Every step Walter White takes these days is one step further away from the man we knew and one step closer to the man we fear he will become. Tonight's Season 5 premiere of Breaking Bad was all about Walt covering his tracks so he could sip some Scotch and be the king, baby. But this crown only fits one man—Heisenberg—and Walter is going to have to be a thing of the past if his alter-ego is to become the new unopposed Meth King of the Southwest.
With Gus half a face lighter and dead enough to let future Emmy-winner Giancarlo Esposito join the cast of NBC's new show Revolution, the question we all thought we'd be asking this season is "Who is going to be Walter's new nemesis?" Walter has always been pushed by someone—Tuco, some Mexican twins, Gus—which made him turn to drastic measures, but Walter appears to be on top of the blue meth mountain all by himself for this final (two-part) season. So who is going to be person that makes Walter break bad beyond return?
My guess is Walter himself... though I suppose we should say Heisenberg. The new question then should be, "How much Walter are we going to see this season?" and the likely answer is "less and less and less." Walter has always Jekyll-and-Hyded into his alter ego to save his own ass, Jesse's ass, and his family's collective ass. Initially, transformation was a necessary evil, an ugly potential that was a response to kill-or-be-killed situations. But this is the final chapter, and in "Live Free Or Die," Walter went through Heisenbergification in much less threatening scenarios. And that's the scary thing: Walter turning into Heisenberg when he doesn't need to.
They're little things, admittedly, but the actions are clearly those of Heisenberg and not Walter. Near the end of the episode, when they were driving away from the police station, Mike asked for assurance that the job was done well. "How do we know?" he said. Water/Heisenberg replied, "Because I say so." It's simple, it's direct, it's authoritative. It's the same sort of thing Gus would have said to shut up a room. Later, Walter headed to Saul's and learned about Ted's situation. An argument ensued, and Saul put his hands up and said he was done with Walter, that their business relationship was over. Heisenberg stood up, walked right over to Saul, and snarled in his face: "We're done when I say we're done." He crushed Saul's will in that moment (Saul broke eye contact like a submissive puppy dog while Walt stared through him), and redefined their relationship. It's one of the most Alpha things Walter has ever done. And finally, at the very end of the episode and right after his meeting with Saul, Walter embraced Skyler and said, "I forgive you," in reference to her sexual and financial dalliances with Ted. The true intentions behind the words are open to interpretation, but this is Heisenberg taking the situation and making it his own, and all Skyler could do was tremble in fear and wonder who this new person in the shape of her old husband might be. Sure, we've seen Walter transform into Heisenberg in the house before ("I'm the one who knocks!"), but we've never seen Heisenberg walk in through Walter's front door, and that's exactly what happened in the final scene. Walter is bringing his work home with him now, and that's downright frightening.
"Live Free Or Die" was also a reminder of how good Breaking Bad is at coming up with a complicated plan, showing its difficult execution, and making it entertaining as heck. The whole idea to park a giant magnet outside the evidence room definitely qualifies as "so crazy it just might work," with its roots in hard science and a foundation in the trademark Breaking Bad realm of "almost impossible to pull off." The little victories Walt and Jesse had during the process and the suspense that surrounded actually sucking the evidence room to one side was damn fun to watch. It was Walter (with an assist from Jesse) once again showing brain matter over brawn, and he would have made Gandhi proud with his non-violent solution to a messy problem. Walter White, an inspiration for nerds everywhere, has always been able to make up for his lack of intimidation and firepower with intelligence, but we saw a bit of both. Sure he didn't slit anyone's throat with a box cutter, but Gus was always king because he used his head as much as he used his fists. Walter is getting there. Fast.
Though Walt thinks he's tied up the loose ends from offing Gus, I have my doubts. I disagree with Walter's assessment that leaving the truck behind is no biggie. He's relying a bit too much on the dude from the junkyard to keep his mouth shut if the police come asking questions. There aren't too many giant magnets out there. How long do you think it will take Hank to figure out that the magnet came from a junkyard? I'm pretty sure Wal-Mart doesn't sell those. How many junkyards are there in the ABQ, and how long will it take the police to notice that this particular junkyard's magnet is missing? And of course it was Walt's hubris—his desire to turn up that dial all the way—that got him in trouble. You know what Ice Cube said about checking and wrecking, right, Walt?
And then there's Ted. Ted isn't dead. Instead, he's looking more like Ted's grandfather, bald and discolored, held prisoner by a device used to keep his head from falling off. He said he won't talk, and we'd like to believe him. But this isn't a game of trust, this is a game of definitive action. If Walt was smart, he'd unplug Ted's machines and give him a pillow to eat. No loose ends, Walter! Ted's gotta go, and Walter is going to have to do it without stoking Skyler's suspicions.
Then there was the episode's cryptic opening. Just as Vince Gilligan teased us with a tattered stuffed animal butchered beyond recognition in Season 2, it looks like he's doing something similar with a time jump forward, showing Walter White with a beard, a New Hampshire driver's license, and a huge gun. It's the perfect tease for the series' final season (I say "final season" but internally I'm treating it as two mini-seasons) because now the show is attacking from two angles: one immediately following the events of the Season 4 finale (boom goes Gus's face) and one exactly two years after the pilot episode if Walter was telling the truth about the day being his 52nd birthday. If I had to guess, this opening, and the other scenes that we'll almost certainly see that continue its story, will lead up the beginning of the second half of Season 5, probably due out next summer.
I looked around the web for a bit more information on the gun that we saw in the trunk, and it appears to be an M-60, a light machine gun that's usually propped up on legs like a tripod. The ammunition in the trunk was tracer bullets, which leave little trails behind shots that can help with correcting aim. Apparently they're also pretty good at setting flammable materials on fire. Flammable materials... like, say, meth labs? The current time places us about 11 months after the pilot episode (which I confirmed with Vince Gilligan at Comic-Con this weekend), meaning there's a little over a year between when we saw Walter in the bulk of this episode and when we saw him at Denny's. Why did he skip town? And why will he be buying a BFG?
"Live Free Or Die" didn't feature one guy giving another guy a new mouth on his neck like the Season 4 premiere did, but it sufficiently put the Gus story behind Walt and gave us an idea of who Walt is going to be contending with most this season: himself.
– I have to figure that Walt asking Jesse for his share of the money to buy (or rent) the magnet wasn't just thrown in for nothing. Most business relationships fall out over money issues, and this could be the beginning of Walt and Jesse's relationship being strained this season. Either that or it's just the writers being very thorough, which they usually are. And hey, it looks like our math wasn't that far off!
– I don't know how Gus's Cayman Islands bank account info will come back to our heroes. Could that possibly lead to Mike? Did Gus pay him through that account?
– Rolling tricycle in the evidence room? YES!
– I love the way they looped Mike into the gang. Hopefully he sticks around because the trio of Walter, Jesse, and Mike is fifty kinds of amazing.
– Mike also got the best line of the episode... twice. "Keys scumbag, it's the universal symbol for keys." And "You know how they say it's been a pleasure? It hasn't." Saul's "I told you so" speech is right up there, too. "Rio de caca." Saul is THE MAN.
– Once again, Bryan Cranston showed off why he's a three-time Emmy winner for Breaking Bad. The man is flawless.
1. What do you think Walter should do with Ted? Trust the guy who slept with his wife and who's a general scumbag, and let him live? Or kill him to guarantee he stays quiet?
2. Who do you think will be Walter's biggest enemy this season? Himself? Someone we haven't met yet? Old associates of Gus? We know an actress has been cast as an old friend of Gus's, but we don't know how she'll take to Walt.
3. What was your favorite scene in the episode? I loved trying out the magnet at the scrapyard, especially when everyone looked at Jesse expecting him to have a piercing in his penis and Walt glanced at Mike when the question of artificial hips came up.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom