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'Breaking Bad' last night: A new high point for this great show?

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Last night’s Breaking Bad was more explosive than an RV meth-lab driving into a burning building. It was also one of the most beautiful-looking hours on TV this season.

The pre-credits sequence, in which we saw a flashback to the murderous cousins who’ve been tracking Bryan Cranston’s Walt as little boys, was a sun-flare bright sequence that set up the origin of these two, with Tuco Salamanca uttering the words that guided their present-day revenge quest: “Family is all.” So it is with Walt and his brother-in-law, Hank (the superlative Dean Norris).

This amazing episode, written by X-Files vet Thomas Schnauz, had major scenes for every major character. Just think of the early scene, with Jesse lying in his hospital bed, flanked by lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and Walt. The sustained vituperation let loose by Jesse, the fury mixed with anguish as he noted that, in a twisted-logic way, Walt has been responsible for every bad thing that’s happened to Jesse since they’ve met, was a bravura piece of acting and writing. (Note to Aaron Paul: Be sure to submit this scene for Emmy consideration.)

One thing I love about BBad is the way the show can slide a big laugh into even the most serious scene. In that case, it was Saul contrasting Walt with the now battered Jesse: “You’re now officially the cute one in the group. Paul, meet Ringo. Ringo, meet Paul.”

But then the focus shifted to Hank, as the cousins turned their deadly attention to him. Hank, who by his own admission said he’s “been unraveling,” at first didn’t know how to take the warning that “two men are coming to kill you” and that he had “one minute” (the episode’s title) to scram from his car in the parking lot or be killed. For a law-enforcement man like Hank, the worst thing that can happen is to doubt your instincts, and his agony was palpable last night. His DEA days are numbered, I presume, which can only lead to more fascinating scenarios for this character.

That showdown was stunningly suspenseful. I almost couldn’t believe it when Hank took those two down. I had to stop and wonder if this might all be a dream on Hank’s part. Yes, I figured that hollow-tip bullet tossed to one cousin near the start of the hour would figure in its climax, but not in the brutally dramatic way it ultimately did. The fact that BBad can accommodate such danger, thrills, and humor, and set future plot lines spinning (what’s going to happen between Walt and Jesse now that they’re both eager to split that $3 million in drug money to be made?) — well, this is what is making Breaking Bad so good this year.

Tell me what you thought of last night’s episode, and where you think the show will go from here.

Follow @kentucker

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