Entering into its homestretch of the final eight episodes, Breaking Bad has continued to be one of the only TV series not to hit any major speed bumps along the way. No "infamous worst episode", no fillers to stretch a plot line past its breaking point and no major illogical leaps that test the patience and faith of the viewing audience. To be brutally blunt, you may get quite the few "What the FUCK?" moments, but you never get any that could be labeled "Fuck this shit."
Within the confines of the show, it's all about dealing with the consequences of the decisions we make, and not simply each person's own moral compass, but their very souls -- their humanity.
For the viewers, the return of Breaking Bad is all about expectations. Every fans of the series has their own unique viewpoint and their own rooting interests. You have groundswells of support for "Team Hank or Team Jesse, you have people grudgingly taking a shone to Skyler while others would gladly see her be dissolved in a barrel of acid...and you even have a few still holding out some hope of redemption for Walter White.
We take these sentiments, be they casual or hardcore -- and they form our perspective. They feed our expectations. And as we have sat down for the past five runs of episodes (Seasons 2, 3, 4, "5-A" and now 5-B"), we do so not only with whatever Breaking Bad appropriate snack food and tasty beverage we've prepared, but with those expectations at the forefront of our minds.
Breaking Bad subverts those expectations. It defies them, twists them, goes beyond fulfilling them as it instead surpasses them. Last night's episode was no exception to this rule; it was a Hulk-like thundering stomp to the earth, a giant flag planted in the TV landscape declaring that not only is Breaking Bad BACK, but..well, it's BADDER than ever. As Run-DMC once rapped "Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good".
- We return to Walt's 52nd birthday. He's driving the car with the M60 machine gun in the trunk. We discover the White home has been long abandoned. The name "Heisenberg" has been spray painted across the living room wall. Walt's there to pick up the ricin he had hidden behind a bedroom outlet, but the reaction of his neighbor Carol also indicates that he's not just infamous to the general public, he's downright scary.
- Walt is acting like a changed man. He's wearing lighter colors like old Walt. He's actually honest with Skyler when Lydia shows up complaining about the lack of purity in the meth since Walt handed over the reins to others: perhaps psycho Todd is the new cook? And also like old Walt, we discover his cancer has returned, which was just what Skyler was waiting for just months earlier.
- But what Walt doesn't know (yet) is that Hank is on to him. After taking what might be the longest crap in the history of humankind (I wonder if he "finished his business" after leafing through Leaves of Grass), Hank has an episode reminiscent of his elevator anxiety attacks from a few seasons back. He compares and contrasts the inscription in the book to Gale's lab notebook, and later starts digging through boxes of paperwork devoted to the Heisenberg case.
-Meanwhile, Jesse's fucked up. Seriously, is Jesse ever NOT fucked up at the beginning of a Breaking Bad season? In the beginning of S2 -- after escaping from Tuco, he essentially has everything taken away from him. He starts S3 still lost in grief over the death of Jane. S4 begins with him reeling from blowing away Gale. Actually, the 5-A premiere breaks this pattern, but Jesse's guilt-trip is back with a vengeance as we start 5-B. He wants to give away his five million dollars worth of blood money: half to the family of the boy Todd murdered and the other half to Mike's granddaughter.
-Jesse asks Saul to handle these charitable donations, but Walt shows up at Jesse's door with the dough-filled duffel bags once more. It's fairly clear that Jesse believes Walt killed Mike. It's crystal clear that Walt's honesty with Skyler was an aberration after all, as he boldface lies to Jesse. There's a desperation to Walt's "need" for Jesse to believe him. Has it gotten to the point that Walt could view him less as a surrogate son (notice he calls him "son" a few times in the scene) and more as a potential liability?
- Following a round of retching, Walt discovers his hubris may have come back to bite him in the ass. His "signed" copy of Leaves of Grass is gone. He realizes that Hank may have deduced (mid-deuce) that Walt is in fact Heisenberg, and his fears are confirmed when he finds a GPS tracker on his car.
-Walt goes to see Hank, and following some typically awkward small talk, Walt confronts him with the tracker. Hank shuts the garage door and goes totally Ehrmantraut on Walt...but Walt's taken his shares of punches before. In fact, life has recently delivered one to Walt's gut, as he reveals that his cancer has come back, to which Hank's response is "Good. Rot, you son of a bitch."
- There's no sympathy left in Hank, as he now knows Walt's the one responsible for so much suffering. Which leaves Walt only one option, as we finally see him shift into Heisenberg mode when he says:
"If you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course is to tread lightly."
And at 10:04PM EST last night, a million people yelled in unison "Oh SHIT!"
- Up until the final minutes, the best badass (as well as most amusing) moment was Skyler kicking Lydia's bony white ass out of the car wash. Even the haters had to love that.
- Badger and Skinny Pete discussing Star Trek (which is a call back to an earlier season when they discuss Star Wars) was as wondrously bizarre and beautiful as the New Mexico landscape.
- Also, now a character on both MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD have discussed a script idea they have for the original Star Trek series. I'm now expecting Daryl on THE WALKING DEAD to be revealed as a closet Trekkie.
- Finally, any scene with Saul is good for a chuckle or two. How many people are now wondering about the origins of the Hello Kitty cell phone in his drawer?
That's it for this week's episode. Until next time, be good, even if BREAKING BAD is better!