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Breaking Bad Watch: Mag-neato

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The first time we saw Walter White, he was turning fifty, having breakfast with his family, “50” spelled out in veggie bacon. (“This smells like Band-Aids” –Walter Jr.) The first time we see Walter White in Breaking Bad‘s final season, he’s turning 52, spelling out his age himself in real bacon–a bout of cancer and a life with the drug cartels, I guess, lessens one’s focus on one’s LDL cholesterol—and, most important, he is alone.

By Breaking Bad‘s timeline, this flash-forward is over a year later than the “present” of the series. We don’t know how Walt, now sporting a head of hair, is driving a car with New Hampshire plates. We don’t know why he looks so bedraggled. Above all, we don’t know why he needs a machine gun. But if the main action of “Live Free or Die,” after the cold open, shows Walt confident and triumphant, this scene makes clear: don’t get used to it.

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There’s a little reminder here of The Sopranos, another series that split its final season into two halves and involved a sojourn to the Granite State. (Vito! Johnnycakes!) But where that series showed Tony triumphing over his enemies and then cut to black, the final run of Breaking Bad seems ready to focus on what victory has done for Walt, and to him, and what it means for its already arrogant protagonist to believe he is unstoppable.

So much of “Live Free” finds Walt facing the people in his life in triumph, showing each the face that his confidence frees him to reveal. He comes to Saul as a bully, unrepentant about the poisoning scheme and unwilling to take the slightest pushback. (“You’re not Clarence Darrow. You’re a two-bit bus-bench lawyer… We’re done when I say we’re done.”) He deals with Mike as a peer, unflinching and serene. (“How do we know [the magnet scheme worked]?” “Because I say so.”) And he deals with Skyler, increasingly terrified of him, with condescending magnanimity. (“I forgive you.”)

Skyler’s subplot was probably the weakest aspect of season four, but in its aftermath, I like the idea of her confronting just how criminal she’s willing to be—particularly when she visits the frightened, debilitated Ted Benecke, who believes that she is The One Who Knocks. Here too, there’s a slight Sopranos echo: there, Carmela had to ask how complicit she was in Tony’s crimes (even if she eventually found ways to avoid it again). Here, Skyler sees direct evidence that, accident or no accident, she is far more than an accountant enabling a crime in the abstract. But she can’t commit to it the way Walt does, urging him to believe that Ted will never talk (a concern that Walt, of course, can only process egotistically, through the frame of her having slept with Ted—hence the “I forgive you”).

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Much of the rest of the episode deals with the aftermath of Gus’s fall, through a familiar but satisfying Breaking Bad setup: the science-based covert magnet operation, a sort of virtual heist caper. The mission to wipe the video on Gus’s laptop is not the gripping, horrifying sequence that the Superlab scene was in the season 4 opener, “Box Cutter.” But it is pretty amazing to watch—is a suspenseful, ingenious use of applied physics that reminds me how lucky we are Vince Gilligan did not choose to use his imagination on the wrong side of the law.

Walt and Jesse’s plan works—except that it seems to reveal a secret Fring bank account in the process—but it’s notable that Walt has no way of knowing it, except for his own superconfidence. Mike, of course, is not entirely convinced. I wrote last season that Jesse had oddly turned into the moral center of Breaking Bad, and in the same way Mike Ehrmantraut has become its designated voice of reason—a professional trying to do a job, his patience ever more tested by two interlopers who can’t leave well enough alone. “What is it with you guys?” he asks Walt and Jesse, exasperated, in the desert. “Honest to God.”

That last line is a throwaway, but also an appropriate one in an episode that turns on how Walt, the man of science, has become a man of abiding and blind faith—in himself. Apparently, Walt is not just king but, as he sees it, a deity. But one who, as the opening flashforward suggests, had better keep saying his prayers.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* Breaking Bad Visual of the Week: Lots of candidates, but for me, the laptop flying out of Jesse’ hands into the side of the truck. “Yeah, bitch! MAGNETS!”

* One nitpick about the magnet plan—did anyone else have a hard time buying that Jesse and not Walt thought of the plan, or at least that Walt did not immediately know what Jesse meant as soon as he heard the word “magnet”?

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* “Keys, scumbag. It’s the universal symbol for keys.”

* Not a lot of Hank in this episode, but just enough to remind us of the long game of the Heisenberg investigation. That and: “Apparently the teeth do this popcorn thing when they get hot.” See? You do learn things from TV!

* “I want you thinking one thought: Hogan’s Heroes. Sgt. Schultz. ‘I know nothing!'”

* “What about that stuff you young guys wear at the end of your pricks? Speak now or forever sing soprano!”

* Finally, we have a lot of time and, I assume, we’ll get more clues, but I’ll open the floor to your theories about the cold open. What or who was Walt running from? And what’s he going to use that machine gun for?

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27 comments
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nala22
nala22

walt's fatal flaw....pride!  It will eventually do him in and he'll be all alone in the end.  Our mr. chips turned scarface...i think hank will also have a chance to put the cuffs on him too

MaceyMae
MaceyMae

How did they know where the evidence room was? I have to agree-- Jesse is not sharp enough to conceive an idea like that under pressure.  Mike is a master at covering up crime and couldn't think of anything. Welp, looks like Walt's in deep now. I'm speculating that Walt is alone and on the run in the cold open. I'm SO tortured by my ever-changing feelings about these characters. Part of me always wanted Walt to reign supreme. Unfortunately, it's not the same landscape as before. He's murderous and unsafe. He's not even remorseful. I'm sorry but Skyler amp;  Jessie pull at my heart-strings. They really do. I don't know how it's going to happen but I think Jessie will live. Walter will die either by Jessie's hand or by cancer. I personally don't want Jessie being manipulated by Walt until the very end. We know Walt cares deeply for Jessie but not enough. Walt killed or seriously compromised important people in Jessie's life to protect his own interests. Some might argue that he protected Jessie but I know Jessie wouldn't see it that way . I think that Walt needs to suffer for at least some of his misdeeds. I like Walt but Jessie has WAY more promise. He's young and can be so much more than Walt was. I think that will be the lesson in this. Looks are  deceiving. Jessie seemed like the "thug" in the beginning but he's actually  the good guy. Easily manipulated -- but GOOD.

bbfan74
bbfan74

what was in the bag that saul handed walt?

Shaina
Shaina

Things left off in a very interesting place for True Blood last night, with a few pretty sizable cliffhangers. Based on the preview for next Sunday's episode, there's some major drama ahead and the title doesn't sound especially positive. Take a look at the preview for "Hopeless" ahead! 

Read More @   http://tinyurl.com/7rzkyxo

GolgI
GolgI

So glad to see that a lot of people adore this show now. I became a hardcore fan right when I watched the first season and that was a long long time before.  I started watching when I heard the 'dad' from 'Malcolm in the middle' was in it and oh boy! was I surprised to see this incarnation of Cranston !

Not a lot of people watched it back then. The viewership started rocketing when Cranston won the second consecutive emmy.

The most amazing thing about BB is that you're never disappointed even

when your expectations are super-high (except a 'fly' episode)

AMC is a gem of a channel for picking this series up (also The Walking Dead).

BillyMozart
BillyMozart

The first time Walt met with Jim Beaver it was for a very inconspicuous gun - a delusion Walt briefly had where he thought he could solve his massive problem with Gus with such a desperate move.  This time, it's a machine gun, and you get the sense that Walt realizes "now" that he's been here before.  He fled to New Hampshire and now he's come back to AQ, unhappily. 

I don't think the writers are hubristic enough to try and create another Gus or even a Tuco in 10 episodes.  What would truly be twisted is if Walt's psychotic man-of-faith routine causes him to turn that moral center, Jesse, into a true villain.  The only thing sadder for Walt than the present state he's in would be for him to turn someone he cares about into a monster he has to destroy.  

mnich13
mnich13

I think it (almost) ends with Hank discovering Walt to be the monster he can't destroy, at least not without destroying Walt, Jr. and Skyler, too.  Hank's seen what happens to DEA guys who get too close to the evil without spotting it, and so Walt won't get "caught", per se.  Instead, I think he'll strongly encourage Walt to go the "get a new identity" route, with the promise being that the remainder of his family remains intact, even though the cost is that he doesn't get to enjoy it.

We already know that Walt doesn't react well to being kicked out of the house, and eventually he has to come back.  But the next time he comes back, he brings the M60 gun with him, and comes gunning for Hank.  The final plot twist, I think, will be that, somehow, Marie will save him, and Walt will be done, giving us one final comparison of the two families, one having fallen apart, and the other surviving. 

I think Jesse manages to walk away from it all, which would be highly ironic, given all of the teasing that Aaron Paul has endured over the course of the series from Cranston: "You haven't read this week's script yet?  Oh, well, I just wanted to say how much I've really enjoyed working with you."

Shoot the Critic
Shoot the Critic

I loved the cold open and I thought the ending was just perfect ("I forgive you"). I was less convinced by the middle with the whole magnet plot. Jesse's continued insistence on the magnet got its point across with a little too much unconvincing force. OK so he's the one they least listen to but seems to have the right answers. The episode still made me very excited for the season. I have no idea whom Walt is looking to kill with that gun, but I'm going to enjoy finding out. -Shoot the Critic

vrcplou
vrcplou

I think "Live Free or Die" will be Walt's epitaph and that he's all alone in the opening (ending?) scene because freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose.  Walt is becoming freer by the hour but that will ultimately find him alone.  And again, I'm never quite sure how I feel about that.  The weak, meek Walt we met at the beginning of the series wasn't really living in any vital sense of the word. I pitied him and found him almost physically painful to watch.  Now he's fully the stripped down Id; fully himself.  I like and admire that about him, bad stuff notwithstanding (what does that say about me, lol?).  But I do believe it's ultimately going to cost him everything and everyone.  Is it better to be half a man living half a life with your family or is it better to be who you REALLY are alone?

MaceyMae
MaceyMae

It begs the question -- what does Walt want? You know? Would he regret not having his family? What does he want when he's on his death bed? Pride that he lived fully in his final days -- or the love of his family? I can't tell anymore. You could tell his life was quite depressing even before his diagnosis. Does that mean he was unhappy? It's a question we can all ask ourselves. Most of us live hum-drum lives. What we would do if we were given an opportunity to live a more exciting life? Would our families be less important? It sound sad but many folks settle down and have children because there's nothing better out there. It doesn't mean they don't love their families -- it just means that they would do more if they could.

vrcplou
vrcplou

 Exactly - it's that existential question true total freedom vs. the love, warmth comfort (and responsibility, obligation, entanglement, i.e., not freedom) of family/human relationships.  They don't call them "the ties that bind" for nothing.   At this point, this is what Walt represents for me and I go back and forth about how I feel about it.  Which means it's a great show - anything that gets you rolling back and forth like that in your own mind is greatness.  I'm massively curious about how it all ends.

GarveyCeyRusellLopes
GarveyCeyRusellLopes

I think the opening is likely to be the last episode of the series.  Time passes slowly in this series, so for walt to be 52 in the next 8 episodes it would be a stretch. The show opens with walt being 50. What's interesting is walt is missing his wedding ring. 

if you look at the season's poster to Walt's left and our right sits an m60. I think he uses it and kills somebody that's why he goes on the run. But against who?

kkal9
kkal9

While the question remains why exactly Walt needed to run away from ABQ in the first place, my theory is that he returns because 1. either something has happened to his family, and he's out to avenge them guns blazing, or 2. his family has abandoned him, his cancer is finally overpowering him, and he really has not much else to live for anymore. Who exactly he's targeting with that whale of a machine gun is up to my complete speculation.

mnich13
mnich13

Sheer speculation, of course, but it has been noted above that Walt is alone on birthday 52.  I suspect that by this time, he has lost his family (and Jesse) through his own hubris, and has already made a deal with Hank: get the heck out of New Mexico, Walt, take Saul's new-identity deal and never come back, and you and your wife won't go to jail, and your son and daughter will never know about the monster you've become.  I'm guessing that Walt, with nothing left to lose and the cancer no longer in remission, is coming back for revenge on Hank, who has extended every possible mercy towards Walt.

McReady Blue
McReady Blue

Episode 9-16 will not be shown until Summer '13.

AdmiralKird
AdmiralKird

He was already on the run before that and didn't have the M60, otherwise he wouldn't need an instruction manual.

I'm wondering about the $100 tip + Cayman bank account(s), presumably

some of the cash Walt has is probably tied to these accounts, and

the bills' serial numbers are on DEA record by the time of the cold open.

The arms dealer also mentions not finding the hardware in Mexico, which means he probably has reason to assume Walt's target is south of the border - someone else on the run from the DEA. Walt says he won't have to go there, he'll be able to stay right in (presumably) Alb, NM.

He leaves the tip because it is a marked bill and will cause someone to come up from Mexico to find him. Against everything the production and cast has said, the only character that was ever that smart and well-connected was Gus...

And nice find in the wedding ring. I've got to assume Skyler is 'gone' by the time this occurs. Whether she is dead or never coming back is symbolized by Walt making the 52 and remembering her. Coupled with Gus' threats on his family and the staff only having seven more episodes to get to this point (presumably) and not having enough time to develop a new villain, its the best guess given current info.

Guest
Guest

 He was already on the run before that and didn't have the M60, otherwise he wouldn't need an instruction manual.

I'm wondering about the $100 tip + Cayman bank account, presumably some of the cash Walt has is probably tied to these accounts, and that the bill's serial number is on record by the time of the cold open.

sean1966
sean1966

It took me a minute to catch up, and I actually thought the episode was edited out of sequence...but then I figured out that the timeline was right after Gus's death. I really liked the electromagnet bit, and it was funny that it came from Jesse rather than Walter.

http://sdanielshortwintercom.b... 

RavingArmy
RavingArmy

I have an image things ending almost exactly as they began: Walt on an empty road with his RV and his newly acquired M60 pointed towards the sounds of approaching sirens.

jremigio
jremigio

It's not that Walt didn't know what Jesse was talking about. Walt was too pre-occupied with his pissing match with Mike.

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 I dunno—it does start that way, but then once Jesse gets his attention, he says something to the effect of "What about magnets?" I just found it hard to believe that Walt wouldn't immediately get the connection between a magnet and hard drives. It's hardly a fatal flaw, but it tripped me up both times I watched.

GolgI
GolgI

Wouldn't work if the laptop has a solid state hard disk !

Sooner or later these folks are gonna get too smart for their own good.

lylebot
lylebot

SSDs may have been rare in 2008, but Jesse's test laptop was running Windows 7, which wasn't even released until 2009 :)

GolgI
GolgI

Good point @McReady Blue  but solid state disks were not uncommon back then (in fact when I ordered a dell laptop from dell's website in 2008 solid state hdd was a choice !)

Moreover, the laptop could have SD cards or any other form of removable data cards which uses transistors to store information rather than magnetic discs and thus immune to strong magnetic field.

McReady Blue
McReady Blue

The show is set in 2008.  SSDs were much more rare back then.

The Hoobie
The Hoobie

I thought it might be kind of a cool inverse-callback to Jesse's "A robot?!" line in "Four Days Out"?

And aargh, Vince Gilligan! Having a kid's trike be among the stuff that rockets across the evidence room because of the magnet. It's both funny and instantly makes you worry about what kind of crime the trike might be evidence for. :(

ipfletch
ipfletch

 Honestly, I was halfway expecting Jesse to go all MIB Will Smith and say "Hey, OLD GUYS!"