Justified: The Final Season (Season 6) – Old-school kick-ass US Marshall Raylan Givens tries to put his lifelong nemesis Boyd Crowder behind bars before he gets re-posted to Miami. I didn’t get round to writing up reviews of Seasons 4 & 5 as they felt like the show was resting on its laurels – but Season 6 brings back all of the elements that make Justified a great show to watch; well written storylines and characters, fantastic dialogue, and a thick streak of humour – it’s entertaining TV in its purest form. The writing is particularly special in this season, which boasts an intricate, overlapping and multi-layered story that sees the upper hand continually shift between the law, and Harlan’s various quibbling crime factions. Everyone that’s still alive gets drafted back in, and because it’s the final season there’s no shortage of people being written out either – usually at the behest of Boyd, to make him seem more dangerous than the last few seasons. The only thing that is missing is a baddie that matches the villainous heights of Quarels or Maggs Bennett – or even a consistent henchman – but with all of the other fireworks going on, it’s not as big a deal as the previous seasons. The final 20 mins our may divide people, as it plays out in an ‘X years later’ fashion, trying to round everything off. Season six had a major legacy to uphold and close out, which it managed comfortably, while staying true to the characters, which are the biggest draw to the show – Olyphant and Goggins will always be Raylan and Boyd to Justified fans. Season six is a satisfying conclusion to one of the most enjoyable and truly entertaining shows on TV – sad to see it hand over its gun and badge.
The Frozen Ground: when an upstanding citizen is accused of kidnapping, torturing and raping a ‘lying’ prostitute the case is immediately dropped, but lands on the desk of a diligent detective. The first-time director coaxes solid performances from an impressive cast: Con Air’s Cage and Cusack are always welcome (and Cage looks like he actually wants to be here!), supported by the likes of Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kurt Fuller, Brad Henke, and 50 Cent’s teeth. Unlike 99% of serial killer films, this is different because you know very quickly who the baddie is – it’s not a random character added in the last act – so we see the cop stalking the killer, while the he tries to evade detection, not unlike Insomnia (in setting / location too). In fact the only real mis-step is the clichéd ‘over-committed-detective-with-suffering-family’ trope, but it’s a minor part of the picture. As great as this is, it’s a tough one to recommend because it’s pretty grim viewing in parts, but I’d put this as being head and shoulders above your average movie in the burgeoning ‘true crime / serial killer’ genre.
BReaking BAd (Season 3): picks up soon after the explosive Season 2 finale, Walter and Jessie’s operation keeps growing, but is attracting yet more interest from the feds and rival gangs. By the time S3 had started we’d seen the ups and downs of the Walter-Jessie relationship several times, this season was – for me – the first time that another relationship became more interesting; Walter and Gus – which ranges from courteous & professional to explosively volatile – you also get the feeling that Walt has finally met his match, as Gus puts the squeeze on him, and the people he cares about. It’s definitely the best source of drama in this season. After Walt comes clean with Skyler their relationship also changes significantly, yet, not exactly in the direction you’d expect. Because so much emphasis is put on characters, family and relationships it takes over four episodes (of only thirteen) for any real plot to happen, and the only tension comes from the two silent cousin gang bangers. I find it fascinating in America that Breaking Bad depicts in-depth drug making techniques, drug use + abuse, violence, a man’s head being crushed by an ATM machine… but the word ‘fuck’ is bleeped out. Season three has some of the best moments (Car Park, Ladder confession, finale) in the series so far… yet it’s also got some of the slowest, most plodding and outright bizarre episodes (‘Fly’ episode feels out-of-place, and Walter – for the first time – appears ridiculously simple). The most defining feature of Breaking Bad is that it all still feels relatively normal and realistic – you believe in the characters, their families, their lives, their roles. You know people like these. That’s still the show’s strongest suit, but after 3 seasons it’s hard to see how much longer it can rely on character development over drama.
Braking Bad: a struggling middle-aged high-school chemistry teacher with two jobs finds out he has terminal cancer, however his get rich quick scheme is one-of-a-kind; cooking the purest crystal meth Albuquerque has ever seen. First off, the two central characters, Walter White and Jessie Pinkman, are played absolutely superbly by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. Walter a regular guy in a unique situation that forces him to use and abuses science to kill guys, blow up cars, dispose of bodies, burn a lock, and cook ‘glass grade’ crystal meth – his transformation through the series is interesting to watch as he manages to strike the impossible balance between sympathy through his cancer, and villanous through the cooking. Jessie is equally good as the streetwise, try-hard, and they’re dysfunctional relationship is entertaining and funny – it must have been a joy for the writers. To single out another character, the step-brother Hank is played brilliantly, with some great, subtle, comedy timing. The series does lose its way in the middle, with nothing really happening for a few episodes – far more ‘cancer drama’ than ‘drug/crime thriller’. It also ends very abruptly, bang in the middle of a volatile story arc; which leaves you gagging for Season 2. The show has a unique and distinctive visual style; it looks very 90s, with lots of vibrant colours popping out of the screen, and a grainy/distorted ‘tape’ effect. Breaking Bad: Season 1 takes a massive gamble by putting almost everything into the characters and their back-story, hoping that audiences connect enough to interest them in a second outing – it pays off, although if the dark/morbid/macabre humour and bleak story won’t be to everyone’s taste.