Rebecca Barry Hill: Breaking up is hard to do

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad.

What a relief. There was a chance the beginning of the end would disappoint, like Mulder and Scully getting together. But as Breaking Bad (Mondays, SoHo, 9.30pm) kicked off its final eight episodes with Hank on Walt's tail, a horrible truth dawned. Cold turkey's gonna be a bitch, yo.

Monday night's episode was classic Breaking Bad: taut, ambiguous, darkly funny. As it all unravelled, it felt like a story finding its inevitable conclusion in surprising ways. That's not something you could say for many shows that run this long.

Creator Vince Gilligan and his writers know exactly how to build tension and atmosphere. Like the opening flash-forward. Skateboarders in a skate park? Nope, an empty swimming pool, at Walt's house. Then the man himself, hirsute enough to suggest the chemo has worked, slipping through a mean-looking fence to retrieve the ricin, in what has become the graffitied site of something terrible. Back in the present, it's a slow zoom on a door before Hank walks through it, a different man.

"You are the devil," Marie joked to Walt as Hank walked in on the happy scene, a nice little nod to the audience.

With the exception of the annoying meta episode in which Walt took almost an hour to kill a fly, Breaking Bad has been exceptionally good. You know they've done something right when you find yourself empathising with just about every bad guy on the show. (Although I do want to shake Jesse now that he's become the good guy, literally throwing his money away in the night. Go on holiday, dude! Somewhere 100% Pure, maybe?) A lot was riding on this one, and it was perfect - almost. You have to wonder if Walt is that arrogant he'd keep something as incriminating as the book on top of the toilet. And Skyler is a clever lady but it didn't take her long to cotton on to Lydia at the car wash. But for the most part, the MacGuffins - the ricin, the book, the Heisenberg caricature - were reminders of how deep we've become entrenched in this Breaking Bad cult. The show is brilliantly creative. What was Saul doing when Jesse came to dump his "blood money"? Having a massage of course.

"Barn door open," said the Chinese masseuse on her way out as he zipped up his fly. Where was Walt when he told Saul he'd deal with Jesse? On the end of a drip; much like the opening scene, we didn't get the full picture at first. They even made lunacy sound genius, care of Badger's deranged fantasy Star Trek plot, in which Scotty beams Chekov's guts into space after a pie-eating contest.

But it was the final showdown between Hank and Walt that established this episode as one of the best. Cue Hank's garage door cranking down, a suburban nightmare. No music required. It even trumped the train heist, and Gus Fring blowing up.

"I don't give a shit about family," Hank spat, taking us right back to the beginning when this was Walt's primary motivation.

Then Walt's line, one that will go down in TV history for expressing both brotherly concern and intimidation: "If you don't know who I am, maybe your best course would be to tread lightly."

BB rehab, here I come.

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