By Paula Hendrickson
When AMC’s Breaking Bad returned last Sunday for the second half of its fifth, and final, season, it drew double the audience of last summer’s fifth season premiere. Just shy of 6 million viewers watched Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) try to adjust to normal life after quitting the meth-making business.
While Walt immerses himself in running the car wash he and his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) bought to launder millions of dollars worth of drug money, Jesse struggles to cope with his guilt over what they’ve done the past four-and-a-half seasons. All the while, Walt’s brother-in-law — DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) — starts piecing together evidence indicating Walt is Heisenberg, the elusive drug kingpin who’s left a trail of carnage in his wake.
While that might read like a spoiler, it’s not. The first half of the season ended with Hank realizing Walt might be Heisenberg, just as Walt and Jesse dissolved their profitable enterprise.
Because its seasons are so short, Breaking Bad has always gone at breakneck speed. Big things happen in each episode. Now that the show is down to its final few episodes (only seven more to go), viewers should expect the pace to increase.
Sundance Channel recently began airing previous seasons of Breaking Bad, and one thing is clear: Today’s Walter White isn’t the same man he was in the first season. Then, he was an underpaid chemistry teacher diagnosed with stage four lung cancer who wanted to leave a nest egg for his family after he died. After riding along on a drug bust with Hank and learning the street value of crystal meth, he recruited his drug-dealing former student, Jesse, and they started making the purest meth on the market. The cancer went into remission, and greed took hold.
Series creator Vince Gilligan has said many times that he originally pitched the overall series arc as “turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.” Each season, Walt has devolved further from the law-abiding family man of season one. By season four, Walt tells Skyler he is not in danger, he is the danger. For me as a viewer, that was Walt’s point of no return. He was no longer pretending to be Heisenberg. He was Heisenberg.
The lovely irony throughout the series is that while Walt has gradually lost his moral compass, Jesse has grown a conscience and begun figuring out which lines he’s not willing to cross.
Only two things are clear as the series finale of Breaking Bad nears: 1) no matter what transpires, there won’t be any happy endings, and 2) it’ll be a riveting journey.
• New episodes of Breaking Bad air Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Central on AMC.
• Back-to-back older episodes of Breaking Bad air Monday nights starting at 10 p.m. Central on Sundance Channel.
• The live Breaking Bad aftershow, Talking Bad, airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. Central on AMC.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Aug. 14-20, 2013, issue