After the explosive Season 4 finale, Breaking Bad Season 5 opened with a much quieter episode. Despite the title, Season 5, Episode 1: "Live Free or Die" took a step back from the overwhelming body count Walt's been racking up. Instead it returned to Breaking Bad's roots: Using science to commit crime.
A note: Because there are already a slew of wonderful Breaking Bad recaps on the internet to help you investigate every detail you may have missed, we'll be using a slightly different model. Breaking Bad is a story about moral decline and the reasons people commit crime; in that spirit, we'll be using our recaps to track the moral state of the key players each week.
Sound good? Then read on for Wetpaint Entertainment's recap of Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 1: "Live Free or Die."
Walter White: "We're Done When I Say We're Done"
The good news: Despite willfully blowing up a nursing home and, oh yeah, poisoning a child in Season 4, Walter hasn't spilled over into complete psychopathic villainy; this show is too smart and too subtle for that. It's no mistake that one of the first things we see him do this episode is interact with his children. Most notably, there is a beautiful moment where he abandons himself in playing with baby Holly. Sure, the guy may have just felled the biggest drug lord around, but the Walter White who loves his family is still there, buried under Heisenberg.
Also of note is that Walt's first thought isn't actually to just bomb the police station. So, that's something. Also something: The $100 tip he leaves for the waitress in the flashforward cold open. Hey, it's the little things.
The bad news: Walter White may still be buried under Heisenberg, but he's buried deep. The Walter we see this episode is a Walter who knows what he wants, and gets it. It's notable that after throwing out the evidence (a practical move) he seems at a bit of a loss about what to do after his big win. But as soon as he realizes he has a problem he's back in control. He's become a person who thrives at solving problems and staying on top — whatever the cost. Yeah, this week the cost is just a bit of broken glass and a bunch of police man hours, but how long do you think that's going to last?
Besides his take-charge attitude when it comes to the incriminating evidence, there are a couple of other notable moments that highlight Walter's disturbing mindset. One is, of course, the scene AMC used to promo the season, where he intimidates Saul: "We're done when I say we're done."
Another comes as he, Mike, and Jesse speed away from the scene after their magnet stunt; he declares that Mike has to trust that it worked because he says so. Remember when this guy was a scientist? He's gone from a profession that thrives on facts and proof to one where his word goes just 'cause who the hell is gonna argue with him? Chilling.
And then there's the final scene, where he claims to forgive Skyler for taking his money to give to Ted last year (and perhaps for sleeping with Ted, who knows). Leaving aside whether or not he's actually forgiven her, let's think about the fact that Walter White, the man who dragged his upstanding family into a dangerous criminal mess, has the audacity to bestow forgiveness on his wife for doing what she thought was best to clean up after him. Whatever you think of Skyler, that's completely backwards, and it has major strains of The Godfather: the worst of the worst giving his blessing to others. Far from being repentant, Walter is embracing his role as a kingpin.
Basically, that Season 5 poster says it all.
Jesse Pinkman: "Yeah Bitch, Magnets!"
The good news: The first thing we see Jesse do is throw himself between Walter and a gun. Loyalty has always been one of his best traits, even if it's what screws him over time and time again. He's also the one who comes up with the idea of using magnets to wipe Gus's computer, a solution that's both smart and relatively harmless, in the grand scope of the messed up things our "heroes" do on a weekly basis. In many ways, this episode shows Jesse at his best.
The bad news: Boy is still loyal to Walter. As Mike says, "What is with you guys?" As long as Jesse stays intertwined with Walter, he's not going to be able to pull himself out of the moral muck. Of course, it's a little hard to judge exactly how much he's acting out of loyalty vs. necessity this week — our biggest complaint about the episode is we didn't get to see Walt tell Jesse about the camera situation and ask for his help, so it's impossible to know what his immediate reaction to getting involved again was.
That said, Jesse's decision to stay and pull off the crazy magnet stunt instead of getting the hell out of dodge like Mike suggests is telling. Also telling is the way he whoops it up in the getaway car: He may start the episode jaded, but in that scene he's back to being the Jesse who thinks crime is fun, and that's the Jesse that can easily fall under Walter's spell. Sigh. Sometimes we want to reach through the screen and shake him.
Skyler White: "Good"
The good news: Skyler is scared of Walt after his whole "I won" moment, which means she's a whole lot smarter than Jesse. In general she's the only character in the episode who seems deeply shaken, on an emotional level, by the death and destruction that's invading her world. Her reaction to seeing Ted shriveled and broken in the hospital bed is exactly what you'd expect from a sane person in that situation: Pure horror and what she's wrought. Way to almost get your ex-lover killed, Skyler. At least she still has the decency to feel guilt about it.
The bad news: It's all in the way she says "good" after Ted promises he'll never say a word about what happened as long as his family stays safe. That's the practical side of Skyler we came to know and love last season, but practicality is rarely morally comfortable when it's about crime.
Mike Ehrmantraut:" You Know How They Say It's Been a Pleasure? It Hasn't"
The good news: Mike's back! Okay, that's not morally good news, but it sure is good news for the show. We'd forgotten how much we love his snark. And along with the snark, there's also his rationality. Man's a criminal, but he's the kind of criminal who would rather run than blow up a police station; he's not as audacious as Walter, which is why he'll never be as powerful as him, but it's also why he'll never be as horrifying. And it's why he realizes Walter has gone from bad news to the worst news — despite reluctantly teaming up with him out of necessity (which was an incredibly clever way to quickly reintegrate him into the show; kudos to the writers), Mike spent the entire episode at odds with Walter. He doesn't trust him, and he damn well shouldn't.
The bad news: It's Mike. The first thing we see him do is try to shoot Walter. Killing comes easily to him, and it always will.
Saul Goodman: "You and Me, We're Done"
The good news: Yep, Saul did use ethically in a sentence this week. And what's more, he actually displayed some of those ethics. It turns out poisoning children is just too much for him. Hey, we all have lines we won't cross.
The bad news: Saul is Saul, and he's just as loveably sleazy as ever. He's still trying to play everyone and protect his interests above all. Plus, he may have some convictions, but they don't seem to give him much strength — he caves to Walt's will pretty quickly.
Notable Scenes, Quotes, and Other Thoughts
- So, that opening scene. Seeing Walter sans Heisenberg baldness and facial hair is disorienting enough; why he's claiming to be from New Hampshire is a mystery we can't wait to see solved. Breaking Bad is known for its flash forwards, and this might be the most intriguing one yet.
- There's a wonderful moment near the beginning of the episode where Walter toasts himself in the mirror while sitting over Holly. He's won, but all it's gotten him is isolation and loneliness; he's the only one there to congratulate himself. Beautiful.
- Speaking of beautiful, how about the scene where Walter and Mike are arguing over the possibility of breaking into or blowing up the police evidence room, and Jesse keeps repeating his magnet idea? Allowing Jesse to speak that key suggestion while entirely out of focus in the background is a genius bit of cinematography. The visuals perfectly capture the dynamics of the scene: Walter and Mike think they're the only power players so they ignore Jesse even as he's solving the problem. A hint of things to come? As Jesse fans, we hope so.
- Mike line of the week is a tossup between "Keys, scumbag. It's the universal symbol for keys," and "You know, I can forsee a lot of possible outcomes to this thing, and not a single one of them involves Miller Time."
- "Yeah bitch, magnets!" Jesse being excited about science will never get old. Not. Ever.
- Does any show do as many wonderful things with color and saturation as this one? As always, Mexico is all oranges, a bit of visual shorthand that continues to create stunning scene after stunning scene. And the scene in the destroyed superlab is also striking, all greys with highlights of whites and yellows — so different from the color palate used when it was still working.
- Another visually great scene: Walter and Jesse actually succeeding with the magnet plan. Watching all the police evidence being pulled to one wall is really hilarious; as we said, it harkens back to easier times, when Walt and Jesse's capers were often more fun than horrifying.
- There isn't enough Hank in the episode to single him out in this recap, but he's already in the thick of the DEA investigation into Gus's drug ring. We can't wait to see him inch ever closer to catching Walter.
- This show loves irony, so of course Walter's brilliant plan to erase the hard drive ends up uncovering what is sure to be a key clue in the broken picture frame. So much for everything going smoothly because he said so. Hubris!
What did you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments below.
Read the rest of Wetpaint Entertainment's Breaking Bad coverage here.
Breaking Bad airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
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