As any seasoned drug addict knows, sometimes you have to pace yourself to get the most out of each individual high. The DVD release of Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season displays that good things come to junkies who wait.

Gus Fring is dead, which means the title of meth distribution king of the American Southwest is open. With his greatest threat finally out of his way and his own culpability in Gus’s demise neatly hidden, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) can rest easy. Or, at least he could, if all the money that’s come his way hadn’t been used by wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) to get them out of a jam. So, it’s time for Heisenberg to start cooking once again, with a shaky new partnership formed with fellow meth-maestro Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and their one-time adversary Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Helped along by slippery lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), their new operation gets into gear, but no sooner have they begun making the crystal do they start to hit one bump in the road after another. But Walt’s resourcefulness at taking on any obstacle that comes his way might not be able to save him and his associates this time, with his DEA brother-in-law (Dean Norris) starting to close in on him.

Several seasons ago, we were shocked that a family man like Walt could do anything illegal, even if it was to help his wife and his kids following his imminent death from terminal cancer. Things are different now to say the least, and Cranston has no problem convincing us his soul is as corroded and useless as the lungs of the people to whom he peddles his high quality product. The former chemistry teacher has now fully broken bad, so far from the straight and narrow that any potential for redemption was forfeit after he jumped right back into the game despite Gus’s explosive end. Paul is at his best as endlessly conflicted Jesse, seeking a way out as Walt keeps dragging him further and further down in their life of depravity. Walt may be hellbound no matter what, but the jury’s still out on his protégé. The same goes for Gunn’s pathetically subdued Skyler, who’s gone from being completely oblivious to her husband’s double life to being an unwilling partner by helping him launder his filthy lucre, knowing her pleas for Walt to stop his illegal dealings will go unheeded. For someone who’s spent four seasons in the dark, Norris’s Hank is at last getting wise to the idea that the most competent and ruthless cooker and dealer he’s ever seen has been under his nose the whole time. No one seems to go through a greater arc this season than Banks as cool-headed Mike, who once seemed like the most frightening man on a show full of sociopaths, but now reveals himself to actually be the gentle soul we once thought Walt to be. Naturally, there’s no place for someone with a moral compass here, and before these eight episodes are over, something’s got to give.

With new additions to the ensemble like neurotic networker Lydia (Laura Fraser) and Walt and Jesse’s destructive gofer Todd (Jesse Plemons), the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same seems truer than ever. Walt’s elaborate schemes to cover his tracks by use of a massive magnet and a plot to rob a train containing precious chemicals are among the best moments of the season, but it’s the after effects of such capers that show just how far he’s come, allowing chaos to rule where once he might have at least had a twinge of remorse. When Gus was around, at least there was someone who made Walt look like a good guy, but now that Mr. Fring is out of the picture, Walt has never seemed so villainous. He may have started as a combination of tortured mobster Tony Soprano and Weeds matriarch Nancy Botwin, as the kind of person who’s just got a knack for crime and can’t stay out of trouble, but now he’s in a league of his own and practically begging for a downfall.

This collection of eight episodes is slightly less thrilling than the pinnacle of season four and subsequently offers a smaller amount of special features, though the ones it has are top-notch for the serious watchers, like breakdowns of the most complex filming scenarios, plentiful commentary tracks, uncensored episodes, and an exclusive extra scene called “Chicks ‘n’ Guns.” The million dollar question here is why AMC decided to split season five into two halves. Some may say it’s a bid for extra revenue with more DVD sets and a call for more awards, but the benefit of having a Part One is in giving the show’s faithful fans a greater opportunity to dive-in before the final episodes air in August. Between then and now, there will be some significant binge-watching going on across the nation, and that shared experience will bring us all closer together as we tune in to see what will ultimately become of the saga of Walter White.

The first half of Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season may not be a necessity for all viewers since it will probably be replaced by a full collection next year, but it’s a must-have for those ready to have their minds blown. Smoke up while you can because fresh episodes will be going fast!

Season rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

DVD rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Breaking Bad” returns on Sunday, August 11, 2013 on AMC.

Featured image: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in “Breaking Bad.” Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC.

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