Prior recaps can be found in here.
In the past week or two I’d seen a bunch of folks with early screeners of the premiere say something to the effect of “holy shit! So incredible! And that’s just the cold open!” Now, Breaking Bad’s cold opens are the best in the biz, and one of my favorite aspects of the show. But could this one live up to the hype?
Well, not entirely, as it’s not actually that eventful. It’s basically a tease, but a tantalizing one, revealing new aspects of what drove Walt into Hampshirean exile (whatever happens, the state of the house indicates it will be nice and public) as well as what’s to come (someone’s getting ricin’d! Dad went to the trouble of making the stuff, and someone’s going to eat it, damn it!), as well as featuring Cranston’s remarkable physical transformation into the post-Heisenberg, walking dead version of Walter. That lingering shot of the shattered reflection of Walt’s face speaks volumes about how far into the ground his inflated self-image from season 5A has been driven by this point in the future. There’s no kingpin in that reflection, no father, not even a chemistry teacher. Just a husk.
Before getting to the meat of things, let’s check in with Jesse briefly. He is a hollowed out shell of himself, struggling with the guilt of a death that he played a part in last year. But by this point we should probably just expect him to start out a season that way. This time, instead of slumping through rehab or throwing the world’s most soul-deadening party, he’s playing a demented live action version of Paperboy with $10,000 bundles of cash. Aaron Paul does crushing guilt like a champ, and he and Cranston still play off each other so well that you hardly notice that their long talk here is basically pieces of a dozen prior conversations stitched together. I’m still impatient for him to take more action against/with the other major characters.
We also get a glimpse at the booming car wash business, and a brief Skylar vs Lydia skirmish. Oh, Lydia, you might be a dangerously unstable business associate, but you don’t stand a chance against the fury of Mrs. White when her slice of domestic
bliss marginal acceptability is threatened. It’s a rarity to see Skylar get to be assertive, since she’s been stuck in such a tight box ever since she learned of Walt’s activities. But I bet even the haters were on Skylar’s side in this one, and that both the character and Anna Gunn enjoyed having a deserving place to vent.
Hank, meanwhile, quickly shows himself to be less suited to maintaining an elaborate façade than his brother-in-law. He may be a blustery sort, but he just isn’t able to conceal the depth of hurt and anger he feels over this revelation, and seems to know it as he sequesters himself in the garage to work out the extent of his brother-in-law’s crimes. His detective-ing montage, complete with funky 70’s-ish music, was terrific all around, but the shot of the goofy Schraderbrau logo put it over the top into sheer awesomeness. If that is not the avatar for at least 3 members of the Chud message boards by the time this posts, I officially do not understand the internet.
Honestly, Walt figuring out that Hank must have taken Leaves Of Grass is quite a leap, but it’s one that leaps us right to the real meat of the cat and mouse game that must ensue, so I was pretty much all for it. When it cut out on Walt standing in his driveway, GPS tracker in hand, I figured that was it and was all ready to start writing up a very favorable review.
But what gives me so much hope for these last episodes is that it didn’t end there, although it would’ve been a perfectly adequate revelation on which to end a premiere. No, we then get one of the most significant scenes of the series entire run, something we’ve been anticipating and dreading since the pilot: Hank confronting Walt about his crimes. It does not disappoint. Punches are thrown. Curses are hurled. Lies are feebly put forth, and quickly abandoned for threats.
I should probably state for the record that Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris are really fucking incredible actors. It may be early and foolish to make such a call, but I’d say that not only is Cranston a shoe-in to win one last Actor award from the Emmys this year, but Norris might even elbow past Aaron Paul for the Supporting trophy (Emmy voters certainly play favorites with shows and like to honor ones as they wrap up, so tough break Mandy Patinkin and John Slattery). One of the pleasures of these remaining episodes will be seeing these two guys play off each other with their hole cards showing, and this was a fine start.
And it happened so fast! I’ve talked before about how Breaking Bad has a reputation as a slow-paced show that is not quite deserved. The show has always been fascinated with process and, abetted by a protagonist who thinks through his problems methodically, it will go in for extended sequences where we just watch a character work, or stew in their own juices. But the show has also burned through a ton of plot in its 60 or so episodes, and has made a habit of progressing its storylines at a thrillingly haphazard pace. Remember how abruptly the Tuco situation came to a head, or how the Cousins were swept off the board midway through the third season, or how Walt expanded internationally, made hundreds of millions of dollars and retired from cooking in the course of a montage at the end of last year. And so just as it feels like we’re settling in for an extended chess match between Walt and his new nemesis, Gilligan and co. say “nah, fuck that” and cut right to the quick. It’s exhilarating to see the narrative pedal put to the floor like this, but also probably wise, since Hank is no dummy but probably can’t compete with Gus Fring as a chess player (particularly since Hank has so muchto lose by exposing Walt), and there is not enough time left to play out that particular string in a way that would not feel on some level like a rushed retread of that dynamic. Plus, we now get to see Hank confront Skyler about her role in all this, and interact with Jesse…
Only 7 more episodes. I don’t want to get my hopes up too far (my trust still carries a LOST-shaped scar from the last time I thought a show might really nail the landing). But if this episode is an indication of how the season as a whole will play out, things are going to go quickly, badly, and end on the strongest note of all. And even if the end somehow sucks, I will always carry Badger’s Star Strek spec in my heart.
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets. Hank has that last great pleasure of a middle-aged man, a quiet, leisurely excretion, ruined by one of histories greatest monsters.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “If you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”
Best Lie – Certainly not his feeble attempt to convince Jesse that despite all signs pointing and flashing at it, he did not kill Mike.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count - 15. The writers are apparently making a late-game surge to have the kid’s onscreen dinner tally match his breakfasts. They’ll need to squeeze about 9 more into the next 7 episodes, but I think they’ll get there.
We Are Done, Professionally – Walt rejects Lydia’s entreaties to teach a summer course in remedial chemistry to his replacement cooks.
It’s The Little Things – “Feliz Cumpleanos, Enrique!” (for some reason this made giggle). Saul having one phone with Hello Kitty decals on it in his drawer full of burners. The brief glimpse of the picture of Hank posing over No-Doze’s corpse back in, er, “happier” days. Walt still rocking the tighty whiteys. Hank’s neighbor playing with the replacement RC car Hank presumably bought to replace the one Marie ran over several seasons back.