‘Breaking Bad’ Talk: “Live Free or Die”
ScreenCrush.com editor Britt Hayes is joined this week by Jacob Hall and Jenni Miller to discuss the season five premiere of ‘Breaking Bad.’ Jacob is a contributor to ScreenCrush and Movies.com, and you can tweet him @JacobSHall. Jenni’s work has appeared in BUST magazine and a variety of online publications, and you can tweet her @JenniMiller76. You can tweet Britt @MissBrittHayes.
Britt: The season five premiere of ‘Breaking Bad’ starts out by giving us the signature mysterious flash-forward. In this peek at the future we see Walt on his 52nd birthday, alone in a Denny’s, with a full head of hair and shiny new glasses. His driver’s license is a fake, and he’s clearly on the run, as evidenced by the switching of vehicles and that huge gun he purchased. I know we can only speculate at this point, but this cold open seems less vague than previous seasons. I guess the big question is: Who do we think Walt is running from?
Jenni: I think Walt is running from the DEA by then. Or else he’s had a come-to-Jesus moment because something has happened to his family, something that that makes him realize that he lost sight long ago of the real reason he was doing all this. No matter how many horrible things he does, how far he falls into this God complex he has, his family — at the very least, his children — are still his guiding force, in his mind.
In regards to the DEA scenario, Walt is losing control over the people around him. Walt Jr.’s idealization of his uncle is clear, and imagine what he’d do if he found out his dad was behind all this dirt. What if Jr. was the one to bring Walt down after all this time?
Skyler’s actually terrified of Walt by now, and who can blame her? She’s holding a lot of power when it comes to their money-laundering business, but maybe seeing Ted awake could trigger her own moment where she decides to pull the plug on it all.
Jesse is still on Walt’s side for now, but I think Mike could change that. Over the years, Walt’s isolated Jesse as if he were a cult leader, and now that Jesse is getting a taste of his own freedom and some outside influence, it’s possible he will go rogue or get mad enough that he’ll do something that will trigger Walt’s downfall.
Britt: I really think it has something to do with Jesse. The DEA is very possible, but Jacob and I spoke recently about the end of the series, and how we’re certain the only way it could end is with Jesse against Walt — only one of them can walk away from this. Walt has clearly become the villain of his own story, and I love the way that this show has used perspective to manipulate that. We began with Walt as the protagonist, but as the layers have been pulled back and we’ve been granted more perspective from the people around him, we’ve come to understand that Walt is the real bad guy.
Jacob: I think the more appropriate question isn’t who Walt is running from, but rather who is Walt running toward? You don’t buy an M60 machine gun if you’re fleeing an enemy… you buy an M60 machine gun if you want to kill a whole bunch of people as easily as possible. Walt may be in hiding in the very near future, but I think this opening scene suggests that Walt isn’t going to let his burgeoning empire go without a fight. If you’ll allow me to spitball for a moment, maybe Walt is preparing to take down Jesse, who has ousted him from his position of power after learning the truth about Jane and Brock. Then again, I’ve never been able to predict the events on ‘Breaking Bad,’ so I’m not going to break my brain with fan-theories.
But right now, Walt is in a position he’s never been in before: he’s winning. Gus is dead. The cartel is down. The superlab is gone. The crazy magnet plan worked. Walt has always been egomaniacal, but his violent actions have been responses — brutal self preservation. Now that the “bad guys” are dead, Walt has become the bad guy. How scary was Walt “forgiving” Skyler in the final scene? For once, he doesn’t talk in desperate circles, he just makes it very clear how much control he has over her and his family.
Walt has had too many opportunities to walk away and he hasn’t taken them. I’m not so sure if I agree with Jenni that he is still guided by love for his family. Walt is good at this. He likes it. He thrives at it. For once in his life, Walt is in a position where he has the power. His family are just chess pieces in an ever-complicated game. I’ve lost almost all of my sympathy for him and every time I see Skyler and Walter Jr., I just want them to flee as far as possible.
Heck, I also want Mike and Jesse to get away from this walking nightmare of a man, but Team Walt/Jesse/Mike is too much fun for me to seriously wish this. For such a creepy, unnerving hour of TV, it was also surprisingly funny, filled with plenty of laugh out loud moments. What do you two think of this trio? Were you surprised by how much FUN this episode was?
Britt: This episode was totally fun! I loved Jesse trying to suggest they use a magnet to wipe out the hard drive on Gus’ laptop, and his hand motions trying to explain how magnets work. Hey, Juggalos, f—ing magnets, this is how they work! And anything with Mike is always my favorite. Mike and Jesse are, to me, the most fascinating characters, and I’m really curious to see what Mike does now that he’s out from under Gus’ foot.
Jacob: Agree on Mike. He was perfectly content working under Gus and unlike Jesse, whose amiable, loveable stupidity often blinds him to Walt’s machinations, he’s going to want to get the hell out of there.
Jenni: Yeah, see, I have a very difficult time predicting what might happen. When I was catching up with everything, I was texting a friend who had already seen it play-by-play reactions of shock and horror. I love
your point about what he’s running towards. Definitely some big guns.
I think Mike and Jesse are the most interesting by far. And Mike is definitely savvier about the business and less bulls— oriented to deal with whatever Walt is cooking up. I mean, Gus’ outfit had that whole crazy hospital out in the desert. That’s some serious investment. Walt and Jesse will never have anything on that level.
Britt: I’d like to talk for a moment about Walt Jr. (who totally did not eat breakfast this week — boo). When he returns home with Skyler and starts gleefully talking about Gus and the explosion, and more importantly, how Hank will be perceived as this big hero, I love the look on Walt’s face. He can’t let go of that pride! And as the old saying goes, “pride go’eth before the fall.” The biggest problem Walt has always had is his own pride, and he’s never able to just be happy for someone else or accept that someone could — or has — outsmarted him. It would be one thing for him to be concerned about the wrong people discovering his secret, or if he really did have his family in mind (and I agree with Jacob, I don’t think he does anymore — watching him with his own baby felt so disingenuous), but he’s always more concerned with being the best and the smartest under the guise of being careful and considerate.
Jacob: Oh, man. Walt’s pride. There’s something so very Shakespearean about Walter White, so much so that I can’t help but see him as a meth-cooking-Macbeth (MethBeth!). He’s killed the current king, pulled his wife into the mess, and has already started absorbing the kingdom. How long until his own armies turn on him and he finds himself headless? What about the people above Gus? Wasn’t he being funded by a German company? They must not be happy. In any case, Walt’s head may be at an all-time big, but methinks it will soon be underwater.
And Walt Jr. didn’t have breakfast, but Walt did. I could make a joke about Walt Jr. being jealous that he missed a breakfast, but all I could think was “Oh My God This Is A Cryptic Hint That Walter Jr. Is Dead.”
Britt: Or maybe, as my boyfriend just suggested to me, that wasn’t Walt in the opening. That was Walt Jr. in the future! Or sent back in time. He loves his breakfast.
Jenni: HAHAHA, oh god.
You guys are convincing me that Walt doesn’t give a s— about his family any more. I’m not very good at being unwavering in these things. In terms of Walt’s reaction to Walt Jr.’s gushing over his uncle, it’s definitely wounded pride and machismo. He wants to feel like the man of the family, the provider, so generous! The lengths he goes to for them, etc. I don’t think he had access to these feelings before he got into drug-dealing, although I’m sure they were there already.
So many of the things he gets himself and Jesse into are pissing contests. It’s like a serial killer who wants to brag about how great he is, how smart he is, how the police will never catch him.
Britt: Exactly! Walt is such a dangerous guy. I didn’t want to believe he’d fallen that far, but after the poisoning incident with Brock and that Lily of the Valley reveal in last season’s finale, I am firmly anti-Walt. And it seems that Saul is coming around to that, too. Walt’s response to Saul quitting was intense, and I don’t think Walt realizes who he’s messing with. Saul may not have the growling intensity of Walt, but he’s a weasel and he’s smart. He knows how these games are played, and he’s been with Walt from the beginning. Saul is not the guy Walt needs to be stepping to right now.
Jenni: When there was that close-up of the Lily of the Valley, I was texting my friend like a fiend. “WHAT NO WHAT OMG” etc. along the lines of the last two episodes of the first season of ‘Game of Thrones.’
I didn’t give Saul a lot of thought, but I guess that’s the genius of Vince Gilligan and his team because I could see almost any of the major characters being the one who pulls that one string to unravel it all.
Jacob: Walt views himself as criminally (pun intended) overlooked in all aspects of his life. He never got credit for his work at Grey Matter and he’s not getting credit for being a criminal mastermind. He’s a genius, but he’s gone decades without anyone telling him he’s a genius. Walt has to win, but everyone has to know that he won. That meek, weak man we saw in the pilot was the mask that he wore because society doesn’t accept men like Heisenberg. Now that he’s stared death in the face, Walt just doesn’t give a f—. Who is Saul to tell him he’s finished? He beat cancer! He beat Gus!
Do you know why Gus was so successful? Because he didn’t need to be acknowledged. Walt’s desperation, his desire to be seen as a big man to his son and his wife, will take him down. Gus made one mistake: he let Walt into into his life. Mike, Jesse, Saul, Hank and everyone else will soon feel the repercussions. He poisons everyone he comes into contact with.
Britt: I was reading something the other day from Comic Con where Bryan Cranston was talking about Walt and saying that he had become the cancer, and I think that assessment — while sort of reductive — is ultimately the best one to make of Walt’s character. Jacob, I agree with your sentiments about Walt needing the acknowledgment. That is definitely what sets him apart. We saw that quite a bit last season, and the scene with Walt Jr. early in this episode lets us know that this is still the same Walt. No time has elapsed since last season, and it’s a dark little reminder that this guy is still a bad man.
There was a time when I wanted Walt to course correct, but I’m torn now between believing it’s too late (he could never accept any punishment handed down by a court of law) and sort of wanting him to get worse because it has to get worse before it can get better for any of these people. Walt needs to hit rock bottom in the ugliest way, and I’m glad we get to watch that happen, as sick as that may sound.
Jenni: Yeah, I definitely want to see what they come up with and how they see fit to punish him. It’s going to be nasty.
Britt: Let’s talk about my least favorite character: Ted. I really hope this is the last we see of that guy, and I felt sort of guilty for being upset that he was still alive. He’s just such a useless character, and while I appreciate the way it’s gotten Skyler into some trouble of her own and allowed her character to become more dimensional, Ted’s just a smarmy, annoying jerk.
Jacob: I think this is the last we’ll see of him. My first thought after his scene was “Whoa! Breaking Bad has claimed another head of hair!” but my second thought was “Whoa! Skyler totally played along with his expectations and let herself be the menacing villain of the situation!” Skyler White may not be the One Who Knocks yet, but she has no problem letting Ted think that she is.
Jenni: Ted’s pretty boring, although he seems to have served his purpose. Sadly, Skyler’s not that exciting herself lately. Let’s see more Hank!
Jacob: Here’s my Hank conundrum: I want nothing more than to see Hank validated and victorious, to see him proven right. However, Hank winning the day means Walt, Jesse, and Mike probably going to prison for the rest of their lives. You’ve got to love how this show twists and toys with your expectations, getting you on everyone’s side even as they are forced against one another. I even loved Gus right up until he got his face blown off.
Britt: This episode was woefully absent of Hank. I recall a time when I was feverishly yelling at my TV, begging this show to let Walt get away with his evil doings and keep Hank in the dark. Last night, as Hank discovered the cameras in the burned down meth lab, I was shaking my head violently at the TV. My boyfriend asked me why I was shaking my head when Walt is clearly the bad guy and needs to be taken down, and I told him that I was worried about Mike and Jesse. I want them to get away. These men do illegal things, but they’re good in their hearts. Walt is no longer good in his heart, though I wonder if he ever was…
Jacob: Who would have thought that burly, loud, obnoxious Hank would turn out to be a whip-smart detective, a loving uncle, and a sensitive soul? As Walt has grown darker, Hank has been our rock. As he said a few seasons back, “the bad guys get all of the press,” but Hank is our moral grounding. He reminds (and shames!) the audience into realizing that our heroes are usually doing wrong.
Because of this, I don’t expect Hank to survive the season. And I will cry like I lost a family member.
Jenni: I’m a hopeless optimist. I just want Hank to solve his investigation to his own satisfaction — even if that means remaining in the dark on purpose or otherwise overlooking the obvious — and have a nice life. Of course, that’s never gonna happen.
Gus is a juicy character. He started out as a caricature and ended up human. Sure, it’s a great cover to be a philanthropist and upstanding member of the community, but that surely wasn’t just all a front.
Jacob: On a lighter note, did any particular lines of dialogue stand out for you this week? This show is always so sharp, but I think Mike’s “It’s the universal signal for keys, scumbag” belongs in the ‘Breaking Bad’ pantheon.
Britt: “In sixty seconds, we’ll be gone,” and the guy that owns the junkyard doing his little “YES” fist movement in the background. Delightful.
Jenni: Mike is definitely given the most cutting lines these days, although I’ll never get tired of Jesse calling everyone a bitch.
Jacob: “Yeah, bitch! Magnets!” There were two bitches from Jesse last night. I didn’t catch any “yo”‘s. And yes, I’m keeping count this season.
Britt: So am I! I only counted two “bitch” lines as well.
Jacob: To change topics, here’s a question for the two of you (and for anyone reading this): is this your first season watching ‘Breaking Bad’ live instead of on DVD or Netflix? The premiere had record numbers, proving that world of mouth has done its job and tons of people discovered the show over the past year and are tuning in for the first time. If this is your first season watching it as it airs, how does it compare to watching it at home? After marathoning the entire series over the past few weeks with my girlfriend (who had never seen the show before), not being able to watch the next episode RIGHT NOW was incredibly frustrating. One of ‘Breaking Bad”s strength’s is its deliberate pace, where it slowly maneuvers you right where it wants over the course of several episodes. How do you think the show plays when watched live? Do you think it’s more enjoyable when marathoned at home? The show is already one of the most intense things ever filmed and having to wait seven days to see what happens next ups the tension to such an unbearable point that it’s almost not fun anymore (not that it’s going to stop me from watching, or course). What do you think?
Jenni: This is my first time watching it live, and yes, it is really hard to wait. It’s a recent development in my life to have regular shows that I watch or DVR, but I definitely prefer watching series like these in big chunks. It’s also easier for me to get into it and concentrate and keep track of everyone. I had to go look up who Ted was when they mentioned him last night. Just the way my brain works.
Britt: Season four was my first season to watch live, and while it’s always fun to be able to marathon something over the course of the weekend and it allows you a more instant recognition of the way the show is plotted and paced, I have to say I sort of enjoy waiting week to week. It allows more time to digest each episode, and as Jacob says, the show is so deliberately paced to fit with the one episode per week format. Watching it live is watching it the way it was intended to be seen, but there are definite advantages to watching an entire season in one sitting, and the pacing on the show is so brilliant that it works either way.
To close this out, and it’s something we’ve kind of touched on already — what was your favorite moment this week? Mine was the moment in the desert when Mike was speeding toward Walt and Jesse — the way the cars swerved so beautifully and the conversation that followed was such a classic ‘Breaking Bad’ moment of storytelling that I wanted to reach through my TV and hug it.
Jacob: It’s a tough choice, but I have to go with that opening scene. Knowing that everything we see will somehow lead to a shabby Walt needing to buy a machine gun from Jim Beaver in a Denny’s bathroom has lit my brain on fire. It’s a constant reminder that yes, Walt has the power, but he’s incapable of holding onto it.
Jenni: Ugh, I can’t choose. Nothing grabbed me by the short and curlies as much as stuff in previous seasons because I’m still warming up. Those are both amazing scenes, though. I was totally disoriented by the opening scene.