The first of the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad aired last night and Executive Producer, Vince Gilligan didn’t disappoint viewers. For four and half seasons we’ve watched as Walter White (Bryan Cranston) went from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” as Gilligan puts it. Long gone are the days of Walter’s and Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) cooking crystal meth in a broken down RV out in the desert while Walt sported his tighty whities. Also a thing of the past is Walter’s simple plan to provide for his family after he succumbed to lung cancer. Now, as he’s told Jesse, this is about making up for the fact that he sold his piece of the billion dollar business, Grey Matter – a business that he helped start with his college friends. It isn’t about the meth business or the money business – it’s about the business of building an empire. Walter White wants to be somebody, the best at something, and he achieved that as Heisenberg with his superior meth and a porkpie hat, eliminating the threats to his goal and anyone else who happened to get in his way.While Walter was on that journey, his brother-in-law, DEA Agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) has been dogging the drug kingpin known as Heisenberg, with every ounce of his being. Hank has suffered because of his investigation, as colleagues decided that he was chasing ghosts. He was shot by members of a cartel trying to settle a score. On more than one occasion, he’s come closer to finding out who Heisenberg was without realizing it, until he happened to use the bathroom at Walt’s house and found that volume of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and a stunning and agonizing truth was revealed.
The storyline of this final season, which started with the first eight episode, known as 5A, has shown a Walter White we don’t like and probably don’t recognize anymore. His crimes really do look like scenes from Scarface, with Walt either ordering murders or committing them himself, all to promote his industry and his ego. Season four ended with an explosion at a nursing home that killed Gustavo “the chicken man” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). In that episode, fittingly named “Face Off”, we saw the ever fastidious Gus walk out of Hector Salamanca’s destroyed room at the nursing home, straighten his tie for one last time and collapse, after showing viewers that half of his face had been blown away from the blast.
Having eliminated Gus, who had been a partner, then a threat to Walter, the new king of the meth world had to start from scratch, building his business and labs from the ground up. He enlisted Jesse and TV’s favorite fixer, Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks), as partners and the three used an exterminator business as a front, to set up their labs in homes scheduled for fumigation. Things were going pretty well for the trio until they began to run out of a key ingredient, methylphetamine, to make their product. This is how we learned about Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, an executive with Madrigal Electromotive out of their Houston office and a supplier/distributor for Gus Fring’s drug operation. Lydia can get them all of the chemicals they need, but she and Mike go way back and their relationship is strained, to say the least.
A tracking device, found on one of the barrels of chemicals, places the new alliance into a tailspin, almost costing Lydia her life. She suggests that they rob a train carrying what they need and she can provide them with the details. The three partners get some help from Todd, a kid who works for the exterminators, and the only thing they want to ensure is that no one sees them steal the chemicals. With the train stopped, thanks to a fake truck breakdown on the tracks, Walt, Jesse and Todd set to work siphoning the chemical and replacing it with water, with Mike as lookout. They finish just as the train starts to move again, but when they turn around, a young boy on a motorbike is behind them. He waves, Todd waves back and then shoots him.
Mike knows that the DEA are watching him and wants out. Jesse is weary of it all – he can’t watch another kid get killed for the sake of the drugs or the money and he wants out. They would like to sell what remains of the methylphetamine to a rival, but Walter isn’t ready to give his empire up. He decides to Jesse and Mike the money they would have received from the sale of the chemical and brings Todd on board as his new sous chef. Mike does his best to get the DEA off his trail and makes arrangements with Walter to deliver his “go-bag”. Walter meets up with Mike and the two argue over the names of Mike’s men who are all in jail or prison. When Mike refuses, Walter shoots him, the realizes that he could have gotten the names from Lydia. Jesse doesn’t want the money and asks Saul Goodman, their go-to 1-800-lawyer – to deliver it to Mike’s granddaughter, Kaylee, and to the parents of the young boy Todd Killed. When Saul tells him that doing so would only draw more attention, Jesse takes to the streets, throwing bundles of money out the window of his car like he was delivering the morning paper. Jesse knows that Walter’s lied to him about Mike’s whereabouts, maybe about a lot of things and his despair is palpable.
Things aren’t going very well at home for Walter, either. Skyler (Anna Gunn) has sent Walter, Jr. and baby Holly to live with Uncle Hank and Aunt Marie until she and Walter can figure out what their future holds. She’s been drinking a lot and giving Walt the cold shoulder and is simply falling apart. One night, she asks Walter to take a ride with her and she shows him a pile of money the size of a Prius that she’s been keeping in a storage unit. It’s more than she can launder through their car wash and she asks Walter how much is enough. She wants her family and her life back, and more than anything, she wants Walter to stop cooking meth.
A night or so later, while Skyler is washing dishes, Walter tells her that he’s out and his wife is visibly relieved. What he doesn’t tell her, probably because it’s what she told him she was waiting for, is that his cancer is back. All of which leads us to the family dinner and that book Hank found. Now that he’s a Special Agent in Charge, Hank is supposed to doing more as an administrator and less casework, but the search for Heisenberg is something he just can’t give up – and now it’s not just another case but a family matter as well. He takes a week off from work, claiming some stomach bug, and has agents deliver all of the file boxes regarding Fring, Blue Ice and Heisenberg. Walter, meanwhile, has discovered that his copy of Leaves of Grass, with the inscription from the now deceased Gayle Beotticher has disappeared and Walt visits Hank at home, carrying the GPS device that he believes was put on his car by Hank. Their exchange, after Hank closes his garage door, is as menacing as anything Walter’s ever said and done. When Hank says that he doesn’t know who Walter is anymore, Walter tells him, “If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”
Season 5A began with Walter celebrating his 52nd birthday at Denny’s and 5B shows him back at his house, which is now abandoned, locked behind a chain link fence with the interior spray-painted with “Heisenberg” on the wall. Walt retrieves that vial of Ricin that he hid behind an electrical outlet and which has been waiting for someone to use. He also has a trunk full of weaponry, including an M-60. Walter loves the movie Scarface and maybe, just like Tony Montana, he intends to introduce the world to his “little friend”.
Aaron Paul said that fans of “Breaking Bad’ don’t really want to know how the show will end and I think he’s right. Watching this series is like reading a good book – we don’t want to read that final chapter but we know it’s coming.