TV Talk: BREAKING BAD 5.01: “Live Free Or Die”

BREAKING BAD is back! And it turns out maybe Walt isn't such a nice guy after all... more spoilers like that (except actually spoilers) in the post!

I've talked to a lot of people recently who told me that they know someone who had to stop watching Breaking Bad somewhere around season 2 or 3. Not because the show isn't fucking amazing, of course, but because they thought it was toooo intense and that all of that suspense and "holy fuck why is this so bleak" energy was just not how they wanted to spend the last few conscious hours of their weekend before going back to the Monday morning grind. Fair enough.

After the great line at the end of last season, "I won," - a line repeated when Walt is talking to Skyler on the phone at the real beginning of the episode - an inexperienced Breaking Bad viewer may have thought that sort of never-ending tension was gone. Nope. Walter may have seen to it that Gustavo was killed, but he forgot about all the lab security camera footage that now lives on his laptop, and so tonight's episode was a classic heist flick, with Walt, Jesse and Mike teaming up like a ragtag Ocean's Three to ensure that evidence is destroyed before Hank can make everything come toppling down.

So those of us smart enough to know that bleak desperate shit is the perfect way to spend a Sunday night were, as usual, treated to one of the finest hours of television ever. We'll be doing a lot more fully thought out TV Talk posts about this season as it continues, but as we're still making our ways back from Comic-Con (and still have more to say about the Con, too!) this week's TV Talk will be smaller and we can continue more of this discussion in the comments. But here are some things I wanna keep talking about:

1) Flash Forwards in General

How do you guys feel about the flash forward beginning for the season? Obviously this has been done before on this show, most notably in season 2 with the teddy bear and the pool or whatever, which was a great piece of confusion for viewers who like being confused for confusion's sake. But as I've said before, I hate that kind of J.J. Abrams lazy storytelling.

The episode started and all I could think as I saw a fully bearded, no longer bald Walt was, "WTF? Did they really skip ahead months and months from that awesome season finale last year? What kind of Mad Men shit IS this?" Then the opening credits scrolled and it flashed back to "the present" and I remembered that Gilligan likes pretending like he's writing a shitty Mission: Impossible movie intro from time to time. I just hope we don't have to see some other clip from that "future" time before the credits of everything this season. I get it. Later on, Walt will be living in New Hampshire under a new name and then he'll have to come back and buy guns or whatever. But my brain just registers that as a spoiler inside the show.

I know I may be alone in that, and tonight was especially fun because Meredith and I got to watch this episode together and she TOTALLY disagrees with me and my hatred for flash forwards on Breaking Bad. But I still wasn't convinced that there's ever been a time when a flash forward actually improved a story. Meredith will undoubtedly pick up this thread later and take me back to film school, though, and I look forward to that. Until then? FUCK FLASH FORWARDS.

2) "Keys, Scumbag."

My favorite thing in this episode is the relationship between Walt, Jesse and Mike. Walt is cleaning up his own mess, and he is using the same sort of reality distortion machine that Steve Jobs once used to bend everything to his will. Jesse is responding to that and trying to get Mike to understand that Walt is "good at this stuff." Mike has seen all of this shit before and is trying to convince Jesse to just leave town, but he still gets drawn into Walt's charisma and helps them break into the police station with their clearly-a-U-Haul-truck-with-no-U-Haul-branding-on-it vehicle, and he seems to be falling in line when Walt tells him that their plot worked because he says so. That moment was incredible, with Walt turning Mike out like Iceberg Slim, and I can't wait to see what happens to the three of them his season.

Will Mike become Walt's big threat? Will there be no threat for Walt because Walt will become the threat to Jesse instead?  I have no idea, and I just can't wait to watch it all come together.

3) Is Skyler Fucked?

This was a great episode for Skyler. Damn. First she respects the reality that now that Walt has killed Gus she can bring her family back home. But that also means she has to come to terms with how scared she is of her husband now that she fully realizes what he's capable of. Then Ted wakes up, and when she goes to see him in the hospital her first feelings seem to be nothing but regret and remorse and realization that she is fully responsible for the broken man she sees before her. He's wearing all sorts of braces but he's fully conscious and still doesn't look at her, forcing her to ask, "Ted, can you hear me?" before he responds. She thinks it's because he hates her for causing all of that pain and suffering, then when he tells her he won't tell anybody anything she realizes that he's simply terrified, and she pivots on a dime. "Good," she says. And then BOOM - in that moment she pretty much becomes as much of a villain as Walt and she realizes what SHE'S capable of.

Will Ted change his mind? Will Walt use this as an excuse to kill him? Will Skyler become the main villain of the season as she develops a cold heart and Walt tries to hold her accountable for the money she gave Ted? And while it's already been said that AMC's thing used to be shows about middle aged men who have wives who get pregnant at really inopportune times (Don with Betty, Walt with Skyler, Rick with Lori, and so on), seeing Ted in the hospital made me think that their new thing is taking previously handsome middle aged men and putting them in hospitals and then wheelchairs.

Hopefully someone out there is making some Ted Beneke / Darren Richmond fan fic right now. Or maybe I've just been in San Diego too long.

4) "That's Not on the Manifest."

When Jesse's suggestion to use a magnet to destroy the evidence on Gustavo's computer actually works, it also dislodges a photo from a frame, causing the officer who works the lock up to see what appears to be a routing number or something for an offshore bank account that "wasn't on the manifest." This will undoubtedly be one of the devices that keeps the tension going as Hank sees this evidence and uses that account to find more information that gets him closer to discovering Walt's identity.

But while I really hope that we do get to see Hank at least discover Walt this season, that method of revealing more information felt a little too contrived, and that moment pulled me out of the show. Am I alone on that?

5) "I forgive you."

Oh shit, Skyler is fucked. And Walter is terrifying. And that is awesome.

All right, let's keep this conversation going in the comments, and we'll all be back with more posts next week, too. Because we're done when I say we're done.