Sunday, August 11, 2013

'Breaking Bad' Premiere Review - 5.09 Blood Money

On the final season premiere of AMC's Breaking Bad, Walt tries to adjust to life outside of the "business" and meets with Jesse to hopefully talk through some of it; and Hank grapples with a troubling lead that still requires real evidence to pursue further.

Well, here we are everyone! The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad have (finally!) started airing and we can (finally) learn how this story of a chemistry teacher turned meth cooker turned overall bad guy will end. After Hank's great "Oh sh*t!" discovery of Walt's true identity last year, the show set itself up perfectly for a great arc to end its run. And yet, perhaps none of us were truly expecting what the premiere episode delivered. In its final moments, Hank and Walt have their huge confrontation that I'm sure we weren't expected for another few weeks. And yet, the show had to play that card now in order to go further and farther in its narrative. The flash-forward sequences take place at least nine months in the future. So hang on for it's likely going to be a very bumpy, fast-paced ride in this next seven weeks.

The premiere was building up to that Walt-Hank confrontation. Walt had just decided to "retire" from the business at the exact time his DEA brother-in-law discovers his foolishly placed Leaves of Grass from the late Gale Boetticher. This realization destroys Hank. He's unable to stay at the little family get-together any longer. He can barely even look at Walt. And then, he's so distraught that he runs off the side of the road. And yet, he needs to make sure that his suspicion is actually the truth. Combing through the evidence, he gets more confident about his hypothesis. When the two finally do meet, they carefully dance around what they both suspect. Until Walt has to boast and engage with Hank. Walt's ego is what drove him down the rabbit hole of power so easily. Even though he says he's out, he can't help himself from pushing Hank up against the wall and finally being able to say that he is Heisenberg and there's nothing that Hank can do about it. Walt's cancer has returned and he's unlikely to live much longer (a fact we know is not true given he's still kicking it almost a year later). Conversely, Hank's first reaction is anger - punching Walt in the face. Later on, he demands that Skyler bring the kids back to his house. Walt scoffs at the idea while Hank will be in for a rude awakening once he realizes that Skyler has been in on Walt's identity for a long time now - and is even a co-conspirator.

To himself, Walt is untouchable right now and has everything he wanted to provide for his family even though that it came alongside the reappearance of his cancer. He's in the same predicament he was in before. But now he has the money. But Walt's retirement isn't as easy as he thought it would be as he keeps getting pulled into meetings with various loose threads - some who want him to keep producing and some who could ruin his legacy.

Like Jesse. We've seen Jesse been this broken down before and yet it feels totally justifiable and realistic for him to go down this spiral yet again. He wants to stay away from Walt and yet he also has this permanent reminder and anchor to him - 5 million dollars. Giving it to Mike's granddaughter and the parents of the son Todd killed during their train heist are his way of seeing something good come out of all of his - and Walt's - bad doings. And yet, this leads to another meeting with Walt. Walt used to be his idol and the father Jesse wish he had. That all changed like that as Jesse is now fearful for his life. Walt killed Mike's 10 guys and Jesse correctly predicts that Walt killed Mike too. Jesse fears that Walt could look at him as just another loose end to tie up in order for him to get his perfect ending. This relationship used to be one of trust and now Jesse can't even look at the man - while he's lying through his teeth. It doesn't reassure him. But at the moment, he's pretty powerless to do anything to change the status quo. Until he's given the opportunity to do something with the money. He hands a wad of cash to the homeless man and then proceeds to fling the rest up and down the streets of Albuquerque - releasing the hold the "blood money" had on his soul.

The hour also opened with another sneak peak into what's to come down the road for Walt. He was seen buying a gun and eating at Denny's in "Live Free or Die." But that was all that we had known. Now, it's clear that his secret has been exposed. His home has been ransacked and fenced up. "Heisenberg" was been spray painted up on the wall. And yet, Walt is calmly and cooly walking back into his beaten down house - with skater punks using the pool as their new rink - and saying "Hi Carol" to his neighbor whose in disbelief. He retrieves the ricin packet from behind the light socket. He is arming himself for something with the most lethal things he knows off. But for what? That's what's driving the mystery and I'm anxiously excited to see if Walt comes out of this battle alive or not. How poetically ironic would it be that the cancer doesn't kill him but his choice to be in the meth business does?

The premiere hit all the right notes and I have the utmost confidence that Vince Gilligan and company will stick this final landing. I'm just here to enjoy the ride for the next seven weeks to see a genre-changing series go off into the record books.

Some more thoughts:
  • This is the final season, so ratings likely won't matter too much. But I don't foresee the premiere not breaking some kind of ratings record.
  • What's Up With Walt Jr.? - Just some more eating and not worrying about college. Same old, same old.
  • Laura Fraser and Jesse Plemons have both been promoted to series regulars for the final episodes. Plemons did not appear in the premiere but we should be assuming that he has taken over for Walt in cooking the meth for Lydia and their international enterprise, right?
  • Dean Norris is just so great here. How much he was able to say in his handful of scenes with not a lot of words and then that grand confrontation scene. I needed this to remind myself that Norris is capable of so much more than the melodramatic stuff he's been doing on Under the Dome.
  • The reveal that Walt's cancer has returned was superb. We were distracted by his conversation with Saul until we fully realize that he is once again sitting in that chair getting treatment.
  • Not a big Skyler episode except she gave a fantastic verbal slap down to Lydia. And it's always great to see someone take Lydia down a peg or two.
  • Also, Badger rattling off a Star Trek fanfic about a pie eating contest between Spock and Chekov to Skinny Pete. Immensely hilarious and yet also a great metaphor for the show's constant ability to break a character or story down only for it to be "reborn" later.
  • Some great musical choices here as well - with Jim White's "Wordmule" scoring Hank's digging through the Heisenberg files montage. And the series can't go out without one final meth cooking music montage, right?
  • Finally, the premiere was dedicated to 16-year-old fan Kevin Cordasco who died earlier this year from a neuroblastoma but was able to meet the cast before his passing.