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“Live Free or Die” in BREAKING BAD’s Post-Gus World
I almost don’t know where to begin. The time in between Season 4 of Breaking Bad and the premiere of Season 5 has been so long I’m having a hard time getting back into the mindset of watching this utterly engrossing series. Watching “Live Free or Die,” I realized just how much I’ve missed this show, with its nuances, time-lapsed transitions, strange point-of-view shots, and the story a of lowly high school chemistry teacher ascending to meth kingpin status. This season is very important, not just because it brings us to the final lap of the series, but because Walter is the man in charge and there’s no one stop him. With Gus Fring out of the picture, Walter is more than willing to step into his shoes, call the shots and bask in his own brilliance. But as the episode begins – not counting the head scratcher of a cold open – Walter isn’t quite ready to be the king he wants to be. There are still loose ends he needs to tie up.
After disposing all the evidence of his showdown with Gus, Walter tries to savor his victory and talk to Skyler, only for him to realize he forgot about the surveillance cameras in the lab set to keep an eye on Jesse and him whenever they were cooking. The realization comes a little too late since Hank and the rest of the DEA have already found the torched lab and deduced it was likely monitored. The pace at which Walter and Jesse scramble to try and figure out a way to get the footage out of the hands of the cops is quick, with the two of them quickly meeting up with Mike – did anyone else laugh hysterically at Mike feeding those chickens and talking to them? – and explaining to him their dire need of his help, and vice versa. What I’m looking forward to most this season is these three working together. Mike and Walter do not get along one bit, but Jesse looks up to both of them. That tug-o-war of father figures should be interesting to watch, especially as Walter heads going down a darker and darker path.
As much as this episode is about Walter getting closer to being the king, it’s also about showing how far Jesse has come. While Walter is making suggestions of using a remote controlled incendiary device to destroy Gus’s laptop that’s locked up in evidence, Jesse suggests using a magnet. It’s a simple idea; Walter should’ve been able to come up with it. But Jesse gets all the credit, and you can really see – and hear – his excitement when they test out their plan and it works perfectly. I think even Mike had to admit the plan was looking pretty good. In fact, despite a funny moment when Walt gives the magnet too much power and their van almost tilts onto its side, the plan goes off without a hitch, destroying the laptop and all the camera footage on it. Walter, Jesse and Mike get away without anyone seeing them, leaving nothing standing in Walter’s way.
As soon as this little mission is over, you can immediately see the change in Walter. Nothing can tie him to Gus and it gives me a sense of invincibility. His smugness over this small victory is so clear even Jesse can see it, giving him a look of worry. Just who is Walter becoming? A terrifying madman seems like a good guess. Fear and intimidation are going to be his weapons from now on, and he uses them on Saul and Skyler soon afterward. When Saul explains why Skyler took the money and gave it to Ted – and why nobody bothered to consult Walter on any of this – Saul attempts to end his dealings with Walter, but that’s not going to happen “We’re done when I say we’re done,” is a Walter line I will not soon forget, right up there with “I am the one who knocks.” This was blatant intimidation, and while it was powerful, it wasn’t near as chilling as Walter’s final interaction with Skyler before the episode comes to an end.
Ted is incapacitated in a hospital after his brush with death. It looks like he broke his neck, but survived and is now almost unrecognizable, his head shaved, his eyes hollow, and steel rods holding his head in place. He’s a man afraid for his life. He tried to run from Skyler and Saul’s thugs and look what happened to him. He tells Skyer, who visits him, that he will never breathe a word of the money for the sake of his family. It may not have been intentional, but Skyler put as much fear in Ted as Walter has put in her. So when Walter hears about what has happened to Ted, he decides to forgive Skyler. He approaches her, embraces her, and whispers those words, “I forgive you.” Shivers went down my spine. What would have happened if this new empowered Walter hadn’t been forgiving?
And finally, the cold open. Set some time in the future, Walter has a beard and a full head of hair and a trunk full of weapons. All of what we see means little for now, it just gives us something to work toward, much like the pink bear in Season 2. We have something to look forward to, not that we needed it. Every episode of Breaking Bad is so excellent in its own right; they serve to stir up enough excitement for the new episodes just by airing. “Live Free or Die” was great in the way it continued where we left off from Season 4 while still telling a standalone story. The post-Gus world is strange and dangerous, but it’s also thrilling and intoxicating.