Expectations are a funny thing. It's hard to get them just right. Too often we set our expectations for something too high, and end up disappointed (nearly everyone who saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is nodding right now). If you set your expectations too low, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. I'm pretty sure this is why I keep enjoying episodes of True Blood.
There is the rare occasion where something meets our irrationally high expectations. I reckon the fifth season of Breaking Bad - which started last night on SoHo* - is one recent example. If you're in love with a show, your anticipation levels for the first episode of a season can be through the roof. Lucky, then, that the fifth season opener is an absolute cracker.
(Warning: spoilers from last night's fifth season premiere of Breaking Bad follow.)
The writers on Breaking Bad - led by creator Vince Gilligan - sure are a savvy bunch. Instead of trying to cover off as much as they possibly could in the first episode since the death of Gus Fring and the first really successful plan Walter White has ever concocted, they drill down on solving a relatively minor problem and focus on the changes in our leading man.
The laptop caper was a great way to reintroduce the show, and gave a pretext to bring the key cast - Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) - together again. The use of magnets to destroy the information on Gus' laptop, and the execution of the plan, is inspired, a testament to how clever the writing is on this show, and a joy to see play out.
As Jesse says (possibly NSFW):
Of course, in typical Walter White fashion, solving one problem ends up causing another; sure, the laptop is destroyed, but the giant magnet also tipped the cops off to an otherwise unknown bank account.
The real story in the first episode was Walt's emerging superiority complex, which mostly played out through a lack of humility. "Because I said so," he replies when asked why something has to be done a particular way. "We're done when I say we're done," he tells lawyer Saul Goodman, who had just tried to end their professional relationship. "I forgive you," he tells a terrified Skyler, after revealing that he knows she stole his money last season.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I've already seen the first half of Season 5; I won't get to see a new episode until mid-August (and if you're in the same boat as me, please refrain from posting spoilers in the comments). But I will say that the emergence of this new Walter White is a joy to behold.
This notion of expectation is something I'm thinking about, though. I'm in a weird position right now. After that fourth season, my expectations were through the roof - and these first eight episodes absolutely matched my level of anticipation. But even though I know the first half of the season is up to it, I'm still looking ahead to the final eight episodes and wondering if they'll be as good. I think they will be. I hope they will be. Only time will tell, I guess.
A part of me is worried though. Final seasons are hit and miss; just ask anyone who sat through the final season of Lost. At least this one has started off well, with one of the best debut episodes in recent memory. I can't wait to see the rest play out.
What did you think of Breaking Bad's premiere last night? How are you feeling about this season of the show? And have you ever felt completely let down by the final season of a show?
(*) For those confused: SoHo is playing the first eight episodes of Season 5 - which aired in the USA last year (and which most fans have probably already seen) - over the next couple of months. The final eight episodes ever will be playing on SoHo shortly behind the USA; they begin there on August 12 (NZT).