“Breaking Bad” has always had a way with an opening shot, and the first image of the series’ final eight episodes is no exception, offering a slow, gradual pull-out from a bunch of skate rats to reveal that their choice of locate is the decidedly empty and apparently long-dormant White house. Moments later, when a heavily haired Walter White pulls up, it’s clarified that we’re back in the timeline established in the early moments of the first half of Season Five, when Walt purchased some serious firepower from his now-regular weapons guy (played by Jim Beaver). And, oh, what a dark timeline it must be, based not only on Walt’s haggard look, but on the graffiti he finds when he’s forced to break into his own house. If things are destined to reach a point where the world at large has not only identified him as Heisenberg but, indeed, has had his identify spray-painted across his living room wall…well, let’s just say these are going to be the longest eight episodes viewers have seen in a very long time.
Wandering through the wreckage that once was his house, Walt manages to confirm that, despite all the carnage surrounding him, one of his hiding places has remained secure: underneath the electrical outlet. I couldn’t quite see what he retrieved – was it the vial of ricin? – but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough…much as we’ll find out exactly what the hell happened to make his poor neighbor Carol react in such a horrified fashion to the mere sight of Walt. Clearly, it’s no fun living next door to Heisenberg.
Post-credits, it’s back into Walt’s bedroom, except we’ve flashed back to where we were when we last left “Breaking Bad.” It’s impossible to get completely inside Hank’s head, but we come pretty damned close with the help of director…Bryan Cranston? True. The man’s come a long way behind the camera, clearly learning as much as possible from the folks who’ve helmed past episodes of the series, because he nails the panic, anxiety, and horror in Hank’s gradual realization of what his brother-in-law has been doing for the past five seasons.
As Hank and Marie drive away from the White house, Walt, Skyler, Junior, and Holly look like the perfect little family, don’t they? But then, the whole “appearances can be deceiving” has been Walt’s stock and trade since the beginning of his meth-making operation, and one could argue that the same premise applies to Hank as well. He started out as a loudmouth blowhard who seemed more like a former high school quarterback who kept his ego intact when he entered the work force, but we’ve seen several different sides of the guy now, and it’s never been more evident than it is in this episode that he’s a great goddamned detective. It’s hard to say that he’s applying Occam’s razor here, since the idea of Walt being the mastermind behind a major meth operation is the simplest explanation, but it’s a thing of both beauty and sadness to watch him work out everything that Walt’s been responsible for. It’s clear that he still doesn’t fully accept it ‘til the very end of the episode, but when that chilling exchange in the garage takes place…
Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
You can actually hear the sound of Skyler seething when Walt launches into his explanation about what changes can and should be enacted at the car wash. It’s the only thing in their “family business” that she’s had any opportunity to put her stamp on, yet he’s making it clear in his usual way that, once again, he’s better than she is at making decisions. At the same time, though, his suggestion about pursuing a new location clearly catches her fancy, and when Lydia swings by and Skyler realizes that this woman has something to do with Walt’s earlier endeavors, she decides she’s going to shut Lydia down before the bitch fucks up the good thing she’s got going. As for Lydia, the decline in quality is clearly an issue that’s only going to get worse, so let’s not even pretend that this is the last we’ve seen of her.
Sometime in the immediate wake of the season premiere, we will learn that Quentin Tarantino guest wrote the Badger / Skinny Pete “Star Trek” scene…or, at least, I hope we will, because it’s so unabashedly Tarantino-esque that that’s really the only excuse for it. Not that I didn’t get several good laughs out of it, but it’s a major QT homage, so much so that I like to think that’s the real reason Jesse stormed out of the apartment and ran off to Saul’s office.
By the way, how far have we fallen as a society that Jesse can’t get in to see the good Mr. Goodman until he lights up a cigarette and is hustled out of the waiting room? What…? A joint, you say? Huh. Well, not being familiar with the demon weed myself, I wouldn’t know. Anyway, once he pops in to see Saul, we discover that the reason Jesse’s acting so out of it is that he’s seriously wracked with guilt. He doesn’t want any part of his money anymore, preferring to give it to Mike’s granddaughter and the parents of the poor bike-riding kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time late last season. Saul digs through his drawer full of cell phones, dares to break his silence with Walt, and is told, “I’ll handle it.” But then we see where Walt is when he’s taking the call. Whatever’s going on with his cancer, he’s clearly not in a good place if he’s getting that kind of treatment.
The conversation between Walt and Jesse is one of the most heartbreaking in the series, in part because it harkens back to the father-son bond that the two of them seemed to have at one point, but when Jesse says, “I think (Mike’s) dead, and I think you know that,” it’s clear that the ties have been permanently severed between them. Walt’s spun a lot of lies in his time, but Jesse’s not buying what he’s selling anymore. In fact, the look in Jesse’s eyes is the same one we’ve already seen in Skyler’s: utter fear. He’s scared shitless, he doesn’t know what the hell to do, so he starts acting on instinct, just driving around and randomly throwing wads of money out of his car window. It’s only a matter of time before someone identifies the car and says, “Let’s see if he’s got any more…”
Back in the White family’s façade of domesticity, Walt feels the effect of his chemo while catching a bonus round of nausea from the realization that Hank’s gotten hold of his copy of Leaves of Grass. (By the way, during the TCA tour, another critic questioned how realistic it was that Walt noticed so quickly that the book was gone, and I argued that it wasn’t like there was that much reading material in the bathroom to begin with. If there had been, do you really think that Hank would’ve been flipping through poetry? This was deemed a reasonable explanation.) In short order, Walt realizes that it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you, discovering that Hank’s put a tracking device on his car. So, yeah, that confrontation you knew was coming but that you figured you’d have to wait a few episodes for…? Fuck that: it’s happening tonight.
It starts off slow, with Walt pulling up in front of Hank’s place and feigning small talk for a few minutes before finally, just before pretending to make his departure (a move no doubt designed to throw Hank off balance by making him think he hadn’t found the tracking device yet), revealing the real reason for his visit. As soon as Hank began to bring down the garage door, it was clear that the hammer was about to come down with it, but that fist still came flying out of nowhere. Hank’s fury as he reels off the various moments of horror over the past few months that Walt, that Heisenberg, has been responsible for, is glorious. Now that he’s realized everything Walt’s done, he’s not going to buy into Walt’s lies, but he does hesitate momentarily when Walt reveals that his cancer’s back and that he’s not likely to live more than another six months. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s false, and as viewers, we’ve been given just enough rope in this rope to hang ourselves with. We are both Jesse and Hank: we know Walt’s a fucking liar, but…what if he isn’t?
The closing exchange answers that question as well as it can be answered at this point.
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I’m talking to.”
“If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe the best course would be to tread lightly.”