Every so often a piece of media, be it a movie, a book or a television program, comes along that captures something that no previous program had. These shows stay in the history books and they are discussed in communication and philosophy courses in universities. They don't just capture a feeling in society; they describe a sentiment that society may not have known it was feeling. In the '40s and '50s the popularity of the film noir encapsulated a feeling of pessimism in the world. After the Second World War life felt bleak and film noir was not just an escape, it was a parallel.
Television has also played a large, if not larger, role in highlighting societies foibles. Racism and ethnicity in All In the Family and Hill Street Blues and women's lib in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among other notable programs.
And then there is AMC's Breaking Bad, a show about a high school science teacher with cancer who turns to cooking meth to save his family. But that's not what the show is about, really. It's about getting a taste of a different life, of power and notoriety, and as terrible of an influence this authority has over your psyche, no matter how evil you become, it's so thrilling you can't help yourself. How beautiful does that sound to us, the everyday Joes and Janes going about our boring lives? We can be heroes or rather super villains, and everyone knows the villains have more fun anyway. Breaking Bad has captured something within all of us - the desire to be evil even for just a little while. But once you break bad, can you ever put it back together?
Breaking Bad returned last night from its year-long hiatus to present the last eight episodes of the series. I won't rehash all of last season for you; you can read about it here if you've forgotten anything.
The mid-season premiere started off similarly to the Season Five opener. Walt is on the move; he looks distraught and suspicious and with a full grown head of hair. He pulls in front of an abandoned, boarded up home; it's his home, and he breaks into the house. Once inside, he approaches a familiar electrical outlet. He opens it to remove a small container of ricin that has a whole mess of back-story to it. He leaves the house and we are thrown back in time to where we last left off.
Walt and family are happily enjoying dinner with Uncle Hank and Aunt Marie. But Hank has discovered a Walt Whitman book with an inscription that makes him suspect Walter (White) might just be the meth master he has been searching for. Incredibly distraught, Hank steals the book and tells the family he is not feeling well. Driving home, Hank has something of a panic attack. Imagine you just realized that the criminal you have spent the past however many years searching for is really your brother-in-law? It is no wonder that he drives into someone's lawn.
Meanwhile, the Whites are doing just fine. The car wash is booming, and Walt thinks they should open a second one to keep up their ruse. But Walt gets visited by an old face, Lydia, whom he left off with by handing the business over to. She needs Walt's help; the supply has gone to shit. But Walt says, no way Jose.
As jovial as the White family may be, Jesse, Walt's emotional ex-partner, is a total mess. There is a brilliant conversation between Jesse's pothead buddies Badger and Skinny Pete about Star Trek and the logistics behind the transporter. "Why do you think McCoy never wants to beam anywhere? It's because he's a doctor. Look it up; it's science bitch."
Jesse is a mess. He hates himself and everything he has done. His guilt leads him to attempt to give five million dollars away to the kid who was accidentally shot during a train heist and Mike Ehrmantraut's (whom Jesse bonded with last season) granddaughter through sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. Saul calls in Walt to try and talk some sense into the guy. He really can't. Jesse is quite sure that Walt killed Mike and no matter how many times Walt denies it, Jesse isn't snapping out of his depression. He winds up tossing hundreds of dollars randomly into strangers' front yards. He has lost it, or maybe he's found it. Sanity, that is.
Another key aspect to this episode is that we see Walt getting a round of chemo. Of the speculations of how the show will end, Walt finally succumbing to the disease that started this whole debacle to begin with has been highly speculated (by me). So the fact that he is still actively fighting his cancer is vitally important to the trajectory of the show. And the chemo is making him sick. While throwing up from his medicine, Walt realizes that his Walt Whitman book is missing, and then he discovers a GPS tracker underneath his car. He knows that Hank knows. But now what?
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Walt goes to check in on Hank in one of the greatest face offs in the history of face offs, and that statement contains no hyperbole whatsoever. Walt could just pretend to not know anything, walk away from Hank and let him have to unravel things on his own, but that's the old Walt's way. The new Walt point blank asks him what's what and Hank punches him in the face. Their conversation is as logical as it is insane. Why would Hank bother, Walt's going to die of cancer anyway and they'll never let him die in jail. Plus, Walt concludes, perhaps Hank should just lay back because Walt is motha' effin Heisenberg! And he does the knocking.
What an amazing way to bring all the pieces of the show together. At this point, we have most of the elements that will string together the ending of the show, but the manner in which they are placed and the order is what will keep the audience on the edge of their seats, as I certainly was with this episode.
Like all bad guys they must get theirs. How they get it is what makes the story. If you were Walter White and this over-sized web of lies and transgressions were finally coming to a head, how would you want to go? If we were still our true selves and the fantasy was just that, we would probably want to redeem ourselves in some way, remind people that we are still good people. But Walter White can't leave the villain fantasy anymore. It's too late for him, and he is going to have to get what's coming to him. It's going to be amazing to watch.