Jul 162012

“Walter White, Shit Magnet.”

I wrote those four words on my legal pad while I was watching the scene in Live Free or Die, the Breaking Bad premiere, while I was watching all the metal objects in the APD’s evidence room fly off their shelves and stick to the wall, behind which was parked Walt’s latest homebrewed diabolical contraption: A junkyard truck filled with powerful magnets, set up to suck all the meth-lab security-camera information out of the hard drive of Gus Fring’s Samsung laptop, which the APD is holding as evidence in his killing. At first glance, Live Free or Die seems like a relatively low-key opener, especially compared to S4’s grisly premiere, Box Cutter, and the frenzied final episodes of S4: no death, no imminent threats, no blood, no explosions, no poisoning, no weapons brandished (edited to add: okay, maybe ONE weapon brandished). But although Walt and Jesse and Mike have apparently gotten away with their destroy-the-laptop scheme, there are clues throughout LFOD that wherever Walter goes, stuff will be sticking to him, and everyone surrounding him.

Take that cold opening, for instance. Walt is in a Denny’s (not the same one he and Jesse ate in at the end of Box Cutter), calling back to Skyler making a “50” on Walt’s birthday breakfast plate with veggie bacon in the pilot by having Walt make a “52” with the greasy pork bacon on his plate, then presenting the waitress with a fake New Hampshire driver’s license to get his birthday meal comped. Only now Walt not only has a phony name and backstory, but a whole new look: darker, fuller hair, a full beard, hip emo glasses, baggy jacket. And he’s there to buy an M60 hidden in the trunk of a beater car with a New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” license plate from his old friend Lawson the gun dealer. (On re-watch, I realized the LFOD plate was on Walter’s own car, not the beater.) He’s taking meds in the bathroom and coughing. All righty then. Since a little under a year has elapsed between the pilot and the S4 finale, it looks like Walt has lived an entire year since then, though he doesn’t seem to be doing so hot health-wise, and is planning to blow someone (or something) into little tiny poison-berry-sized bits. Hoo-wee, here we go, buckle your belts!

Not so fast. Turns out that’s just a flash-forward; the very next scene takes up immediately after the events of Face Off, starting with a repeat of Walt telling Skyler over the phone, “I won,” when she asks him if he had something to do with Gus’s death (which is already all over the news). With his family coming home at any moment, Walt moves quickly to destroy all the evidence of making the wheelchair bomb and cultivating the lily of the valley berries that made Brock sick. Walter Jr. is pumped, crowing that his uncle Hank is going to be “a hero, even more than before” for exposing Gus, but Skyler is flat-out terrified of what her (ex?) husband has become, and even tells him so.

But Walt doesn’t have much time to think about his family’s image of him; he has to get a hold of Mike, who has just been released from the Mexican hospital he was taken to after the cartel shootout in Salud, and enlist his help in destroying the contents of Gus’s security cameras, which could get them all in neck-deep fryer oil if the APD gets a hold of it. This is no mean feat, considering that Mike very much wants to kill Walt and only refrains from doing so because Jesse places himself between them as a human shield. Whew. (Talk about your deliberate storytelling; since Jesse was told at the time of Mike’s hospitalization that Mike would be staying there “a week,” that means only a week has gone by since the shootout at the end of Salud, episode 410, and the events of LFOD.)

Meanwhile, in other big news: Ted’s not dead! He’s alive, and he’s sentient, and he’s sporting a shaved head (yet another one for the men on this show!) and a nasogastric tube. And not wanting his family to find out about what he’s done, he tells Skyler, “I’ll never breathe one word of this,” assuring her without rancor that he’s told everyone he had a simple trip-and-fall at home. Walt, however, is hopping mad that Skyler spent some 680K of his meth fortune on Ted’s back taxes, even after Saul tells him Skyler did it to keep the IRS out of Walt’s hair. And what’s more, Saul reveals (to us) that it was indeed Huell, his henchman, who took the ricin cigarette from Jesse at Walt’s request so that Jesse would think Gus had poisoned Brock, but that nobody from Saul’s office had any involvement in or knowledge of Walt’s plan to make a six-year-old boy violently-but-not-fatally ill with poison berries. (So how the hell did Walt get Brock to eat those berries, anyway? They’re never going to tell me, are they?) Saul, completely disgusted with Walt, tries to wash his hands of Walt as a client, but Walt — growing smugger and cockier by the moment — growls at Saul menacingly, “We’re through when I say we’re through.”

And that’s really what this episode is about: Walt spreading his peacock feathers to the width of the city limits, certain he can do no wrong, certain that no one will ever be able to tell him “no” ever again. He outwitted one of the world’s most brilliant criminal masterminds and got a former Mexican cartel boss to act as a suicide bomber; he has completely bamboozled his son and his Heisenberg-obsessed brother-in-law; and he has Skyler completely cowed. His last words to her? “I forgive you.” Skyler is surely no saint, but her wrongdoings don’t have a body count attached to them like Walt’s do. And she’s the one who should feel guilty? That look on Skyler’s face during that final embrace shows a woman who knows she’s trapped, someone who knows she should have fled when the fleeing was good, even it meant engineering an exit worthy of Lucinda Williams’ “Changed the Locks,” but chose the protection of Walt’s reputation as a hero to her son over her own safety. Can Walt really get away with it forever? He does, after all, spend his 52nd birthday in a Denny’s alone, coughing and waiting to buy a machine gun under an assumed name. Something tells me it’s not going to be that easy.


  42 Responses to “Recap: Breaking Bad 501, Live Free or Die”

  1. Excellent job with the bacon, Meowser. Skyler may not have a body count, but I think Ted would say she is very much a part of this–he isn’t in his current situation without Skylar’s involvement. I thought Ted brought up his kids to assure Skyler that he knew that if they would come after him, then they would come after his kids, too.

    A glimpse of the final episode with a much changed WW coughing, taking medicine, sporting a new doo and buying a big whup’in ass machine gun. Everybody do yourself a favor—puchase the ticket and take the ride.

  2. Walt’s “because I said so” was almost funny coming right after he nearly screwed up the whole thing with the magnets, but that “we’re through when I say we’re through” was full-on scary. He’s not just putting on the tough guy mask in order to get by anymore: The mask is becoming the man.

  3. This was the first episode I watched “live” (all the others involved fast-paced DVD flips).

    This episode was very satisfying – enough that I don’t regret waiting until Sunday for the next installment. It served as a nice place setter (Fring’s numbered Cayman account, un-revealed evidence from his office and home, Mike’s anger toward Walt, Walt’s reborn hubris and willingness to commit mayhem, Ted as a loose end).

    I saw fear in Ted when he assured Skyler that he would never tell the whole truth about his fall. He wanted to make sure she wouldn’t send her goons to finish the job he spastically started (a Mike specialty – does Saul know about Mike?)

    Of course, the big (known) loose end was Laptop de Gustavo.

    The laptop implies another loose end – backups with more incrimination – however, I doubt that Gilligan will try to suck anymore juice out of that.

    We willingly disregard how careful Gus was – surely the laptop was protected with not only passwords but strong encryption – how easy would it be for a $7/hr minion to snag it while Gustavo was busing tables? This begs the question – would the NSA have been willing (or able) to crack the easy-to-obtain-very-strong-encryption available to anyone in 2008-09? Perhaps so, given that it was connected with a $10-million meth lab.

    • ..Laptop de Gustavo..

      Gustavo didn’t go to the clouds of heaven,
      but his laptop’s backup data just might be in the clouds.

      Someone other than Walt could think of this, get internet service provider logs for the relevant IP address and computer ID’s. Oh the irony if Walt’s son is good with computers and helps the investigation.

      • “his (Gus’) laptop’s backup data just might be in the clouds.”

        My reaction is “no way did he store anything incriminating on a remote server”. That would be very much out of character.

        Dramatically, I’d be surprised if the writers go there. There are plently of less esoteric hazards that they could (will) throw up for Walt, Jesse, Skyler, and Mike (if they choose for Mike).

    • I’m just watching BB once and then deleting it, so I’m bound to miss some significant stuff. What was the reference to Fring’s bank account? That went right by me, I guess.

      • When the APD cops were investigating the damage after the MagnetMobile, one of the items they picked up was a framed photo of Gus and Max, and with the frame damaged, a Swiss bank account number was visible in the upper left corner.

        • Thanks. I remember the photo now, but didn’t really pick up on its significance at the time.

    • I saw fear in Ted when he assured Skyler that he would never tell the whole truth about his fall.

      Very, very much agree. I loved the way that scene was shot: the damage to Ted and the naked terror on his face; the words he spoke to Sky (“I have children”); her realization that he was not angry at all, but deeply afraid of her, and the moment when she accepted that role.

      “Good,” she said.

      Now she’s The One Who Knocks, herself

      • There’s a great deal of attention to the Walt arc and the Jesse arc. The Skyler arc is striking – the Car Wash queen is such a contrast to the pregnant mom.

        I’d say that she is willing to adopt the veneer of the One Who Knocks – more willing than to actually knock (Huell, for a price, with Saul as liason, will knock). I don’t see a garrott in her future.

      • “Now she is the one who knocks”–go on with your bad self Ann B. I have seen articles that all but give Skylar a “get out of jail free card”. She is very much involved. She is just not cooking books, she is sending goons to Ted’s house. She knows what WW does for a living. She understands the price meth puts on addicts and their families/friends thru Hank’s stories. She runs an illegal money laundering car wash. Saying, “well, she is not as bad as WW” just doesn’t cut it with me. She had her chance to get out, tell Hank, and make a deal. She didn’t. She stayed. Decisions, actions, consequences. This is why I think baby Holly ends up with Hank and Marie when the machine gun fire smoke clears.

        • Walt’s flash forward “little friend” in the trunk – sure looks like a dark and desparate circumstance will get darker. Anna’s lawyer told her…

          • I agree JG. Gilligan’s biggest fear was that it would get so dark that people wouldn’t want to watch. Cranston’s ability to show the good and bad of WW enabled fans to pull for him. WW is now completely Scarface and is looking to make things with his “little friend.”

            Is it WW’s renewal or a last act of a power hungry crazed man with nothing to lose?

  4. Questions re: Opening Teaser

    1. Did Walt call the vacuum repairman to become Lambert?
    2. Who, other than Walt, is still alive?
    3. Who is going to meet Walt’s little friend?
    4. Are the pills for cancer?
    5. No wedding band – no Skylar?
    6. What’s in the gym bag?
    7. Is this the opening scene of S5.16?
    8. Live Free or Die – homage to Vito Spatafore or Johnnie Cakes?

    • Now I wish I hadn’t deleted the episode so quickly. I want to go back and rewatch the opening.

    • FrankBullitt, good catch on the wedding band! I don’t think we’ve ever seen him take it off before.

      And since he was coughing in the bathroom, then yeah, I’d guess the meds were cancer meds.

    • If he called vacuum cleaner guy that means Skyler and the baby, are gone baby gone from his life.

      ‘Who is still alive’? Whoa. Didn’t think about that one. The body count needle seems to be pointed UP.
      Who would seek to avenge Gus? Did he have anybody but Mike left?

      The last 6 eps of S4 starting with Hermanos, offered a turbulent brilliance that was a complex black box of hell. So great, that they will be the reason BB finally wins Best Drama at the Emmys.

      • I don’t know, i found the last handful of episodes required more than a little suspension of disbelief. The intricracies papered over huge gaps, from the ricin cigarette to the lily of the valley berries and well beyond. The show has been threatening to degenerate into pulp fiction, and it wobbled on the edge there for me. Lots of thrills though.

        As for Skyler, I hope she shoots Walt in the face. Or Jesse shoots Walt in the face. Or better yet, Walt Jr. shoots Walt in the face.Best; Hank shoots Walt in the face, while Walt Jr. cheers him on.

        • Agree with the Lilly of the Valley bit. It did strain credibility. The cigarette was explained. The well beyond? Are you referring to how that bomb was slipped by Tyrus? Gus’ gleefully vengeful wipeout of the entire cartel? Hank being the only one to ‘get’ Pollos Hermanos and its owner as the front for blue glass?
          Would love for you to amplify on your perceptive analysis.

          • You meant, while FLYNN cheers him on.

          • He hasn’t called himself Flynn in a long while – like most of last season.

          • “Are you referring to how that bomb was slipped by Tyrus? Gus’ gleefully vengeful wipeout of the entire cartel? Hank being the only one to ‘get’ Pollos Hermanos and its owner as the front for blue glass?”


            You know, I really think Hank may suspect Walt, if not know. But it’s tricky territory dramatically. Some sort of “I knew it all along” or lengthy explanation would be out of character for this show.

            I trust, trust Vince to get the ending right for this show. But the end of Season 4 made me worry about it for the first time; fan service, or just abandoning the more difficult character insights and moral consequences the show does so well. I guess I’m fully invested in the trip too.

            Your praise for the last 6 episodes is making me watch them again Tilden. Thank you for that.

        • The ricin can be made from castor oil manufacturing waste. It can also be made from the plant. Walt soaked a cig, gave it to Jesse. Jesse carried it around and then went to a meeting with Saul. Jesse gets searched by Huell and protests it b/c it was the 1st time he had been searched–very important. The search was to get the ricin cig. That is also why in this episode Saul bitched about Huell’s big fingers.

          All parts of the Lily of the Valley are poisonous including the red berries that children eat. Walt had a plant at his home with a teenage son who I am sure has been told not to eat any plant without asking his whole life. I don’t know if we will ever learn how Walt got the plant to be ingested by Jesse’s girlfriend’s son.

          BB’s Vince Gilligan has an organic chemist on retainer that he not only asks, “is this possible”, but also asks, “how would you do this?” She is very, very good. She came up with Walt’s process for the blue meth.

          Tio’s bomb: Remember, nobody but Gus and his people were to know about Tio. Walt had to make Jesse tell him all he knew about Gus and where he goes. That is how he learned about the retirement home andTio. Tio, was kept alive by Gus as torture for killing his partner (lover?). I would think that Gus’ man would not check the wheel chair since Tio can’t arm himself and has no contacts to plan a ambush with, or so Gus thought.

          Finally, Gilligan has said that he will remain true to the show. He sold the show as Mr Chips to Scarface. I think he has come too far to change now. Also, Hank sees Walt as Mr Chips and Mr Chips wouldn’t do anything like meth mfr and distribution. A genius set up this stuff and my brother in law is a high school science teacher is what Hank keeps telling himself. But, Ray, you are right. Somewhere in his subconscious Hank knows.

          I hope this helps explain somethings. Whether fans buy in or not is up to them. TWD had shooting zombies from the back of moving pick ups. MM had Joan sleeping her way to a partnership. I have no problem with anybodies’ opinion on either of these. Enjoy BB. I do.

          • I’m ALL in on Breaking Bad. This is the finest production on TeeVee today. I’m not complaining in the slightest.

    • In ascending order of importance (IMO)

      5. No wedding band – no Skylar?

      I hadn’t noticed that, but it seems too crucial a detail to be inadvertent. I’d bet yes.

      4. Are the pills for cancer?

      The coughing made me think that they are.

      2. Who, other than Walt, is still alive?

      Once I realized it was a flash-forward, that was the big question for me. Most shrewd of them not to show us anyone else. Does anyone besides Walt survive?

      3. Who is going to meet Walt’s little friend?

      I hadn’t thought of that at all, but it may be the biggest question of all, tying back to the previous question. Who else is still alive who might be Walt’s target? If this is indeed the opening of the series’ final episode it would be a final showdown with… who? Hank? Jesse??? Yikes!

      • And if Skyler is gone, I say good riddance. Her escalating fear is constricting Walt’s new jacket of uberconfidence. He can provide for them at a distance. Good for Skyler, not good for Walt.
        Walt’s at a place where his family, or consolodating his power is no choice at all.
        Skyler will grow to be a liability to him as she could crack and spill to Hank.
        Wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Heisenburg popped Skyler. The ultimate evil.
        You think Walt has forgiven her for (I). (F).ucked (T).ed? Unh-huh.

      • My five cents goes to Hank – the complexities of their relationship and their murderous potential and potential ambivalence toward each other would make for a great final showdown.

    • Ok kiddies – Bonus question:

      Does Walt’s wallet have “Bad Mother F*cker” on it?

      I share TK’s trepidation and Mel’s suspicion that everyone may be dead, gone or in the witness protection program. Walter White is the embodiment of a Pyrrhic victory.

    • Great questions, Frank. I too wondered how far into the BB future we were looking:

      7. Is this the opening scene of S5.16?

      I thought (read: “hoped”) we might be closer to Episode 8 in that flash-forward … but thinking back on it, there is a draggy darkness to that scene, a sort of end-of-the-road desperation. Agree: I see many deaths waiting in the wings this season. I think that was what Mike meant when he kept telling Jesse to cut his losses and leave.

      Finally: no, Walt’s wallet doesn’t have “Bad Mother F*cker” on it. Walt is not Jules, he’s not Shaft, and he’s sure as hell not the Shepherd. He is The Tyranny Of Evil Men.

      And he knows it, I bet.

      • Spoken like a true prodigy :-).

        • Walt is the RIGHTEOUS man. And Mr. monster machine gun is protecting his righteous ass through the valley of darkness.

      • Not only does Walt know it, he loves it. His power trip is the ultimate high for Walt. He is the King.

        I thought the opening scene was for episode 16 or certainly near the end of the series. Just a guess.

  5. I watched BB Season 4 last week for the first time. I kind of had the same reaction to S4 BB as I did to S5 MM. The quality of the first 3 BB seasons for me was pretty much consistently excellent as were S1-4 of MM, but there was kind of a lull during the middle third or so of S4 BB. I don’t recall exactly which episodes since I didn’t rewatch them, but I found myself wishing that some of the less action-oriented stuff with people turning on each other (if I remember the plot correctly) be something like 10 minutes as it would be in a movie instead of 3-4 episodes.

    Then, things picked up for me again as they did with the end of S5 MM. Did anyone else have this kind of reaction? Just wondering.

  6. Btw, Meowser, enjoyed your recap, especially the ‘shit magnet’ comments.

    The magnet plot twist brought me back to a movie I enjoyed in the 80’s, ‘The Big East’. I have a bit of a NOLA fetish like a lot of other people, so I watched that movie a number of times. It had a lot of atmosphere, and good actor chemistry, along with some great lines that stick in my head to this day.

    In TBE, a magnet was placed next to a videotape used as evidence of police corruption in the NOPD evidence room. That’s the only other time I’ve every seen that used as a plot device. Maybe there have been other stories that have used this idea.

  7. About the only bad thing Walt Hasn’t Done is cheat on Skyler. (By the way, the name Skyler sounds as if her parents might have been early 70s hippies. The younger sister, Marie, has a more traditional name. Would be interesting to learn their backstory.)

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