TV review: “Breaking Bad” premiere’s a doozy, yo

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From the August 8, 2013 edition

As “Breaking Bad” enters its final run, the fervor has never been higher. Whether its word-of-mouth recommendations or critical praise, it’s an amazing feat that “Breaking Bad” has dramatically grown in popularity over its run. That rarely happens to a television show.

While this phenomenon is amazing, it’s not surprising. Creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan, and his talented team of writers and directors, has appreciably and continuously improved this series.

The transformation of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) into Heisenberg (a force brimming with focus, confidence and vision) parallels the series’ own evolution. “Breaking Bad” no longer hesitates in its objective or ambition, only charges forward with gusto.

“Breaking Bad” has nary a bad episode, let alone season, as the narrative and performances only become more gripping and intense. When all is said and done, this Albuquerque-set tale of meth cooks, drug kingpins, DEA agents and all those caught in the crossfire will only be compared to the best TV has ever offered.

Given the way Sunday’s premiere sets things in motion for the conclusion, “Breaking Bad” is only solidifying its supremacy. There’s no other way to put it, the episode’s a doozy, bitch!

I won’t get into specifics because watching how everything unfolds, from the unnerving cold open to the fierce climax, is utterly chilling. Along the way, all of the major players — even castoffs Badger and Skinny Pete — get impressive moments.

Cranston is always brilliantly ferocious as Heisenberg, but it’s those Walter moments that deliver the character’s pathos. Remember when we used to root for him? Maybe we will again?

The premiere’s also the best Hank (Dean Norris) episode since the unforgettable “One Minute,” where he squared off with the Cousins. Despite her limited screen time, Skylar (Anna Gunn) impresses, and Jesse (Aaron Paul) is as captivating as ever.

Most impressive is what the narrative accomplishes on two levels: Building dire stakes off the fallout from last season’s brutal developments, while slyly circling back to themes, storylines and characters from throughout the series. As a whole it’s a reminder of all the transgressions Walter, and other characters, have committed while signaling an imminent reckoning.

All in all, this is an impressive and effective episode to begin the end. How everything ends is still a question mark, but one thing is certain — “Breaking Bad” will have a lasting effect very few can match.