[Warning: If you have yet to watch Sunday night's midseason premiere episode of "Breaking Bad," titled "Blood Money," there are big, huge, gigantic spoilers ahead.]
Lesser TV shows would have saved such a scene for the series finale. But "Breaking Bad" has been, and continues to be, so perfectly plotted and compellingly told that series creator Vince Gilligan and his writers confidently unfolded that scene at the end of the first of their final eight episodes.
We refer, of course, to the Hank/Walt confrontation, in which Walter White let his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader know that he knows Hank knows Walt is Heisenberg.
It was a scene built across four-and-a-half seasons of the AMC drama, and even with a show that has inspired the kind of obsessive devotion and dissection that "Breaking Bad" has, many fans probably expected it would take longer to actually see Walt and Hank square off.
The first half of the season ended with the show's greatest cliffhanger — Hank, while sitting on the throne in drug kingpin Walt's house, picking up a book that revealed Walt to be the man behind a lot of death and destruction — and the first episode of the season's second half ended with the show's greatest confrontation, with Walt stealthily scoping out what Hank knew.
It was more than Hank, whose own life and ability to walk again was nearly ended as a result of Walter's involvement with the ruthless Gustavo Fring, could take. In a more than five-minute battle in Hank's garage, Walt took Hank's punch, his bewildered rundown of Walt's biggest misdeeds (or rather, the ones Hank knows about), and Hank's rage about just how well Walt fooled everyone.
And with the hubris that, our best guess, will be the specific undoing of Walt, he tried sympathy, defiant arrogance, and finally a threat to deal with his brother-in-law's accusations.
Watch the key scene from last night's "Breaking Bad" premiere right here:
The best quotes from the showdown:
Hank: "You drove into traffic to keep me from that laundry. That call I got, telling me Marie was in the hospital? That wasn’t Pinkman. You had my cell number. You killed ten witnesses to save your sorry a--. You bombed a nursing home. Heisenberg… Heisenberg!"
Walt: "Hank, my cancer is back…
Hank: "Good. Rot, you son of a b---h."
Walt: "I'm sorry you feel that way... But the truth is, in six months you won’t have someone to prosecute. But even if, somehow, you were able to convince someone I was capable of doing these things, you and I both know I would never see the inside of a jail cell."
Hank: "I don't know who you are. I don't even know who I'm talking to."
Walt (in a line that, alongside "I am the danger," has already become an instant classic): "If that's true, if you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly."
It was "Breaking Bad," quite simply, at its finest, and Norris, in particular, should not be overlooked when next year's Emmy nominations are announced. His performance, beginning with Hank's discovery in "Gliding All Over" through the final moments of "Blood Money," is among the series' best, which is saying a lot.
Now, for "Breaking Bad" fans, what does this shocking scene mean for the next seven episodes? Gilligan, on the "BB" aftershow "Talking Bad," confirmed that he and the writers felt they had plenty of story left to tell, which is why they let Walt and Hank begin to tackle Walt's secret life this early on. This almost certainly is not the only time the two will clash in these final eight episodes.
Gilligan, in a New York Times Talk event in July, also said he considers the upcoming episode "Ozymandias" (scheduled to air on September 15) to be the series' best installment. The title refers to a Percy Bysshe Shelley sonnet about how all great leaders eventually fall, so clearly great drama is still ahead.
And let's not forget, in addition to the storylines of each of the people in Walt's life, there's also that flash-forward teaser. What is Walt going to do with an assault rifle and the ricin? Why was he clearly, at some point, living outside of New Mexico, and why did he come back? His hair has grown back by the occasion of his sad 52nd birthday breakfast at Denny's… is the cancer in remission again? Has he stopped chemotherapy?
And his neighbor, Carol: She tossed off a friendly greeting to Walt in the present, but was terrified of him in the flash-forward. And the inside of the White house was covered with graffiti that included the word "Heisenberg"… it all suggests the world knows Walt's alter ego, and it's not a stretch to imagine Hank might have a hand in that.
Again, great drama is still ahead.
And we're not the only ones who think so. In addition to record-breaking ratings for "Blood Money" — 5.9 million viewers made the episode the most-watched in series history — "Breaking Bad" remains a trending topic on Twitter the day after the premiere.
Actress Krysten Ritter, who portrayed Jesse's girlfriend Jane (the one Walt let die in Season 3), tweeted:
As @Gawker so pithily puts it:
And @murtzjaffer was even more succinct:
One more thing to keep in mind about the drama that awaits us for the rest of this all-too-brief season: Next week's episode, "Buried," is considered so pivotal and action-packed that "Talking Bad" host Chris Hardwick said AMC declined to show a preview clip during his show Sunday night because it was too difficult to show anything and avoid spoilers.
But AMCTV.com has released a preview of the ep (as well as the full video of "Blood Money"), and suffice it to say, we were right about the Hank/Walt showdown… it was the first, but it won't be the last.
Get a sneak peek at next week's "Breaking Bad" right here:
"Breaking Bad" airs Sundays at 9 PM on AMC.
- Hank Schrader