The first season of Breaking Bad is often considered the weakest. The AMC series didn’t start with a bang and as a result, it only became popular during its later stages. Despite the slow start, it ended up impressing fans and leaving a lasting legacy.
But was the first season really bad? Critics loved it as much as they loved the rest of the seasons. However, fans were divided, with some coming up with the conclusion that the series was overrated. “Bad’ and “overrated” are totally incorrect. “Slow” is a more fitting adjective to use. But even with the unhurried plot, an argument can be made for the season’s brilliance. Here’s why it was good, and why it didn’t impress.
Letdown: Minimal Action And Thrills
The first season mainly focussed on Walt’s illness and the formation of his relationship with Jesse as well as his foray into the meth business. Walt and Jesse had fewer adventures, spending most of their time in their 1986 Fleetwood Bounder RV. As a result, things often felt dull.
Season One constantly asked the viewer to be patient but in an era when there are many options, that’s a lot to ask. Most people who don’t understand what the fuss about the series is all about probably gave up on it after watching the first few episodes.
Perfect: Walt’s Transition
After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Walter White made the decision to make crystallized methamphetamine in order to make enough money for his family that would guarantee them a good life after his death.
Walt also hired his former unruly student Jesse business to help him with distributing the meth since Jesse knew the streets better. Slowly, throughout the season, the drug business transforms Walt to an ordinary family man to a heartless antihero. It’s not until the second-last episode titled, “A Crazy Handful of Nothing,” that we see Walt shave his hair and adopt his moniker, Heisenberg.
Letdown: Lack Of An Overarching Villain
The casting of the ever-impressive Giancarlo Esposito as the drug lord Gustavo “Gus” Fring in Season Two was a major turning point for Breaking Bad. That is when it moved from just being a critically acclaimed series with a good plot to an entertaining series that everyone would love.
The decision to place much focus on the cartel also helped. The audience was introduced to a string of interesting supporting characters like Tortuga (Danny Trejo) who eventually had his head cut off and placed on top of a turtle with a bomb in it. In contrast, the first season had no one that was really a major threat to Walt.
Perfect: It Set Up A Strong Foundation
Season One laid a very strong foundation for the towering seasons that followed. A lot of things were still a mystery and this made viewers eager to see how things will turn out. The DEA agent Hank was busy hunting the new drug distributor in town, not knowing that it was, in fact, his brother-in-law Walt.
Walt’s wife Skyler also had no idea what her husband was up to though she was constantly suspicious. There was also the issue of Walt’s cancer and how his health would turn out in the long run. Will he die? Will he recover? All these were important questions to keep the viewer glued.
Letdown: Lowest Viewership Figures
Many TV shows get canceled after the first season due to low ratings and viewership figures but Breaking Bad survived this. The first season was the least viewed, average less than 2 million viewers. By Season Five, the figures had shot to 6 million.
According to star Aaron Paul, the only reason that AMC initially spared Breaking Bad was that the critics really loved it. Despite low viewership figures. critics loved the direction that the series was going from the very start.
Perfect: Showcases The Average Person’s Daily Struggles
By the second season, Walt had already veered into the “super fictional character” territory. He was no longer someone the viewer could relate to. He was only someone you could be entertained by, like Batman or James Bond. You love James Bond but you can’t really relate to how he wakes up in Monaco and by evening, he’s having drinks in Budapest.
In season one, Walt was a struggling family man. He had been diagnosed with cancer, his teenage son had cerebral palsy and his wife Skyler was pregnant yet he had no money. He has disagreements with his wife too and he also irks those who love him by initially refusing to get treatment.
Letdown: Plenty Of Mistakes
In the first season, the production team was probably just getting the hang of everything. Unfortunately, there were plenty of continuity errors as well as general film-editing mistakes. All these could hardly be found in later seasons.
To name a few, in the pilot when Walt leans down to vomit after telling Jesse how he poisoned the gunmen with phosphorous, the microphone transmitter is seen under his shirt. Walt also asks his students “What is Chemistry?” yet he’s been teaching them the subject for a while. And in the second episode when Jesse places Emilio’s dead body in the bathtub, Emilio can be seen blinking one time. Oops! Can we call that “The Bathing Dead?”
Perfect: Walt And Jesse’s Relationship
In Season One, it was really just Walt and Jesse against the world. There weren’t too many factors that complicated their relationship. But in the second season, we were introduced to the likes of Saul Goodman, Mike and Gus Fring who went on to influence most of the decisions Walt and Jesse made.
By the second season, Walt and Jesse’s relationship was also that of a father and son. However, in the first season, they were still wary of each other and this made things interesting. Jesse even attempted to cook Meth without Walt, only to realize he’s not that good at it.
Letdown: The Cinematography
Season One wasn’t as stylish as the rest of the seasons. This is probably due to the fact that the lead cinematographers were different. In the first season, cinematographer Rey Villalobos made all the scenes appear darker hence there was a constant somber mood.
In the second season, cinematographer Michael Slovis was brought on board and we ended up seeing more lighting, texture, and color. There were low-angled shots, birds-eye view shots and close shots meant to emphasize the emotions.
Perfect: Comedic Relief
In as much as the first season was mostly somber, there were plenty of well-executed comedic moments. The scenes where Walt shows Jesse how to make drugs properly by incorporating chemical formulas leave the former student dumbfounded. Perhaps he should have remained in school. Walt taking off his pants to get in the zone is quite hilarious.
Then there’s Jesse complaining about the distance of Walt’s chosen center of operations and closing drug deals in fast food joints because Walt insists that’s how it’s done in movies. In later seasons, the humor was swapped for tension and thrills, which was still okay.