Review: Breaking Bad 2×1

When good geeks turn very, very bad

In the US: Sundays, 10pm/9c, AMC
In the UK: Probably FX again

Breaking Bad is one of those TV shows that no matter how hard you try to describe it properly, no amount of description really gives it justice.

Essentially, the plot is this: a brilliant high school chemistry teacher (Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, the dad in Malcolm in the Middle, here almost unrecognisable) discovers he has cancer and that even if he survives the disease, the medical bills will mortgage his family’s future. So, despite the fact his brother is a DEA agent, he decides to get into the lucrative crystal meth business, making the purest, best crystal meth on the market using his advanced geek skills to safeguard his family’s future.

See? Doesn’t sound promising, does it..

Yet the show, now starting its second season, is one of those quality shows that’s allowing AMC to make a mark in drama after years of re-runs and cowboy movies. It looks at issues like the state of healthcare in the US, High Schools and indeed the drugs trade, giving the probably quite comfortable viewer a glimpse of the scary side of the drugs business, without the insulation from reality, make-believe and training the characters get in other shows – what would you do if you were trying to sell drugs, how long would it be before you got killed or had to kill, and what effect would it have on you, your loved ones and your relationships?

Now season two’s here after the first season was curtailed by the writers’ strike, and things are even darker than before, if that’s even possible.

Most of the plot of this first episode involves the Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), Cranston’s buyer, and his growing psychosis. A man who’s willing to kill one of his trusted henchmen after finding insult in something intended to support him, Salamanca’s craziness and potential to turn on anyone who’s helping him is enough to convince Walter that he needs to be killed before he kills Walter and his family. This unleashes the power of the chemistry nerd, who quickly comes up with a plan to kill Salamanca with some beans.

Meanwhile, Walt’s pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) is beginning to wonder where Walt is going to and why he’s stopped talking to her, and his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) is starting to work out some more details about the new meth makers in town.

This wasn’t quite as rounded an episode as last season’s crop, touching on now-familiar themes (such as Walt’s more animalistic sex drive now he’s ‘breaking bad’) and mostly focusing on Walt’s drug-dealing issues. But it was more focused for that and actually more enjoyable.

That’s not a request for a season of more of the same, since the joys of the show – if they can be described as joys – are the ways it depicts middle class life, its frustrations and pains and the Blue Velvet-like darkness that can lie behind it. Losing those would make it less applicable (yes, the show does have something to say about everymen and women) and more about Walt’s predicament. It just made for a good episode, but hopefully not a template for the whole season.

The well observed touches of Walt’s character remain in place this season, too: his logic and common-sense; his scientific skills; and his methodical nature, and continue to make watching him something of a geek ego-trip (yes, with those science skills, you, too, could be a hardcore crim).

It’s still not the easiest show to watch, and even its funniest moments are very dark, but as sophisticated drama goes, it’s nearly up there with the likes of Mad Men and The Wire.

Here are a trailer for and a clip from the episode.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.