BREAKING BAD Season 5 Premiere Recap: “Live Free or Die”

     July 16, 2012

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It’s been accepted at this point that Breaking Bad seasons start off slowly and build to an incredible, anxiety-inducing fever pitch.  But last night’s premiere episode already shows how dire Walt’s world is now, and apparently even more so in the future.  There’s no way, after last season’s explosive finale, that things could ever be casual again.  Even the first scene after the cold open, 90 seconds of which was released prior to the season beginning, shows what would appear, out of context, as a calm family setting.  But the implications of what Walt, Jr is talking about, and the coursing undercurrent of fear (from Skyler) coupled with uncertainty and tension (from Walt) was suffocating.  There is no ambiguity to Walt himself, now.  He completely and totally broke bad last season, and for many reasons, his current trajectory portends a future enveloped in darkness, fueled by his uncontrollable ego.  Hit the jump for more, and why I love fucking MAGNETS, bitch!!

breaking-bad-season-five-posterAs if there wasn’t enough action during the main body of the show, Breaking Bad has always added scenes in each cold open that foreshadow future events (or explain current events with elaborate backstory, such as with Gus) that leaves viewers completely baffled.  We kicked off last night’s episode with a particularly menacing imagine – Walt cracking his bacon to form a “52” on his plate to signify his birthday.  But that scene recalls one from the show’s very first episode, where the honors were performed by Skyler.  As the camera pans out we see a Walt we’ve not seen for some time – with hair.  So where is Skyler?  Jesse?  Walt, Jr?  Why is Walt’s name Lambert and why is he carrying a fake ID from New Hampshire and getting keys to a car carrying heavy artillery that his gun merchant – the same one from last season – printed off some helpful internet instructions for? He’s coughing and taking pills again, and leaves a Benjamin as a tip.  Begin theorizing!

Meanwhile, I’ll be soaking up the richness of the rest of the episode.  If there was still any doubt in anyone’s mind that Walt was behind the poisoning of Brock in order to get Jesse on his side to kill Gus, it was laid to rest last nigh along with the last shreds of Walt’s humanity.  Walt was shown disposing of his Lily of the Valley, but in case that wasn’t clear enough, Saul later hands him a baggie with the poison inside saying plainly, “I didn’t know it would put the kid in the hospital.”  But does Walt learn from these actions?  In the scene referenced above that took place after the cold open, when Walt, Jr is going on and on about the explosion and how his uncle Hank is a hero, “even moreso than before,” can you not feel Walt’s ego rising to an alarming timbre within him?  He wants to be Walt, Jr’s hero, and he wants to be recognized for what he did, just like when he baited Hank last season, “are you sure Heisenberg’s not still out there? Hmmm?”

breaking-bad-season-5-premiereThe problem is, despite being an often incredibly annoying loudmouth who doesn’t seem to have much to recommend him intellectually, Hank is actually good police.  Damnit, he’s great police.  His cases engulf him, and he approaches them with the tenacity of a bloodhound on the scent.  His noticing of a melted blob in the torched lab that was the camera was inspired.  It also set Walt – as so many of Hank’s actions do – right back into the game, planning the next heist.  Except this time Jesse is right there next to him, no tension, no questions asked.  In the past it might have warmed my heart to see these two team up again, but knowing what Walt has done to achieve this closeness is sickening.  Mike saying, “Jesse …” over and over again, displeased with his affection for Walt was a stand-in for a majority of viewers.  Cut and run, kid!

Then, suddenly, we were treated to an impromptu episode of Mythbusters, Can A Giant Magnet Wipe Out Your Computer?  It was a stroke of genius from Jesse, who has been known to come up with intelligent and workable solutions in the past (that Walt usually steals and then fucks up – and yes, I acknowledge that in the early seasons the roles there were reversed).  No matter how dark Breaking Bad can get, there is always a little flicker of humor here and there to relieve us from our heart palpitations.  Last night it was the experiment with the magnet.  When the laptop flew from Jesse’s hands and splintered against the side of the truck, how many audience members reacted like the workers at the scrap yard?  I clapped and nodded and laughed, too, and had I had the catchphrase handy I would have also shouted, like Jesse, “yeah, bitch! Magnets!”

breaking-bad-season-5-premiere-2As for the heist itself – finally, Walt and Jesse have a professional criminal on their side to help them out.  Imagine that job without Mike.  It would have been a shambles.  They might have succeeded, but surely without half of the smoothness of this operation.  What a surprise, though, that Walt felt the need to crank that magnet up to 11, tipping the van nearly on its side in the process.  But The One Who Knocks feels no remorse for his showmanship, smugly and darkly saying in the car afterwards “because I said so.”  Mike’s look back at Walt said it all.  Last season I jokingly referred to Mike and Walt and Jesse’s Mama and Pop, respectively, and going with that – Walt don’t you know?  If Mama ain’t happy, nobody happy.

The heist was a neat trick, but no action on Breaking Bad ever exists merely in the realm of success or failure.  Though the laptop was wiped, the magnet also broke a photo that appeared to keep information inside it relating to the Caymans.  Just as one door closes behind Walt, another five open in its place.  Oh, shit is going to get real this season, and fast.  There are only eight episodes airing in the first part of the final season, and rumor has it that the back eight have not started filming yet.  Presumably then, the meaning behind the cold open will be revealed by the end of this run.  Meanwhile, the typical action of one season will be packed into far fewer hours of television (as for this hour, there’s plenty more to discuss below).  Yeah, bitch!!

breaking-bad-season-5-premiere-4Grade: A- (nine out of ten dings)

Next Week: Walt and Jesse approach Mike to be their third amigo as Walt begins his Reign of Terror.

Musings and Miscellanea:

— I want to state upfront about my grades – there are graded against other Breaking Bad episodes only, not against all of television.  I also want to attempt to be really harsh with them since this show sets the bar for great television. Having said that, I really did feel this episode deserved top marks – it delivered everything it needed to, in spades, for a premiere.

— How creepy and terrible was Walt’s hug with Skyler at the close of the episode?  I never thought Skyler would be in danger until that moment.  It wasn’t the affair that troubled Walt as much as her doing business with Saul behind his back.  His ego cannot take it.  She’s scared of him, and should be.

— Speaking of Saul, it’s always lovely to see his face.  His trying to cover his own ass with Walt was classic, but Walt’s extremely menacing “we’re done when I say we’re done” mostly struck me with how far Walt has come (or how far he’s fallen).  Would the anxious high school teacher of season one have had the balls to do that?  Not just do it … but to mean it.

breaking-bad-season-5-premiere-1– Oh Ted, poor, poor Ted.  Man doesn’t even have sense enough to die when he needs to.  Though Skyler, for the first time, seemed to really feel the weight of what she is involved in, she stood her ground at the end as well with a terse “good.”  I hope Ted does not come back to haunt them, though if someone put me in a halo I would probably do whatever it was they wanted, too.

— I loved loved loved the camera work with Hank in the lab (and I mean the filming, not him discovering Gus’ camera).  How cool was the shot from the floor, slowly spinning?  The colors in that scene were so vibrant, as well.  And we’re used to the dusty, sepia-toned desert landscapes at this point, but when the camera panned back to show the trio against the open sky, one really is struck by the cinematography of the series.  No other TV shows comes close.

— Mike is great and a fantastic henchman if you can win his loyalty.  I’m hoping his alliance with Walt is not such that Walt feels he needs to kill them (though now Walt has the taste for blood …).

— Did that huge magnet remind anyone else of the Brave Little Toaster?

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