Editor's Note: Each week during Breaking Bad's final eight-episode run, we'll sample the response from TV critics to each individual episode. Since critics were given the first episode in advance, most of the reviews here were posted last week (though new ones have been added post-airing); in future weeks, reviews will go up on Monday mornings after each episode airs.
Breaking Bad, Episode 509: "Blood Money"
Original airdate: August 11, 2013 on AMC
|> 509. Blood Money
511. Confessions airs August 25
512. Rabid Dog airs September 1
513. To'hajiilee airs September 8
514. Ozymandias airs September 15
515. Granite State airs September 22
516. Felina airs September 29
Spoiler warning: Quotes below may contain minor spoilers about this episode (though not future episodes).
Breaking Bad's Season 5.5 premiere—the only episode of the final eight that critics had a chance to see in advance—was directed by star Bryan Cranston and written by Peter Gould. The action picks up seconds after the mid-season finale left off (after a short pre-credits detour into the future).
Reviews for this week's episode are below. Note that if a publication provides a grade or score for the individual episode, it is noted below (converted to our 0-100 scale), though we won't attempt to assign an overall score to each episode. Click on any linked publication name to read the full review.
Reviews/recaps posted after the episode aired are marked with a symbol below.
Extremely positive reviews
100 "After all the anticipation about how great this was going to be, I'm frankly astounded about how great it is in ways I wasn't at all imaginative enough to anticipate."
— Donna Bowman / A.V. Club
"As the hour moves forward from long scene to long scene, it goes from strength to strength. ... If Sunday's episode is any indication of the quality of the last seven hours of season 5, the show may ultimately have a close-to-perfect run."
— Matthew Gilbert / Boston Globe
91 "The final 10 minutes are so tense, Twitter might crash Sunday night."
— Mark Perigard / Boston Herald
"The long building showdown between Walt and brother-in-law Hank was brutal, expertly crafted and powerfully acted."
— Joanne Ostrow / Denver Post
100 "Even as the plot speeds up, the storytelling is richer than ever."
— Melissa Maerz / Entertainment Weekly
"What I found so brilliant and bracing about 'Blood Money,' the first of Breaking Bad's final eight episodes, was the way the show — like its protagonist — so obviously intends to die as it lived: recklessly, fearlessly, and to the fullest."
— Andy Greenwald / Grantland
"It's a piece of showmanship on par with 'Box Cutter,' 'No Mas,' or even the series pilot. ... An awful lot of things happen, but they happen at the same measured pace that makes 'Breaking Bad' great."
— Alan Sepinwall / HitFix
"The return episode is riveting from start to finish... and it concludes with an extended scene that is written, acted and shot with the kind of magnificence that is at the heart of why the series is so exalted."
"When a great show enters its home stretch, it's impossible not to be nervous about the ending, but 'Breaking Bad' reminds me of 'The Shield,' in that it seems to work harder to satisfy and to earn every single moment and plot twist the closer it gets to the end."
— Maureen Ryan / Huffington Post
97 "This episode fit perfectly in line with everything we've seen before. It's what Breaking Bad has always been: thrilling, a touch scary, cool, a little funny, threatening, and haunting."
— Seth Amitin / IGN
"It's a fitting, pulse-pounding beginning to the end of one of TV's all-time most stunning, visually arresting series."
— Christopher Lawrence / Las Vegas Review-Journal
"What's so brilliant about Bryan Cranston's performance in this show is how clearly he can show viewers the warring impulses within Walter."
— Todd VanDerWerff / Los Angeles Times
100 "If Sunday night's season premiere is any indication, the gloves are off."
— Michael Starr / New York Post
100 "Everything -- every word, gesture, action, shot, scene and story idea -- combines to form an episode of uncommon power and forward momentum. The producers and writers had to make some critical choices, and they have -- audacious ones that also happen to be the absolutely right ones."
— Verne Gay / Newsday
100 "Walter White ... [is] one of the most riveting, daring dramatic characters ever."
— Tom Gliatto / People [19 Aug 2013]
"Rather than worrying about how 'Breaking Bad' ends, let's just enjoy the ride, because it's the twisty storytelling and characters that make 'Bad' such a satisfying meal."
— Rob Owen / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Despite the torrential downpour of hype surrounding the return of the show, the stellar premiere episode... does not disappoint."
— Cory Everett / The Playlist
100 "The episode is as marvelous, deranged and unsettling as anything series creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan and his team have done."
— Curt Wagner / RedEye (Chicago Tribune)
"It's thrilling to watch a show stampede through revelations that could have been pointlessly slow-footed – to instead see it approach terminal plot-mechanic velocity as it approaches its destination – not least because it means we're observing characters being kept on their toes."
— Sean T. Collins / Rolling Stone
"For those who have binge-watched most of 'Breaking Bad' until this point, the notion of waiting, week by week, for the rest of Walter White's story to drip-drip-drip out must be excruciating. But there's a lesson in it, too. After watching a show about a man who comes to think he can have everything his way, whenever he wants, it's good to be reminded that most people can't. We are not in control, so we must accept it, respect it and patiently savor the prolonged, delicious agony."
— Jen Chaney / Salon
100 "There are two scenes in Sunday's episode that that rank among the most powerful in the entire series."
— David Wiegand / San Francisco Chronicle
"'If you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.' It would seem Breaking Bad has no intention of taking Walt's advice, if the show's writers plan to cap off critical, longed-for moments like this in such spectacular fashion."
— Kevin Yeoman / Screen Rant
"Nothing is as dangerous or difficult for a TV show as an eagerly-awaited final episode, as fans of Lost will never forget. Everything we've seen so far, though, suggests that Breaking Bad knows precisely what it's doing, ratcheting its tension and pitch-black humor to a point of no return and going dramatically all-in right from the start."
— Mitch Salem / ShowBuzzDaily
"Creator Vince Gilligan hasn't produced an ordinary television series. This is a ground-breaking one that lets us see just how corrupt one man can become."
— Bruce Miller / Sioux City Journal
88 "Cranston has helmed other episodes of Breaking Bad, but 'Blood Money' may be his most impeccably honed: His resourceful cinematic touches ... illustrate a keen eye for small but significant details."
— Mike Lechevallier / Slant
"Everything we could have reliably predicted about what would happen this season, has now, in just the first episode, happened."
— Willa Paskin / Slate
"[The ending is] an astonishing scene ... And it's a reminder that, while Cranston has won deserved praise for playing Walter White for five years, he hasn't carried this series by himself. Dean Norris and Cranston are both eye magnets here, and the force just arcs between them as your attention is drawn irresistibly to both at once."
— James Poniewozik / Time
— Luke Gelineau / TV Equals
98 "An hour of television on par with everything viewers have come to expect from arguably the greatest drama in television history."
— Matt Richenthal / TV Fanatic
"If Sunday's blistering hour is any indication of what's to come over the next two months, we're in for quite the wrenching ride."
— Matt Roush / TV Guide
"God, this was good. Front to back, from the production assistants to Cranston's magnificent directorial work, 'Blood Money' was television with no regard for worn tradition or tired patience. As an opening salvo for the final season of one of television's finest dramas, it will serve as an example and high bar for comparison for everything that follows."
— Tim Surette / TV.com
100 "Incredible, indelible restarts have become the norm for Breaking Bad. And you'll have seen another one after Sunday night's episode."
— Ed Bark / Uncle Barky
100 "Very few shows can match Bad's ability to pull off honest, earned surprises that stay true to the characters and their universe – and chances are the show has a few more in store."
— Robert Bianco / USA Today
"While the first of these remaining hours does little to suggest whether the wrap-up will ultimately prove worthy of the journey, it's breathtaking stuff, providing tour-de-force moments for the key characters."
— Brian Lowry / Variety
"Everything's in place in this one episode. We just have to bite our fingernails down to nothing while we ride it out."
— Hank Stuever / Washington Post
"It's as good as it's ever been. As good as any TV show has ever been."
— Tim Molloy / The Wrap
80 "The biggest plot development, which we won’t reveal here, won’t surprise viewers. Its speed and ferocity might."
— David Hinckley / New York Daily News
80 "Dean Norris and Bryan Cranston have been waiting over five years to play this moment. They finally got their chance, and the result was as powerful as anyone could have expected."
— Matt Zoller Seitz / Vulture
What did you think?
Did you like last night's episode? Do you agree with the critics? Give us your take in the comments section below.