The first murder happens barely five minutes into the episode that opens this fourth season of Breaking Bad
. There will be many others. That's no surprise; this show didn't become one of the most highly acclaimed TV series of its time because of its light, frothy tone, and central character Walter White (multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) won't remind anyone of Grandpa Walton. Those who watched the first three seasons will be familiar with Walt's story by now: a former chemistry teacher, he was diagnosed with cancer and turned to manufacturing 99% pure methamphetamine, ostensibly so his family could stay afloat after he died (the cancer is now in remission). Walt's devolution into the hard-core criminal known as Heisenberg is pretty much complete by now, but the brilliance of this character is that he appears to be deeply conflicted. Is he the tough guy he acts to wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), bragging about his role in "a business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ" and proclaiming, "I am not in danger--I am
the danger"? Or is he just a dude in way too deep who loves his family, and buys a gun he barely knows how to use, and whose actions have collateral consequences he never imagined? One thing is certain: Walt wants to stay alive, an increasingly dicey proposition given his relationship with his drug-lord boss, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). It takes the entire season for that struggle to be resolved; by the end, we know a lot more about Walter, and very little of it is good.
There's plenty else going on this season, of course. Walt is forever struggling with his partner, the wayward Jesse (Aaron Paul), especially once Gus tries to convince Jesse that he can cook the meth just as well without Walt. Skyler, who last season finally learned what her husband's up to, convinces Walt that they should buy a carwash--mostly to launder money, not automobiles (Walt also goes along with her plan to pretend that he earned the money to buy the place by being a professional blackjack hustler). And his brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris), who was badly injured in season three, recovers enough to resume his investigation into the identity of the infamous Heisenberg. Whatever the storylines, Breaking Bad continues to feature superb acting by all, outstanding direction and production values, and a wonderful eye for detail (one example: when Walt takes over the carwash, he breaks open the frame containing the prior owner's first dollar and uses it to buy a Coke). The typically generous assortment of bonus material includes audio commentary for all 13 episodes, eight featurettes, deleted scenes, and 21 Inside Breaking Bad mini-docs, in which cast and crew discuss various aspects of the show. --Sam Graham