“You know, I can foresee a lot of possible outcomes to this thing, and not a single one of them involves Miller Time.”
Holy shit, did I miss you, Mike. And not just Mike, but damn near everything about television’s best drama, which kicked off its fifth and final season Sunday night on AMC. (The season’s first eight episodes will air this summer, while the final eight won’t come until next year.)
It’s been more than nine real-world months since we all watched drug kingpin Gus Fring emerge from that destroyed nursing-home room, his face half missing thanks to a crafty bit of maneuvering by the man at Breaking Bad‘s center, school-teacher-turned-meth-cook Walter White. But in the time since, the image of Gus’s hollowed-out mug was powerful enough to keep us all wondering and anticipating what would come next.
My best guess was a moment for everyone to catch their breath. Much of Breaking Bad’s dramatic heartbeat comes from the way the series throws multiple obstacles in Walt’s way and then shows how he’s able to wriggle free of them. But after the head rush of revelations that ended season four — Gus is dead! The superlab is torched! Walt poisoned an innocent kid! — it would make sense to take a single episode to allow the characters to slow down and take stock of the changed landscape.
That’s not how creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan rolls. Instead, the season five premiere, which Gilligan wrote, immediately puts Walt, Jesse and Mike’s backs to the wall by revealing that all of the video footage shot by the superlab’s security cameras is saved on Gus’s laptop at Los Pollos. Even worse, Albuquerque police — now fully aware of how bad a dude Fring was — have already retrieved the laptop and tossed it into an evidence locker. Mike, fed up with Walt’s shenanigans and fearing the worst, is ready to run, but Walt and Jesse convince him that the situation can still be handled. All it’s going to take is one big fucking magnet.
And so Sunday’s premiere is yet another tension-filled hour of Breaking Bad, as the trio quickly concoct a risky scheme to erase the laptop’s hard drive and save their necks. Does it work? Well, Walt says it does … and it’s made abundantly clear that what Walt says now goes. “All hail the king” is the poster tagline to the new season, and with Gus out of the way, it’s obvious that Walt sees himself at the top of the local criminal food chain. There’s a scene in this episode where he so badly puts the fear of god into poor Saul that Saul seems to shrivel up and collapse inside his own suit.
Bryan Cranston is aces during that confrontation and dominates this episode from start to finish, though Jonathan Banks finds numerous spots to be gruff and awesome and hilarious as Mike. Not a ton of Aaron Paul this week; he’s mostly in the background. Though in a nice twist, Jesse is the one who has the big scientific brainstorm that gets the ball rolling on the magnet scheme.
Away from the action, Walt’s wife Skyler gets a doozy of a scene with Ted, who we discover is alive after his season-four “act of god” stumble – just not in very good shape. Hank is limited to a quick moment of screen time, where we see him snooping around the superlab wreckage with his old DEA partner. However, as an unintended result of Walt’s magnetic assault on the police station, the cops find some secret bank-account information hidden behind one of Gus’s framed photographs. No doubt that’s a string Hank will be pulling on real soon.
Despite all that occurs in the episode, the scene that will have fans theorizing all week was the one that opened the show. Remember the flash-forwards of the burned, one-eyed teddy bear that kicked off a handful of season-two episodes? Well, peeks at the future are back, but this time what we’re seeing is far less ambiguous: Walt eating breakfast in a Denny’s. It’s his 52nd birthday. His hair has grown back, though he looks rundown — maybe sick again. Decidedly un-Heisenberg-like. He uses an alias and carries a fake New Hampshire ID. Then Jim Beaver shows up and trades him a set of car keys for a stack of cash. The keys fit into a car parked outside, and Walt pops open the trunk to reveal one big-ass machine gun.
It’s likely that this half-season — hell, maybe the entire rest of the series — will be leading to this day. Walt’s time at the top, it seems, is going to be short-lived. The revelation itself is not a surprise, but the fact that Gilligan would show us glimpses of it so early caught me off guard. Now it’s a matter of seeing how Walt gets from Point A to Point B … and just how bad things get along the way.