"We're done when I say we're done." – Walter White
Sprinkled around this escapade's core, there were plenty of moments to savour and chew on. The biggest change for this season, as I said, is Walt's self-assurance in the wake of defeating the seemingly indomitable Gus Fring. His unlikely success may not have earned him the grudging respect of Gus's fixer/assassin Mike, but it's certainly changing how wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk) behave around him. Skyler is genuinely scared of her husband now, knowing he was responsible for the shocking explosion and murder that's dominating local news, while Saul's superciliousness was crushed during a meeting where Walt got up in his face.
There's no doubt about it, Walt is relishing the chance to flex his psychological muscles now, but the tragedy is he's growing oblivious to how much distance he's creating between himself and the loving family he just wanted to provide for originally. In the final scene, when Walt embraced Skyler in their bedroom, he has the audacity to forgive her, when it should clearly be the other way around.
Speaking of Skyler, she may not be everyone's favourite character (mainly because she's often a damp cloth on the vicarious thrill of watching Walt darken), but this episode gave Gunn some great moments. In particular, the scene where Skyler learned ex-lover Ted (Christopher Cousins) was injured trying to evade the goons she sent to scare him into writing her a cheque, was absolutely brilliant. There was some debate last year about whether or not Ted had died or just been hurt after slipping in his haste to escape Saul's hired muscle, and I'm glad the writers chose the latter...
"Live Free or Die" was a good start to the season, although perhaps the weakest premiere the show's done. (The bar's set so high with Breaking Bad, see.) This hour existed to introduce Walt's new mindset, as we begin our final journey with him now his ego has room to grow. Unlike in previous years, Walt doesn't have a reason to be looking over his shoulder in fear (just yet), but it's tragic that the people who surround him are beginning to see him as a monster, and his own selfish behaviour's starting to infect loved ones.
The focus this year will almost certainly come to be Hank (Dean Norris) discovering his brother-in-law's the notorious "Heisenberg", but it's hard to see how this will occur—particularly now the hard-drive of Gus's laptop has already been wiped. The only remaining clue for the cops is an address to a Swiss bank in the Cayman Islands that Gus kept hidden behind a photo frame—which, ironically, only came to light because of Walt's plan to nullify the laptop. I just wonder if season 5's going to focus entirely on Walt building a drug business of his own, or if some rivals will arrive on the scene aiming to takeover where Gus left off. Or did Gus report to superiors we never knew about?
Whatever happens, this promises to be another incredible season of a show that rarely puts a foot wrong. I'm so glad Breaking Bad is back on our screens, because its mere presence makes television drama better.
- The opening scene was a flash-forward to Walt's 52nd birthday, with him taking ownership of an M60 machine gun from a man called Lawson he meets in a diner for an exchange of money. Walt's hair has grown back, he's going by the alias of Mr Lambert, and appears to be even more jaded than usual. The show began on Walt's 50th birthday, and I was under the impression that season 5's premiere is taking place about a year after the pilot, at best. So is this flash-forward happening a further year after the events of "Live Free or Die". Are we to assume Walt's cancer went into full remission because of his head of hair? Or is that a wig? Will the series finale take us up to the scene in the diner? Why does Walt need a machine gun? Is he on the run from someone? Hank? Mike? Will we get further glimpses of this future in the episodes to come, similar to how season 2's format worked?