Everything's coming to an end, not with a whimper but with the bang-bang of a machine gun. Breaking Bad is kicking off the second half of its final season, which means many things will be over soon including, possibly, the life of Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Once again, this segment opener begins with a flash-forward: Our favorite bald sociopath has driven to his house with an M60 in his trunk to retrieve the vial of poisonous ricin hidden there. Except that now his hair and beard have grown back, and the home he shared with his family is deserted the pool used as a skateboard ramp, the walls tagged with his nom de guerre, Heisenberg. When his neighbor sees him, she's so terrified she drops her groceries, sending oranges tumbling down the driveway. As Godfather fans know and Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is one of them anytime an orange appears, something bad's about to go down.
Just four minutes in, there are burning questions to answer: Where is Skyler (Anna Gunn)? Relocated through the Witness Protection Program? (Walt isn't wearing a wedding ring when he opens the trunk.) Dissolving in a tub of hydrofluoric acid somewhere? (It would be the ultimate irony for the man who started selling meth for his family's sake to end up getting his wife killed.) Who is the M60 meant for? You don't buy a machine gun to shoot one man. Will Walt have to take down the whole meth cartel that once claimed him as its leader? (He insists that he's out of the game now, but we're not so sure.) And why does Walt need the ricin when he has an M60? This can't be good news for Hank (Dean Norris), who has just discovered Walt's real identity, or Jesse (Aaron Paul), who's so racked by guilt he's throwing stacks of money out the window and slowly turning against his boss. Then again, if Walt's cancer is back and he's given up on chemo (hence that hair), he could be saving the ricin for himself.
No matter what happens, the end of Bad should be very good. Without revealing too much, I'll say that this opening episode contains a pivotal moment for Walt, and it's just as excruciatingly tense as you'd hope. Even as the plot speeds up, the storytelling is richer than ever. Surveillance has always been a major theme for the show, from the plastic eye of the pink stuffed toy that keeps popping up in Walt's path to the eye-of-God cameras that observed him in Gus' lab. (The premiere's no different: Look out for a man in an all-seeing-eye tank top who appears in Saul's office.) And now that Hank's watching Walt, it's the perfect time to test the scientific theory that inspired the name of Walt's alias.
Does observing something inherently alter the nature of what's being observed? That's the popular understanding of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and it should be a great experiment for the final eight hours. Will being watched change Walt's behavior for the better? Or will it just bring out his worst self, the one who's ready to aim that M60 at anyone, even his own brother-in-law?
''The past is the past,'' Walt tells Jesse in this episode. ''Nothing can change what we've done. But now that's over.... There is nothing left for us to do except to try to live ordinary, decent lives.'' Whether it's possible for Walt to redeem himself without ever suffering the consequences of his crimes remains to be seen. It's not Breaking Bad's job to punish Walt; it's our job to judge ourselves for rooting for him. But it's worth noting that Gilligan says this show is about Walt's evolution ''from Mr. Chips to Scarface.'' And both of those guys ended up dead. A