TV Review: It's back and it's Breaking Brilliant
THE endgame has begun. It started, according to my computer clock's reckoning, at roughly 9am yesterday when the first of the remaining eight episodes of Breaking Bad's final season dropped on to Netflix, half a day after it was broadcast in the US.
It presents people lucky enough to do what I do and get paid for it with an awful dilemma: how do you write about Breaking Bad without spoiling it for everyone else? It's a tricky one.
Many people will have watched episode nine of season five the moment it landed and will therefore be up to speed already. Others may have watched it last night or this morning. Some could be saving it up for later in the day or later in the week.
There might even be a handful of masochists who plan to wait until the series has finished and then enjoy an eight-hour Breaking Bad binge – and unless you plan on locking yourself in a lead-lined room with no access to television, newspapers or the internet for the next seven weeks, good luck with that one.
And then there's another constituency of viewers, the ones (like our middle daughter) who are still steadily working their way through every season of Vince Gilligan's marvellous programme on Netflix or DVD boxset, gobbling up two, three or four episodes in one sitting, and absolutely don't want to know what happens.
In deference to them – but primarily because I don't want to be blanked by a surly 17-year-old from now until back-to-school time – I'm going to try to tiptoe across this minefield of potential gaffes without blowing any of them.
The first thing to be said about the episode is that it's a cracker, packed with tension and billowing with portents. It picks the story up, unsurprisingly, immediately after the previous instalment, when Walt White (Bryan Cranston) was unknowingly incriminated after his wife's brother-in-law, DEA operative Hank (Dean Norris), happened across a volume of poetry by another Walt, the poet Walt Whitman, in the bathroom.
I can't really reveal any more, although I will say that the upshot is an electrifying encounter between Walter and Hank that will leave you biting your nails in anticipation of what happens next week. Meanwhile, Walt's partner in crime Jesse (Aaron Paul) is wrestling with a problem of his own: his nagging conscience. His psyche pockmarked with guilt at the violent extremes to which his involvement with Walter has led him, Jesse embarks on a course of action that explains the episode's title, Blood Money.
Elsewhere, Walt's attempts to sever his ties with his old life and get back on the straight and narrow are proving to be more complicated than planned.
It's been clear for some time that Breaking Bad is hurtling towards a frenzied climax. It's also clear that some characters aren't going to survive – although one who will is sleazy shyster Saul (Bob Odenkirk). Vince Gilligan has confirmed he's getting his own spin-off series. Everybody else, though, from Skyler to Jesse to Walt Jr – whose death would surely rip out what's left of Walt Sr's heart – is fair game.
What viewers who've been with the series since the beginning will want to know, of course, is if episode nine contains any clues as to what's going to happen and, more importantly, to whom it's going to happen.
Maybe. Or maybe not. Without giving anything away, a flash forward at the start suggests that the end of Breaking Bad may not necessarily mean the end of Walt White. Then again, this might not be the final act; it could be just another step on the way to the ultimate destiny of television's greatest ever anti-hero.
Given the way the series has continually mangled our expectations over the years, frequently causing your loyalty and sympathy to switch almost from one episode to the next, anything could happen.
This is the last thing I'm going to write about Breaking Bad for now. See you back here in seven weeks' time.
Breaking Bad 5/5