Breaking Bad Episode 501 “Live Free or Die”

Well, last night was the long-awaited night that some of us have been counting down the months, days and minutes to. Finally, Breaking Bad is back!

I’ll be doing these commentaries every week, along with some other in-depth topic explorations related to the show. Since this is episode commentary, there will be spoilers.

Standoff

To me, the most intriguing part was the teaser. It’s a flashforward to Walt on his 52nd birthday. He has hair. He looks different. He drives a different car. He has a New Hampshire ID and license plate. He’s not wearing his wedding ring (thanks to Badger at the Scranton Branch aka freeforums for catching that). He’s using a new last name, Lambert, which (thanks to Huell over at the Home Office aka AMC forums for pointing out) is Skyler’s maiden name.

My first thought was Witness Protection of some sort. Or Saul’s vacuum/disappearing service. But in either case, what is he doing back in ABQ? And why would he be using a name, in either case, that could be easily linked to his real identity? My guess is that we will all be surprised, that we’re all making more assumptions than we really can about this teaser. Vince Gilligan and company have a reputation for surprising us in major ways.

Another big question in my mind is timing. People associated with the show have repeatedly said that about a year has passed in the time frame of the story since the pilot episode. Episode 504 is titled “Fifty-One” leading some to speculate (again thanks Badger) that this will refer to Walt’s 51st birthday. If that teaser is part of this 8 episode mini-season, which I doubt, that would mean it takes 50 episodes to get through one year…and then 4 to get through the next! That means either some really huge time jumps (which BrBa has never done except for at the end of  Season 2 when Walt had his surgery and Jesse was in rehab) or that the teaser scene will occur later on, like in next year’s mini-season. That’s my guess. Still that would require some time jumps to get there that soon. Perhaps the cliffhanger at the end of these first 8 will be whatever sends him to New Hampshire.

It kinda makes you think that something really big and disastrous is going to go down. And what does Walt need that gun for? I bet, like with the teddy bear and debris we saw in season 2, it’s going to be impossible to guess where this leads.

I was honestly a bit surprised to see that Walt lives to see his 52nd birthday. But it does seem that the cancer is back. In the bathroom he’s coughing and taking some meds after the gun salesman guy leaves.

It also makes you wonder what’s going on with Skyler. I almost wonder if she’s the one who dies. There seems to be something mournful about Walt in that Denny’s. And the way he slowly rearranges his bacon into the number the way she did (a callback to the pilot, when Skyler arranged his veggie bacon into the number 50), added to the fact that he’s using her maiden name, seems like he could be missing her. Then again if she had died, maybe he’d still be wearing the ring. But then again, his wearing or not wearing of the ring could have more to do with his new identity than anything going on with Skyler. And maybe I just don’t want it to be Jesse who dies.

But there did seem to be some foreshadowing about it possibly being Skyler. The “previously on” section started with the scene where Gus threatens to kill Skyler and Holly (they didn’t show him threatening Walt Jr or Hank or anyone else). I could be reading into that but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some reason for how that was edited. And then after the teaser, she says she’s afraid of Walt. And then there’s that really ominous hug at the end between Walt and Skyler.

Getting beyond just the teaser, I thought this was an excellent episode. It was GREAT to see Mike play a bigger role and have more dialogue. I hope that’ll set the tone for the rest of the season. I knew he would come around to working with Walt and Jesse but I think that’ll continue to be a strained dynamic throughout the rest of the show. My favorite Mike part of the episode? Definitely when he was talking to the chickens. It reminded me of when we saw him with his granddaughter  in Season 3, another side of stoic Mike. “C’mon, let Wendell in there. Wendell doesn’t eat, no one eats.”

I loved the scene where Jesse jumps in front of Walt and won’t let Mike shoot him. In general, I love when these two stand up for and protect each other. When Jesse says to Mike, “If you kill him, you’re going to have to kill me too, COME ON!” I got the sense that he  was saying it with some irritation, like how many times do I have to tell you people?!?! And possibly my favorite moment of the episode was Mike’s reply, how he says, “Oh Jesse.”

The magnet storyline was pretty cool. I loved that for once Jesse came up with the scientific solution, in the midst of Walt and Mike posturing. It was also just really fun to watch them trying it out and then later executing the plan and seeing stuff flying all over the place. Lots of great visuals. Walt’s “Because I say so,” had a deadly feel. His tone wasn’t super arrogant or menacing, more nonchalant, assured, almost off-hand with the remark. And I don’t know about anyone else but it seemed a lot scarier that way.

In this episode we got to see another freakin’ beautiful BrBa time-lapse.

II thought it was great the way they had several characters return. The junkyard guy, the gun salesman from 402, and of course Ted. The writing feels tighter to me when recurring characters come back like that, rather than just finding some random new person or not revisiting a storyline.

The Ted thing is especially amazing to me. He started out as Skyler’s “Mr. Grabby Hands” boss, then her affair, then he disappears for awhile and you think that storyline is over. Then he’s back with the IRS audit and the story takes a whole new turn. Now he knows (a version of) what’s going on in Skyler’s life and he’s already tried blackmailing her once and used her money to buy a new car instead of paying his taxes. And then you think he’s dead but last night we found out he’s alive and terrified. I don’t think he’ll stay that way. The writers wouldn’t bring him back just to have him stay scared and keep his mouth shut. I have a feeling things will change. Or that Walt could get paranoid and use it as an excuse to kill Ted. Or something. The Ted storyline will live on and resurface like Ted did.

Skyler’s character really took a turn in that hospital scene. At first in the episode, she’s newly afraid of someone she loves, newly aware of what he’s capable of. Now, with Ted, she is the person someone else is terrified of. She’s the one capable of things that Ted didn’t imagine. And she kind of likes it, likes the power. Everything in her–her face, her voice, her posture–seems different when she says simply, “Good,” almost quietly, assured. She has found a new power, and I wonder where that will take her, or if it will shift the dynamic between her and Walt. Out of any of the characters, she had the most change during this episode, and I’m intrigued by her arc.

Saul trying to diplomatically explain things to Walt was great. I love Saul. The way Walt goes up to him, slowly, the way Walt speaks throughout that entire scene, with almost a dead tone in his voice was pure Heisenberg. The way he delivers, “We’re done when I say we’re done,” and how the moment plays out instead of cutting too soon only amplified that. BrBa is SO good at letting tense moments breathe. It was all eerie and intimidating. Killing Gus has definitely gone to Walt’s head and I think he will be riding that high for a long time…but I don’t think it will ultimately last.

The scene with Saul sets up the last scene between Walt and Skyler. He approaches her, head to head, almost the same way he approached Saul. You expect him to say something threatening and then when he says, “I forgive you,” it was actually worse. Even the way he hugs her is creepy, menacing, ominous. He was definitely Heisenberg in that moment, and if I were Skyler I’d be more scared of him now, not less.

I think the only times in this episode when we saw the old Walt were briefly in the Denny’s (“Great science museum,” just sounded like the Walt from the pilot) and when he’s cooing to baby Holly.

Addressing some questions:

1. How did Saul get the ricin cigarette from Jesse?

I think this was addressed towards the end of Season 4 but the question was all over thee place this morning. During episode 412 “End Times,” after Walt meets with Saul, Saul calls Jesse in and his bodyguard Huell searches Jesse roughly and switches cigarette packs. I’ve heard that if you watch the scene in slo-mo you can really see the switch happening. It’s not that Huell can somehow go into Jesse’s pack, take the ricin cigarette out only and then replace it (that would be a stretch of believability for sure), he just switched the packs.

2. Would Gus actually have stored footage on his computer? Wouldn’t he be too smart for that and just have streaming video with no stored data?

We may never know the answer to this. Gus was a careful man. But he was also a control freak and very much wanted to keep an eye on Walt. I could see him having some data stored (even if it was erased on a daily basis or something) so he could go through and see if he missed anything during times when he was away. He also, in my mind, was in a bit of a cocky place toward the end of Season 4. He had just taken out his cartel enemies. He thought he would get Jesse to turn on Walt and then be able to kill Walt. In a situation like that, control could have surpassed prudence.

I think the bigger point was that as long as that laptop existed, then to Mike, Walt and Jesse, there was the possibility that there was footage of them, and that possibility was all it would take to catch all of them. And so they couldn’t just let that possibility hang in the air, they had to do something about it. “Yeah bitch! Magnets oh!”

3. Did Hank see what was on Gus’s laptop?

I doubt it. My guess is that they were storing it for a computer expert type person who would be able to get into the computer and see what Gus had in there. At least, that is what seems to happen on most crime shows when a computer is involved (in fact just saw that on another show).

Predictions for next week:

Okay, I read somewhere that Jesse cries during the second episode. I have a feeling he is going to lose Andrea and Brock. She was pretty freaked out by his behavior in the hospital and I just have a feeling she is going to break up with him and he is going to be distraught and that’s why he cries. He may be more upset about losing contact with Brock than with Andrea.

There will be more focus on the investigation. I actually thought we would see more of that last night, but Hank and Gomez were not major players. I think next week they will be. What will Gus’s Cayman Islands account info reveal?

Since the name of next week’s episode is “Madrigal,” I think we’ll see Madrigal Electromotive step in as the layer in the drug biz behind Gus. I think this is when we will see Walt and Jesse get back to cooking and see what the new business model will be and where the next lab will be built. I also think that no matter how powerful Madrigal E may be, Walt will be giving, not taking, orders. He will continue to be drunk on the power and he has the leverage, along with Jesse, of being the only one who can make the pure blue meth.

Can’t wait for Sunday! Remember that if you’re local and I know you, you can come over starting at 6pm and we’ll watch the next episode.

What did you think of the Season 5 premiere? What do you think of that teaser? What do you predict will happen next week? Where are the writers going to take these characters next?

~Emilia J

Next Episode: Madrigal

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