“I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I’m talking to.”
“If that’s true…if you don’t know who I am…then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”
That densely loaded exchange between Walt and Hank – and the absolutely incredible scene preceding it – is not only the best part of an immensely satisfying Breaking Bad premiere(*), but indicative of everything “Blood Money” does so amazingly well: Delivering a moment we have been waiting five whole seasons to see – a moment that pays off on everything the audience knows about these two characters and their respective histories – with a level of execution that excels our collective expectations.
(*)Yes, from a technical, contractual standpoint, this is the ninth episode of Season 5. From a reasonable, non-moronic standpoint, it is the first episode of a new season, and I will refer to it as such throughout this review, and do the same for subsequent episodes over the next seven weeks. Whatever AMC is calling this, “Blood Money” walks, talks, and acts like a premiere, so to me, it is episode 1. Next week will be Episode 2. The headline for these reviews will show the overall Season 5 numbering order, but for individual reviews, let’s keep things sane and simple and just refer to these episodes for what they are creatively, not commercially, structured to be: A new, final 8-episode season, not the second-half of a larger whole.
“Blood Money” is undeniably a season premiere, as the majority of its runtime is devoted to rearranging pieces on the narrative chessboard and checking back in on where each character is in their lives. But as an opening to the final season, all this establishing material carries much greater weight than it normally would, especially considering that Vince Gilligan and company have wasted no time whatsoever in pushing their characters towards destinations audiences have been anticipating for a long while – in some cases stretching back to the series’ inception.
Among the many questions this viewer pondered going into this year’s premiere: What would Hank do after realizing that Walter White, his beloved brother-in-law, is his greatest, most elusive nemesis? After seeing just what heights of villainy he ascended to last season, what would a Walter White who has ‘gotten out’ of the meth business look like? And how would Jesse, a man who wears every inch of guilt he has ever accumulated on his sleeves, move on with life after exiting the business for good? Is it possible for him to do so in the first place, and on a similar note, can Skyler truly be at peace with her restored ‘family life’ after everything that has happened? If Walt’s cancer does come back, as had been suggested in the opening flash-forward last season, how would the Walt of today react to such news in contrast to the man we first met in the pilot? And perhaps most significantly of all, given where the arc of the series has taken him, what exactly does the almighty, all-powerful Heisenberg do when he realizes that, for the first time, someone in a position of power isn’t just on to him, but has figured out everything – and does it even matter if that man is his brother-in-law?
What is so impressive about “Blood Money,” then, is that each of these issues, along with several more, gets explored in meaningful depth. We are constantly treated to moments and sequences that we have spent years speculating about, and yet finally seeing such beats play out does not feel easy or predictable, but thoroughly thrilling and invigorating. Gilligan and his team have managed to make the initial stages of pay-off just as tense, inventive, and harrowing as much of what came before, simultaneously defying and fulfilling our heavy expectations at every turn.
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