By Lee Cole–

The premise was simple: a high school chemistry teacher is diagnosed with terminal cancer and to provide for his family in light of his impending death, he decides to cook crystal methamphetamine with his former student. Four years ago, when creator Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” first premiered, few could have guessed that such a simple premise could give rise to the complex, intriguing story that has unfolded or that it would become such an iconic television show.

The show developed a following almost immediately, and the ratings have continued to soar upward each season. It’s not uncommon now on Monday morning after the newest episode airs to hear people asking, “Can you believe Pinkman last night?” or “Did you see what happened to Walt?”

With its fourth season coming to a close, Walter White, acted by Bryan Cranston, is a high school teacher turned meth cook who finds himself in a very different position than the one he was in at the beginning of the show. Having temporarily beaten his cancer, Walter quit his teaching job and devotes his life entirely to cooking meth with his former student and now partner Jessie Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul, in a high-tech lab. Jessie and Walt work for Gustavo Fring, a local businessman who works as a large scale meth distributor on the side, much to the chagrin of the cartel below the border. Walter’s formula for a particularly potent variety of “blue meth” is in high demand, but complications with Gustavo have put Walter in danger. With the constant threat of assassination from both Gustavo and the cartel, and his Drug Enforcement Administration agent brother-in-law shutting down the operation, Walter’s foray into the world of crime seems to be coming to a close. Even the one aspect of Walter’s life that has remained relatively stable throughout the series – his relationship with Jessie – has all but dissolved.

There are far too many plot twists and turns from the first four seasons to relay here. Summarizing the events would only cheapen the tremendous story. Part of the suspense is watching the plot unfold, so to give away all the details would ruin it in a sense. The fourth season has been perhaps the most exciting so far. Walter’s “Godfather-esque” transformation from mild mannered high school teacher to hardened criminal has been riveting to watch, thanks mostly to the acting of Bryan Cranston.

Cranston won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series three years in a row, and his performances continue to dazzle. Aaron Paul has added depth to the character of Jessie Pinkman and Bob Odenkirk gives an inspiring performance as Walt’s shady lawyer and money launderer, Saul Goodman.

All-around stellar performances and terrific writing make “Breaking Bad” among the most intriguing shows on TV right now, and perhaps one of the best series in the last decade. It has taken its place in the pantheon of recent drama classics that includes “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Mad Men.” “Breaking Bad” airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on AMC.

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Photo courtesy AMC