It's finally back. The best drama on television (yes, even better than "Mad Men," in my opinion) returns Sunday night at 10.
But because AMC's "Breaking Bad" left us with such a mind-blowing Season 4 finale in October, there may be some worry about Season 5 living up to unattainable expectations.
Well, there's no need to worry, little ones. Judging by the first two episodes, this final "Breaking Bad" season will be just as crazy and brilliant as all those before.
Walt is King...
Sunday night's premiere episode opens with a brief -- and deliciously bewildering -- glimpse into Walter White's future, but then quickly pops back to precisely where Season 4 left off: drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is dead, Walt (Bryan Cranston) has "won," and Walt must now tie up loose ends and plan for the future.
And about that future ... Thanks to Walt's wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) and her old pal Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins), the White family is flat broke, which means Walt must earn again. But this time he has larger plans than merely being someone else's cook.
As Walt sets out to make himself the new Gus, Season 5 will chronicle the final leg of his slow descent from "basically decent man" to "utterly ruthless criminal."
Cranston's always superb portrayal of cancer patient-turned-meth cooker-turned-drug kingpin has become, in a word, terrifying. I think it's safe to say that Walter White, as anyone in his life has known him, is dead; killed not by the cancer threatening him in the first half of the series, but by the intoxicating power he now craves even more than the money his drugs bring. In this last stretch of the series, Walt fully embraces his own "I am the one who knocks!" mythology and isn't shy about letting those closest to him know he is king.
When Gus's former henchman Mike (Jonathan Banks) -- scary, cold-blooded Mike who hates Walt's guts! -- asks Walt in the first episode why he should take his word for something, Walt coldly replies: "Because I said so."
And he gets no argument.
It's not all twisty darkness. Thankfully, there are still some wonderfully funny moments sprinkled about, usually courtesy of Walt's partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) or everyone's favorite lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Who are both great. You can't single anyone out on this show because everyone is fantastic (exception: I still can't stand that son).
Hank is Watching...
The relationship between Walt and Jesse has always been study in manipulation (and as Alyssa Rosenberg recently pointed out, a study in outright abuse as well), but I think perhaps the most fascinating character to watch this season might just be Walt's DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris).
Since Hank was right about Gus all along, his confidence in himself is restored and he is returned to the DEA in high favor. Not only is Hank reinvigorated in every way by the Fring takedown, but folks at work aren't likely dismiss any more of his crazy hunches.
Does Hank have any inkling at all about Walt? I go back and forth on that, but I have to believe that deep down, Hank knows something is off with his brother-in-law. The camera lingers on his face just a bit too long sometimes for me to believe Hank has no clue.
This final season of "Breaking Bad" is broken up into two eight-episode installments, with the final eight coming next summer. Who -- or what -- will bring about Walt's inevitable downfall? Jesse? Hank? A Mexican cartel? Skylar? Some as-yet-unseen player?
It's going to be so much fun to watch and find out.
"Breaking Bad" airs on Sunday nights at 10 on AMC.
Note for DISH customers: DISH dropped AMC (and IFC, Sundance and WE) recently when their contract with AMC Networks expired, but AMC is making the first episode of the new "Breaking Bad" season available to stream live on their website. The statement from AMC says the move is designed to "give DISH customers an extra week to switch providers so they can enjoy the rest of the season." Go to AMC's website to register for access for the live stream, which is only available only during the show's on-air run at 10.