Last year, Walter White won. Three cheers for Walter! Walter the Winner! And what does winning look like?
Well, first you must throw away all your bomb-making and child poisoning accoutrements. Then you’re ready for a celebratory drink. But don’t get too comfortable! You must also scare the shit out of your wife, intimidate your criminal criminal lawyer, dispose of a ricin cigarette, continue to manipulate your surrogate son, and finally order around inanimate objects in the same way one does a misbehaving child. This is more or less a light day for Walt. The winner.
We start with an intriguing fast forward. It’s Walt’s 52 birthday, and he makes a “52” out of bacon, just like Skyler made a 50 in the pilot. The cancer’s back; Walt’s got a cough and he’s popping pills. He’s also got a Really Big Gun, which he procured through less than legal means in the parking lot of a Denny’s. (Product placement, Breaking Bad style!) Now, questions arise, as they must. I remember the Great Con of season two, and how everything we thought we were seeing, we weren’t. Why does Walt’s fake ID say his real birthday? Is it really his birthday? At first blush, it seems like lazy writing. A contrived way to get us to know the timeframe as well as the fact that Walt is carrying fake ID. But Breaking Bad rarely gets that lazy. I submit we’re not seeing what we think we’re seeing, not entirely. This is another scheme, not a Last Stand at The Alamo. I think. And are we looking at eight episodes from now, or sixteen? Only a year has passed in show time so far. Are we really going to flash forward another full year in just seven more episodes? Time will tell. Maybe they’re really all dead and hanging out in purgatory with Jack and Hurley.
The rest of the episode is, on the surface, season one or two boilerplate stuff. Walt and Jesse are on another caper. The stakes are ostensibly high, but we don’t doubt for a second everything will be just fine. This is barrel-stealing stuff, here. Rookie shit. And I’ll tell ya, when Jesse had trouble getting over the speed bump and they started bickering, it made me sweetly nostalgic, and suddenly very certain that we’d never get another scene like this again. But of course, there are new elements; now Mike’s involved, and he’s dripping with contemptuous one-liners. Oh, and also Walt is fucking crazy. The magnet will work “because I say so”, says Walt, and he means it. Even loyal Jesse looks askance at that. Then we’re treated to the one-two punch of first Walt telling Saul “you’re done when I say you’re done”, which recalls their silly bitch-fight a few seasons back and underlines how much Walt has changed since then. And second, we get the final scene; Walt greets a terrified Skyler, just back from visiting a utterly pathetic, crippled Ted. She assures him that Ted won’t talk. And Walt takes her in her arms, nuzzles her neck, and whispers, “I forgive you”. It’s his answer to her proclamation “I fucked Ted” back in Season Three. And it’s his declaration of game, set, and match, and that no more dissent in this relationship will be tolerated. And Skyler is as scared as she should be.
Now a lot of people have hated and judged Walt all along, and there are also those that think Skyler’s a big bitch who won’t let Complicated Men on cable TV just be their awesome selves. I’ve always sort of fallen in the middle. Unlike in life, I tend to be very nonjudgmental of TV characters. I like Walt. I recognize that he’s done many terrible things, but I just like him nonetheless. There’s a tragic fallen-hero vibe I get from most of his behavior, and I can’t help but root for him. But after this episode, I dunno. This was a cold, ugly Walt. We normally watch Walt flop and flail around and patiently bide our time until he finally puts the Heisenberg hat on. Well, now he’s Heisenberg the whole time. There’s no Walt at all. And it turns out, Heisenberg is a lot harder to like than we thought.
In the coming weeks, we’ll see what happens with the Cayman account the cops found under the picture of Gus and his maybe-lover (and if Romney’s involved somehow), and we’ll see if Ted is true to his word, and we’ll see if Hank will be satisfied with closing the case, and we’ll see if Junior puts sugar on his corn flakes, and we’ll see if Jesse tells Mike the Story of the Little Boy and the Ricin Cigarette and we’ll see if Mike laughs in his face or slaps him repeatedly.
But for now, we’ll just bide our time, living our quiet and uneventful lives, and hope that we don’t do anything to piss off Walter White.
Breaking Bad, Season Five, Episode One, “Live Free or Die”: B+
Ryan Roach lives in Studio City and suffers through traffic indignities on a daily basis. He also has a cool movie blog: http://rtrmovietime.com/