(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
Attention to detail. In Breaking Bad, it’s everything. Nothing is brushed aside. Season 4 ends with a feeling of finality. The battle between Gus and Walt is over, and Walt won. Any other show would begin its next season somewhere down the road, which is perfectly reasonable. Walt beat Gus. That’s the important part. Any leftover details could be skipped over. We’d go with it. But in Breaking Bad, nothing is that easy. You make a mess, you’re going to have to clean it up. And Walt has made a very big mess.
Season 5 (so far) is much more about process than the previous seasons. Each episode covers a particular problem and how it is solved. The problems start instantly, with episode 1 picking up immediately where season 4 left off, and Walt racing home to clean up all the evidence of bomb making and barricading.
That’s not true. Episode 1 starts with a flash-forward to a scene we won’t see more of until the second half of season 5. Walt is at a diner. He arranges his bacon to read “52.” It’s his birthday. He’s got hair and a beard. He’s got a bit of his cancer-cough back. He has a New Hampshire driver’s license, but seems to be far away from New Hampshire, it’s not clear where. If you’ve been paying attention, Walter turns 50 in episode 1 of season 1. He’s yet to turn 51 by the end of season 4. So we’re a year out from current events. Walt meets a gun salesman (same guy he bought the handgun from in season 4), exchanges cash for car keys. In the parking lot, Walt opens the trunk of a car to reveal an M60 machine gun. Things are going to get interesting.
Back to the present and problem solving. First up, Walt and Jesse race off to the desert to find Mike, who’s busy driving north to find them. Mike is none too happy about his boss being blown up, but agrees not to shoot Walt once Walt reminds him of Gus’s laptop, on which are stored the lab’s videofeeds. The laptop is in a police evidence room. There’s no way to get it. Mike wants to skip town until Jesse pipes up with one word: “Magnets!”
At the junkyard where they destroyed the RV, they put a giant electro-magnet powered by 30-odd car batteries into the back of a small moving van. Drive it to the police station, stop outside the wall of the evidence room, and turn it on. It not only erases the laptop, but smashes it into the wall along with anything else metallic, including a picture frame of Gus’s. Broken, the photo slides down, revealing a Cayman Islands bank account number. Once again, Walt solves one problem and in so doing creates another.
Walt treats Saul like vermin. Saul returns to Walt the ricin cigarette, commenting on the absurdity of the plan and Huell’s sausage-like fingers barely succeeding in getting the cigarettes off of Jesse. In case we had any doubts, now we know for sure that’s what happened.
Skyler hears about Ted Beneke from Saul. He’s not dead after all. Ted’s in the hospital with a broken neck. Skyler goes to see him. He sees her and says he will tell no one. He will say nothing. He just wants to live. He’s terrified. And Skyler says simply, “Good.”
Why does she say that? Is she becoming as big a monster as Walt? No. She’s scared out of her mind. Walt blew up a nursing home to get Gus. This isn’t what she signed up for. She says “Good” to Ted because if he didn’t keep his mouth shut, Walt would kill him too.
The episode ends with Walt hugging Skyler very creepily and bringing up Ted. “I forgive you,” says Walt, the benevolent god.
Walt’s victory over Gus has ratcheted his ego up to absurd heights. In the car with Mike and Jesse, when Mike asks how Walt knows the magnet plan will work, he says, “Because I say so.” Walt imagines himself a god, all right.
Walt’s problem in episode 2 is how to get the business up and running again. He needs Mike to join he and Jesse, but Mike isn’t interesting. He says to Walt, very wisely, “You are a time bomb.”
But Mike has a problem too, and her name is Lydia, a new character, who in some capacity worked for Gus. She comes to Mike with a list of 11 names, the guys who the DEA have arrested or are talking to. She wants Mike to kill them. But Mike says they’re his guys, and they won’t talk.
Mike is called in to talk to Hank and Gomez. He handles them just fine at first. We learn a little history, that Mike used to be a cop in Philadelphia before a certain unnamed incident ended his career. Mike’s about to leave, having admitted to nothing, when Hank reveals that they know about the account Gus had in Mike’s granddaughter’s name, with two million in it. They found all of Gus’s accounts. They’re taking the money of all 11 of Mike’s guys. Someone’s going to talk.
The episode begins at Madrigal Electromotive in Germany. Mr. Schuler is visited by the police. They look around his office, see a photo of Schuler with Gus. Schuler opts not to speak with them, instead locking himself in the bathroom and killing himself.
The CEO (I presume) of Madrigal, along with other higher-ups (including Lydia) meet with the DEA and call Schuler an anomaly.
Walt hides the ricin behind the plate of a wall outlet. He makes a faux ricin capsule using salt and takes it to Jesse’s house, where he’s panicking over his lost ricin cigarette. They search his house top to bottom, before Jesse finally checks the roomba, in which he finds the cig with the rake ricin planted by Walt. Jesse isn’t relieved; he cries. He almost shot Walt over this. He’s devastated. Walt, the lying, manipultive prick that he is, consoles Jesse.
Chow, one of Mike’s guys, also interviewed by the DEA, calls Mike and says they need to talk. Mike goes to his house, but very carefully. Sneaks in the back to find another of his guys, Chris, there with a gun, waiting to kill Mike. He already shot Chow dead. Turns out Lydia hired him to kill the 11 other guys and Mike too. Mike shoots him dead.
Mike goes to Lydia’s house and almost shoots her. She doesn’t beg for her life. She begs instead not to be disappeared, because her little daughter would think she’d run away from her. She’d rather her daughter find her dead body. Mike seems torn. He doesn’t shoot her. Instead he asks her if she can still get methylamine. Mike calls Walt to say, “I’m in.” With no money, he can’t walk away now.
Hank and Gomez meet with Merkert, their boss, who’s been sacked for not pursuing Fring. Merkert understands someone had to go over it. He talks of the time Gus came to his house for a barbecue, how they all had a great time. All along, Gus was “Right under my nose.” And of course we’re watching Hank as he says this.
The episode ends with another creepy moment of Walt sliding into bed behind Skyler, who’s become so scared she’s barely said a word. She’s in bed with a monster, literally and figuratively.
In episode 3 it’s time to start cooking again. But where? Saul takes Walt, Jesse, and Mike on a tour of possible factories, but not are suitable. The last option is the crummy warehouse for a pest exterminator business. Which gives Walt an idea. They’ll cook inside houses being bombed for bugs. Walt lays out the details, and Mike asks if they should vote on the idea. “Why?” says Walt. He still thinks he’s god.
And so thinking, he decides it’s time to move home. Unpacking he comes across his Walt Whitman book and smiles. Ah, those fond memories of Gale. That guy he had murdered.
Meanwhile, Skyler has has a nervous breakdown. Marie talks to Walt alone, demands the truth of the matter: what’s Skyler so freaked out about? Walt lies smooth as ever. He tells Marie about Skyler’s affair with Ted and about Ted’s current condition.
The most perfectly creepy moment comes when Andrea and Brock stop by Jesse’s house to find Walt there. Jesse and Andrea exit, leaving Walt sitting on the sofa next to Brock, the boy he had poisoned. You almost expect Walt to lean over and eat the kid’s head in one bite.
The first cook goes off perfectly. As Walt and Jesse enter the house, one of the pest guys, Todd, says he disabled a nanny cam in a clock. Nice work, Todd. You’re going to come in handy later.
After a typically excellent cooking montage, Jesse and Walt relax inside the house drinking beers. Walt, exuding a relaxed, genuine kindness rarely seen, talks to Jesse about Andrea, and how happy she seems with him. He then veers into the difficulties of knowing what to tell one’s romantic partner. Jesse says he’s told her nothing about what he does. Walt goes on about how hard the lying is, and how tough on a relationship it can be. But reveal everything? “Even Gale?” asks Jesse. Walt shrugs, says he trusts Jesse. What a manipulative bastard Walt is. Next time we see Jesse with Andrea and Brock, he’s quiet and sad. Uh oh.
Walt and Junior watch Al Pacino wreaking havoc in Scarface and love every second. Skyler comes in and stares at the carnage helplessly. Not a subtle moment, what what the hell, it works.
The episode opens with a lawyer and Mike talking to Dennis (the laundry manager) in prison. Mike reassures him that he will be “made whole” again. They’ll get their money. Dennis accepts this, but not easily. Mike heads off to talk to all the other guys.
And then the end, in which Mike, in charge of business, divides up the spoils of the first cook. There’s all kinds of costs Walt didn’t consider, such as distribution, now that Gus’s Pollos scheme has been destroyed, plus the legacy costs. Mike has to pay the guys in prison to keep them quiet. Walt is outraged at this. Doesn’t agree to pay. Jesse offers to take it all out of his cut, but Walt relents, still angry, and sure Gus wouldn’t stand for this. Says Mike, “Walter, just because you shot Jesse James doesn’t make you Jesse James.”
Walt and Jesse talk alone after Mike leaves. Walt asks Jesse how he’s doing with all of this. Jesse reveals that he broke it off with Andrea. But Walt doesn’t care about that at all, says he means the money situation. Walk refers to Victor, who Gus killed with a box cutter, saying maybe it wasn’t simply a message to Walt. Maybe Vic was killed for trying to do a cook. Maybe Vic “flew too close to the sun.” The implication is clear. Walt’s thinking of taking out Mike. Jesse says nothing.
These first episodes set up Walt as a megalomaniacal, Machiavellian despot. Which he is. And he only gets worse as the season progresses.
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10
- Season 2, Episodes 11-13
- Season 3, Episodes 1-4
- Season 3, Episodes 5-7
- Season 3, Episodes 8-10
- Season 3, Episodes 11-13
- Season 4, Episodes 1-4
- Season 4, Episodes 5-7
- Season 4, Episodes 8-10
- Season 4, Episodes 11-13