Season 5, Episode 1- Live Free or Die
“I forgive you.”- Walter White
Season five of Breaking Bad begins much like all the others: with a strange, mysterious cold open. In Season 1, it was a pair of pants falling from the sky and a man making a confession to his family. In Season 2, it was a charred teddy bear in a swimming pool. In Season 3, it was a strange Mexican ritual with a shocking target. In Season 4, it was the seeming return of a recently departed friend. Season 5 lives up to this reputation, beginning in a Denny’s, where a man from New Hampshire is celebrating his birthday. His 52nd birthday, to be exact (in a nice callback to the pilot episode). This man is Walter White, and he’s returned to Albuquerque, after being forced out under circumstances we’ve yet to see. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits in this cold open, such as Walt’s beard, his hair, and his mysterious medication (is he terminal?), but the main concern, at least as far as the rest of the season goes, is simple: who exactly is he here to kill?
Just as the show poses this question, we’re snapped back to the relative present, just after Walt’s “victory” over Gus. After returning home to dispose of his bomb making tools and the now incriminating Lily of the Valley, he gets a surprise visit from Skyler and Junior, who have returned from Hank and Marie’s (after Skyler correctly assumed that they were no longer in danger). Sensing some hesitation from Skyler, he asks her what’s wrong, and why she isn’t relieved. She replies that she is relieved, and also scared. Of Walt. Something like this is sure to set his ego aflame even more than it already is, and after he realizes that Gus’ security cameras had to be feeding into somewhere, and that that somewhere had to be somewhere the police were surely looking.
As he and Jesse fly off to what I presume is the LPH distribution plant, they almost literally run into the returning Mike, who’s flying like a bat out of hell in an attempt to get his hands on Walter. Jesse, of course, throws himself in the line of fire, stopping Mike from taking a shot and forcing him to listen to Walt’s pitch: they’ve got to find Gus’ laptop before the police see what’s on it. After a stupendously humorous scenes, where Walt shouts out crazy chemistry ideas and Mike shouts down his crazy chemistry ideas, Jesse comes up with the relatively bright idea of using a magnet. So it’s off to Old Joe’s salvage yard, where he combines wits with Walt to form a super magnet, powered by 41 batteries and capable of frying any laptop within a 40 foot radius. This is just crazy enough to work, destroying half the APD’s evidence room and frying Gus’ laptop. With Mike’s help, Walt and Jesse escape into the night before the police can catch them. The episode is mainly focused on this, and while there’s more to it than what I outlined here, it’s mainly a cool-down episode. It’s nice to see Walt and Jesse scrambling to fix a (relatively) harmless problem again, which is an obvious callback to seasons 1 and 2. There are, of course, two added factors. One is Mike, who’s on sardonic overdrive in this episode, making everything just a little bit funnier. The second is Walter himself. Where before he was flying along on the seat of his science pants, finding exhilaration in the most basic survival instincts, now he’s cool, collected, and utterly sure of himself. He’s on top of the world, and nothing that comes his way will be too much for him, he thinks. As he makes clear in two separate but chilling scenes with Skyler and Saul, he is in charge. We’ll see for how long.
Season 5, Episode 2- Madrigal
“When we do the things we do for good reasons, we’ve got nothing to worry about. And there’s no better reason than family.”- Walter White
Another fifth season episode, another surreal cold open in an unusual place. This one features a Mr. Schuler, a man who holds a powerful position of some sort in Madrigal Electromotive, the German multinational corporation that seems to have been backing Gus’s criminal operations. After soullessly sitting through a tasting session (it is revealed that Schuler is in charge of Madrigal’s food division), he goes to meet the local police, who have come to question him. After watching a Los Pollos Hermanos outlet being closed down, he goes to the washroom and methodically commits suicide with a defibrillator. Gus’ criminal empire is closing in on itself, covering it’s tracks.
After the cold open, we see Walt making a fake ricin capsule filled with table salt to a backing track of he and Jesse going trying to retrace his steps and find the missing cigarette. What follows is a montage scene which features Walt and Jesse searching every inch of his house in an effort to find it (but not before Walt hides the real capsule behind an outlet in his bedroom). After their fruitless search, Walt suggests Jesse check his Roomba again, which he does, of course finding Walt’s fake cigarette. Walt moves quickly to dispose it, leaving Jesse shaken and crying, realizing that he almost killed Walter for no apparent reason. We, of course, know that he has every reason to kill Walt, and while Walt assures Jesse that everything turned out for the best, and they their healed partnership will serve them well as they “move forward.” When Jesse questions what he means, we cut to a meeting at Mike’s place, where Walt makes his pitch to include Mike on the ground floor of their soon to be refurbished meth empire. Mike refuses, saying that Walt is a “time bomb,” and that he has “no intention of being around for the boom.”
For most of the rest of the episode, Walt and Jesse disappear, leaving the episode’s focus on Mike and Hank. First up is Hank, who first attends a meeting with various Madrigal big wigs, who pledge that Schuler was a “lone anomaly,” and that the company is offering full transparency. Just after that, he and Gomez have a drink with Merkert, who is apparently going to take the fall for the DEA ignoring Hank all of last season. They talk about the recent developments in the Fring case, which leads to Merkert to reminisce about a time he had Gus over to his house for a 4th of July cookout, where he laments that the entire time, Fring was “somebody else completely. Right in front of me. Right under my nose.” On the surface, this should help put to bed the old “Merkert is Gus’ mole” rumors (unless Merkert himself is someone else, right under Hank’s nose.” More importantly, however, the look on Hank’s face tells us that he, at least is considering what would happen if someone he knew, someone under his nose, turned out to be another person, just like Gus. The wheels are spinning again, and some day, they’re going to spin right onto Walter.
Most of the rest of the episode belongs to Mike, and it starts with a not-so secret meeting with Lydia, one of the Madrigal big wigs, who gives him a list of eleven men who will assuredly be picked up by the police. She wants him to kill these men (she doesn’t say as much, of course, telling him to do what he thinks is best). Mike, of course, declines, telling this paranoid woman that these eleven men are his guys, they’re trustworthy, and they’ve been well compensated to be quiet in just such a scenario. Later, at the DEA, Mike runs into poor Chao (from the chemical plant from Seasons 1 and 3), who is positively terrified by the sight of him. Mike heads upstairs, where Hank and Gomez grill him from every angle imaginable. They express doubt that Fring would have hired someone with Mike’s qualifications (we get some confirmation about Mike’s past as a cop, mainly that it took place in Philly). After he denies any knowledge of Gus Fring’s supposed criminal empire, Hank mentions the $2 million dollars in one of Fring’s Cayman accounts, put forth in Mike’s granddaughter’s name, and how, if he cooperates, they might be able to slip some of that money back to Kaylee. Mike stays stone faced and reiterates that he doesn’t know anything about whatever Gus was doing, but once he leaves, his face devolves into a sneer of pure hatred.
Walt and Jesse make a short reappearance at Saul’s office, where the three discuss how, exactly, they’re going to go about getting their business back up and running. Aside from finding somewhere to cook, their biggest hurdle is, like it was in the past, finding a suitable quantity in methylamine. Saul puts forth that maybe the two should quit while they’re ahead. Which, of course, Walt laughs at. He’s on top of the world, and he’s not going to let something like common sense get in his way.
We catch up with Mike again spending time with his beloved Kaylee, when he gets a call from Chao, who tells him that they need to meet. Once Chao hangs up the phone, we see that he’s being held hostage by a scary looking thug with a silenced pistol. Mike, of course, knows this, and when he arrives, he tricks the thug (who we find out is one of the eleven names on that list, Chris), and gets the jump on him. He asks how much money Lydia is paying him to do her dirty work, and how many of the names he’s already killed. Chris says that Chao (who is already dead) was the first. He apologizes to Mike for trying to kill him, saying that he needed the money. Mike shoots him to death before he can start begging for his life. Immediately afterwards, we find ourselves at Lydia’s house, where she arrives to relieve her nanny and help put her daughter to sleep. Before she can, Mike appears out of the shadows and holds her at gunpoint, forcing her to tell the nanny to leave and for her daughter to go to bed. She begs him not to hurt her daughter, which he agrees to as long as she doesn’t scream. She asks him not to shoot her in the face, so that her daughter recognizes her when she finds her. Mike responds that no one will find her body, and when she starts freaking out, he realizes that she doesn’t want her daughter to think she has been abandoned. This shakes Mike, and after he ponders whether or not to kill her, he asks her if she can get her hands on methylamine. Mike, back in his car, calls Walt and tells him that he’s in.” “Good,” Walt responds. Walt hangs up, and does the dishes.
He goes back to bed, where Skyler has been all day, terrified by his very presence. As he tries to console her, he chillingly states that when they do what they do for their family, all is forgiven (more or less). Skyler doesn’t respond, and the episode ends with the further realization of just how little of Walt’s soul is left. He has become what he thinks Gus was, without the knowledge that Gus did what he did without deluding himself into thinking that it was for good reasons. Gus was motivated by greed, sure, but also revenge. Some of Walt’s most powerful character moments come when he achieves some form of lucidity and realizes just how terrible a person he has become. These often come when he’s on the verge of collapse. So far, Season 5 has been no such thing. All hail the king. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, Walter.