5.01: "Live Free or Die"
I watched this episode in BC with a room full of friends, some already fans of BrBa, some newcomers to the show. Those of us who were coming to Season 5 with Seasons 1-4 under our belts watched the cold open (the scenes seen before the credits) with gape-mouthed wonder. Did you see what Walt did with his bacon, laying it out on his breakfast and shaping it into the number 52? All the way back in Season 1, episode 1, "Pilot/Breaking Bad" Walt is celebrating his 50th birthday, and at breakfast that day, Skyler arranges Walt's veggie bacon into a "50." So the cold open is a flash-forward, and one that takes the viewer farther forward in time than Vince Gilligan & Co. have ever done before. Roughly speaking, slightly more than a year has passed between the events at the end of Season 4 and the cold open to "Live Free or Die." Walt's 52 now, and to top it off he has hair, a beard, a fake identity, and a New Hampshire driver's licence ("Live Free or Die" is New Hampshire's state motto, BTW). He's also buying an M60 machine gun from his favorite gun dealer, played by Jim Beaver (Deadwood, Supernatural, Justified) in another brief cameo. The series' trademark upward-looking POV (point-of-view) shot is seen several times as Walt transfers things for the trunk of his car (an old Volvo, just like Gus used to drive) to another car that came with the MG. Has Walt actually been in New Hampshire? Has Skyler left him? And who or what does he need the M60 for? I hate to admit it, but I'm stumped.
The rest of the episode, which picks up right where season 4 left off, introduces us to yet another new Walt, this one cold, confident, and in control. Walt doesn't fumble, hesitate, or even raise his voice for the entire episode, and he's scary as hell. Bryan Cranston delivers menace like few actors can, and Anna Gunn's portrayal of a woman suddenly terrified in her own house is simply brilliant. She can barely stand to have Walt touch her any more. Mike's back, Hank's still the first best chance for law-enforcement to break the Heisenberg/Gus Fring mystery, and Jesse, while darker and harder than previous seasons, still shows his youth with a "Magnet, bitch!" that brought wild applause from those of us watching in Vancouver. Primarily, this first episode is tidying up from last season, introducing us to the new Walt, and injecting a new sense of impending doom into everything. It works. As violent as "Boxcutter" was last year, "Live Free or Die" gives the viewer an equal, or greater sense of deadly purpose, without shedding any blood. Hang on, Readers Mine: Season 5 promises to be a wild ride.
Meanwhile, Walt's broke, and even into Jesse for several hundred thousand dollars. Also he now thinks he's truly Billy Badass: King of the (Meth) World. He wants to start cooking again, and Jesse's all in, particularly after Walt's manipulations with the ricin cigarette (I'm guessing that the fact that Walt has that little vial tucked away behind his nightstand is going to be important later on). So now Jesse feels like he owes Walt a kind of atonement for threatening to kill him last season. I have to admit to being furious as Jesse broke down crying, apologizing to Walt, so ashamed of himself, when all the while the viewer knows damn well that Walt did poison Brock - not to mention murdering Jane in season 2 - all to manipulate Jesse, which he's still doing. Damn his blackened soul to hell. As for the rest, Walt, Jesse, and Mike's magnet attack on the police evidence room in "Live Free or Die" inadvertently gave the cops access to Gus' offshore accounts, which leaves Mike and his old crew broke, and most of them vulnerable to manipulation and turning state's evidence which, in turn, forces Mike to go into business with Walt and Jesse, making the meth venture a three-way partnership. Like I said, this episode was primarily set up. Hank's back, with a new boss, and a proven track record as a hell of a detective. Madrigal has entered the frame as a new player, though of what game remains unclear. Sky's so terrified that she can barely get out of bed. Walt, Jesse, and Mike are in business together, and Walt thinks he's won. Again. Of course, this is only the second episode, and Walt may well be counting his chickens before they're hatched.
Well, that wraps up this first edition of "Meth Monday." Join me here next Monday for a look at 5.03: "Hazard Pay," where i'll go a bit deeper with only one episode to look at than I've done above with two. In the meantime, check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for daily interviews, sneak peeks, and random cool stuff about Breaking Bad. Until then, Readers Mine, keep cookin'.