Breaking Bad, “Live Free or Die” Season 5 Premiere Recap
[Allow me first to apologize for the lateness of this post. I was on vacation and couldn’t watch the premiere when it debuted. These recaps will be posted on Mondays from here forward. Also, this should go without saying, but below contains many spoilers from the episode and the series as a whole. If you haven’t seen the Season 5 premiere yet, or you just want a little bit of background on the series first, check out Kyle Moody’s feature on why Breaking Bad is the most important show on TV.]
If Season 4 of Breaking Bad was about the struggle to find power, then Season 5 will be about what it’s like to keep that power. Walter White has done some pretty ruthless things in his days — be it making and selling meth to support his family or murdering a few thugs to save Jesse or subsequently forcing Jesse to kill Gale in order to save them both — but after Walt poisoned an innocent child to ultimately end last season’s explosive chess match with Gus, there’s little doubt that he has gone from the show’s anti-hero that the audience generally pulls for, to a straight up, full-on villain (something I don’t believe any show has successfully done before). And with his status as the new kingpin of the ABQ comes a reset of sorts.
Most of the premiere sets up this new landscape for Walt and Jesse (and now Mike), but not before an incredibly captivating flash-forward cold opening, which shows Walt celebrating his 52nd birthday at Denny’s with a beard and full head of hair (Walt’s 50th birthday was in the pilot, but remember, the seasons pick up right where the last ones left off, meaning four seasons has only accounted for a little more than one year in the show’s universe). He’s got a new look, a new identity, he still seems to be sick, and gives a guy a lot of money in the bathroom in exchange for car with a very large assault rifle in the trunk. Breaking Bad has always been great at knowing exactly where their stories are going, and this foreshadowing of a monumental ending to the series surely got fans salivating at how the show will end its run (even if we have to wait until part two of season 5 next summer to see it).
The rest of the episode picks up with the current timeline, even so much as repeating part of the “I won” scene from last season’s finale. Walt gets back to his house after his triumph to try and celebrate his victory over Gus with a drink, but before being able to enjoy the fruits of being the king, there’s some cleaning up to be done. He trashes the Lily of the Valley plant, then remembers the cameras at the destroyed lab, which Hank and company at the DEA have already seized.
Walt picks up Jesse to seek out Mike, who’s none too pleased that Walt has just blown his good friend’s face off. But there’s more pressing issues to be had and Mike reluctantly sticks around town to help. Walt starts to brainstorm ways of getting to the computer (with Jesse urging Mike to “hear him out, he’s good at this stuff,” still showing an undying loyalty to Mr. White), and while he and Mike bicker about logistics and planning and bombs, it’s Jesse’s flippant idea of “magnets” that sticks, continuing the trend of showing that Jesse is much, much smarter than anyone gives him credit for.
The gang acquires an industrial size magnet from a junkyard and places it, along with dozens more batteries than it’s necessary to power it, in a beat up U-haul — the goal being to drive it past the evidence room so it destroys Gus’s computer with the video footage on it (after a test at the junkyard with Jesse holding a computer about 30 feet from the magnet only for it not only to erase everything on it, but fly out of his hands and crash into the truck). The three-man job has Mike disabling security at the ABQ PD (which he does with the ease of brushing his teeth) while Walt and Jesse are in the truck. They get to the wall of the evidence room and crank up the magnet and it does its job, but Walt, in a moment of pure power, blasts the voltage to full strength, causing the truck to tip against the wall.
Walt and Jesse manage to escape with Mike (with Jesse celebrating like only he can) and leave the truck behind. Mike, always careful and precise, wants to know why they should trust that Walt got the job done. Walt’s answer is simple, and a microcosm of what life in Albuquerque will be like with Heisenberg at the helm: “Because I said so.”
The rest of the episode is mostly filled with exposition, starting with Walt Jr. telling his dad exactly what we already know about Gus biting the dust (with a nice moment where he calls Uncle Hank a hero, and Walt gives a slightly disappointed look, like he wanted to be regarded as the hero in his son’s eyes). Skyler is now afraid of her husband. Ted is still alive and promises to never squeal for fear that his family might face the consequences. Hank is still only a step or two behind Walt. And Saul wants out of his deal with the ruthless new drug kingpin, but Walt is done when he says he’s done. After such an exhilarating and epic end to last season, it’s going to take some time to build the show back up to the types of heart-pounding thrills that came with “Crawl Space,” “End Times,” and “Face Off,” but with the groundwork laid here, you better believe that Vince Gilligan and company will bring us back there before the season is out.
– I couldn’t be more thrilled that Mike is back as a main cast member. The mix of mystery, craftiness, horror, and professionalism that Jonathan Banks brings to the character is great. It will be interesting to see how the Mike-Jesse mentorship will begin to clash with much more troublesome Walt-Jesse dynamic.
– A couple more great Mike moments: the hand out as the universal sign for “keys” and the look on his face in the junkyard when the magnet plan actually worked.
– Even with a show as dour as this, there’s still plenty of moments for comedy. Jesse interrupting Walt and Mike with the magnet idea followed by a childlike explosion noise as his explanation and Saul’s lengthy “I told you so” speech cut right into a lengthy stare from Walt are just two examples.
– Walt’s other identity at Denny’s has him from New Hampshire, who’s state motto is “Live Free or Die.” Could this be Walt taking up Saul’s ‘disappearing’ offer from last season, only to return to ABQ for some final business?
– Anyone pick up on the numbers in the corner of the broken picture of Gus in the evidence room? Clearly that will become important.
– “Yeah, Bitch! Magnets!”