Last week's emotional waterboarding of an episode felt like the artistic equivalent of a boot stomping on a human face for 45 unremitting minutes. So where does Breaking Bad go next? How will it up the ante even further for its penultimate broadcast?
It's nigh-on impossible to second-guess the depths of the writers' macabre imagination. Time and again, we've learned that however bad things are looking, Vince Gilligan et al always have something worse up their sleeves. Couple that with the fact the showrunners have shrouded their creation with a blanket of complete silence and it becomes a touch difficult to give any kind of concrete prediction about what will happen.
Will any of them just confess to the police and get it sorted out in a manner mutually amenable to all parties? Does Walt return in combat trousers, bandoliers and a blaze of automatic weapon-fire? Does everyone else die in the first 10 minutes, leaving the show to broadcast nothing but endless scenes of vultures slowly picking their bones clean under the barren sun of the New Mexico desert?
Here's what we do know. Gilligan called last week's episode, 'Ozymandias', "the best episode we ever had or will have", so anyone expecting another savage cull of well-loved secondary characters in 'Ozymandias 2: Die Harder' might have to manage their expectations.
That said, Moira Walley-Beckett, who wrote last week's show (in blood, on the eve of the full moon, in forbidden elder runes), is promising two further '"uncomfortable, extraordinary, nerve-shattering evenings", amusingly assuming any of us have nerves left. She's advising tonight's watchers to acquire "medication", in the form of "astronaut diapers" or "soft objects".
Then there's the news that these last two episodes will clock in a weightier 75 minutes each (presumably including adverts).
Plot-wise, it's all poised. Walt was last seen heading for a new life in New Hampshire - as tonight's episode title 'Granite State' suggests - via his lawyer Saul's secretive new-life coach.
Skyler is in the hands of the police, apparently absolved by Walt's desperate telephone call last week. Though if you believe that's the end of that, I have a bridge to sell you.
Jesse is a battered meth-slave chained to the roof of a neo-Nazi prison camp, forced to work creating Heisenberg-grade drugs under the threat of having the last two people left on earth whom he loves murdered.
Marie was last seen collapsing in anguish. Hank is dead. Remember when that happened?
There are other major hooks still in play. Walt's morally dubious lawyer Saul Goodman is now practically the least ethically-compromised character left in the show. A 30-second preview released ahead of the show has him talking to Walt and trying to persuade him to see the light.
The mysterious Lydia, meanwhile, is still at large, and still supplying the meth ingredients stolen from her equally mysterious employer, Madrigal. Gilligan has described her as "Darth Vader in Louboutins", which surely suggests she's got an oar or two left to stick in.
Clearly, Walt isn't going to spend too much time enjoying his new life in New Hampshire, as that would make for 150 rather dull minutes of TV. Anyway, we know from the flash-foward at the beginning of this second half of the final series that at some point in the future he returns to a wrecked house - and to the shock of his neighbour - with a full head of hair and an assault rifle, conspicuously not dead from cancer.
There's an impossibly naive group of fans hoping that Walt undergoes some kind of redemption and uses his smarts to rescue Jesse from the bad racist militants, but that has got to be too neat a bow for a show of this towering inhumanity, surely?Reuse content