Monday, July 23, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Live Free Or Die"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Jon: Gatorade me, bitches! Another season of Breaking Bad is upon us, and sadly, it will be the last. At least AMC has split the 5th season into two parts, so it'll be a while until we reach the end, leaving us plenty of time to savor each glorious moment left. The Mad Men roundtables earlier this year were a lot of fun for us and, judging by the increased spike in the site's traffic, enjoyed by many of you out there as well. Thus, we're planning doing something similar for our favorite meth dealers. Let's get to it.

Is there another show with better cold opens than Breaking Bad? If this season follows the pattern of the last few, we'll continue to follow these future adventures of one Walter White as Vince Gilligan and company slowly reveal them out for us to parse over. We start out with one of the show's staples -- breakfast -- but it's immediately clear that something is amiss as Walt Jr. is nowhere to be seen anywhere in the vicinity of this plate of eggs and bacon. We quickly learn that Walt  isn't there to celebrate his 52nd birthday, but rather to covertly meet up with the black market arms dealer (played by the great Jim Beaver) who sold him that pistol in a hotel room last season. In the clandestine paradise that is a Denny's restroom, he and Walt exchange a fat envelope for a set of keys. These keys open up a new set of wheels for Mr. White, complete with ginormous rifle for who-knows-what. Clearly some length of time has past since current events, as in addition to the return of Walt's hair, he's sporting a thick beard, glasses and is using a fake New Hampshire i.d. This being this show, I'm sure we'll learn things didn't go so hot for Walt and his "current" plans, and he's now forced to take matters into his own hands in predictably extreme measures. Who knows where this will all lead, but I suspect a familiar face will staring down at the other end of that barrel soon enough.

But just as our appetites were whetted by that little tease of the future as much as the glimpses of a Denny's Grand Slam platter, we're re-winded back to the close of season 4, with Walt assuring Skyler on the phone that the war with Gus is over and that he's won (not that she actually knew that was what the security detail was for, but you get my drift). If there was any doubt left that Walt was behind poor little Brock's poisoning last year, it all evaporated as we watched him clear away all signs of his concoction of the toxin from the house, including the Lily of the Valley plant where the powder was derived from. And just as he's about to enjoy some celebratory booze for a crime well covered up, it dawns on him that even after disposing of the poison evidence, killing Gus and setting Gus' lab aflame that there's one loose end -- the security cameras recording their every move. And only one person left knows where those recordings were kept -- Mike, our favorite hitman.

If you recall, Mike had been critically wounded during the Don Eladio massacre and was left in Mexico to recover. He's mostly healed now, living a simple life of feeding chicken in a bathrobe. After getting wind that Gus has been blown to bits, his fury overcomes him and nearly takes down Walt at first sight. Unfortunately for Walt, Jesse and Mike (who are essentially the only three left with anything left to worry about in this), during his inspection of the torched meth lab Hank has also realized that there was likely a security footage feed of the inner workings of the room broadcast somewhere. Only the realization that the existence of this footage could ruin them calms him enough to put aside his murderous rage for the time being, listen to Jesse's pleas and reluctantly work with Walt.

And what's misery for them is a treat for us, as they hatch a plan to eliminate this threat. After establishing they can't just waltz into the precinct and swipe the laptop from the evidence room, an idea emerges from Jesse's infinite wisdom in the "so crazy it just may work" variety -- magnets, yo! And before you assume that a magnet couldn't possibly strike their mark behind two feet of reinforced concrete, keep in mind we live in an age of String Theory and God Particles, so really any cockamamie idea can't be ignored or realized with the power of science behind it. The solution is no mere magnet, however. It's super electro-magnet! With a scheme devised with Old Joe (our favorite junkyard man last seen in season 3) that would make Reed Richards a little jealous, the crew cobbles together a ridiculous amount of batteries to power the junkyard's giant, car-transporting magnet, store it in an old U-Haul truck and park it outside the wall of the evidence room. Let's just say hi-jinks ensue, and it's a safe bet at this point that the hard drive on that laptop is dunzo. (Would it work in real life? Experts seem skeptical, which is close enough to a "yes" for me.)

Ah, but things are never that simple, are they? As the police department re-categorizes the items in evidence room, an old framed photo of Gus and his deceased lover is revealed to have been damaged. Normally this wouldn't be much of anything to take note of, but the astute evidence room officer notices that were a series of words and numbers hidden behind it. Methinks this looks an awful lot like some offshore Cayman Island bank accounts that Mr. Fring had his excess cash tucked away. Before long, our old friend Hank will be following that lead back to Walt and company.

Can you tell I liked this episode? I haven't even mentioned Saul or Skyler yet! But they had plenty to do too (in fact, aside from Marie who didn't appear, Jesse was probably played the least key role this week out of our regulars). Saul drops in on Skyler at the carwash, warning her that the authorities may similarly pay her a visit about Ted. I for one assumed Ted's demise before Huell and Bill Burr last year was the final black comedy moment for the character, but it turns out he survived. Skyler visits him in the hospital, where he appears to have little left to live for considering most of the rest of his life was in shambles before his fall. He still has his kids, however, and pledges to Skyler that he'll never breathe a word of this to the police. It's then that Skyler realizes he's completely horrified by and frightened of her, and basically will do whatever she asks. In a flash, she turns on that same steely, calculated strength Walt channels in this situations over the very real grief she was expressing moments before and simply tells him, "Good."

Later, Walt pays a visit to Saul at his wonderfully over-the-top office (it still cracks me up every time a scene takes place there), where he learns of the Ted situation including the $600K of his money Skyler used to pay him off. A furious Walt stares down Saul into submission after he attempts to quit their business relationship, a moment that's a little hard to believe the man from season 1 would be capable of. Walt's creepy, subdued anger is also dished out on Skyler in the final scene of the episode, where he tells her, "I forgive you." But even though he tells her this in regards to giving Ted the money without his permission, that it happens during a very awkward embrace is all the more chilling. I mean, I'm pretty sure Fredo Corleone wet himself when he heard that line. Just as Saul cow-tows to Walt's wishes out of fear, Skyler is scared too. After the events of "Face Off" to close out season 4, it's not hard to envision just how far Walt would go again if they were to incur his wrath. They both know Walt is no longer a man of half measures, and should rightfully be terrified of him.

So I'm not crazy, right? This episode kicked a lot of ass even if it was chock full of exposition and table setting for the remainder of the show's run. Thoughts? Predictions!

Mike: It's my son's birthday today, and on top of that, I had Internet accessibility problems, but all excuses aside, it's going to have to be brief and to-the-point this week.  So, without any further ado, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of "Breaking Bad," season five:

- What a cold open!  Nice to see Jim Beaver again, and I love his signoff – "Good luck, I guess."  Though a little Internet magic, I was reminded that it was Walt's 50th birthday in the pilot episode.  Which makes this scene, well, exactly two years in the future – as long as Walt's fake ID birthday is the same as his real one.  (Which strikes me as a really bad idea, now that I'm thinking about it.)  We don't know the circumstances that Walt is in, though unless Vince Gilligan completely drops the ball we eventually will.  He's sick again, he's got his hair back, and a beard, and is very clearly not wearing a wedding ring.  He's not up to any good, though he does leave his waitress a very generous tip.

I notice the Heisenberg Swagger is not there in this cold open.  Walt is hunched over, defeated, not quite the "Mr. Chips" of season one, but also not the promised "Scarface" that I'm sure we'll be seeing this entire season.  Events must have taken place to really cut Walt down.  He's getting ready for something that even he isn't sure he'll see the other side of.  But not to worry -- we're seeing Heisenberg's head get just about as inflated as possible in the "present time" segments of the program.  Now, I don't expect a glimpse into the future every episode, because they've already done this in the second season of this fine program.  I wouldn't complain if it became a regular feature most weeks, though.

- I was a little taken aback by how much Jesse is on Walt's side again.  I know that in his eyes, he is has been redeemed to a large degree – mainly because he doesn't know what the audience, if they have been paying any attention at all, knows.  Especially when you take into account the standoff scene with Mike near the beginning of the episode, Jesse is the only reason that Walt doesn't have a gaping hole in his forehead.  (Thinking of that, it also applies to many of the previous seasons as well!)

- Look, Mike's not going to be able tolerate Walt for long, no matter how much he may have come to respect Jesse as a partner.

- I'll say it right now, which isn't to say that it's probably not obvious to even the most casual of "Breaking Bad" viewers: Walt's pride will be his downfall.  I could tangibly feel his blood boil as Walt Jr. glorified his uncle's crimefighting skills in the living room scene.  It's been proposed (on the Internet only, mind you) that Walt Jr.'s inevitable fate lies on the floor of a squalid meth den, ironically telegraphing the efforts of his father.  I don't think that's really going to happen, but it sure would be interesting, to say the least.

- In only the sequentially most recent instance of Walt's pride getting the better of him, he pushes the electromagnet too far, which perhaps takes care of the little laptop problem, but also unwittingly creates a new arena for Hank and his cohorts to investigate -- that of Gus' illegal holdings in a simultaneously Swiss and Cayman Island bank.  If Walt hadn't nudged the power just that much further, he might have been home free, at least for the time being.  But as usual, he is his own worst enemy, and that will ultimately be what does him in.  I don't know how it's going to happen, but I honestly can't wait to see it.

- The final image of Walt, embracing his estranged wife clearly against her will and "absolving" her of her wrongdoing, will stick with me for a while.  But even more horrifying, and nightmare-inducing, is the Ted Beneke hospital scene.  Man, did that guy look awful!  And Skylar's cold, no-nonsense response to his promise that he will not breathe a word about her shady financial dealings indicates to me that she's not so different from her husband, at least not where it really counts.  I'll really be looking forward to seeing her circle the toilet along with Walt this season.

- My prediction: it's going to be a real bloodbath!

See you next week!


Denny said...

Nice review. I loved the open of the season premiere. Pretty scary to think about what is going to happen to get Walt to that point over the next few months.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Denny. Yeah, it sure looks like there's a world of hurt on the horizon for him no matter what.