Breaking Bad season 5 episode 1: Live Free or Die

The final season begins…


4 and a half stars



Walter White in Breaking Bad, Season 5


Air date: 15 July 2012, AMC (US)


"I won," said Walter White at the end of Breaking Bad's fourth season. Well, he did win, if you see a double murder (three, if you count Hector's induced suicide) and the poisoning of Jesse's chick's kid as something worth punching the sky over.


Of course, what Walt's power-drunk brain didn't allow him to see, was that what he'd actually done was lost (it's irony, see). What would the Walt of that first episode in 2008 think of the Walt at the start of season five? We barely got to know that Walter White, the family guy with the stable teaching job and cancer-free lungs. He'd survived his first half century being the dutiful, law-abiding American and within 18 months had the become the drug king of New Mexico, with enough murders under his belt to shame a keen serial killer. It was only in season four's last reel that creator Vince Gilligan's grand ambitions for Breaking Bad really crystalised (no pun, really) - he was taking the most ordinary man on a journey to the edges of morality and sanity. He was making The Godfather.


Whether Gilligan's taking Walter White to the depths of Michael Corleone's private Hell, we're 15 weeks from knowing. But there was a tantalising flashforwards glimpse in the pre-credits sequence of this season five premiere episode, with Walt, incognito and with a headful of hair, seemingly on his own and on the run, paying a weapons dealer in a diner restroom for a fuck-off machine gun. Tellingly, it's on Walt's 52nd birthday, two years to the day since his cancer diagnosis and the start of this most dazzlingly odd of mid-life crises.


This one, Live Free or Die, picks up the moment Face Off left off, but there's barely enough time to breathe a relieved sigh at Gus Fring's offing. Hank's investigating of Gus' burnt out superlab leads the DEA to Fring's surveillance camera, which Walt has suddenly realised was connected to a hard drive, so all that incriminating footage of him and Jesse cooking their blue heaven is now in the hands of the police. And stored, as Mike assures them, in a building twinned with Fort Knox.


Walter White, Jesse, Mike and some other dude in Breaking Bad, Season 5


Though the stakes are high, Live Free or Die is more larky in tone than the previous run of episodes, which went blacker than Breaking Bad had ever gone before. Walt's response to the laptop question is deliriously insane, but however lop-sided the realism (the idea is more Ocean's 11 than The Wire), the slip-shod execution is note-perfect Breaking Bad. Very occasionally, this series sails perilously close to sacrificing its credibility for a cool idea, but like Gus's death moment (can a man with half his face blown off really be with it enough to saunter out of a room and adjust his tie? Chinny reckon...), it's on the right side of forgivable, because they're such blisteringly brilliant television moments.


Ever since its beginning, Breaking Bad's had its Big Bad, shaped either as Krazy-8, Tuco, or most indelibly as Gus, but this looks like it'll be the first season without a primary nemesis for Walt and Jesse, a gaping chasm of cold-bloodedness and calculation that Walt looks increasingly likely to fill.


We're on the final leg of the Breaking Bad story here, though there's another 15 episodes to go before the series bows out for good. Walter's Heisenberg side has been propped by dodging Hank's meth radar and by protecting Walt Jr from the reality of what he's done and become. This is the series where that protective shield is going to start crumbling around him, and might finally net Vince Gilligan that Emmy or Golden Globe that's been bizarrely denied to him so far in Breaking

Bad's underappreciated TV life.


Steve O'Brien


See a spoiler-filled compilation of Breaking Bad's best bits here:




Breaking Bad season 5 episode 1: Live Free or Die
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