Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 1: Live Free or Die
Some gut reactions: the show seems darker, as in less lighting; Jesse’s voice sounds a little different, doesn’t it?; hooray for the return of the goofy junkyard guy; am I the only one who was a little angry they showed the “I won” phone call again?; Mike goes from feeding chickens to kill mode pretty fucking fast.
As far as I can tell, this episode was about the aftermath of Gus’ murder, and not just in terms of the physical evidence that needs to be eradicated. Indeed, that was taken care of relatively easily; the more important consequence of Walter’s victory over Gus (and Tyrus, don’t forget him, that introverted muscleman) is the boon to Walter’s ego. Walt’s nefarious and fucking brilliant plan took out a man who, per Jesse’s rough calculations way back in Season 3, made over $90 million a year distributing meth—and that’s before we get into the untold riches he earned from Los Pollos Hermanos. Accordingly, Walter feels like the king of the universe. His pride is so great that he can no longer accept no for an answer. Sucks for Saul.
Saul’s other function this episode was to revive the Ted Beneke subplot. Ted’s fate was left uncertain at the end of Season 4, and many fans, including myself, presumed him dead. But no, that would be too easy. “He just woke up,” Saul says. Skyler and the audience soil themselves, Will Ted Beneke really be the one to take the Whites down? When Skyler visits to investigate, we see the grisly result of Ted’s bump-on-the-head. He resembles Darth Vader without his mask on. Fortunately for Skyler, Ted treats her like the Emperor, saying he will never cross her. He is scared shitless; luckily, he has a bedpan.
While Skyler briefly accepts the freedom and empowerment that comes from someone else’s fear of her, she can’t reconcile that with the terror she feels around Walter now. (What, she didn’t know he could build an improvised explosive device when they got married?) When he hugs her at the very end of the episode, she freezes up like I did as a young kid whenever the Chuck E. Cheese mascot would touch me at birthday parties. Underneath the ostensibly warm exterior lies the unknown. Walter’s declaration of forgiveness hammers the point home: his hubris is at an all-time high. It’s only a matter of time—say, seven more episodes—before he flies too close to the Sun.
(Random thought on a minor point in the show: I think the money Walt borrows from Jesse will be a sticking point between the two later on. He doesn’t have much decency left, but does he have enough to pay off his debts? Will something as mundane as a few thousand be the wedge that finally drives them apart?)
There are 15 episodes left, seven more this summer and eight in the next, so Walt’s arc from “Mr. Chips into Scarface” is nearing its end. The big question is: When will we see the Walt of the flash forward, who breaks
bad bacon to celebrate his 52nd birthday alone in a Denny’s, who has a full head of hair and hipsterish glasses, whose cancer seems to have returned to Season 2 levels, who carries a New Hampshire driver’s license that identifies him as Mr. Lamberg Lambert? I believe that by the end of this half-season, Walt will reach the point where he needs to go on the run, change identities, the whole shebang. Skyler will leave him to protect Junior and Holly, or Hank will come too close to catching him, or both. When I saw that big gun in the trunk of the car, I was reminded of Scarface’s “little friend.” The internet tells me they’re not the same gun, but I feel like Walt might be using that gun the way Scarface used his: to make a last stand.
Please discuss with me in the comments, I’m lonely.