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AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad,’ Once Again, Breaks Brilliantly
July 12, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments

EDITOR'S NOTE: Breaking Bad fans who subscribe to Dish can see Sunday's Season 5 premiere, despite the satellite service's decision to drop the AMC network. AMC will live stream the show on the internet, noting that it's a one-time-only event. Beginning Friday at 3 p.m. ET, fans can register for access at www.amctv.com.breakingbad4dish.

The stunningly unexpected flash-forward prologue opening this final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad warns of rough roads ahead. So does Mike’s icy assessment of Walter, said to his face in front of Jesse: “You are trouble. I’m sorry the kid here doesn’t see it…”

Mike, head of security for fast-food maven and drug dealer Gus Fring, is dead right. After all, Gus the drug kingpin was killed by Walt at the end of last season — a Napoleon blown apart, so to speak, by a hidden bomb that took half of Gus’ skull away. (Hence the show’s cheeky title, “Face Off.”)

The Machiavellian machinations engineered by Walter, played so tightly wound by Bryan Cranston, to pull off that explosive hit were signs of both Walter’s brilliance and his deep descent into amorality. Yes, Gus was planning to kill Walter, so going after Gus was a sort of self-defense. But enlisting a mutual enemy of Gus’ as the suicide bomber, and restoring the loyalty of former drug-making partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) by poisoning a child Jesse loved — and framing Gus for the act — those are the deeds of a man who, indeed, has broken bad.

This fifth and final season of Breaking Bad (Sunday at 10 p.m. ET) begins immediately where the shocking cliffhanger left off: with both Gus and his secret meth lab incinerated, Water victorious, and all signs pointing to a fresh start and a second chance. “I won,” Walter calmly and proudly told his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), at the end of last season — a scene repeated as this season begins.

Series creator Vince Gilligan has explained that this final season will be broken into two eight-episode halves, depicting the final transformation of former meek high-school science teacher Walter White into a ruthless criminal — in Gilligan’s sell-the-series “high concept” shorthand, from Mr. Chips to Scarface. But truly, Walter doesn’t have that much distance left to travel.

On the surface, he has it all: he’s gotten away with murder, made and sold vast quantities of meth without being caught, beaten a diagnosis of cancer, regained the trust of his estranged partner, and restored his marriage, where he gets to live with both his admiring teen son and a new baby.

Except Walt isn’t happy with that. He wants more — which is one reason he seeks out security chief Mike (Jonathan Banks, who’s criminally good in this key supporting role), and one of many reasons Walt is unlikely, at the finale of Breaking Bad, to enjoy a happy ending.

I don’t want to divulge details of the two episodes provided for preview, except to say that they explore Gilligan’s great belief in actions having consequences. Rarely do you get character and dialogue written this well, and just as rarely do you get plot and action this riveting and unpredictable. To get all of them, along with peerless acting and directing and design, in one show — well, it’s why Breaking Bad, right now, is the best show on television.

And where’s it heading? I stand by my earlier predictions: That Walt, ultimately, will be confronted by his brother-in-law DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris), who continues to pursue his meth-dealer leads as doggedly as any Inspector Javert and as intuitively as any Sherlock Holmes. He still doesn’t know he’s pursuing Walt — but when he finds out, what a revelation, and what a climax.

Gilligan wrote both of the opening episodes, and services all his primary characters well: Mike with stoic gruffness, Hank with playful sarcasm, Skyler with fearful silence, shifty lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk) with resigned foresight, and Walter with the many-moves-ahead obsessiveness of a chess master.

It’s only when each hour is over that I marvel at the performances, and the direction, and the writing. As I’m watching, I’m too invested in the story, too worried about the characters, and too riveted by the fact that I can’t predict what will happen next.

I love Breaking Bad, and I’m so happy it’s back. But with a full season left to go, is it too early to start mourning its eventual disappearance?

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Knowing this is the last season doesn't make me mournful. Modern age DVD and streaming existence aside, one thing that makes a truly great television series is the wonderful beginning, middle, and end. I have faith that this season will be a great end, and thus solidify Breaking Bad as the truly great series I beleive it to be.
Jul 16, 2012   |  Reply
Can't wait for the season premiere David! Love this show, so well written. Do you happen to know what the scheduling is going to be concerning the final season and the break in between the 8 episodes?
Jul 13, 2012   |  Reply
Brandt - Look for the final eight episodes summer, 2013. –EG
Jul 14, 2012
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