By now, you’ve seen the season premiere for the second half of the fifth season of Breaking Bad (and if you haven’t, good luck parsing what I just wrote and also, why haven’t you?) and gasped along with the rest of the Twittersphere at large (has there ever been a show so adored by the social media masses as Breaking Bad?). Having gone nearly a year without Walt, Jesse, and the rest of the blue-hued crew (by “crew” we mean meth, baby, and lots of it), anticipation for the final episodes in Vince Gilligan’s opus reached a fever pitch, well, probably long before the latest episode actually aired. And was it worth it? Man, was it worth it.
With only eight episodes in the show’s final half-season, acceleration is the name of the game. After all, both of the fifth season’s premieres have opened with a flash forward that give us small but incredibly effective and intriguing glimpses into Walt’s world after some sort of earth-shattering event. A spiritual twin to the first episode of the season (that would be wonderful “Live Free or Die”), last night’s premiere (“Blood Money,” because that’s what it all is at this point) echoed and followed the events that began the season at large. Walter, seemingly post-birthday breakfast, returns to his abandoned and dilapidated home (which is also a new haven for pool-skating ruffians, damn kids) to retrieve his last pack of that deadly ricin. All of that is jaw-dropping enough – the broken-down house, empty of both furniture and family, chained up, the site of a large piece of graffiti that simply proclaims “HEISENBERG” – but it’s nothing compared to what happens outside the house. Walt, nearly done, nearly off in his new (old) car, nearly safe, runs into his neighbor Carol who, so undone by his presence, drops a bag of groceries in her driveway.
That single smashed grocery bag was worth the eleven-month wait.
But that’s not all, Breaking Bad fans, because “Blood Money” wasn’t just going to open with a shot, it was going to close with one, too. As our own Inkoo Kang succinctly summed up the pulse-pounding and instantly iconic garage confrontation scene between Walt and Hank in her recap of the episode: “Walt’s response is Heisenbergian: he disingenuously appeals to Hank’s sense of family loyalty and compassion (‘I’m back on chemo and I’m fighting like hell’), but can’t help taunting (‘You and I both know I would never see the inside of a jail cell’), and threatening him (‘If you don’t know who I am maybe your best course would be to tread lightly’).”
Did you gasp? Did you drop your blue rock candy-covered cupcake? Did you jump up off the couch? Did you simply slump over, spent? Did you take to Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or wherever to post something that essentially read “!!!!!! AGHLASGHLALHGHAHHHHHHAAAWHAT #breakingbad #ohmygod #garage #treadlightly”? If you did any of those things (and, be honest, you probably did a combination of them), it’s because Breaking Bad’s split season is a brilliant move, a fully frustrating and already completely worth it gimmick that has added tension, involvement, and anticipation to a show that already capitalizes on those three traits during even its most substandard episode (which “Blood Money” is not). You waited for it, it was worth it, and we’re not even done yet. At this point, if we had to wait six months between each remaining episode, I’m not entirely sure I’d object, as the experience of anticipating a new Breaking Bad and then being so fully rewarded when it finally airs is so satisfying that I’d happily relive it for the foreseeable future.
Breaking Bad is, of course, not the first beloved television series to prolong its goodbyes with a split final season – David Chase’s The Sopranos did the same thing back in 2006 and 2007 with the mob drama’s sixth season. The Sopranos did it a little differently, however, with the last episode of the first half taking place during Christmas and the first episode of the second half (television math, anyone?) picking up almost exactly eight months later. The Sopranos also had the benefit of more episodes in order to tell their final stories – the show’s sixth season includes twenty-one episodes, versus the standard thirteen (in reality, the show really had seven seasons, but no one wants to hear that when it comes to paychecks, marketing, and such).
It’s a strange coincidence that my Sopranos binge-watch is nearly over, and that on the same weekend that Breaking Bad unfurled its latest season premiere, I was also watching Tony and company in their final episodes. However, what’s not strange is how fully these second halves differ from each other, with The Sopranos piling on dread, rolling out key events that aren’t yet the “big” events, and just generally leading up to the inevitable, while Breaking Bad jumped in great guns and gave us the confrontation we’ve been waiting entire years for within its first hour.
Breaking Bad doesn’t have the luxury of extra episodes and it doesn’t have any interest in a time-jump (beyond those flash forwards), adding still more to its unshakable sense of immediacy. Years from now, binge-watchers everywhere will be able to watch the entire series without pause, and while they too will feel the tension and the trauma of Breaking Bad, they will never be able to feel the unique joy of waiting for something and being gloriously, gruesomely rewarded for it.