‘BREAKING BAD’ REVIEW: Season One, Episode Four

Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn in 'Breaking Bad' - Photo courtesy of AMC

Review of “Cancer Man” 01:04


I love inaugural seasons. There’s an unharnessed passion behind the writing and the acting that makes the first go-round such a thrill to behold. This is especially true with the hit AMC series, Breaking Bad.

In the first few episodes, including the fourth installment titled “Cancer Man,” so many dramatic developments occur that much of the plot serves as nail-biting entertainment. It’s difficult to look away for even a split second.

Our leading man, Walt (a consistently brilliant Bryan Cranston), can no longer hide the damaging effects of the cancer that is eating away his lungs. At a family BBQ, Skyler (Anna Gunn) puts an ultimatum on the table and Walt gives in, confessing his bleak diagnosis. The shock is palpable.

Imagine being Skyler in this situation. Not only is she dealing with a pregnancy, but now she finds out that her husband is dying of lung cancer.

The revelation gives Walt some much-needed wiggle room; he can now play the sympathy card, rather than the murderous drug-dealing card.

“Cancer Man” shows Walt’s obvious love for his family, more so than in other episodes. When Skyler recommends he visit with the top oncologist in the field, he hesitates, not because he wants to give up, but because he’s not sure if the family can afford the treatment.

These scenes of familial strife (and familial love) make Walt a well-rounded character. Sometimes when he’s cooking meth with Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the seriousness in the air can almost be cut with a knife. The DEA, including Walt’s brother-in-law (Dean Norris), may catch them. The drugs may explode. The dealers may turn violent. It all makes for some intense television.

But that’s why having Walt’s family become a pivotal part of the show is so necessary. Skyler and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) ground Breaking Bad in reality. Everyone needs to pay the piper and head home. Walt can’t simply get what he wants when it comes to dealing drugs. It would be too easy, too few obstacles to overcome. He needs difficulty; it’s the only way to test himself.

Conversely, Pinkman goes through his own soul-searching. In “Cancer Man,” he heads home to the family that has continued on without him. He has a younger brother and caring parents, but they are all tired of his druggie ways.

Some of the scenes with Pinkman at his house are touching. When he sets the table for the family, it’s almost as if nothing is wrong. But as these story arcs go, drugs eventually enter the picture. In a few quick moments, Pinkman is kicked out, relegated to the same destiny as the kitchen trash.

“Cancer Man” continues Breaking Bad’s excellence. We come to know our two main characters, both their strengths and weaknesses, by getting to know their two respective families.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Breaking Bad

  • AMC

  • Created by Vince Gilligan

  • Starring Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris and RJ Mitte

  • Rating: ★★★½

  • Click here to purchase Breaking Bad: Season One on DVD.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

5 thoughts on “‘BREAKING BAD’ REVIEW: Season One, Episode Four

  • August 27, 2011 at 6:31 am

    my god, my god, does this person even speak some functional english? they certainly dont write it, I see that. although I did notice all their words except one are spelled correctly, so they have something in their favor there, good, well done, bravo. but come on, you dont “face the piper”, you pay the piper. first we dance, we have our fun and then we all must pay the piper, get it? we face the music. the presence of walt’s family in the show is not “welcoming”, it is welcome. “much-needed”? sir, the hyphen is not-needed. “nail-biting”? come-on. “go-round”? “soul-searching”? “drug-dealing”? do you own some stock in a hyphen manufacturing company? if not sir, let them go. and “unquantifiable passion”? tell me exactly when is passion quantifiable? and would that be in pounds or inches or quarts? passion can be ineffable, subtle, inchoate, palpable, irrestible, inescapable or just delicious. but it is not about the quantifying. and explain to me this… why would anyone write and publish a review of the fourth episode of season one now? is this an archived article, dragged out of storage for some very bad reason? every blog on earth is praising BB now. its the trendy thing to write about. but an episode from years ago? why?

  • August 27, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Thank you for your comment. We always appreciate readers leaving their thoughts at Hollywood Soapbox.

    In response – although we might not see eye to eye on some of the grammatical suggestions, we heeded your advice on a couple.

    We are working our way through all of the episodes of Breaking Bad, from the first season to the current one. We find that our readers enjoy the reviews and the chance to revisit some of the older episodes.

    We do this as well with Dexter, Haven, Star Trek and a few other shows.

    Thank you for reading and we appreciate the comments.

  • August 27, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Great review! this is one of the best tv series of all time! In a way, I kind of like the first season even better than the 2nd or 3rd. in a way. Still, its all amazing. the best series IMO go

    1. Malcolm in the Middle (seasons 3-6; 2nd half of 7. 1+2 were good, just not quite as good, and the first half of season 7 was schlok, but the 2nd half was just as good again)

    2. Boomtown (season 1)

    3. Breaking Bad

    4. Trailer Park Boys

    5. The Wire

    6.King of the Hill (seasons 3-10)

    7.Family Guy(4-8)

    8. Dexter

    9.Law & Order (seasons 1-3 specifically, but later ones are still good too)

    10. Scrubs (season 5 only)

    11. Homicide: Life on the Street

    12. Law & Order: Criminal Intent (seasons 1-5)

    13. Men of a certain Age

    14.My Name IS eARL (season 1 was the best but there were some good ones later)

    15. The Simpsons (seasons 3-5)

  • August 27, 2011 at 11:19 am

    The thing with Boomtown is it got cancelled after 1.5 seasons. People seem to remember some cancelled shows like arrested development or firefly or freaks and geeks. Those have a strong legacy and a strong online cult following. But barely anybody seems to remember Boomtown. And trailer Park boys at least has some following somewhere, but on all the lists of the best shows of the decade i never saw it. i never hear ANYONE talk about it. I just heard about it for the first time EVER a week or so ago. Have already watched the frist two seasons. its great. Beware spoilers on wikipedia. just avoid it.

  • August 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

    in fact avoid it on all these shows especially my top 5


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