The apocalyptic hour of "Blood Money," the final season premiere of AMC's "Breaking Bad," moves faster than entire seasons of this brilliant and diabolical series. The closing scene of the episode is the one fans have been waiting for for years, and one that would otherwise take this show another eight or 12 episodes to accomplish. (Neilsen reports that the final-season premiere averaged 5.9 million viewers on Sunday, almost double last year's premiere slot. More details here.)
But remember, after "Blood Money," only seven episodes remain, and "Breaking Bad" has a lot of business to tend to in those precious final hours. Season 5 part 2 is poised to be a breakneck finish for "Breaking Bad," and a refusal to put its foot on the brake. But this speed doesn't mean that series head Vince Gilligan and his writing team are merely dancing as fast as they can. "Blood Money" showcases "Breaking Bad" at its most carefully plotted and assembled -- not to mention, inventively styled -- as it digs deeply into the show's mythology. (Don't read further if you are not caught up on the series, as spoilers are ahead.)
"Blood Money" kicks off with the show's most soul-searing cold open yet. In a flash forward, a bearded Walter White (Bryan Cranston) returns to his suburban home to retrieve the ricin he hid in a light fixture last season. His home is now empty and ravaged, grey and sickly, with the name HEISENBERG spray painted on the living room wall. The opener echoes that of season five, part 1, in which Walt, traveling under a pseudonym, reveals some seriously heavy weaponry in the trunk of his car. Putting these two timeline jumps together, we're building toward an awful act of violence that likely won't come until the series' very end. Some haunting questions linger: Where are Skyler, Walt Jr. and -- dear god -- baby Holly? Who is the loose wire that Walt is going after, with the ricin and the gun?
Here's what we did learn from the season premiere: Hank (Dean Norris) will be working to take down Walt, whose cancer is back, and Jesse (Aaron Paul) knows that Walt killed Gus' (RIP) former henchman Mike but has no proof. This two-pronged setup will most certainly be the fulcrum of the final season, as both Hank and Jesse pursue any possible redemption for themselves. And in the case of Jesse, it means getting out from under Walt's thumb.
Though the bulk of this episode is all ominous portent -- including "former business associate" Lydia's unexpected appearance at the A1A car wash -- and slow zooms (Hank's stunned-senseless emergence from the bathroom), the fulcrum here is the final scene face-off between Walt and Hank. When Hank socks Walt behind the closed door of his garage, grabs him by the collar and spews, "It was you all along," we can't help but feel a potent spark of satisfaction as the whole bedrock of the show -- a once-ordinary guy engineers a massive drug operation right under the nose of his DEA-agent brother-in-law -- erupts. But then Walt says, "If you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly," and that moral blood-thirst curdles to dread.