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‘Breaking Bad’ Returns With a Twist

AMC's 'Breaking Bad'

Let’s put it on the table now: If Breaking Bad can sustain the extraordinary momentum of this season’s first two episodes — there are six more this year, eight the next — it will have had zero bad seasons. Not even the almighty Wire can claim that.

Now, as it stands,Breaking Bad is the best television noir ever aired, the complete story of a man destroying himself for reasons he is convinced are right, totally unaware of—or at least ambivalent about—the fact that he has become the villain of his own life.

When we last left Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his hat, he was, for all intents and purposes, the last man standing, his enemies destroyed. In a dazzling feat of old-school plotting (and one of the best reveals in TV history), White blew up drug lord Gus Fring by turning Gus’s paralyzed rival Hector “Tio” Salamanca into a human bomb (ding, ding, ding, BOOM). He also poisoned a small child just to get Jesse Pinkman (the perpetually underrated Aaron Paul) back on his side, and his brother-in-law has been thrown off the scent. Walt has won, and he starts season five convinced he can do very little wrong. (He is the one who knocks, after all.) He will still be precise in his approach to the world and to his work, but this is not a guy who is going to rethink an idea once he has it.

After a cold open that will leave fans gobsmacked, season five picks up not too far from where season four ended. News of Fring’s death is getting around, from business associates to Mike Ehrmantraut (the almighty Jonathan Banks), whom we last saw suffering from a gunshot wound sustained in the shootout with the Juarez cartel. Perhaps needless to say, Mike is not thrilled to hear about Gus’s untimely demise.

Jesse and Mike continue to have layered, mirror-image relationships to Walt. Jesse is the son Walt Jr. can never be. But while Walt loves Junior (almost) unconditionally, he has a much sicker, weirder relationship with Jesse, manipulative and cruel. Where Jesse began in a place of corruption, he struggles to regain his innocence and decency. Last season, he grieved over his murder of Gale Boetticher (a murder Walter ordered) and panicked when it seemed like some ricin he lost track of may have poisoned young Brock Cantillo (a poisoning Walter committed). Walt began from a place of innocence and has willfully, relentlessly, thrown it away.

Mike, on the other hand, started as a cop in Philadelphia (that accent is pure suburban Maryland, but whatever) and fell onto the other side of the law. He has a bone dry sense of humor, loves his grandchild, and clearly cares for Jesse. He seems like a fundamentally decent guy who does terrible things for a living — he is not cruel for the sake of being cruel. He also seems like a man who is increasingly uncomfortable with being ruthless (recall the look on Mike’s face when Gus executed the underling for no reason at all at the start of season four). Don’t be surprised if Mike starts leaving people alive that he might not have were he still working for Gus.

This does not make Mike a “good” guy, but it does make him very different from Walt. “We do what we do for good reasons,” Walt says to his wife, Skyler. It is hard
to say which is scarier: that Walt actually believes that, or that he does not. Either way, it makes for exceptional television.