Series returns Aug. 11. Here's our spoiler-free review
I'm not going to spoil anything about the return of "Breaking Bad," except this: It's as good as it's ever been. As good as any TV show has ever been.
My revealing anything about the plot would be a missed opportunity for you and an act of foolish egotism by me. Because nothing I could put into sentences would deliver the crackling euphoria the show creates with each jittery montage, wincing fight, scream-at-the-screen flashforward. "Breaking Bad" tells its story better than anyone else could.
So just watch the show yourself, Aug. 11, two Sundays from now. I don't envy your wait, but I envy you getting to see the return episode for the first time. "Breaking Bad" is still giddily addictive, a joy to watch, a marvel.
Is this what meth is like? Is meth this good?
We won't know whether the series is the best ever made until it ends. But I do know, that personally, I've never felt as engaged by anything on TV.
The show has broken its final season into two eight-episode segments, the first of which aired last year. (That makes the episode I viewed the premiere of the second half of season, and the beginning of the end.) We left off with Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher, achieving his ambition of becoming New Mexico's meth king.
And then a sudden discovery on the throne threatened to collapse the whole kingdom: Walt's brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank Schraeder (Dean Norris), found a copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" on the toilet. The book's inscription seemed to implicate Walt in a series of horrible deeds.
The show's obsessive viewers – after a few episodes, it's hard not to be an obsessive viewer – have spent the last year trying to game out where the show might go from here. Has the show been setting us up along for a showdown with Walt and Hank? Or do we need Walt to kill Jesse (Aaron Paul) for the story to conclude? Or maybe Jesse kills Walt.
Or, worse: Walt took up selling meth to help his family after he died. Does the show end, in the dark irony of dark ironies, with Walter White losing his family? He's put other people's children in deeper dangers during his spiral. Does it all end with Walt's own children dying?
Whatever we're thinking, the show's writers have thought of something better. Creator Vince Gilligan has talked about how much they thrive on writing themselves into dark corners, and then finding elegant solutions. Well, not too elegant: Sometimes someone needs his face blown off for things to work out.
I should say something bad about the show, to reassure you that I have some kind of objectivity. Okay.
There's one comic sequence in the return episode that I thought went on a little too long. Are they really spending this much time on this, I thought, with so much other story to tell?
But I noticed, as the scene went on, that the show wasn't just trying to make us laugh. Yes, it was a chance to let us breathe for a bit. But there were also telling details, some a little tragic, in the midst of this non-essential monologue. The more attention I paid, the more I like it.
"Breaking Bad" is better than meth. Meth has diminishing returns. It's never has good as the first time, people say.
"Breaking Bad" gets better the more you do it. It rewards you for being obsessive. Go back and watch a few episodes in Season 2 or 3, and you'll have a richer experience in Season 5.
One last thing: You know the feeling of seeing something you used to love, brought back once again? When it returns, the touchstones are still there, but they've become reminders of something you used to love, rather than something you love in the moment. Oh cool: There's a lightsaber. There's Indy's whip. It's good to see them, it's been too long. But this movie doesn't live up to the old ones.
Well, look: There's "Leaves of Grass." There's Jesse's bong. There's that very dark secret Walt buried. They're back. And you're in the middle of "Breaking Bad" at its best. It feels ecstatic. Enjoy the high.