WHEN THE PROOFS, THE FIGURES, WERE RANGED IN COLUMNS BEFORE ME ... HOW SOON, UNACCOUNTABLE, I BECAME TIRED AND SICK: Critical Debate A over this season of Breaking Bad seems to be whether the shift in pacing has hurt the show. (Spoilers to follow)
At the outset of the series, Walter and Jesse would spend an entire episode or two disposing of a body, or an entire other episode or two refining a cook, or an entire other other episode getting to know the regional manager of the dominant meth franchise. Now, in the span of 42 minutes, Walter has the time to dispose of a body, cook an entire Czech Republic's worth of Blue with a new apprentice, and arrange the coordinated murder of ten federal witnesses incarcarated in three separate prisons. Plus rug time with Holly. To my knowledge, Sepinwall was the first critic to point out that the show is short-cutting much of the detail it used to show, but an increasing number of critics are repeating, or at least responding to, the same argument.
Critical Debate B seems to be whether the show crossed some threshhold of plausibility this season, with the super-magnet caper, the train robbery, the ten-murder choreography, the ease of entry into the Czech market, Mike's agreeing to let Walter bring him the go-bag, and, ultimately, with Walter recklessly keeping Gale's copy of Leaves of Grass -- with the inscription -- laying around where any old obsessive DEA agent family member might grab it to pass the time on the John (though the implausibility of the latter may be overstated, depending upon your answer to this question: How many non-overnight adult dinner guests have used your bathroom in that particular fashion? Make yourself at home, there, Hank).
My own response to both is: eh. Because the show spent so much time establishing its obsessiveness about detail, and so much time reinforcing it, even if we don't notice (for example, Sepinwall retweeted this link to a bunch of visual callbacks from the half-season finale), I feel better about assuming that it has engineered, or at least reverse-engineered, an internally consistent explanation of what happened. And if that explanation is implausible, well, I didn't have a problem with the implausibility of a teacher becoming a meth cook/magnate, or of Jesse going from idiot child to deeply conflicted man in a year, or of Hank and Marie being too stupid to see through Walt's supposed gambling problem, or of the whole ricin switcheroo, or of Gus getting his face blown off by a MacGyvered wheelchair-bell-bomb contraption and then straightening his tie. I don't have a problem with implausibility as long as I get the sense that the writers have satisfied themselves that the circumstances are at least possible, and as long as the implausibility is in service of a good story.
And here, it is. My fear with a mass murder would have been that it cheated the show of one of its consistent virtues: that until now, every death is accompanied by some human consequence -- Jesse's unending guilt, and Walter's desensitization, primarily. This series of nine deaths did not cheat. Though quick, they gave us detail (realistic detail, like the repeated puncturing, instead of the movie-cliche of the single-stab) and a little bit of humanity (the look of horror frozen on the lawyer's face; the laundry manager stuck in his cell), enough to infuse an otherwise Michael-Corleone-consolidating-power montage with some sense of how utterly depraved Walter has become.
As for the next eight episodes: I know it's going to be (and has to be) the walls closing in around Walter, but part of me wishes it would just be the Hank Schraeder Story: DEA agent suddenly discovers that the man he's been hunting is the guy who paid his medical bills, whose children Hank fostered for three months, who went on stakeouts with him (and whose son went on stakeouts with him). The shift in perspective would be so great.