The adjectives one might employ to describe the newly empowered and increasingly remorseless character Walter White on Breaking Bad simply aren't printable in a family newspaper. Let's just say that if he were your enemy, he would be your worst nightmare.
The actor Bryan Cranston's transformation over the first four seasons - from a mild family man and chemistry teacher with terminal cancer to Heisenberg, his cold-blooded drug kingpin alter ego - has been nothing short of extraordinary.
This ice-in-its-veins AMC series, beloved by critics, has already scored six Primetime Emmy Awards and a slew of other industry honours, while Cranston has deservedly won three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
Breaking Bad returns on Tuesday for the first half of its highly anticipated fifth and final season; eight episodes will be broadcast this autumn, with eight more to be broadcast next year. The humour and outrageousness of past seasons are blackening into inky shadows and ugly conflicts in the blue meth trade. The desert vistas of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the series is shot, add a visual element to the grim atmospherics.
Season four wrapped with a colossal and satisfying bang: Walt's war with his ex-boss and the criminal mastermind Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) ended in triumphant victory when he blew him and his henchmen to pieces at Casa Tranquila. Walt and his partner in crime, Jesse (Aaron Paul), then destroyed the meth lab. Walter dryly declared to his long-suffering wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn): "I won."
In the new season, now that they are no longer under Gus's thumb, Walt and Jesse hustle to grow and control a tenuous drug empire. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and Walt's kingpin business is a very gory one, indeed.
On the home front, Skyler struggles with the reality of her husband's new role as the DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris) works to wrap up his investigation of Gus's underworld dealings.
Meanwhile, there are hints that Walt's disabled teenage son, Walt Jr (masterfully portrayed by RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy in real life), could soon embrace his family's darker side. "The best thing I can say about this season coming up is that pretty soon you'll see how far the apple falls from the tree," Mitte hints in an interview from Los Angeles.
In the season opener, Live Free or Die, Walt, Jesse and the "all-purpose cleaner and hitman" Mike (Jonathan Banks) join forces to devise a way to dispose of video evidence that could pack them all off to prison. The fact that the evidence is in police lock-up behind massive walls crawling with cops is hardly a deterrent to their ingenuity.
At its heart, this series explores how a fatal diagnosis can release a typical family man from the daily concerns and constraints of normal society - and turn him into a fearless criminal. It may well be the most twisted series on TV.
Fans often have fun with Cranston on the Q&A portion of Breaking Bad's blog on the AMC website: "Would you rather fight 12 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? Which would Walter White choose?" one asks.
"I'd rather go with the 12 duck-sized horses," replies Cranston, "because I think they'd look really cute, those little tiny horses. And then I'd kill them all."
Breaking Bad is broadcast at 11pm on Tuesday on OSN First