Ken Tucker
April 06, 2009 AT 07:11 AM EDT

There are times when I watch Breaking Bad that I hold my breath because I don’t want to miss an instant of this series’ utterly original mixture of humor, danger, despair, and thrilling freedom. It seems an odd thing to say about a show chronicling the inevitable death of an ordinary guy, doesn’t it? But that’s what it was like last night, as Bryan Cranston’s Walt completed his first round of chemotherapy and received a fresh round of medical bills that pretty much depleted his meth-stash cash profits. Cranston does desperation as well as any actor alive, and now that his head is shaved, you can almost see Walt’s brain working furiously, trying to figure out his impossibly complicated existence.

Last night it was bad enough (for Walt — great for us as viewers) that Jesse decided to take charge of his and Walt’s drug-making and -dealing. “You need me more than I need you, Walt,” he said, and unfortunately, he was correct.

But even more agonizing for Walt is the continuing alienation felt by his wife. (I swear, if Anna Gunn doesn’t get an Emmy nomination this year, I’m gonna petition big Bad fan Stephen King to put a curse on the nominating committee.) This portrait of a marriage crumbling under the weight of distrust is as good as anything in modern print fiction.

The overarching thrill and tragedy of Breaking Bad is, of course, that Walt is expending what strength he has to help his family after he dies. Last night, once again, we saw some of the consequences of trying to break free from a hopeless life.

Did you watch? Do you think Walt’s marriage can be saved? What do you think is going to happen with Jesse next week?

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