Breaking Bad Recap Season Five Premiere ‘Live Free or Die’
“We’re done when I say we’re done.”
The most symbolic moment of the fifth season premiere of Breaking Bad finds Walter White toasting his reflection in silent celebration of his bloody accomplishment in killing his employer, drug kingpin Gustavo Fring, with a bomb strapped to the wheelchair of Fring’s enemy Hector Salamanca (as seen in the Season Four finale). Walt makes several attempts to take that celebratory drink, but is interrupted by the presence of his family and the need to cover all evidence of his crimes (not only the Fring bombing, but the poisoning of Brock, the son of partner Jesse Pinkman’s girlfriend). Walt’s son, Walt Jr. rushes past him for further news coverage of the bombing’s aftermath, and his wife Skyler keeps a wary, terrified distance from him. So Walt, who started this entire criminal enterprise ostensibly to provide for his family, finds himself isolated from all but infant Holly in his moment of triumph. It’s lonely at the top, and Walt is now at the top of a multi-billion dollar drug trade.
But even that moment of celebration is brief, as Walt remembers one crucial piece of evidence not accounted for—the cameras that Fring used to monitor Walt and Jesse in the superlab as they cooked. No sooner does Walt realize his mistake then we see DEA his brother-in-law Hank, now apparently working cases again for the DEA (having been proven correct in his suspicions about Fring), limping purposefully through the murky, dank remains of the superlab that Walt and Jesse set ablaze in the previous season’s finale. The wet, hollowed-out set has the black, creepy feel of Vince Gilligan’s previous TV classic, The X-Files. Sure enough, Hank spots the cameras, too, which sets him and Walt—for the first of what I’m sure will be many times this season—at cross-purposes. With the full resources of the government on his side, and his bulldog tenacity, how long can it be before Hank finally comes fact-to-face with his mythical “Heisenberg”?
Walt turns to Mike the cleaner to help destroy the evidence that will incriminate all three of them, and in spite of Mike’s doubts (“we’re boned”) he agrees to help—due solely to his soft-spot for lost pup Jesse. Mike certainly doesn’t respect (or fear) Walt. Jesse suggests using magnets to both disrupt the computer’s memory and destroy it—an idea that he desperately tries to convey to the bickering oldsters as they scream over him. Walt concocts a master scheme from Jesse’s seed of an idea, and the three conduct a heist worthy of Ocean’s11 (or maybe Gone in 60 Seconds, which Walt obliquely references in dialogue). True to life? Hardly. But a fun storyline, one that reminds that Breaking Bad functions just as well as a black comedy as a harrowing psychodrama.
The magnets rip shelves apart inside the evidence room and blank out the computers. But even that’s not enough for Walt. He cranks the dial on the magnet as far as it will go and the force of the pull slams the truck into the wall, pinning it there for the cops to grab. Walt and Jesse escape, with Walt arrogantly proclaiming that the plan worked. “How do we know?” Mike asks. “Because I say so,” Walt responds, drunk with power.
For all of Walt’s crowing there is a wrinkle that he’s not yet aware of. Though the police find the laptop to be destroyed the destruction of the evidence room also yields another potential lead in the Fring case. A photo of Gus with Max (the other Hermano in Los Pollos Hermanos) is jostled enough by the magnet to reveal what appears to be the number for a Cayman Islands offshore account. It’s unlikely that the account leads directly to Walt, who was always paid in cash, but we may end up learning more about the shadowy German firm that helped Fring build his stateside empire.
The last scenes of the episode become a monster movie, as Walt slinks from person to person, a hulking beast released from the cage he tried so desperately to escape last season. He snarls at lawyer Saul Goodman’s suggestion that their partnership is over: “It’s over when I say it’s over”, leaving no doubt that Saul (who we learn delivered the poison to little Brock’s home) has no choice of escape. But even more chilling is the unspoken threat behind his sinister “I forgive you” to Skyler at the end of the episode.
And so we end with the beginning that’s the end–-or maybe the middle. In the puzzling cold open to the episode, Walt sits at the counter of a Denny’s shaping his bacon into the shape of the number “52”, a visual callback to the pilot when his wife, Skyler, did the same to celebrate his 50th. But there’s no Skyler here, and Walt himself is barely recognizable, with a shaggy head of hair, full beard, and scuzzy jean jacket. He chats with the peppy waitress, whom he leaves a $100 tip, and meets his trusted arms dealer who hooks him up with some serious artillery. It’s clear that Walt isn’t just seeking revenge—he’s preparing for war.
But why is Walt running? Was he caught or did he choose to be “disappeared” like he planned the previous season? Is he arming himself to fight the government or to avenge the loss of his family? Or, is Walt, as ever, just looking out for himself?
Season Five, Episode One
‘Live Free or Die’: A-