TV review: “Breaking Bad” midseason finale sets stage for killer ending

By Jake Abbate

It must feel pretty good to be Walter White, a.k.a “Heisenberg.”

A little more than a year has passed since he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and turned to manufacturing crystal meth as a means of providing for his family. In that time, the once mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher has become the dominating force in the southwestern drug trade, and he’s damn proud of it.

But in the last scene of Sunday night’s “Breaking Bad” midseason finale, audiences are given a glimpse of the nascent stages of his inevitable downfall.

Much of this season of AMC’s critically acclaimed drama has involved Walt (Bryan Cranston), attempting to rise from the ashes after killing his boss, Gus Fring, at the end of the last season while simultaneously evading the suspicions of his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) in one of the most powerful instances of dramatic irony ever produced for television.

If we’ve learned anything about Walt in the series’ five-year history, it’s that his ingenuity is a force to be reckoned with. But, viewers may start to question whether he is merely acting on impulse, as indicated by his decision to shoot Mike (Jonathan Banks) in last week’s episode.

“It had to be done,” Walt says of killing Mike. It’s an excuse we’ve heard countless times before, but we know it isn’t true.

Just as he’s about to dispose of the body using the old “stick him in a barrel full of hydrofluoric acid” trick, Walt’s former student-turned-partner in crime Jesse (Aaron Paul) arrives, still under the impression that Mike left town.

“There is no ‘we,’” Walt coldly responds when Jesse asks what they plan to do next. “I’m the only vote left.”

As if his deteriorating relationship with Jesse wasn’t enough, Walt still must deal with the 10 jailed employees on Gus’ payroll who might disclose his identity to the police. What follows is one of the most humorously gruesome montages the series has offered with each of the men being brutally stabbed (or in one case, burned) to death as Nat King Cole’s “Pick Yourself Up” plays in the background.

The way Walt looks at his reflection in a window as his master plan is being put into action miles away proves once and for all that series creator Vince Gilligan is making good on his promise to “turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

Meanwhile, Walt’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) brings him to a storage unit and shows him the heaping pile of money that has become too big to launder.

Although it seems like a lost cause at this point, she begs him to stop his illicit activities and eventually, he relents with a simple “I’m out.”

All is well and good in the White household again, at least until Hank steps into the bathroom at a family gathering and discovers a book of poetry belonging to lab assistant Gale, a name Hank knows only too well. The connection has at long last been made.

The shame Hank feels in realizing his prey was right under his nose is undoubtedly strong, but not as strong as the pain felt by the viewers in knowing they must wait until next summer for the season — and the series — to conclude.

Though ultimately satisfying, the finale leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but its questions like these that make the series such a thrill to watch.

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