In series past, Breaking Bad was unafraid to make its viewers wait. Several episodes would go by without major plot twists, as the tension built unbearably over a succession of awkward breakfasts in the White household. And then, kapow!: a shock overdose, a shoot-out in a car-park, an explosion at a nursing home.
Now, as the show approaches its conclusion, the chips are falling fast, so let me issue a loud SPOILER ALERT to anyone still halfway through their Season Three box-set.
This episode - the first of Breaking Bad's final run - contained a pair of vintage scenes: one between Walter White and his protégé, Jesse; the other between Walt and his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank. When a guilt-ridden Jesse decided he must divest himself of gym-bags full of drug money, Walt tried to reason with him: "The past is the past," he insisted, apparently convinced their meth-cooking days were done. "There's nothing left for us to do but try and live ordinary, decent lives."
Walt's "ordinary, decent" life as a car-wash magnate looks a lot like Gus Fring's "ordinary, decent" life as a fast-food entrepreneur - and we know how that turned out. Jesse paid lip service to his mentor's advice, but his face told a different story. It's hard to know how he'll make it out alive, without killing Walt or turning him in. The same goes for Hank, who, in a nerve-clattering confrontation, finally presented Walt with the evidence of his monumental wrongdoings. In a bid for clemency, Walt revealed his cancer had returned, as if this might dissuade his pit-bull brother-in-law from pursuing the case.
While some viewers expected Hank's suspicions about Walt to build slowly, the clues have been in plain sight all along. All he needed was a trigger to explode his notion of who his barbecuing buddy really is: the mild-mannered, milquetoast chemistry teacher.
As Walt's eyes have narrowed and his gaze become steelier, his two sparring partners have taken on increasingly haunted looks. There is surely a fan-fic ending of Breaking Bad in which a demented Hank and a damaged Jesse team up to take down their nemesis. Part of the show's multi-faceted brilliance is that even now, in the final lap, it's impossible to guess where the plot is going.
The one true spoiler in this episode was its flash-forward opening scene. A year after the main events, Walt has staved off cancer sufficiently to return to Albuquerque, from elsewhere, with a full head of hair and a very large automatic weapon in the boot of his car. His home looks like the meth dens Jesse once frequented: boarded up, vandalised and deserted, but for the skateboarders doing tricks in the empty pool. Inside, somebody has scrawled the name of Walt's meth king alter-ego, Heisenberg, across the wall. Outside, his neighbour is so terrified to see him that she drops her groceries all over the driveway.
Walter White, it would appear, has finally achieved the recognition he always craved so murderously. But at what cost?