The long awaited fifth season of AMC's Breaking Bad premiered last night, immediately putting to rest any questions about whether or not the show has jumped the proverbial shark. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are just as awesome as ever, and the absolutely gripping story has lost none of the momentum from last season's climactic finale. I'll admit I had my doubts about how the creator, Vince Gilligan, would be able keep the show going, especially after Walter White's declaration that “It's over. We're safe now... I won.” But of course, nothing is ever really over, not on TV anyway, and certainly not for Jesse and Mr. White.
Season 5 opens with a trademark, cryptic flash-forward, in which a now 52-year-old Walt purchases an almost comically large machine gun on the black market. This first scene perfectly encapsulates what makes Breaking Bad so freaking good: pure suspense. People love to joke that the show is “as addictive as the meth they cook on it,” and this might not be far from the truth. The reason Breaking Bad is the TV equivalent of a page-turner is that its suspense is so masterfully crafted. Though there's plenty to love about the show, it is the sheer level of intrigue that sets it apart from other great dramas like HBO's The Wire. I honestly don't know how anyone could NOT want to know what Walt is going to with that gun.
Obviously I'm hooked on Breaking Bad, but I did have some concerns coming into this final season. My biggest worry was that it would become completely absurd in a vain attempt to stay at the high octane pace of Season 4. While they might have flirted with this just a little bit, Breaking Bad's comfort zone has always been right on the edge of believability. Using chemistry to solve the problems that come with leading a life of crime will always have an inherent, MacGyver-esque, campy feel to it, but this is such a minor part of the show that I've never had trouble overlooking it. Last night's premiere was a classic example of how even a slightly silly story can have you totally riveted when executed with aplomb.
Breaking Bad can get away with a Saturday-morning-educational-cartoon style resolution every once in a while because it does everything else so damn well. The camerawork is superb, and the acting, as evidenced perhaps by Bryan Cranston's three consecutive Emmys for his role as Walter White, is unparalleled. Even ancillary characters are brilliantly cast, and the core is as solid as any that has ever been assembled. Though we'll surely miss Giancarlo Esposito and his positively chilling portrayal of Gus Fring, we still have Jonathan Banks and the hilarious Bob Odenkirk, whose schtick as bus-bench-lawyer, Saul Goodman, is just as funny as ever.
Perfectly parsed comic relief has long been a strength of Breaking Bad, and Season 5 was definitely up to snuff. Without such a deft touch of comedy, this often exceedingly dark show would just be too depressing to watch. Vince Gilligan has vowed that this season will be “even darker,” which doesn't seem entirely possible. However, as long as we have the occasional wise-crack from Saul, eye roll from Mike, or patently unnecessary “...bitch!” from Jesse, we should be all right.
Truly, Breaking Bad has lost absolutely none of what made its first four seasons such a wild success. Season 5 displayed the same captivating intrigue, the same Academy-worthy acting, and the same unadulterated awesomeness as years past.