Following its peerless third season, AMC’s phenomenal Breaking Bad seemed like it had painted itself into a corner it might not find its way out of so easily. From week to week, each episode seemed to be playing a devoted game of one-upmanship that kept raising the stakes on both narrative and aesthetic levels. The hotly anticipated fourth season premiere seemed to give us more of the same, taking Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s ongoing brinksmanship to a new level of dangerous commitment. But then the next bunch of episodes seemed to falter a bit: although still a strong and involving series by any standard, it seemed to require a lot of effort by series creator Vince Gilligan and his team to get the narrative wheels spinning once again at the pace most fans had come to expect. Was Breaking Bad now past its prime? Or were its creators setting up the chessboard once again for a masterly final series of moves?
With just two episodes to go before the season finale, the latter now seems to be the case, as the last few installments have tightened up the pace, and brought situations that had been simmering throughout the season to a rapid boil. Characters that had seemed rudderless to some now prove to fit into a larger scheme that is growing increasingly volatile and unstable, even as events and twists appear more and more inevitable. Matt Zoller Seitz provides a stirring recap of last weekend’s episode in which he describes a plot that seems to be moving ahead in fast-forward. With just two more weeks to go, the last episodes now seem more urgent and unpredictable than ever, while the fifth and final season of the best drama series currently on television hopefully won’t keep us waiting for as long as the previous hiatus did.