Breaking Bad Recap: "Live Free or Die"
The premiere opened on some very familiar hands (sans wedding ring) crafting a direct callback to the pilot episode—the number 52 spelled out in bacon. Yes, it's Walter White's fifty-second birthday, placing us more than a year in the future. Instead of eating breakfast with his family as he was two years before, Walt is in a Denny's, with a full head of hair, a thick beard, cash to burn, and a fake ID from New Hampshire, a state who's motto both titles this episode and sums up Walter White's post-diagnosis outlook on life better than pretty much anything else.
He's in town (maybe the good ol' ABQ, but there's no telling) to meet with the black market arms supplier (guest star Jim Beaver) who gave him the titular handgun in last season's ".38 Snub." But this time Walt's in the market for something a bit less discrete. Popping pills that could indicate almost anything about his cancer, he heads out to the parking lot to retrieve a very formidable looking machine gun. Is this the end of the end? Walter White's last stand? Or are the writers screwing with us a bit? We'll probably find out sooner than you think, but if season two's plane crash taught us anything…well, let's not rule out the latter.
And with the conclusion of that insane teaser, we get sent right back to where last season left off. Walt's won, and loving it. He cleans up any evidence of bomb making or child poisoning and humors his family as they tell him that Hank was right all along—Gus Fring was a drug lord. Walt Jr. thinks this is basically the coolest thing ever, while Skyler is understandably terrified that her husband blew up a nursing home. But Walt's fine for now, totally in the clear until he realizes one massive oversight: Gus had them under constant surveillance, and if there's a record of any of it, it's about to fall into police hands—confirmed when we see Hank, investigating the charred remains of the lab, has noticed the cameras too. Oops.
Then who should we cut to but Mike, recovering from his gunshot wound south of the border. When the doctor tells him what happened to Gus, he wastes no time in speeding back north to blow Walter's head off. It just so happens Walt and Jesse meet him on the way, since he's the only person who would know where all of Gus's surveillance fed to. Jesse manages to talk Mike out of murdering anyone for now, considering they're all very much in the same boat on this one. Either they all go down with Gus, or none of them do.
Turns out the video of Gus's operation all went right to his laptop, which is now in police custody, locked down tight in evidence. Mike is more than ready to skip town, but Walt is sure there has to be another way. And he really is sure. This isn't the panicked, desperate, inches from defeat Walter we're so used to, but a man fully confident in his ability to outsmart whatever forces are arrayed against him and come out on top. He just needs the right angle, and while the two older criminals are arguing about what might work, Jesse comes up with the answer: Magnets (bitch). Huh.
The trio (please, please, please let this whole season be Walt, Jesse, and Mike doing awesome things) visits the junkyard where old Joe from season three's "Sunset" has the kind of equipment they might be looking for. Using a box of scraps that would make Tony Stark proud, Walt and Joe build an electromagnet inside of a truck that, at least in their test run, is capable of wiping a laptop clean (not to mention ripping it out of Jesse's hands and smashing it to pieces). Mike is skeptical, but everyone's probably thinking the same thing. This is just too cool not to work.
Meanwhile, Saul gives Skyler the news about Ted. When forcing him to pay back the IRS, he broke his neck in a freak accident. The shocker? Apparently, he's alive. Skyler visits him at the hospital, and the sight is perhaps the most gut-wrenchingly sad consequence of criminal action yet seen on the show. Ted is paralyzed from the neck down, head shaved and mounted to an apparatus to keep him sitting upright. He can barely speak, but he promises Skyler he'll never tell anyone what happened. All she can muster in response is an icy "good." He may have been something of an annoying character before, but this is just brutal.
On a lighter note, magnets! Mike works some high tech security magic to let the truck through the police station gates. Jesse and Walt park and switch the device on. Sure enough, it starts to work, and shelves of evidence start toppling over as anything metallic flies across the room. They've done enough, but to really drive the point home, Walt turns it up to maximum strength and tips the truck over. When the station's computer's start going dark, the cop on duty investigates to discover half the evidence room's contents clinging to the wall. He sounds the alarm, but by the time the officers get outside, the truck is empty, Walt and Jesse having fled with Mike, who thinks they were sloppy. Walt, though, is sure that it worked. Mike asks how they can possibly know that, and Walt simply tells him "Because I said so." Spoken like a true boss.
But while the laptop was indeed destroyed, the police got another clue as a consolation prize: Some sort of Cayman banking information hidden behind a photo of Gus and his long dead partner, revealed only because this evidence disaster shattered the picture frame. Dozens of criminal investigations have probably been compromised, but hey, at least there's that.
With their trail covered, Walt meets with Saul to discuss how he could have let Skyler give all the money to Ted. The lawyer equivocates as usual, claiming she's his client too, Walt was very busy at the time, and getting the ricin cigarette off of Jesse (which Saul had no idea would result in Brock getting poisoned, by the way) was some really impressive work. Anyway, Saul says that after all the recent insanity, the two of them are basically done. Walt doesn't take this well. He gets up, advances until Goodman is backed up against a wall, and tells the terrified lawyer "We're done when I say we're done."
Chilling? Well that's nothing compared to the way he greets Skyler and tells her he knows about Ted. She promises he won't talk, but he's not angry. He hugs her and whispers "I forgive you," sounding for all the world like the meth godfather of Albuquerque. Welcome to Season five.