This weeks Sunday review is a double-dip edition! Because of reasons.
Full spoilers herein!
Breaking Bad is back and let me tell you there is precious little of Walter White left. From here on in its all Heisenberg, all the time.
The season 5 premiere “Live Free or Die” (based on the New Hampshire license plate that Walt ends up taking at the opening of the episode), begins at what looks like the very end. Walt has a full head of hair; he’s wearing unfamiliar clothes; he’s using a fake ID. This doesn’t look or sound like Walt from even the end of this very episode and he’s dealing with the man with whom he bought the gun with the filed-off numbers (returning guest star Jim Beaver). He takes some pills. How are they going to fool us this time? There’s no way this is the ending of the series, right? (My guess is its the mid-season finale).
Anyway, that’s a puzzle for another day. The story propper opens with our heroes? dealing with the immediate fallout from the nursing home bombing that killed their nemisis Gus Fring. Any lingering ambiguity about Walt’s involvement in the little boy’s poisoning is also cemented in him being a bonafide bastard- the lilly-of-the-valey seen in his backyard is disposed of post haste, bundled away with all the other evidence of the deed.
This season opener was entirely about repairing the damage from the ending of last season, just like every season opener before it. Walt and Jesse also plotted a harebrained scheme to eliminate evidence that would incriminate them- namely Gus Fring’s laptop, containing footage of the two working in the superlab, now in the custody of the DEA and Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader. What to do about that? Destroy it with a big fuck-off magnet, naturally!
Mike returned and there was something I absolutely loved about his first scene back: in a robe in the Mexican desert, he feeds some chickens and tells them to be nice to each other and make sure the littler ones get some feed. It’s so paternalistic and sweet and caring and kind of funny in an absurd way. It’s Mike. Mike returned from the desert almost immediately on a war path after finding out Gus was killed. Jesse stepped in to make sure he didn’t kill Walt and the genius of it all strikes right here: Jesse pointed out there’s more important things than killing Walt, like erasing the evidence on the computer from the labs. Once again, Walt evaded punishment for his actions.
Mike stayed in the episode just to point out how absurdly ill-planned their idea to use giant magnets to erase the data on Gus’ computer was and even when it worked he’s still skeptical, as he should be. The whole plot worked largely because of his skepticism. That stunt had a lot of errors in it and, because Mike was so skeptical, the errors didn’t stand out so much.
Like some other episodes in the series, a few incredible scenes made this one memorable, particularly Walt talking to Saul. I can’t see that scene and not think how amazing it was from all standpoints, from Walt cornering the previously defiant, arrogant and above all supremely confident Saul, to the deafening silence, to Saul shying away. It was the beginning of the transformation into straight-up scary all-Hesenberg, all the time. Cranston is an amazing actor. By the end of the episode even his own wife is confessing she is straight-up scared of him, and he hasn’t even turned his full Heisenberg-attentions on her yet!
Cracking start to the season!
Verdict: 4.5 suspicious pot-plants out of 5
The title of the season’s second episode is ‘Madrigal’. Wikipedia tells me a madrigal is “a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six.” Quite what it all means to Breaking Bad is still a bit of a mystery, unless its just a super wanky way of insinuating everyone will be working together in harmony…
We open to a killer scene of some clearly distracted man eating chicken nuggets and trying different sauces in front of several—I don’t know—taste scientists; all of it in German. It’s obtuse and sterile and kind of weird. Turns out this is part of Madrigal. Madrigal, if you remember the fake ad from a couple of seasons ago for Los Pollos Hermanos, is the distribution company for Fring’s enterprise. Fring used the distribution company to ship out meth and oh, yes, OK, now I get why this guy seems so despondent, he must’ve known everything.
The man, who we later find out is Mr. Schuler, grabs a defibrillator while law enforcement bangs at the door and he shocks himself to death. I didn’t know you could rig a defibrillator like that, and I’m a little shocked a corporate executive knew this, but it was a pretty interesting way to go out. The entire scene was absolutely amazing, perfect in execution. It’s its own little universe. Even though the man doesn’t say a line, we know why he’s despondent, why law enforcement is there and why he kills himself. These cold openings have rarely disappointed.
Back in Arizona, Walt and Jesse are trying to get Mike on board with their new operation. Mike -aka the only sane man in the room- sees Walt for who he really is and doesn’t want a bar of it. “You are a timebomb, tick-tick-ticking, and I have no intention of being around for the boom.” Too bad he didn’t stick to his convictions- Heisenberg wormed his way into Mike’s mind and now he’s part of the gang once more.
Mike later meets up with Madrigal middle management in the form of Lydia. She, like the now dead CEO, knows about the meth business and is not so quietly shitting bricks at the thought of the DEA finding several persons of interest on the payroll. She suggests Mike take them out. He is reluctant but after things take a turn -while we were watching Walt make orders and Jesse run around- Mike starts taking out people he’s known for years. And instead of repeatedly saying he’s doing it for his family, he’s just doing it. There’s your juxtaposition—the long-awaited comparison between someone who’s actually doing it for his family (Mike) and someone who’s using his family as an excuse because he likes the power (Walt).
Lydia herself isnt invisible to Mike’s crosshairs. The only thing now keeping her alive is her knowledge of methylamine procurement, the missing ingredient in Walt’s new cook scheme.
“Madrigal” also tied up some loose ends that were, well, big questions from the end of last year. Or rather, one question. What happened to the cigarette?
Walt got the cigarette back from Saul last episode (who had Huell lift it off Jesse in last season’s finale) and Walt attempted to plant a stand in cigarette in Jesse’s house and search with him. The scene opened with Walt dissecting the cigarette and taking out the poison and replacing it with salt—then hiding the real poison in his house behind an electrical plug in the wall — all while Jesse vented to Walt his anxiety over the phone. So stylized. So cool. So lean and efficient. When they found it — bringing back the roomba — Jesse broke down and cried because he nearly shot Walt. It’s been a long year or two for Pinkman.
This is the scene that ties everything together. Nobody, myself included, really thought about the emotional implications for Jesse, and it’s because we knew Walt manipulated Jesse. He then did everything in his power to hide it — and wow was that a long way — and Jesse, who’s been misguided, is now filled with regret for pulling a gun on Walt and nearly killing him, even though it was the right decision.
Walt attempted to console Jesse, but it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t give a hoot. Probably because he’s become a complete liar. But we’ve already seen a glimpse of a later moment in time for Walt. We know that a year from now, he won’t be the king of Albuquerque, but a man who buys a machine gun in the carpark at Denny’s.
Verdict: 4.5 doses of Chekhov’s Ricin out of 5