Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen this show, do yourself a favor and use the rest of your summer to catch up. Spoiler-filled thoughts will follow “Because I say so.”
Breaking Bad has always been about limitations, stakes and tensions rising, doing whatever it takes to push back. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is at the top of the heap, and the explosive season four propelled him there to become sole survivor, winner, and king. But every king has his reign, and there have always been consequences to Walt’s calculated agency, killing Gus being his greatest defiance. Walt has developed ferociously since the first season, from cancer-stricken chemistry teacher to ruthless criminal mastermind, and he is willing to stop nothing short of even becoming god in his exercise of control, security, and safety.
The show’s cold-open teases with a flash-forward with Walt seeming frail—he’s coughing again and taking medication—using a fake name, claiming to be from New Hampshire, and purchasing a large machine gun from his usual dealer. Whatever his problem is at this point, here we see a Walt less confident in his own ability and desperate to solve it, or rather, kill wherever he aims. With the title of the episode and the motto of New Hampshire being “Live Free or Die”, there are only two options for Walt, and we can be sure to find out how he tries to fulfill the first while preventing the second as this final season progresses.
Immediately picking up where the season four finale left off, we see Skylar (Anna Gunn) and her end of the conversation where Walt proclaims that he “won”. Afterwards, Walt disposes of everything he used to create the bomb for Gus, even interrupting a celebratory drink to get rid of the Lily of the Valley plant that he used to poison Brock, which is confirmed by a very timid Saul later on. Even Skylar initially ignores Walt, who wants appreciation and to know she is relieved that he’s alive. She answers that she’s scared, not of the impending Armageddon sure to come from the as of yet mysterious monolith that funded Gus, but of Walt. He’s a killer, taking any means necessary to survive, and Skylar doesn’t know if she can “protect this family from the man who protects this family,” because he’s not a man anymore—Walt is full-on Heisenberg, a legend for his meth, the ghost that brother-in-law Hank unrelentingly chases, the almighty anti-hero; however, this doesn’t mean he is untouchable. Although he’s the one who knocks, something’s about to collide with him and only firepower and sheer force will stop it.
In this episode, Walt, Jesse (Aaron Paul), and Mike (Jonathan Banks), successfully use a high-powered magnet from the junkyard to destroy Gus’ laptop, which contains footage of all of them, by breaking into the police department. With the truck parked by the wall of the evidence room, Walt turns the dial slowly until the alarms go off and force him to twist all the way, making the truck tip over and slam into the wall. Walt and Jesse narrowly escape, and Mike is reluctant to believe that it worked, refusing to take things on faith, and asks why he should. Walt replies, “Because I say so” with supreme authority and omnipotence. Walt always pulls things his own way—he manipulates Jesse into rejoining his side, sways Tio Salamanca to help him kill Gus, gets Mike to work for him, bullies Saul into remaining as his lawyer—and now he moves matter. Breaking Bad, like chemistry, is the study of change, and Walt is creator, agent, and dissolvent. Bunsen burner too, since he did blow up the meth lab.
This season will be all about survival, whether Walt can potentially keep turning the dial but also repel against similarly powerful forces in the face of all this change; the tension is sure to be great.
-The episode ends abruptly with Walt moving in slowly to hug Skylar, telling her that he forgives her for everything involving Ted. Walt looks peaceful as the deity bestowing his regards to those he vows to protect. Walt may seem like the selfless hero in his own eyes, but Skylar seems like she’s struggling to have sympathy or compassion, love seems long lost already, for the devil. She’s trapped in this mess, but she also needs to break bad in order to keep up with Walt. Mrs. Heisenberg is already laundering money through the car wash, but what else must she do?
-Last season, I had a good laugh when Ted tripped and hit his head. Breaking Bad is fantastic when it comes to dark humor. The reveal that he’s alive was surprising, but paralyzed and in a robotic get-up too? Seeing Skylar’s reaction first, I knew it was going to be terrible, though it didn’t prevent me from having another chuckle at Ted’s expense, shame on me.
-Mike had some great lines in this episode*, with Jesse more or less blurred in the background (quite literally, in a shot of Walt and Mike discussing the plan to destroy the laptop until Jesse bursts in with the magnet idea). Again, Walt needed Jesse’s initial help to carry out his big plans, and Walt should give him more credit for his success.
*Mike saying that the laptop “might as well be on the moon”, reminded me of another perfect AMC drama Mad Men, and how Connie Hilton demanded the moon when it came to wanting the perfect ad from Don Draper. Connie literally envisioned a Hilton on the moon, which is rather farfetched; back to Breaking Bad, we know that Walt is someone that will get what he wants even if it’s at that size—perhaps we’ll see him and Jesse put on their spacesuits again sometime soon.