Breaking Bad – The Beginning of the End

breaking_bad_walter_white[InteriorPond Hopping Girls head office] I made my way into K’s office through a cloud of cigar smoke, taking the seat opposite a Rottweiler chewing on what may once have been an intern’s arm. She peered at me over a copy of The Wall Street Journal. “You’re late”, she growled, voice low and smoky. “You said you’d have that piece for me by Wednesday.” I was squirming a bit in my seat already. Not happy with the answer I was about to give, but having no other, I stuttered: “I-I’ve been, uh, busy…” She dropped the paper and tossed another lump of meat in the general direction of the great, snapping hound (oh! sweet Jesus, is that a tattoo?!) “Get it done by tonight,” was all she said. I didn’t need to be told twice. I got up, thanked her and made my way to the door. “And tell the boy to get in here,” she shouted after me. I didn’t need to. Fabian, her A&F model of a secretary had already gotten up and squeezed past me in the doorway. He was carrying a bottle of massage oil and some exotic cocktail. He looked a bit scared. I understand why.

And so:

With much applause and bated breath, everyone’s favourite show about meth comes back to the air tonight. With Season 5 (part II), eight episodes are coming our way and bringing with them, of course, the end of one of modern television’s greatest achievements.

For those who’ve not yet watched Breaking Bad, allow me to make a few declarative statements to bring you up to speed. Breaking Bad stars Brian Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle; yes, that one) as Walter White, vastly over-qualified and equally under-paid high school chemistry teacher. The series pilot revealed that Walter had inoperable lung cancer. In order to provide for a family he felt would soon be bereft of him, Walt started cooking large amounts of high grade Crystal Methamphetamine (as in the Dom Perignon of crank, the real good shit). Series creator Vince Gillian has been heard to say that his goal was “to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface”.

He’s succeeded and honestly, in my opinion, he’s gone much further. Walter White, drug baron, is genuinely one of the most deeply complex characters on TV, with a moral compass ceaselessly swinging from pole to pole and a sense of self-preservation worthy of a drowning rat. At the beginning of the series, Walt was somewhat hapless, almost bumbling, in the manner of the well-known bungling-father trope. But things grew ever darker in the land of Meth’n’Cancer, and W.W. – as he shall henceforth be known – descended in as few as 54 episodes into a man willing to order the deaths of nearly a dozen men, set a bomb off in an old folks’ home, poison children, and kill business partners without batting an eye. One could put this down to his growing a goatee and shaving his head (a stratagem that will turn even the weediest wimps into badasses in a single stroke), but I prefer to think that W.W. never really changed. He was just revealed.

Of course I’d be remiss to preview recap (precap) the show without mentioning the supporting cast, and so here we go. Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul (Big Love), is the street-smart youth who teams up with Walt, his former teacher. This is one of the oddest relationships I’ve seen on TV. Very love/hate and with a great deal of mutual condescension. Walt seems to view Jesse as a disappointment of a son, and Jesse sees Walt as an old fogey, but begrudgingly admits that the man makes good meth. Jesse brings heart to the show (not to mention a little eye candy *growl*) and, really, the vast majority of the comic relief. Catchphrases, as we all know, quickly become annoying, but not so with Jesse’s. Frequent utterances of “bitch” to make a point is something of a trademark for him and, somehow, makes him a much more likable character.

As for the villains, this is not a show that lacks potency. The villainy begins with low-level Mexican cartels, and moves through the ranks all the way to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito, Once Upon a Time), a deeply unsettling man who could honestly carry his own series and whom I could rave about all day. But this is neither the time, nor the place (there’s also a deadline to consider. *gulp*). Let it suffice to say that, while the villainy in Breaking Bad is excellent, no criminal can really compare to Walt, our much beloved antihero. He’s not been killed yet, and I think he’ll survive this final season.

Speaking of speculation, one area of Breaking Bad that continues to appeal is its flash-forwards. The series producers choose to show us grim portents of things to come, and this is something that has lent a great sense of intrigue to the show.  The most recent one saw Walt, with a new appearance and an assumed name, celebrate his 52nd birthday in a diner, and buy a machine gun. He’s asked ominously if he plans to kill ‘him’. Who’s ‘him’? I don’t know. There’s a lot of speculation. His brother-in-law, DEA Agent Schrader? His former partner, Jesse? His own crutch-bound son? Okay, probably not the last one (and, BTW, mad props to RJ Mitte for playing Walter Jr. so well), but it’s a question that begs an answer.

Another question that was left open concerns Walt and that self-same Agent Schrader. Pre-hiatus, we saw Hank reading an inscription inWalt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that seemed to implicate W.W. in a former meth lab. It’s safe to assume that Hank will now be pursuing Walt, a dramatic turn of events when one considers that Walt has been operating under his nose since the series began. But what will that mean for what’s left of the show, and how will it affect its conclusion?

It’s the beginning of the end tonight, but I’m very much looking forward to that end. Let the climax come. — 

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

—Walt Whitman, When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

Breaking Bad airs tonight on AMC, 9pm Eastern.

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