A note before this article starts: this feature contains total, ruinous, catastrophic spoilers for the final season of Breaking Bad. Do not read this article unless you are bang up to date with everything and have caught up with the first two episodes of season 5.5, or unless you happen to have severe short-term memory loss. If you do, under no circumstances tattoo this article on your body like Guy Pearce in Memento.
Ok, ok. I take it all back. I get mid-season breaks now. That won’t stop me whinging next time Doctor Who has a mid-season break, because as a member of the online community it’s practically my birthright to change my opinion more often than I change my socks, but for now, I get it. And all it took to shake loose the seething hatred I feel every time I have to go months without watching one of my favourite shows was a single line of dialogue, made up of two words: “Hello, Carol.”
Yes, it is, of course, the return of what is inarguably one of the greatest drama serials of all time, Breaking Bad. Now, to say I was excited about this is something of an understatement. I was giddy about the return of Breaking Bad all day, bouncing up and down so quickly that my very molecules began to vibrate, turning me translucent and giving me the ability to pass through solid objects. You might think that’s good news for Bad, as it meant the show could have been Bryan Cranston attempting to tune a broken guitar for 40 minutes and I still would’ve loved it. However, I can assure you that in reality, the opposite is true: my expectations were so astronomically high that anything less than perfection from the word go would result in my crushing disappointment, and so invested was I in not being too disappointed that I waited until the second episode had aired to write this just so I had a clear idea of where the series was going.
Fortunately, that first episode was arguably one of the best in the history of the series and seemed to set up the finale perfectly. We were once again treated to a flash-forward (the narrative device, not the tragic and long-winded US serial starring Joseph Fiennes) showing erstwhile meth kingpin Walter White, now sporting a head of hair and a full beard, visiting his home to once again collect the ricin he’s had stashed there for approximately 100 years. His house has fallen into disrepair, is fenced off, and, tellingly, has the word ‘Heisenberg’ spray-painted on the wall. This hints at a lot, but actually tells us very little, one of the genius trademarks of Bad. Presumably, Walt’s secret is out (see the reaction of poor Carol when she spots Walt) and, given the presence of the graffiti and the pesky kids skating in the back yard, has already been passed into a kind of urban legend. It’s the same reason why kids are always daring each other to visit haunted houses (so I’m told). In the space of a few months, Walt has become a ghost, his story exaggerated but also diminished by Chinese whispers throughout the neighbourhood, with only the chosen few knowing the truth. Presumably Hank is still one of that number, and presumably he is also closing the net around Walt, but the how any why of this situation are still tantalisingly out of reach.
Walt is clearly in a desperate situation, which was clearly highlighted by the second episode which aired last Sunday. Hell, everyone is in a desperate state of mind. The first episode packed a hell of a lot of plot into its runtime, and, as a result, was a constant bombardment of intense scenes. It was awesome to finally get the sweet, sweet release of Hank and Walt finally squaring up, but the question had to be asked: where the hell do you go from there, with seven episodes left? Pleasingly, even with only so long left in its life, Bad still takes time out to focus on the characters we’ve come to love so much. If the first episodes was about actions, the second was all about the consequences of those actions, and it adds a richness to the universe that’s sure to mean whenever the action ramps up (as I’m sure it will next week) it’ll be skin-peelingly intense.
The acting was nothing short of incredible this week, with just about everyone looking haggard, fraught and desperate, perfectly conveying that theme of decline and decay that was hinted at in the pre-season trailers. Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt in particular have really stepped up so far this season, with Hank’s near-psychotic hatred of Walt driving every move he makes, while the uptight Marie finally snaps on Skyler. It’s incredibly powerful stuff that really hits home just how sinister the character of Walt (or should that be Heisenberg?) has become by this point.
Except, of course, he isn’t really, is he? I mean, look at him. Breaking Bad is rarely simple, and here we see Walt once again reduced to the sickly, pathetic character that he started out as in the first season. His cancer has returned and he’s decided to pull out of the meth business, meaning that just a couple of episodes after Walt organises the brutal prison stabbing of 10 men, he has our sympathies once again. Walt is more frail in last week’s episode that he has ever been at any point in the series, which was no doubt a calculated move by the writers. After seeing that, it’s hard not to hope the guy just gets to leave the meth business and keep his money, living out the rest of his days with his family like he always wanted to. Prison shankings and child-poisoning be damned, we’ve spent 5 years with this guy and we hate to see him suffering like this. Or, at least, I do. After everything he did, he tried to make it right in his own way and he arrested his ego before it completely consumed him. I feel a genuine pang of regret that it was almost certainly too late.
So then, where does the series go from here? The first two episodes have been almost exclusively about the Walt vs Hank war that is steadily escalating, so it seems a little too convenient that the two wild cards, Jesse and Lydia, have been given minimal screen time. It would be typical Bad if one or both of them played a major part in the finale after the show practically begs us to ignore them while apparently sneakily setting up something big for the both of them. Both of them are on very clear story arcs, but where those arcs lead is what I predict will be the downfall of Walt, not Hank. Jesse, easily the most complex and tragic character in TV right now, appears to have big things ahead of him next week in his interrogation from Hank. With poor Jesse in the state of mind that he’s in, anything could happen. Meanwhile, Lydia is picking up the pieces of Walt’s meth business and cutting a bloody swath through the competition while she does so. Lydia’s character is simply far too unstable not to have some sort of collision with Walt, particularly when she seems so desperate for her new product to live up to the same standard. Everyone is desperate and unstable, and it all seems perfectly poised for a combustible finale. Exactly where the series goes is tantalisingly hard to predict, but I feel confident in predict that Breaking Bad will be that rarest of beasts: a TV series with a finale that lives up to the hype.