The explosion that set off the fourth season of Breaking Bad did a lot more than kill meth kingpin Gustavo Fring. It was a release of tension for Walter White and every other character on the show, whether they knew it or not. The show's audience also could feel the catharsis that finally saw Walt say checkmate in a game that looked like it was going to cost him his life.
Or so we thought.
Sunday night's premiere of season five was hardly the fresh air Breaking Bad fans thought they might be getting. Instead of seeing the show's (anti)hero bask in a little bit of the glory that he so brutally earned, fans of the AMC drama just watched him sink deeper into the megalomania and paranoia that's intensified with every step he has taken up the ladder since Walt and Jesse first got their RV.
As usual, Breaking Bad was tense and suffocating, but that's what makes it one of the best shows ever to be broadcast on television. It's hard to guess what the real-life Walter White might have done after snuffing out his biggest threat, but it probably would be close to what viewers saw Sunday night instead of a lavish party out of movies like Scarface.
Just when he thought he could finally enjoy a glass of whiskey without being chopped up by a machete or having his throat slit in the lab, Walt remembers Gus's use of the cameras to monitor what Jesse and Mr. White were up to in the lab.
The most powerful point of the episode came right after that, when Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman jumped in front of Mike's gun to protect Walt. It wasn't that long ago that Jesse was about to kill his former chemistry teacher during a standoff in his home, sensing that killing Walt could be the only way he could keep himself alive. After seasons of Jesse criticizing Walt for being too plodding, it will be interesting to see how their relationship changes now that they only have each other to rely on -- and worry about.
Like every other storyline on the show, Walt and Jesse's relationship probably isn't going to go well throughout the fifth and final season. There's no telling if he'll ever find out Walt poisoned Brock, but that possibility alone could be enough to keep fans from using the bathroom for that hour on Sunday nights. The importance for Walt of keeping Jesse away from the garden in his backyard can't be overstated.
The unpredictability on Breaking Bad is what keeps the show in water cooler conversations on Monday mornings. Audiences now are groomed to expect certain arcs on the shows and movies they watch. The easy-to-root-for main character almost always faces a struggle, temporarily loses the love of their life, and regains their composure right on time to save the day.
It's hard to picture this saga going that route. As Walt has climbed the food chain of the Southwestern drug game he's shed more and more of his moral compass. What started out as a means for his family to survive after the cancer killed him has turned into an endless thirst for respect, power and most importantly, fear.
One thing might be safe to assume, the ambiguity that shrouded Tony Soprano's fate probably won't be waiting when Breaking Bad wraps up in the early months of 2013. Walter White could easily die; it's a wonder he hasn't yet. The same goes for Jesse, Skyler and Hank. Anyone is fair game if they stand in the way of the police, another drug ring or Walt himself.
It might not have been a mound of cocaine a la Tony Montana, but Walter did allow himself to exert some of the newfound influence he has over people. The juiciest instances Sunday night were when Mike and Saul each changed their mind with a little help from ol' Heisenberg.
Based on the assault rifle audiences saw at the beginning on the season five premiere, that explosion was just the beginning.