Breaking Bad 5.01 "Live Free or Die"

A tv review article by: Nick Hanover, Paul Brian McCoy

Nick HanoverBreaking Bad's fifth season suitably begins with a callback to its pilot, in the form of another miserable Walter White birthday and its own numerical array of bacon. The cyclical symbolism isn't just a cool image, it's a practical and convenient way of filling viewers in on the passage of time, letting us know two years have passed and yet things aren't all that different with Walt. In season one, Walt's birthday breakfast represented his misery in complacency, his desire for any kind of shift in status quo, preferably one that would reward him with notoriety and power.

Four seasons later, he's still the same, even though his circumstances couldn't be more different. His powerlessness now appears to stem from the fact that he's still alive and he hasn't been able to go out in a blaze of glory; White had hoped to die before his family caught on to what he was doing for them, before they found out he enjoyed being a criminal far more than he enjoyed being the Willy Loman of chemists. We all know this is set to be the last season and the cold open is full of an indescribable fatalism, as Walt's depressing Denny's birthday breakfast is just a means of setting up a weapons drop, yet another patent Walter White plan for self-destruction? Or one last redemptive bid for destroying all those who would jeopardize his family? Or perhaps they're one in the same? What say you?

Paul Brian McCoy: I'm really not sure what to make of the opening. Walt's clearly in a bad place and if this season is anything like the previous ones, I'm not going to have any idea about how we're going to eventually get to that sad Denny's moment until it actually happens. The contrast between Denny's Walt and the Walt we see as the season begins is devastating and I'm very interested in seeing how he gets there. Especially as this is the first time we've really seen a fearless Walt. 

I like this new ruthless, evil Walt and can't wait to see how he destroys everyone's lives.

Nick: What's most terrifying about this new Walt is that he seems to have eradicated old Walt's fussy perfectionism in favor of a cocky recklessness. Whether that's because he has a full on death wish now or because he thinks he's gained a Kevlar exterior remains to be seen, but every event of the episode showed that Walt's meticulous planning is a thing of the past.

At the forefront of that was his realization that despite what he initially thought, he hadn't completely cleared his tracks in regards to Gus Fring, which led to a desperate trip to find Mike and convince him to help dispose of the one remaining piece of evidence of their involvement with Fring: the video recordings Fring religiously kept. Mike revealed that these were stored on a laptop in Fring's "work" office (which seems odd to me, I can't imagine someone as crafty as Fring leaving all that footage on a laptop that would be so easily discoverable were something to happen to him...unless that was the plan?). Using his former police background to look in on the whereabouts of the laptop, Mike tells Walt and Jesse that they're pretty much fucked, since it's in lockdown in evidence at Albuquerque Police HQ.

Paul: I loved the structure of this episode; particularly the way Walt realizes that he forgot about the cameras, just as Hank notices the remains of the camera at the devastated lab. That, and the way Walt and Jesse head out to find Mike at the same time Mike is barreling toward them, along with the way that cold open echoes the first episode as you've established, really emphasized the fluidity of the plotting there. There's a very nice dance going on between each of the factions and Vince Gilligan's script is absolute perfection.

It gives the entire proceedings a sense of inevitability.

Nick: Also, it's not Walt who comes across the idea of how to get rid of the laptop, but Jesse, in a much needed bit of comic relief in an otherwise thoroughly bleak episode. Perhaps inspired by ICP's views on science, Jesse suggests they use magnets and thus we're brought to the central incident of the episode: a jailbreak-like excursion to police HQ using a gigantic junkyard magnet the trio acquired from Old Joe.

Paul: I'm glad I wasn't the only one to think of ICP there.

Thanks to Heavy Blog ...Is Heavy for the image!

Nick: It also brings us perhaps the greatest image of Walt's newfound recklessness, in the form of the delivery truck carrying the magnet, which ends up tossed on its side against the wall of the evidence room after Walt cranks up the magnet a bit too much. That action coupled with Walt's arrogant behavior immediately after confirms Mike's belief that Walt is self-destructive and dangerous to all around him, but more tellingly it causes doubt to enter into Jesse's mind, as he realizes he might have become Ishmael to Walt's Captain Ahab. 

Paul: I may just need to watch the episode again, but I read their reactions differently. I'm sure I'm wrong now that you mention it, but I thought Walt had the bases covered and the recklessness grew from that confidence. I thought Jesse may have been settling in with Walt in this new role and Mike may have been realizing that Walt is more of a threat than he bargained for.

Or maybe I'm just biased in my desire to see Walt turn into a Super Villain.


Nick: Jesse isn't privy to Walt's behavior outside the scene, but if he were, he'd see it's even worse than he suspects. Whether he's intimidating Saul Goodman over "ethics," (which I think may just be his downfall, since Saul knows far more about Walt's extracurricular activities than anyone else, and Walt has just threatened him for not breaking client confidentiality in regards to Skyler's use of his funds) or scaring the shit out of Skyler with a mafioso-style whispered "I forgive you," Walt is quickly alienating everyone who ever cared for him. The tentative alliance Skyler and Walt had formed is especially fragile in this episode as Ted has woken up, begging Skyler to just leave him alone, and Skyler has now found herself complicit in the murder and mayhem her husband has been wreaking, albeit indirectly. 

Paul: I loved that scene between Skyler and Ted. I'd love Skyler to really embrace this role in the same way she jumped into trying to get Ted out of trouble with the IRS last season. I've really started liking her character and would much rather she have something other than guilt and anxiety to play this season. She can do so much more.

Nick: Where the threats in previous seasons have been sparked by external forces, it appears that this final season will focus on the way Walt remains his own worst enemy. Yes, Hank is potentially on his heels; yes, Mike has a reason to want vengeance; yes, Jesse is likely to find out about Walt's involvement in the poisoning of his ex's kid. But all of those things are just ingredients in the recipe for disaster Walt has crafted for himself. This is TV as Greek drama, where our epic anti-hero is undone by his own hubris and doomed to living damnation.

Paul: I don't doubt that's where we're heading. I'm just hoping Walt's hubris is well-founded and we get to see something amazing happen to get us to that Denny's scene.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticoand you can follow him on twitter @Nick_Hanover

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

Community Discussion