A group of kids skateboard in an empty pool of an abandoned house. The house, familiar to us, is that of Walter White. It used to be anyway. Now it is all but condemned as a bearded Mr. White arrives in a beat up car with a trunk full of giant gun. He enters. A single word is spray painted on the inside wall in bright yellow: HEISENBERG. Walter quickly moves through the empty shell of his former home, removing the small bit of ricin he hid behind a wall socket. On his way back to his car, he freezes as he sees his neighbor, Carol, bag of groceries in hand. “Hi Carol,” he says with a friendly wave. Frozen with fear, poor Carol drops her bag of groceries, amongst the contents that crash to the ground… a few oranges roll into the street as the screen cuts to: BREAKING BAD.
And so begins the beginning of the end for the much maligned Walter White as, after that pre-credits flash forward, the show returns viewers to the exact moment the last season ended on. In case you’ve forgotten (shame on you) or have never seen the show before (why are you reading this recap? It’s all on Netflix. GO!), a brief refresher: The prior half of the final season ended on an extremely crappy note for DEA Agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), who was caught literally with his pants down when he discovered an inscription to “W.W.” in a book of poems while trying to take a relaxing B.M. in the comfort of his brother-in-law’s bathroom. It was no surprise when he emerged from the john several rapid breaths away from a full-on panic attack, quickly grabbing his wife and excusing them from the family gathering on account of a sudden case of an upset stomach.
That panic attack? Yeah, that happens on the drive home. He crashes through some poor dude’s white picket fence and stumbles out of the car as his vision blurs, his entire world caving in around him. Hank Schrader, rock collector (“They’re minerals, Marie!”), emerges from the panic attack a man on a mission. The fire for the “Heisenberg” case has been reignited with this new revelation, and he heads home to pore over the evidence he’s collected over the last few years. Norris plays the opening beats of the show with an intensity that echoes Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey in his final moment on The Shield. In a performance that could earn him an Emmy, he continues with that intensity as he plows through the case files to the thumpin’ bass of Jim White’s “Wordmule”; episode director Bryan Cranston cuts together a montage that also plays as a visual recap of all the major players in the crime drama that’s unfolded over the last 5 seasons. We’re left sure that Hank knows that Walt is Heisenberg but unsure as to what his next move is or how far he’ll take his investigation. Thankfully, we’re not left wondering for very long, but more on that in a bit…
Meanwhile, the versatile Aaron Paul continues to astound with his performance as the in-over-his-head, guilt stricken Jesse Pinkman, yo! His conscience — he appears to be one of the few characters on the show that has one — continues to destroy him from the inside over the death of Drew Sharp, a young boy murdered in cold-blood last season by Todd (aka “Meth Damon”), the amatuer chemist who took over the meth business when Walt and Jesse retired. So sad is poor Pinkman that he’s completely oblivious as his friend Badger spits out one of the single greatest Star Trek fan-fiction stories of all time. It needs to be seen to be truly appreciated; suffice to say, it involves a teleporter, Chekhov and a pie-eating contest (you can see an animated version of the story here), and if he lives through these final days, maybe Jesse will get to hear it again. In the interim, it seems the only thing on his mind is the soul-crushing amount of guilt he feels.
Jesse heads to everyone’s favorite attorney, Saul Goodman, carrying two familiar duffel with the intent of giving away his half of the money to the family of Drew Sharp and Mike’s granddaughter. Saul attempts to talk some sense into Jesse, who it’s clear is quite convinced Walt killed Mike to save his own ass (he’s right, he did), but Jesse refuses to listen and quickly exits, leaving Saul with 4 million problems. Who does Saul call?
A none too happy Walter White, trying to live his life as a regular guy who owns a simple car wash, spends most of the episode avoiding the pull of the meth business, which he says he wants to leave behind him. He spends the morning obsessing over the way to stock the checkout area of the car wash for maximum profit, but old habits die hard, as the past returns in the form of Lydia (she helped Walt take out the remaining competition and corner the meth market), who claims profits are down because the product just isn’t what it was, and all but begs him to return. The master class in meth making will have to wait, because Walt refuses, insisting (in a scene that heavily echoes his conversations with Gus in Los Pollos) that he’s a simple car wash owner, nothing more. As Lydia leaves, she’s cornered by Walt’s pissed off wife Skylar, who snarls at the woman to leave and never return.
She’s right, of course; their world is unraveling at a rapid pace. Not only is the business creeping back into their lives, but Walt’s cancer has returned. It is in chemo that he takes the call from Saul about Jesse, contemplating his next step even as he watches the liquid poison drip from the IV bag to his open veins. Walt shows up at Jesse’s house with the duffle bags full of money, and once again, Aaron Paul’s incredible talent is on display, as we see the genuine fear and dread that crosses his face as Mr. White and those duffles full of blood money walk back into his pathetic life. Their conversation is an exercise in self-denial, as Walt works to convince Jesse (and maybe himself) that he did not kill Mike (a lie) and that Mike is still alive and well somewhere, “taking care of himself” (more lies). Walt has a much easier time swallowing his own bullshit than Jesse, who obviously no longer believes a single word that comes from his former mentor’s mouth. The last we see of him this episode, a despondent Jesse cruises through the worst neighborhoods in New Mexico tossing bundles of cash onto peoples unkempt lawns in the dead of night.
It all comes together as Walt kneels before the porcelain God (carefully folding a towel underneath him, once again slightly echoing Gus Fring) sick from chemo, as he notices something crucial missing from his bathroom: the book of poems! That sinking feeling eases him out of the bathroom, hyper-aware that something terrible has just happened and that it is completely out of his control. Paranoid, Walt stalks out to the driveway, staring out at the dark suburban street. Is he being watched? Followed? Then it occurs to him he might just be. Walt frantically feels around under the bottom part of his car until he finds exactly what he feared: a GPS tracker, almost identical to the one he used with Hank to track Gus Fring. As the terrible reality of Walt’s current situation crashes down on him, the question of what Hank will do next has been answered. The first move has been made and he’s not holding back.
This would have been a great way to end, but with only 8 episodes remaining, series creator and episode scribe Vince Gilligan ignites the fuse that will burn throughout the remaining chapters by bringing Walt to the Schrader home for what begins as a friendly conversation that quickly turns chilling for Hank as Walt extracts the tracker from his pocket, directly confronting his brother-in-law. There is a tense beat as the two men stare into each other’s eyes, another amazing way to end the episode but… THEN HANK CLOSES THE GARAGE DOOR!
What follows could go down as one of the most emotionally charged, tension filled exchanges in the life of the series. Hank punches Walt in the face hard enough to send him to the ground. Walt is quick to stand, he stutters out a half-assed explanation that’s lathered in excuses for his crimes. Hank refuses to buy any of it, calling Walt out on his lies, screaming at him as he recalls the many times he was manipulated by Walt without ever knowing who was pulling the strings. For a moment, a brief moment, Walter White looks… remorseful? Scared? Whatever that emotional reaction to Hank’s verbal assault was, it quickly dissipates when Hank mentions Walt’s kids. Suddenly the Heisenberg is back (a noticeable change behind actor Bryan Cranston’s eyes and it is terrifying); his family threatened, he steps closer to Hank, who searches Walt’s eyes for a glimmer of the man he’s known. Finding no remains of the guy he called Walt, Hank remarks that he doesn’t even know the man in front of him, that he’s looking at a complete stranger. To which Walt/Heisenberg replies, “If that’s true… If you don’t know who I am … then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”
Will Hank take the advice? What could happen in the White house that’s terrible enough to shutter the home months later? Where’s Hank when Walt comes back to town to pick up the ricin? Who is Walt planning on using that M-60 in his trunk on? They’ve got eight episodes to answer the remaining questions and provide some closure on this chapter of Walt’s life; judging by the pacing of this first episode, fans are in for a harrowing eight-weeks as this show barrels towards what seems like an inevitably bloody conclusion.
How do you think it’s all going to end? Blaze of glory? Bloody shootout? Maybe everyone will just hug and kiss and be best friends forever? We want to hear your theories in the comments below!