The end is nigh.
AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad’ has always felt like a show on a mission, an unstoppable locomotive chugging toward an inevitable, probably explosive endpoint. Every episode has been a part of that ever-increasing momentum, and now that the destination is in sight, that’s doubly true. The series that used to rely on near-misses and narrow escapes to build tension is now delivering on its promises. As we move into the final eight episodes of the series, ‘Breaking Bad’ isn’t pulling any punches, and when they land they’re just as satisfying as we hoped they’d be.
At least, that’s true of Sunday’s premiere episode, “Blood Money.” Last year’s almost unbearable cliffhanger saw Hank (Dean Norris) finally discovering that Walt (Bryan Cranston) has been the Heisenberg he’s been chasing all along. It was a moment that the series had been building toward for four-and-a-half seasons, but it’s what comes next that has fans waiting with bated breath, making “Blood Money” one of the most intensely anticipated television episodes of 2013.
“Blood Money” delivers. It’s a lean, mean hour of ‘Breaking Bad’ finally starting to deliver on the promises it’s been making for five years. It covers in one episode what would have taken three a few seasons ago, and it still has time for one of the most side-splittingly hilarious Badger/Skinny Pete conversations of the show’s run (both are avid Trekkies, it turns out).
By saying that the episode is fast-paced, however, I’m not saying it’s action-packed: there’s hardly any violence in the episode at all (aside from one very important outburst). It’s all about the dialogue-driven tension between the characters -- at least two conversations from this episode stick out as some of ‘Breaking Bad’s’ all-time intense scenes (one is devastatingly dishonest, while the other is a shocking moment of frankness). As always, the cast are on their A-game: Aaron Paul manages to communicate so many levels of horror with just a single blank stare, while Bryan Cranston makes Walt seem slimier -- and somehow more relatable -- than ever. But the real star of this episode is Dean Norris. This is Hank’s best episode in several years, and the perennially underrated Norris proves that he’s just as great an actor as the ones that bring home the awards. Hell, if this episode doesn’t garner Norris a Best Supporting Actor Emmy nomination, I’ll be very, very surprised.
‘Breaking Bad’ has been inching toward its ending for years, but “Blood Money” might be one of the first episodes of the series in which you can really feel the end approaching. Aside from broad generalizations (Walt will die, Walt won’t die), there’s no real guessing how or where the series will finally conclude. But we do know when the series will end (September 29 feels so close), and “Blood Money” makes it obvious that ‘Breaking Bad’ knows, too. The episode’s intensity reflects just how close we are to the ending -- and if that’s any indication, we’ve got an absolutely insane eight weeks ahead.
‘Breaking Bad’ airs Sunday, Aug. 11 at 9/8c on AMC.