Warning — Spoilers Ahead!
“I won” Walt says to Skyler moments after he has orchestrated the death of the previously un-thwartable Gustavo Fring. It’s a moment of ease for Walt. Ease not exactly total confidence — that comes later. Really, it’s as if he is slightly surprised by his ability to constantly come out on top and survive. It’s as if he’s surprised and then bolstered and pleased by this and his new place atop the food chain. Walt’s ability to convey that in one phrase, with a numbness that rolls into barely visible elation is what makes Bryan Cranston the best actor on television right now, and it is his performance that elevates this show to a place above good.
The fifth season begins where the fourth season left off — save for the shows first moments that take us into a future that sees Walt isolated, on the run, and celebrating his 52nd birthday with a free Denny’s breakfast and some low level criminaling.
Speaking of the 4th season finale “Face Off”, it is a hell of a thing to have to follow. A master class in suspenseful television that will, in my honest opinion, likely take the series finale to top. Really it’s like “Face Off” was a massive party and last night’s premiere, “Live Free or Die” is the afterglow and the cleanup, quite literally.
His moment of ease passed, Walt scrambles to rid his house of anything incriminating, finishing up before Skyler and his kids come home. Skyler is her usual congenial self toward Walt when Walter Jr. is in the room but she is cool and now a bit scared of Walt in private — a funny thing considering how easily she takes ownership for Ted’s “accident” in an effort to keep him quite later in the episode.
As for Walter Jr., his hero worship of Hank continues following the death of Fring, who Hank had been after for quite a time. In the moments following Walt’s greatest victory, a victory over not just Fring but also Hank and the DEA that has to sting. Sure, Walt is playing a game outside the bounds of what is the pre-established idea of right and wrong, but he did “win” and his son is cheering for the guy that got beat.
Speaking of Hank, he has made his way down to Walt’s now-destroyed master lab where he seems to discover what Walt recalled a moment before — the existence of Gus Fring’s surveillance system.
The events that follow are thoroughly enjoyable. Reunited after Walt’s secret duplicitous act against Jesse’s girlfriend’s son Brock, he and Jesse have to seek out and recruit a rageful Mike. Mike’s interests are best served by helping them find Gus’ laptop that hold the contents of the surveillance system, a laptop that now sits in a seemingly impenetrable evidence lock up. Another bomb is discussed between Walt and Mike, a fire as well, but it is Jesse — who is stuck trying to merge into the conversation like a kid trying to speak up at the adult table — who suggests that they use a magnet.
Jesse’s suggestion is an outside-the-box solution and one that brings the trio to a salvage yard where they talk an erudite scrap merchant into selling them his big damn magnet and a dilapidated box truck. The successful test of the magnet and Jesse’s “Yeah bitch! Magnets!” make this feel like the most adult episode of MYTHBUSTERS ever made. Also, can we maybe retire Jesse’s “Bitch” catchphrase? I love it, but the character has outgrown it a bit.
Once in the truck and on their mission, Jesse and Walt drive the truck to the ABQ police department where the laptop is stored and they, well, use the magnet — slowly disrupting the evidence locker before Walt ramps it up too fast, causing the truck to tilt over and all of the metallic evidence in the locker to stick to the wall. In short: it’s buffoonery in the midst of high crimes and misdemeanors, hilarious, and a reminder that sometimes Walt isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.
Meanwhile in the evidence locker, a few cops review the damage and note that Gus’ laptop has been damaged. They also discover a damaged picture frame from Fring’s office that shows a piece of paper that is now sticking out from behind the picture — a piece of paper that may have never been unearthed if not for the magnet. Again, sometimes Walt isn’t as smart or as lucky as he thinks he is.
Other key elements of the episode focus on Skyler’s previously-alluded-to meeting with Ted and a bit of Saul talking tough before Walt beats him down with word fists and that brimming confidence.
Overall the episode hit all the right points and moved the ball up the field, but it wasn’t a standout. With that said, BREAKING BAD slow burns to a roaring fire, so I really have no worries about where Vince Gilligan and company will take us over the course of this abbreviated 5th season. After-all look at their track record.
This is the first recap/review of BREAKING BAD this season, be sure to check back next week and every week thereafter for Dev Richards’ take on the show.