenes, some of them going back to Season 3. And in “The Writers of ‘Breaking Bad’

Both discs are fully loaded with bonus features. Every single episode on this two-disc release comes with a commentary track, and it’s not just the same people together. Creator Vince Gilligan, actors Cranston and RJ Mitte, director Michael Slovis and transportation captain Dennis Milliken handle the duties for the first episode, while Gilligan teams with actors Paul, Gunn, and Laura Fraser and director Michelle Maclaren and construction coordinator William Gilpin for the second. For Episode 3 it’s Gilligan with Cranston, Paul, Gun, actor Bob Odenkirk, and producer Melissa Bernstein. Episode 4 features Paul, Gunn, Mitte, Rian Johnson, and Sam Catlin, while Episode 5 offers the liveliest discussion featuring Gilligan, Cranston, Michael Slovis, George Mastras, and Chistian Diaz De Bedoya. Episode 6 offers some interpretation for viewers, thanks to Cranston, Paul, Gunn, Odenkirk, Bernstein, Gennifer Hutchinson, Colin Bucksey, and Werner Hahnlein. For Episode 7 (another lively and pretty hilarious discussion) it’s Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Jonathan Banks, Thomas Schnauz, and Skip MacDonald, and for 8 we get Gilligan, Fraser, MacLaren, Moira Walley-Beckett, Jennifer L. Bryan, Kelly dixon, and William Gilpin.

There are also two five-minute “Inside Breaking Bad” segments for each episode and three that are more general, and for several of them, deleted/extended scenes (five total). Then we get rehearsal and audition footage that’s always fun to see, and a gag reel.

For longer features fans get “Gallery 1988 Art Show,” footage of an art exhibition opening of work made by artist fans of the show and presented in this Albuquerque gallery. In something similarly peripheral there’s “Chris Hardwick’s All-Star Celebrity Bowling,” an 11-min. extra that features Hardwick and his geeky team challenging a quartet of “Breaking Bad” stars. Finally, there’s “Writers’ Room Timelapse” that compresses 12 days of work into eight minutes. It’s mildly amusing and enlightening, with a voiceover to add order to the chaos.

If you begin watching all these features from start to finish, you’ll quickly discover that there’s as lot here.

Bottom line:
Its first four seasons “Breaking Bad” earned 29 Primetime Emmy nominations, and “All Hail the King”—the first half of Season 5—continues the show’s tradition of dramatic excellence.