“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair” – Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famed poem has perhaps never been so fittingly used as it was in the chilling teaser trailer for Breaking Bad’s final episodes. But they might as well be Vince Gilligan’s words, for he has created a show which towers above the rest of the television schedule (or the Netflix back catalogue, for us UK viewers) and which returned yesterday for its highly anticipated final run. But can these last eight episodes live up to the hype?
The story picks up exactly where we left off with Hank (Dean Norris) having finally twigged that Walt (Bryan Cranston) just might be Heisenberg, the meth-cooking mastermind that he’s long been hunting. Unlike many shows though, there’s no “Previously on” prologue to remind forgetful viewers of the story so far, if Breaking Bad even has forgetful viewers – this show has a fandom who will obsess over the colour of a character’s shirt. Instead, all we need is a shot of Hank opening the bathroom door and we’re straight back in the story, and boy does it feel good to be back.
Although it has long been predominantly a two hander between Walt and his protégé, Jesse (Aaron Paul), it seems that this season will give Hank a chance to shine, and Norris does not disappoint. Whereas other shows might have dragged out Hank’s investigation into Walt over multiple episodes, here, all is revealed within the space of forty minutes, culminating in a breathtakingly understated showdown; never before has the closing of a garage door been so intense. It’s a testament to the writing too that Hank, a character who started off as nothing more than a bit of comic relief has evolved into a hugely likeable person and an integral part of the story.
Though Breaking Bad knows how to do a good showdown, it’s the quieter scenes which really pack a punch. When Walt calmly tries to convince Jesse that he hasn’t killed Mike, the conversation is riddled with things left unsaid. Walt pleads with Jesse to believe him, possibly out of guilt or shame over what he’s done or perhaps just to further demonstrate his skills as a master manipulator. Either way, it is chilling, and Jesse concedes, now truly scared of the man who used to teach him high school chemistry.
With seven episodes still to go, there’s no guessing how it might end. But being unpredictable is one thing which the show really excels at; you can never know where it’s going. Viewers are sure to be split over the ending (when aren’t they?) but with a show as detailed and layered as this, you can be certain that Gilligan knows what he’s doing.
I would say to just sit back and enjoy these final episodes of Breaking Bad while you can, but with all the storylines ramping up to what is sure to be an explosive finale, you’re more likely to be perched on the edge of your seat, chewing on whatever remains of your fingers. Though Walt’s fate remains unclear, one’s thing for certain: this is going to be a hell of a ride.