BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- As the final season of "Breaking Bad" begins (9 p.m. Sunday, AMC), the scene opens on a bearded Future Walt, last seen at the start of last summer's season premiere eating at a diner and inspecting a trunk full of guns. Now Future Walt returns to his old home, mysteriously abandoned and surrounded by a chain-link fence. A neighbor sees him and, reacting in surprise and terror, drops her groceries after Walt greets her.
Then the show jumps back to just moments after last fall's season finale when Walt's law enforcement brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), began to realize that Walt was the infamous drug dealer Heisenberg.
This gripping episode, titled "Blood Money," could just as easily be called "The One Where Everyone Figures It Out." Hank is shell-shocked about his Walt discovery and becomes physically and mentally impaired by the revelation.
Jesse (Aaron Paul) is tortured about his role in Walt's operation, particularly Walt's willingness to have a child witness murdered last season and the disappearance of Mike, which Jesse now thinks Walt had a hand in.
And then there's Walt's dawning realization that his life of crime may have been discovered, which leads to another "I'm the one who knocks" moment with another chilling statement that drips with threat in such a polite manner.
Written by Peter Gould, this episode -- the first of the final eight before the Sept. 29 series finale -- moves the story along at a fast clip. While some series would dawdle with Hank's discovery, "Breaking Bad" delves headlong into it in a way that's true to Hank's bull-in-a-china-shop nature. It doesn't take long for his renewed investigative interest in Heisenberg to kick in.
In addition, the episode offers a nice showcase scene for Skyler (Anna Gunn), who confronts one of Walt's former business associates when she shows up at the family's car wash that's a cover business for their illegal doings.
How will it all end? Who knows. Even series creator Vince Gilligan can't recall what he originally had in mind.
"I couldn't see that far ahead," Mr. Gilligan said at an AMC press conference last month. "I really was not able to see the forest for the trees for the longest time over these last six years."
Mr. Cranston said in his initial meeting with Mr. Gilligan about the role, they discussed Walter White as a character but not what would become of him.
"As I've mentioned before, I wanted this role really bad," he said. "When we read good scripts, it instills imagination in you immediately, involuntarily, and so our discussion in the first meeting was how he should look and how he should walk and what his sensibility is and this and that, but we never discussed where it was going to end up. It was just too big a subject. And as the seasons went on, I never found out. I never asked. I never wanted to know. The twists and turns of my character were so sharp that it wouldn't help me to know. So I was just holding on, much like the audience was, almost week to week."
And that's part of the beauty of "Breaking Bad" and why I'm not really thinking about how the show will end. "Breaking Bad" became an unlikely hit because it has always been more about the characters' journeys than their destination. If anything, Mr. Gilligan has set himself up for failure because the show was so often surprising. But when it comes to the series finale, the possible results seem almost binary: Walt lives or Walt dies.
So rather than worrying about how "Breaking Bad" ends, let's just enjoy the ride, because it's the twisty storytelling and characters that make "Bad" such a satisfying meal.
"I find it odd," Mr. Paul said about viewer reaction to his character. "Obviously, he's a drug dealer. He's a murderer, but for some reason, you really care for him. You want to protect him."
Mr. Cranston said Walter White is relatable, even as he's mutated from Mr. Chips to Scarface, because his situation -- nebbish gets cancer, tries to set his family up financially for their lives after his death, gets greedy -- is not so far-fetched.
"In looking into this character and what happens to him and the transformation, I really believe that everybody is capable of good or bad," Mr. Cranston said. "We are all human beings. We are all given this spectrum of emotions, as complex as they are, and depending on your influences and your DNA and your parenting and your education and your social environment, the best of you can come out or the worst of you can come out. If given the right set of circumstances, dire situations, any one of us can become dangerous."
After just eight more hours of television, the Walter White story will be done. And Mr. Gilligan is satisfied.
"I was really nervous about coming up to the end of this thing for a year straight. Hell, for six years straight," he said. "How do you satisfy everybody? The more you listen to everyone vis-a-vis the Internet, the more fractured your thinking becomes. I realized along the way the best hope we had to come up with something that hopefully most people will like is to satisfy ourselves, the seven of us in the writers' room and, hopefully, these actors as well and the crew. That's where we started. I am very proud of the ending. I can't wait for everyone to see it. I am very cautious in my estimation of, in general, how people will respond to things. I hope I am not wildly wrong in my estimate that I think most folks are going to dig the ending. ... You be the judge."
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