Breaking Bad (finally) returns, and fulfills the promise of its title. But first: Yeah magnets!
"Because I said so."
"We're done when I say we're done."
"I forgive you."
Breaking Bad has never obscured or obfuscated exactly what it was about. It's right there in the title, after all. A regional colloquialism became a national convesation on the strength of Vince Gilligan's singular vision and an adherence to never narratively compromising. So we get a lead character whom we understand, maybe even love, but we know that ultimately, he's the villain of his own story.
So here in its final season, it's time for all the other shoes to drop. We spent four seasons watching the journey of Walt White, but that journey is complete. In "Live Free or Die," Walt makes it certain that he's there. He's broken bad, and he's the baddest man in Albuquerque.
Walt White has blown up Gustavo Fring, his taskmaster, and basically taken his place. Believing himself invincible, Walt isn't just the bad guy: he's a great supervillain. Now that he's free of Gus, he's brazen enough to head down Mexico way to recruit Mike the Cleaner, who thankfully wasn't left to die in the desert, but has been convalescing from his gunshot wounds and naming chickens, to help destroy evidence. After telling Skyler that "I've won," and being told by her that she's frightened of him, Walt remembers that there were cameras in the Superlab (now a completely burned out toxic zone that can't house much of anything, let alone a criminal enterprise), and he and Jesse need Mike's help in getting to the laptop that the footage from said cameras is stored on (but which has been taken by the police). Mike is ready to "get out of dodge," but Walt is able to rope him into a plan that involves an industrial electromagnet left just outside the police evidence room. Although Mike has no faith, Jesse figures Walt's ideas are worth a lesson. "He's good at this," he says. Jesse's faith may have been ill-gotten, but the best thing supervillains like Dr. Doom do is do whatever needs to be done to amass a following. Mike reluctantly plays along, and with some assistance from constitutional scholar/junkyard owner Old Joe, are able to procure the supplies they need to build a magnetic field powerful enough to erase the hard drive in Gus' laptop, as well as cause a lot of commotion.
During the getaway, Mike asks Walt how he can be sure that the plan worked. "Because I said so," replies Walt. Walt has always had a streak of hubris in him, but now he's outright megalomaniacal, and the look in Jesse's and Mike's eyes show they see it too.
Not only is all of the junkyard material masterfully shot, with all of its moving parts and machinery juxtuposed with dirt and dust, but it's prelude to the sequence where all of the evidence goes flying through the air. Seeing the paper clip, light fixtures, and metal shelving list violently to one side before smashing into the wall was simply gorgeous. It looked beautiful, and the pacing was perfection. It's one of the best visual sequences the show has ever had, which is absolutely saying something.
So with all that out of the way (maybe...ah who are we kidding, nothing's ever out of the way on this show), Saul can now get Walt caught up with the saga of Skyler and Ted. Apprently, despite the presence of Godfather-like oranges, Ted did not die last season, but he is paralyzed in the hospital. Skyler goes to see Ted, and though she's shocked by his appearance, which includes a collar that bolted to his skull that keeps him completely stationary, she's eventually able to strike the fear of God into him. Ted, now frightened of Skyler (probably as much as she is of Walt), pleads with her and tells her that she'll never tell anyone about what's happened to him. In lieu of sympathy or understanding, she regains her composure enough to say sternly say "Good." Skyler's always been good at what she brings to the table, so it's probably not a complete surprise that she has a bit of a Heisenberg streak to her. That should be fascinating to see play out.
After playing out the "we're done when I say we're done" scene that launched all kinds of anticipatory internet comments, Walt returns home, where Skyler tells him that Ted won't say anything. Walt's response: a tender hug, and a reassuring "I forgive you." Walt, who's thrown Skyler into god knows how many incredible emotional and nerve-wracking situations, forgives Skyler, presumably for sleeping with Ted. Walt is the only person who can be victimized, and forgiveness is his to give, or not give. Like we said: supervillain. Walt White is Dr. Doom, Lex Luthor, Wilson Fisk all at once. He may be the protagonist of this show, but he's definitely not the hero.
So where does that leave Walt? What are we going to see happen to him? "Live Free of Die" may have given us a clue right at the top of this episode. The cold open is apparently some kind of flashforward to who knows how far into the future, where a hirsute and coughing Walt White is sitting at a counter, considering another free birthday breakfast at Denny's (is he "celebrating" a real birthday? He's using an assumed identity). In a very quiet and deliberately-paced scene, Walt buys an M80 from gun dealer Lawson (who, if you remember, sold him a .38 snub-nosed revolver early last season) before heading off to do who knows what. Latent expectation is one of the things Breaking Bad has done exceptionally well, and "Live Free or Die" sets up so many dominoes that it's impossible not to be absolutely psyched for whatever we're about to see. The show hasn't done many flashforwards, so a change of pace here really ratchets up the excitement. It's a fantastic way to open the most important season of the show (Breaking Bad really needs to stick the landing of its finale). Walter White is already the bad guy. So how do we get from Point A to Point B? It'll sure be fun to find out.
Note: Amctv.com experimented with a more social experience for tonight's season premiere. Their Story Sync offered all kinds of infographics, polls, plot recaps, and discussion delivered throughout the episode as it aired on television. It's a neat idea (and even helped a little with this write-up), but anything that splits a viewer's attention from a show this meticulous, even if it is in an information-rich manner, may not be the best thing in the world. Still, can't blame the fine folks at amctv.com from leveraging all the excitement of the die-hards of this show for more unique hits.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch