How does "Breaking Bad" capitalize on the most goose bump-inducing season finale in the history of television? By following it up with a similarly powerful premiere that takes full advantage of the incredible conclusion.

How does "Breaking Bad" capitalize on the most goose bump-inducing season finale in the history of television? By following it up with a similarly powerful premiere that takes full advantage of the incredible conclusion.

Hardcore "Breaking Bad" fans have spent more than a year contemplating the outcome of Jesse's (Aaron Paul) full transition into being "the bad guy" by executing Gale - yes, he's dead.

Does Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui) catch up to Jesse? What does Mike (Jonathan Banks) do with Walter (three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) at gunpoint?

It would be nearly impossible to duplicate the sheer intensity of the Season 3 climax, but Season 4 continues the momentum of Walt's Heisenberg-esque declaration - "You might want to hold off, because your boss is going to need me. 6353 Wantabo, Apartment 6 yeah" - by picking up immediately after the action at the laundromat/meth cookery and Gale's apartment.

Actually, that's not necessarily true. In typical "Breaking Bad" style, a cold open -flashback of Gale and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) constructing the state-of-the-art meth lab - starts the episode. It's some wonderfully grave foreshadowing.

What transpires after that opening is one of the show's most expertly crafted and harrowing episodes - magnificent direction, acting and writing - and for a series like this, that's saying a lot.

As Walt and Jesse await Gus' reaction to their insubordination, a check-in with Skyler (Anna Gunn) reveals that even though Walt left the night before, his car is still in the driveway. She knows something is up.

Skyler's response works incredibly well at reminding us why Walt does what he does and how those actions cause emotional collateral damage.

The crux of "Breaking Bad" as it enters this penultimate season is this: How will Walt stay alive and keep his family - and Jesse - safe while engaging in a deadly chess match with Gus and minimizing the fallout on those closest to him?

"Breaking Bad" has never shied away from bringing tragedy upon its characters, and it's unlikely there'll be a happy ending. But I'll be happy if it continues to be the most visceral and brilliant show on television.