- "Breaking Bad" returned for its final eight episodes on Sunday
- The episode featured a tense showdown that answered a big plot question
- Expectations were high, but the mid-season premiere delivered
Sunday night brought the beginning of the end for Walter White of "Breaking Bad."
The first of the final eight episodes featured an unbelievably tense scene, one that left fans with two words of wisdom as they barrel toward the conclusion. They were uttered by Bryan Cranston's corrupt meth kingpin after his brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank, tells him he doesn't even know who Walt is anymore.
Walt's advice? In that case, "tread lightly."
(Mindy Kaling's advice on Twitter wasn't half-bad either: "If you didn't see breaking bad tonight, tomorrow you better take your spoilers like a man.")
Keeping that in mind, we'll tread lightly on revealing too much in case you're still catching up or somehow nodded off during the mid-season premiere. The expectations were intimidatingly high for Sunday's "Blood Money," but in the eyes of critics, creator Vince Gilligan and his team delivered -- as did stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.
The journey kicks off with another flash-forward, showing the White home in disarray, its pool drained of its contents with a yellow "Heisenberg" tagged on a wall. We watched Walt grab the ricin capsule from behind an electrical socket, and then we're back in the present again.
And that's when the real fun begins. We knew that Hank suspected that Walt was the meth kingpin he's been chasing, but we didn't know how he'd put those pieces together. Sunday's episode wasted no time answering one of our big questions, and by the end of it, Hank and Walt were stunningly face-to-face.
It was at this point that we sort of wished AMC would go the Netflix route and just give the episodes to us all at once, and we're not the only ones.
"This TV version of a literary thriller has reached the point where the pieces are finally coming together and all we want to do is whip through its pages and finally devour that much-craved resolution. But we can't, because there are seven more episodes to go," said Salon's Jen Chaney. "There's a lesson in it ... After watching a show about a man who comes to think he can have everything his way, whenever he wants, it's good to be reminded that most people can't. We are not in control, so we must accept it, respect it and patiently savor the prolonged, delicious agony."
The New Yorker found the climactic scene to be "a classic opener for the season: a cowboy showdown that placed Hank, once a minor, comic character on the show, dead center in the role of hero." And yet, the magazine's Emily Nussbaum predicts, "Based on that terrifying cold open, it's a solid bet that Hero Hank is a red herring, and the show's real endgame will be Jesse, the one most damaged by Walt."
Esquire's Alex Berenson agrees, believing that there's no way Walt is making it out of this series alive -- flash-forwards to his 52nd birthday with a head full of hair, be damned -- and that Jesse is going to be the one to do it.
"Like all good psychopaths, Walter has convinced himself that his prior crimes don't matter as long as he lives decently in the future," Berenson writes. "But Jesse can't forget what they've done. Jesse has grown a conscience, and it's killing him. And if Jesse is to find any kind of peace for the rest of his life -- even in prison -- he's going to have to destroy the monster he knows better than anyone else."
With just seven more episodes to go, we'll find out soon enough. Judging from the premiere, though, the rest of the season is bound to be just as fantastic as whatever end we find. As Time magazine's James Poniewozik put it, "Game freakin' on."