Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season

In short order, Breaking Bad not only surpassed Mad Men in quality and storytelling; it is, without question, the best show on television.

Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season

Distributor: Sony
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Dean Norris, BJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt
Extras: 7
Network: AMC
Release Date: 2010-03-16

On its surface, Breaking Bad is about Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston in an Emmy-winning role), an over-qualified high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, who has recently begun cooking high-grade meth with a former student after finding out that he has terminal lung cancer. He does this in order to provide for his family (whom he keeps the meth-cooking secret from) after he dies.

Yet the show is about so much more. It asks questions such as, When does a person cross the line from being bad from good? What distinguishes someone from being truly bad and just desperate? Does death absolve us of our wrongdoings? What would you do for your family? It also dives deep into the meth trade, which has largely remained off TV due to its unseemly devastation across “flyover” country.

In short, Breaking Bad isn’t light-hearted fun-time material, which is why all the premium channels (HBO, Showtime) turned it down. The show ended up at AMC, where it landed in the lineup behind Mad Men. In short order, Breaking Bad not only surpassed Mad Men in quality and storytelling; it is, without question, the best show on television.

Due to the writers’ strike, the shortened first season of Breaking Bad was like a prologue, setting up Walt’s illness, his descent into meth cooking, his (arguably) necessary murder of a drug dealer who tried to kill him for his product, before ultimately getting involved with an even crazier drug kingpin who kills a henchman in the last moments of the first season. The second season overlaps with that scene as Walt, and his fellow cooker and former student Jesse (played by the perfectly cast Aaron Paul), decide they can’t be partnered with the unstable Tuco any longer.

At this point, the entire season is off and running, as the first few episodes are centered on the guys trying to come up with a plan to kill Tuco, before he kidnaps Walt and Jesse and plans to kill them. That is until Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law (who has no idea that Walt is even there, or is the manufacturer of the perfect crystal meth that he and his co-agents are trying to apprehend) kills Tuco in a shootout, and Walt and Jesse are essentially let free to continue their criminal enterprise.

That is, if Walt can pull off explaining to his wife and family why he disappeared for a few days. Much of the first season was spent with Walt as he constructed houses of cards of lies (such as all the extra money they had to pay for his cancer treatments was from former friends who cut him out of a company; and he went to spiritual healing sessions) to keep his cooking from his family, and Walt’s lies have to get more outrageous to explain away his absences. Ultimately, the lies and the hurt he causes his family begin to make clear that Walt is doing harm to his family by being emotionally and physically distant in the present while trying to make enough money now in order to provide for them in the future.

Walt has 'broken bad' in a way that Jesse, who is the supposed “real” criminal here, hasn’t. He makes dastardly decisions, such as deciding he and Jesse will deal the meth themselves. He tells Jesse to murder a pair of meth heads who stole from him, threatened and kidnapped a skeevy lawyer (played by the never-better Bob Odenkirk), and killed Crazy Eight in season one. These directions come easily to Walt, bringing the question about whether a persons’ propensity for doing bad is just out of necessity -- or it it comes from a darker urge.

Walt undoubtedly crosses that line late in season two, when he more or less murders Jesse’s unstable heroin addict girlfriend by refusing to turn her on her side when she begins vomiting. That this happens the day after Walt’s own daughter is born (a scene in which Walt swaddles her is cut with shots in which the drug addict is dying, for maximum emotional devastation) is all the more tragic and sinister.

Things take a turn for the better and worse for Walt, after the experimental cancer treatments he was on shrink his cancer significantly, allowing him to have a tumor removal surgery. At first, this plotline rang as a way for the writers of the show to keep the show going past its shelf life and stretch on indeterminately, but ultimately, this will make for great drama in season three. Dying always gave Walt a way to rationalize, or at least, avoid dealing with murdering people, lying to his wife and son, and becoming the king of the New Mexican meth trade. Now he’s left with a broken life—his wife leaves him in the season finale, citing being lied to for too long, even though she really knows nothing of what Walt’s been up to—and has to deal with the moral implications of his path of destruction. In a way, he’s now like Jesse, who throughout the series has grappled with just wanting to make enough money to keep himself in weed and becoming a career criminal.

It’s in this crucial way that Breaking Bad annihilates Weeds, another show about a suburbanite who is thrust into the world of illegal drugs, in that Walt is actually going to have to pay a penance for his crimes (unlike Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, who can’t find a tough situation she can’t solve by sleeping with a drug lord). Whether that entails losing the family he was cooking the meth for, or ending up in prison for a very long time is up in the air at this point. For this we'll have to watch season three.

Besides the superlative storytelling and cinematography (I had to make sure Sam Peckinpah didn’t do cinematography on this, since the western vibe here bears his style), the acting is on another level on Breaking Bad, as every actor is performing like they’re in a prestige picture and not a serialized TV series. Bryan Cranston, primarily known as the goofy dad on Malcolm in the Middle is able to play the scary drug dealer and the put-upon everyman just trying to get his slice of the American dream, sometime in the same scene.

Aaron Paul’s Jesse isn’t just a caricature of a drug addict/dealer: He’s able to, with a scrunched brow and an expletive, convey the desperation and boredom that comes with being a drug addict. He can also play the dramatic moments for maximum sadness, particularly in the scenes in which he must face the father of his supposedly recovered heroin addict girlfriend after she ODs. Jesse has no idea that Walt was there and watched her die, so he naturally carries that burden (like many other dramas in his life) on himself. He ends the season in rehab, but who knows how long he’ll stay there.

The extras on the DVD which are numerous in number, are exactly all that necessary. There are a bunch of cast commentaries, a handful of deleted stuff, but the most tantalizing bit is the opening scene of season three, which finds Walt enlisting the help of his brother-in-law Hank to move out of his house per his wife’s orders. When Walt tries to haul a bag of $600,000 into the truck, his brother-in-law jokes about how heavy could it be, and Walt more or less tries to tell him he’s got illegal money in there. Hank just laughs, and throws the bag in the truck. If only he knew the half of it.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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