TV review: Breaking Bad

From the July 12, 2012 edition

After four tension-filled seasons, “Breaking Bad” has reached the beginning of the end. If the first two episodes of Season 5 are any indication, fans will be thrilled with the conclusion of Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) transformation from milquetoast chemistry teacher to ruthless meth kingpin. With the final 16 episodes being split up into two seasons — the final eight airing summer 2013 — I predict each shortened season’s structure will feature a more break-neck pace than usual. And that’s not a bad thing.

Usually creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan slowly and meticulously builds towards the climax with each season, but the first two episodes both have the sense of urgency usually reserved for late-season installments. It should be a taut, visceral swell to an explosive mid-season finale — and most likely an excruciating cliffhanger to wait out for a year.

Credit Gilligan for throwing the audience right back into the action, but also director Michelle Maclaren and director of photography Michael Slovis for intensifying everything — from the superb writing to the powerful acting — with the most visually stunning TV show on air.

After a particularly great (and ominous) cold open, Sunday’s premiere deals with [Season 4 spoiler alert] the fallout of Walt killing (via ding!) Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). The thrill of the win is short-lived as Skyler (Anna Gunn, doing some impressively subtle work) finally realizes what “I am the one who knocks” fully means and Walt’s dutiful DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) continues to investigate Gus’ operation.

While the premiere is another exhilarating season opening — bolstered by some wonderfully dark humor, including a fantastic callback to Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) famous “Yeah Mr. White! Yeah science!” line — the second episode is in the pantheon of all-time greats.

In that episode Paul has a heart-crushing scene, demonstrating the damage this meth-dealing lifestyle takes on Jesse’s soul, and Mike (Jonathan Banks) rivals his “No more half measures, Walter” badassness.

It’s hard to predict how Gilligan will conclude “Breaking Bad,” but he’s given us all enough reason to have faith in his vision and storytelling. Pure and simple, this is the best show on television ... at least for 16 more episodes.