There are times when the season premiere feels like an hour-long version of that agonizing sequence in season three's "One Minute" where Hank is told the Cousins are coming for him sometime in the next 60 seconds. It's an hour dominated by silence and waiting, and is so patient in pursuing its goals that I actually started giggling at one point when I realized just how committed the creative team was to making the audience hold its breath.
And then there are times in the later episodes where Walt almost feels like a supporting character on his own show, or at least just another member of a great ensemble - when we spend extra time with Skyler, or Hank's troubled wife Marie (Betsy Brandt), or Gus's right-hand man Mike (Jonathan Banks) - and it doesn't feel like we're getting cheated out of our rightful allotment of Cranston.
"Breaking Bad" is about the rot that takes place in Walt's soul as he goes deeper into the criminal world, but it's also about the corrosive effect he has on those around him. He wrecked his marriage, turned Jesse from a casual dealer into a hardcore criminal and is responsible for Hank getting shot and paralyzed and so many deaths that I've lost count. Magnificent as Cranston is, as riveting a character was Walt is, it's important to truly understand the people he's hurting, to feel the weight of his actions.
Perhaps the best glimpse into the effect Walter has on others comes in a look on the face of Mike in one of the early episodes. Since Banks joined the cast - one of three brilliant mid-series additions, along with Esposito as the implacably cool Gus and Bob Odenkirk as Walt and Jesse's shameless lawyer Saul Goodman - Mike has been presented as a tough customer who's seen it all and is fazed by exactly none of it. But there's a moment where he has a look on his face that screams, "What the hell just happened, and how did we get involved with this lunatic Walter White?" He is startled, and shaken, and for a brief moment not at all the ultimate professional who has an answer for every situation.
And in that moment of shock and horror, Mike has an expression that I imagine has been on the face of every "Breaking Bad" fan at some point or other - that feeling of "Did I really just see what I think I saw?" - only without the joy that we take in seeing this series performing at a high level that few dramas in the history of the medium have achieved.