It's not all that uncommon for a basic cable series to add a special disclaimer when the content is a little racier than usual. Still, I can't remember a viewer-discretion advisory that worked more to a program's advantage than this Sunday's installment of "Breaking Bad."

Admittedly, that's mostly a testament to the episode, which methodically builds suspense. Yet as the hour moves on, the specter of that cautionary flag — for extreme violence — waved at the beginning looms larger and larger, causingBreakingbadlwwjp the audience to suspect something really, really bad is going to happen.

Without giving anything away, what finally transpires probably isn't as grisly as the opening episode of the current season, appropriately subtitled "Box Cutter." (Perhaps not coincidentally, both episodes showcase Giancarlo Esposito, whose performance on the show continues to represent some of the finest work of his career.)

The tough part — as is so often true with suspense and horror — is the anticipation, and in this case, the specific tip-off that something more unsettling than usual is coming.

Of course, uncertainty is a big part of what distinguishes this AMC series, which consistently manages to keep the audience off guard better than perhaps anything else on television.

After bruising negotiations with Sony, AMC has announced a "Lost"-like final order of 16 episodes that will allow creator Vince Gilligan and crew to craft an appropriate wrap up to the series.

To the show's credit, I have absolutely no idea how they're going to keep the plates spinning even that long. But right now, it's about as good a circus act as TV has going.

 

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