"Breaking Bad" picked up right where it left off in the beginning of Season 5 (amazingly, over a year ago!): Walter White some time after his 52nd birthday with a full head of hair, the intimidating Heisenberg goatee fleshed out, the wire rim specs replaced with something thicker and far more chic, and a loneliness so tangible it's practically its own character.
This time, however, we also get a glimpse of the White household, the mundane ranch-style rambler in a state of disrepair best described as burnout skate park meets zombie apocalypse. Walt lurches past a wood-paneled wall spray painted with the letters of his criminal alias, "HEISENBERG." Walt plucks a vial of ricin from an electrical outlet, another weapon for his expanding arsenal. Finally, he steps into daylight, what we can only assume is the final leg in his insane sojourn, and comes face-to-face with a neighbor unpacking groceries from her hatchback. "Hello, Carol," Walt says nonchalantly. She drops the brown sacks, oranges skittering down the driveway. It's apparent the world finally knows who Walter White is.
Vince Gilligan then takes us back to the present and Hank's dangling revelation concerning his brother-in-law's criminal depravity. Still gripping Walt's copy of "Leaves of Grass" with Gale Boetthicher's handwritten dedication, he decides to fake a stomach bug and head to his man cave filled with homebrew equipment and classified DEA documents. Starting with the panic attack in his SUV, we see Hank sliding into an alarming Carrie Mathison-level freakout.
Hank decides to skip work after a trip to the emergency room to begin a clandestine investigation into Walt. Out comes the Costco sweatpants and ringer tee as he scours the evidence he's squirreled away just above a five-gallon carboy -- the crude drawing of Heisenberg only heightening his fears.
Meanwhile, Jesse Pinkman, Walt's defunct protege, has slipped into his usual coping mechanism of powerful bud and an entourage bent on pontificating the merits of classic sci-fi. In one of the highlights of the episode, Badger and Skinny Pete discuss an original "Star Trek" episode concerning Chekhov cheating in a blueberry pie-eating contest.
The only thing that riles Jesse out of his malaise is the interminable wait in Saul Goodman's reception room. After lighting up a spliff among Saul's colorful clientele, he informs his lawyer that he wants to donate his $5 million meth buyout to Mike Ehrmantraut's granddaughter and Drew Sharp's parents. Since Jesse's magnet magic in the first episode of season five, we've seen a much more intuitive side to him, and it reaches its apex here as his guilt alludes to Walt's probable involvement in Mike's disappearance.
Of course, nothing tips off the DEA like a sizable donation to the family of a missing person and a known felon who has eluded capture. So Walt, one month out of the "blue" business and firmly involved in expanding the family car wash, dons his best cable knit sweater to talk Jesse out of his funk. Walt is thriving in the mundane (dressed in taupe from head-to-toe) and doesn't want to sacrifice his improving relationship with Skyler. Like the initial Mr. Chips character we met at the beginning of "Breaking Bad," there's an uneasy dynamic between the Whites, an unspoken tension that makes it easier to stick with trivial conversations that center around air fresheners and bowling teams. Walt is so desperate to maintain the tentative peace that he even neglects admitting the return of his cancer.
"I didn't kill Mike," Walt pleads with Jesse. "I need you to believe me." What we don't know yet is whether he needs him to believe it because he's clinging to the last shreds of self-preservation or he's hopeful of sparing Jesse the taste of ricin. Either way, Jesse is pathologically unfazed and swiftly turns himself into a philanthrope of the desert, tossing stacks of cash into the waiting arms of derelicts and decorative cacti.
Finally, the big showdown between Walt and Hank has come. After discovering the purloined book (while sick from the cancer treatments), Walt grows suspicious of Hank's supposed illness and starts sniffing around for the type of tracking device the two used in the illegal Gus Fring investigation. With robe wide open, his ubiquitous whitey-tighties bared, Walt discovers a GPS tracker on the undercarriage of his Chrysler and decides to confront his brother-in-law.
Walt pulls into Hank's driveway with the sound of a yellow remote-controlled car buzzing in the background, something akin to Hank's bubbling sense of betrayal and paranoia. With each forced pleasantry by the grinning Walter White, Hank's decorum only weakens and he eventually erupts, punching Walt and slamming him against the wall. But instead of a denial, Walt -- a.k.a. Heisenberg-the white whale of methamphetamine -- seems to grow. Towering over Hank by a good foot, Walt enduringly discloses his accelerated cancer and the veritable dead-end to the DEA's investigation. By the time legal runs its course, White will long be dead, never seeing the inside of a prison. So, a bloodied Walt leaves it up to Hank, who looks thoroughly shaken, "If you don't know who I am, maybe your best course of action is to tread lightly."
In this new reality of obscene wealth, cancer's bugle blare screaming of his encroaching demise, Walt simply wants a few months of tepid normalcy. The question is now: Does Hank Schrader grant a dying man his final wish? And how far will Walt go to ensure its fruition?
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Sarah Rodman is a TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Meghan Colloton is a Things to Do and Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.