First of all, shout out to the amazing use of that opening preamble section. As the show’s matured, they’ve put those couple minutes before the Opening Titles to amazing use. What’s refreshing about it is that since the show is otherwise so tightly written, each tiny moment builds the story, they have the luxury of using these vignettes for worldbuilding, backstory and character development. That’s why we have these amazing bite-sized treats like the narcocorrido about Walter White, in its entirety, the commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos dissolving to a Picture Picture like montage of meth production and the sad, telling moments of backstory that are inessential but beautiful. Love.

Second of all, I honestly thought this season was going to fall prey to the Amazing Penultimate Episode Disorder I blogged about with Boardwalk Empire earlier. Halfway through the season, we got this incredible war in a parking lot. It results in the loss of two antagonists that they’d been building up as badass since day one and while Walter wasn’t directly involved, it felt like a finale in a lot of ways. Now, at the time it’s clear part of the hugeness of this event is that it’s all orchestrated by Gus, it solidifies him as a tactical genius and as such even more badass and formidable an opponent than the twins, so yes, I see how it’s all an amazing set up. At the same time, about three quarters the way through things start to lose steam. It almost feels like a new season without the twins and with Hank out of commission and Jessie back cooking. It’s disconcerting. Then this conflict with the drug dealers from last season comes up and it feels a little forced — a stroke of randomness, Jessie meeting and getting together with the sister of the child that shot one of his dealers last season, causes him to suddenly want to beef with them. It’s the second absurdly random plot point that sets things in a whole new direction (last season was Walt’s chance meeting with Jane’s dad in a bar the night she died).

You know when else this happened? The Dragon Tattoo series. They had built up some amazing bad guys and then they just killed em off midway through the series and while I still love those books, I think they could’ve gotten a lot more traction if they’d kept some of those vile cats around a little longer.

Anyway, then the penulimate epi rolls around and it’s fucking excellent, full of tension and oh shit oh shit, even with the somewhat outta nowhere conflict and the sense of deja vu as Walt once again steps in a saves Jessie’s aintshit ass. I thought, one more time and that’s gonna become a shtick, yaknow? But there was more to come. Instead of spending the whole finale cleaning up the mess and slow winding down to some faux-ass sense of closure, the last episode just ratchets everything up. From the first tense meet-up to forge a fragile ceasefire in the desert onward, each scene builds on the last to land at the final, disastrous sequence: a perfect set up that demands Jessie step out of his always fucking up, always getting saved shell and make a decision. The problem is, the ‘right’ decision, to save his partner’s life, requires him to take someone else’s in cold blood.

This ending does everything an ending should: the threat is real. When Gus’s hitmen pick up Walt and for the first time we seem really lose his cool, actually beg for his life, it’s both emotionally gripping and the threat is real. Even knowing the show goes on, we really feel like he might get it. The stakes are high. The enemy has been slowly established over the season as the baddest of bad guys, even if he appears mild mannered, we know he’s ruthless and brilliant. The outer conflict intwines flawlessly with the inner ones, both Walt’s descent into full on gangster/tension with being a family man and Jessie’s need to be decisive/not a self absorbed fuckup. So the final final last moment, where we’re wondering in those awful seconds which of the two impossible choices Jessie will land on, is earned. And then it just blacks out, and all the things that may or may not happen next hang in the air around us until we cue up season 4….