Breaking Bad heads into yearlong break with the showdown fans have been waiting for
At least now we know how this thing is going to end. Sort of.
As AMC's amazing drama Breaking Bad aired its last episode of 2012 Sunday, I feared much of the suspense in the finale had been sapped a bit.
Astute viewers knew from the first scene of the season -- a flash-forward to a time one-year from the actual events of this year's episodes -- that Bryan Cranston's antihero Walter White wasn't going to land in jail or be killed. So watching him take over the reins as the new methamphetamine king of Albuquerque had a certain inevitability to it.
Still, so skilled is executive producer Vince Gilligan and his crew, we barely noticed this was a play whose ending had already been broadly indicated. Watching White kill onetime enforcer-turned reluctant partner Mike (Jonathan Banks) -- his face seemed surprised as anyone that he actually did it -- fans got another twist Sunday when TV's unlikeliest antihero ordered up the murder of eight of Mike's compatriots in prison, all at once.
In another, amazing touch, White wound up sharing a drink with his brother-in-law/Drug Enforcement Agency agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), helping console him over the mass killing of witnesses he secretly engineered. "Taggin' trees is a lot better than chasin' monsters," Hank observed ruefully, reflecting on a job early in his life working in logging. White simply sipped his drink and watched.
Sunday's episode was the last for quite a while; until Breaking Bad returns in the summer of 2013 for its final eight episodes. And thanks to its cliffhanger ending, we know now how the table will be set for the end.
SPOILER ALERT - Yes, Hank finally discovers his brother-in-law is the drug dealer known as Heisenberg he's been chasing for so long. He is the guy who had eight men killed in prison, blew up a senior citizens home to kill Gus Fring, put millions of dollars of meth on the street and, oh yeah, attracted the Mexican hitmen who shot Hank in a parking lot and left him with a permanent disability.
We also know -- because we saw it in the flash forward -- that this discovery eventually leads to White buying some heavy artillery in cash, just a few months in the future from the episode we saw Sunday. How he and Hank get to that point, is where the deliciousness begins.
Gilligan packed Sunday's episode with similarly deft touches -- the song Crystal Blue Persuasion playing as we see White fall into the routine of cooking his prized blue meth; the way White is slowly isolated from the consciences in his life (his wife, onetime partner Jesse Pinkman and, curiously, hitman Mike); the way the return of White's cancer is never stated but totally understood; the way Jesse collapses after a visit from White, revealing only then that he'd grabbed a pistol, certain his old partner was going to do him in.
And Hank discovers his brother-in-law's true identity by picking up a book given to White while taking a crap in his bathroom, signed in a way the DEA agent immediately recognized as coming from a meth cooker murdered by Heisenberg.
Gilligan and his producers have built to this moment in a host of tiny ways; turning Hank into a sharp, dogged investigator even as White was transforming into a ruthless, manipulative killer. And just as White was ready to hang up Heisenberg's pork pie hat for good, the one man who knows how to dismantle his life has learned his secret.
If that doesn't make you stick around until next season, nothing will.