Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has long described Breaking Bad as a show about the transformation of Mr. Chips into Scarface. The reality, however, is that Scarface was there the whole time, lurking underneath Mr. Chip’s mild-mannered exterior. The drivers of Walter White’s behavior – arrogance, bitterness and hubris – have clearly existed from the Grey Matter days. It’s the viewer’s perception of Walt that is changing, not Walt himself.
Of course, the Scarface transformation happened long ago. You can pick your cataclysmic moment: was it when he watched Jane die? When he set-up Hank? When he pulled the Godfather move on Mike’s guys? (Sorry about the dropped oranges, Carol.) So what’s left for the show after all of the chemical transformations have occurred?
Resolution. And that’s what made this season’s premiere so enjoyable. The cold open flash-forward picked up where last season’s premiere left off: with a bearded Mr. Lambert packing heat and returning to ABQ. We quickly learn that Walt has been exposed as Heisenberg, his family is gone and the end is near. We also get quick confirmation of the return of Walt’s cancer. Best of all, we get the long-awaited showdown between Hank and Walt, culminating in the most-satisfying punch since Lane Pryce decked Pete Campbell.
The transformation in the garage scene was perfect. First, “good guy” Walt checks in on his brother-in-law Hank. Then Heisenberg takes over and confronts Hank about the GPS tracker. After 5 years of Hank being portrayed as the more powerful man the camera angles suggest a shift in perspective as Walt literally towers over Hank and warns him to “tread lightly.” But the end is coming, as Skyler hoped and we all knew it must.
Jesse’s arc felt repetitive, as we’ve seen him wallow in guilt before (reminiscent of Don Draper’s déjà vu season 6 arc) but the question remains: does Jesse kill himself, kill Mr. White or finally find a way past his guilt and shame? Either way, he’s the best paperboy ever.
It’s going to be hard for Breaking Bad to live up to the hype and expectations for this final season, but we’re off to a fast start. Walter may mirror Gus’s fastidiousness when it comes to placing towels in front of commodes, but he certainly doesn’t exhibit the patience of the man with the box cutter.
(That’s how many pies Chekov ate.)