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AMC's 'Breaking Bad' Returns, Brilliantly
August 10, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments

[Editor’s note: Just as a reminder, if you haven’t yet seen or shared our own Eric Gould’s TVWW Breaking Bad video compilation of some of its spectacular photography, please do so. -DB]

 I won’t “spoil” Sunday’s return episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad by divulging the plot. The resumption of the story line, though, begins with a brilliant echo worth saluting…

The second half of the final season of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad begins Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC, picking up – after a pre-credits flash-forward like the one that opened this final season – precisely where it left off.

And if you don’t know where that is, you should stop reading now.

I don’t want to put anything in this review that will spoil surprises, reduce enjoyment, or do anything to dilute your enjoyment of watching it unfold, just as I did when previewing this return hour. Even with those constrictions, though, I feel it’s not only fair game, but next to mandatory, to describe, in part, the earliest scene that picks up on the Breaking Bad narrative – just to underscore why this series is so breathtakingly brilliant.

When the first half of Season 5 concluded, it was with the gripping cliffhanger that showed Hank (Dean Norris), the DEA agent brother-in-law of teacher-turned-meth-manufacturer Walter White (Bryan Cranston), making a stunning discovery while flipping through one of Walt’s books during a sit-down bathroom break at Walt’s house.

The hand-written inscription in the book, to which Hank had flipped purely by coincidence, was something Hank recognized instantly as proof suggesting that the log-elusive, lethal drug kingpin Hank had been hunting for years, and Hank’s meek, car-wash-running relative, were the same man.

I won’t reveal Hank’s eventual course of action, but I do want to point out his immediate response. He makes an excuse to leave, smuggling the book as he goes, and drives his wife home, listening to her talk about the dinner and ask other questions. But as Hank drives, her vice becomes slowly inaudible, as Hank just stares ahead intently, lost in his own paralyzing, overwhelming thoughts.

Why is that such a great touch?

Because it’s the same way Walter White himself reacted when, in the doctor’s office, his physician gave him the bad news that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctor’s voice faded away as he spoke, leaving Walter to stare straight ahead – in this case, at a mustard stain on the doctor’s lapel.

It was a powerful way to use images and sound, and the absence of sound, to represent what it feels like for a person to be hit with information that upends his entire world view, and explodes a big bang of new questions about what to do next. That was what happened to Walt in Episode 1 of Season 1 – and it’s what happens to Hank in Sunday’s Episode 9 of Season 5.

To have that echo, going back to the very start of the series, indicates just how serious a discovery this is to Hank – and how he, like Walter, is likely to act very differently from that point on. It takes Walter’s Jean Valjean, and Hank’s Inspector Javert, and instantly makes them equals, each rocked by some transformational news and now heading on an apparent collision course.

To even hint at more would be unfair. On my review for NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which you can read and hear on the Fresh Air website, all I said was that this opening episode of the final eight hours of Breaking Bad not only met my high expectations, but surpassed them.

I will say no more, for now. But a TV series this good begs to be talked about, and quickly, so if you love this show, please do your homework and watch as quickly as possible. AMC is launching a new series, Talking Bad, Sunday night at 11 p.m. ET, which is this show’s equivalent to AMC’s Talking Dead companion show to The Walking Dead.

If you’re not watching these final episodes as soon as AMC provides them, you’re really missing something.

Including one of the biggest, coolest TV touchstone moments in recent years…

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I agree that the episode was mesmerizing. I was so excited about watching it, and it did not disappoint. Can't wait to see the rest of them. I also, however, watched Talking Bad, and I didn't like it much. Julie Bowen was just annoying. I would have much preferred to not have a name "super fan" and just talk to Vince Gilligan about stuff. I don't know that I will watch Talking Bad again.
Aug 13, 2013   |  Reply
Despite how good I expected the return of Breaking Bad to be, it was so much better. By the end, I was just staring at my screen in awe. The pace of events was so unexpected. We didn't waste any time getting around to the Hank/Walt confrontation, and boy was it worth it! That garage door closing! Cranston's face as he transitions from Walt to Heisenberg! The feeling of dread that hangs over this show now makes it so hard to watch, but if I could, I would watch all of the remaining episodes today!
Aug 12, 2013   |  Reply
David Bianculli
I couldn't have said it better myself -- and I don't think I did!
Aug 21, 2013
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