He Won. We're Still Winning
First things first.
Right out of the box, Breaking Bad creator and head writer Vince Gilligan and crew continue to provoke with a flash forward sequence that will have the audience talking all next week. Similar to the pink teddy bear appearing in Season 2 that portended an unthinkable, shocking calamity, this one gives a very short look somewhere into Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) future — and it doesn't look good.
It's not a particularly incisive piece to the puzzle. Only that there are, of course, unpleasant times ahead for former high school chemistry teacher-turned-methamphetamine crime lord.
And that's part of its ingenuity. Series creator and head writer Gilligan gives us the foreboding and the mundane together. Paired they form a very unpretentious, matter-of-fact peek ahead at something that must surely turn very bad.
There are also changes in this next edition of Breaking Bad, the chief among them being the very nuanced, but obvious change in Walt's demeanor. As good as Cranston has been, he somehow exceeds his prior Emmy-winning work. He is now giving us a dead-eye King Walt, winner of last season's face-off with former overlord Gus Fring. (And by face-off, that means, literally, a face came off in that showdown.)
Being the victor of that contest, Walt told his wife Skylar via a short cell-phone call, "I won." (Right.)
He is no longer the neophyte criminal with the equivocating, tentative way of a mild-mannered husband and father of two. Walt's now in full bloom, the anti-hero of the American suburban west, an Everyman who has taken things completely into his own hands.
In the season five premiere, we pick up where last season left off, right after Gus's murder. Walt's now outfitted in dark sapphire blue, like royalty, (top). And with a complete change of composure and posture, he has fully become the alpha male everyone should fear.
Walt was always the smartest guy in the room. But now, he's also the most dangerous, with a path of bodies behind him. The new metamorphosis is slight, but that's how facile Cranston is, and how deeply he has inhabited the character.
The irony of Walt's transformation, of course, is that he only found true vitality after being diagnosed with cancer and taking up a life of crime. Desperate to find a way to provide for his family once he passed, he turned his chemical know-how into profit, cooking the purest crystal meth around. He finally got to experience the full force of his intellect on the people and circumstances around him.
In remission and at the top of the drug game, Walt's now calling the shots. His apprentice, high-school washout and former flunky student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Fring deputy Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) fall into line behind him, given how he's dispensed with Gus.
"Granted, there's a lot of work ahead, rebuilding," Walt says dryly to Mike, indicating that however large the crystal meth operation had been under Gus, he won't settle for anything less. Mike responds, similarly impassive, but direct, "You are a time bomb … tick, tick, tick. And I have no intention of being around for the boom."
And so the table begins to be reset. Banks' character Mike (left) continues to become more of a central element, particularly in the season's second episode, and that's a real plus. All drooping eyelids and ice-cold glare, Banks' crime-weary Mike is endlessly interesting to watch and an understated powder-keg ingredient to the ensemble.
We are also introduced to some new characters. They are vestiges of Gus's old network that begin to get forced out of the woodwork now that the police, and Walt's DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), are sniffing around the charred super lab that Walt and Jesse torched at the end of last season to cover their tracks.
The end game of Hank's uncovering of Walt, who he has not yet discovered is the prized criminal prey he's been chasing, will be fascinating to watch.
There are also some trademark Breaking Bad moments that turn very audacious and funny at some of the most suspenseful moments. There's a caper in Episode One that goes hilariously, and literally, off balance. These are very smart change-ups by the Breaking Bad writing team, and it's kind of like watching great improv jazz musicians at the top of their game, going where they want, not over-overplaying, and hitting it pitch-perfect.
The art direction of Breaking Bad continues to be upfront as a leading character with Director of Photography Michael Slovis taking the reins as director of the premiere episode.
The show is shot on film, and it's been a goal of Gilligan and Slovis to give it the cinematic air of a big-screen noir crime story. They continure to succeed beautifully, with Walt's face often pictured half in shadow, perhaps signaling that his dark side is growing.
With two, short eight-episode seasons ahead for Breaking Bad, there's the inevitable feeling that the darkness will take over completely. And Walt's fate can't be any brighter.