I hate to be "Breaking Bad guy", but the critical consensus is absolutely correct. This is a show that has only gotten better since it began five and a half years ago. The writers, directors, and actors are all at the top of their craft, and, with two episodes to go, are sticking the landing.
There's a tendency to ascribe at least some of that success to the writers, especially creator Vince Gilligan, having the idea of how the show would end since it began. I have even made essentially that same point myself. And while there's definitely some truth there, it's been interesting to listen to Vince Gilligan on the Breaking Bad Insider Podcastdebunk some of that notion.
Here is one example: in episode 502 ("Madrigal"), Walter White hides a vial of ricin in his house. Then in episode 509 ("Blood Money"), the opening teaser is a flash-forward, showing an older, cancer-stricken Walter White returning to his abandoned home in New Mexico to fetch that same vial. If you watch the series, you know that Chekov's Ricin will somehow have an impact in the final episodes. It's logical to assume that this entire endgame has been planned out, at least since that episode 502, if not earlier. But on the podcast, Vince Gilligan says that's not entirely correct. When the writers had Walter White hide the ricin, they had a vague idea of how it might be used later, but nothing concrete. Even in episode 509, they still weren't sure precisely how it would all shake out. For as much as they are trying to think ahead, they are always conscious of the moment as well. For those particular episodes, those little bits felt right, so they went with it. They realized they were writing themselves into a corner, so to speak, but they trusted themselves to work through it when the time came. (Again, there are still two episodes left, but I'm confident I won't need to amend all this later and say, "They botched it!")
I actually like to hear this, and it matches up well with how I think about my own teaching. I have a few colleagues who in August have already planned out their daily schedule for the entire year. I admire that approach, and it works well for them, but I simply cannot fathom working that way. I know what I need to cover for the year, and I sketch out roughly where I should be each week. But when it comes time to plan the weekly and daily lessons, I am focused more on what's best for that class. I still have an eye on my overall plan, of course. But if I come up with an idea for a group project, but I'm not certain how it will turn out, I often err on the side of trying it and then fixing it later if necessary. Just like the writers on Breaking Bad sometimes have to get themselves out of a corner, I may have to adjust my pace or priorities later, but I trust myself enough to do that when necessary. The trick is knowing when to change that focus, when to shift from thinking four moves ahead to doing what is best at this moment.
When it works well, the class appears to be as perfectly crafted as an episode of Breaking Bad (though generally with less meth, and fewer tears). When it doesn't work? It's more like Lost.