If you don’t believe Mike is the most beguiling son-of-a-bitch on Breaking Bad, then we’re not watching the same show. It makes sense that he’s settling into an elevator conductor for Walt, extending and propelling him into a higher echelon of criminal activity fueled by Walt’s increasing need to utilize illegal and violent tactics unbecoming of a chemistry teacher.
Mike not only knows most, if not all, of Gus’ successful operational directives, but the guy’s been a cop come high-ranking enforcer for years. He knows the kind of stuff Walt needs to know…especially now. And that’s why Mike will be the most important character in this final season of one of the best one-hour TV series ever produced.
Episode one of season 5, “Live Free or Die,” opens with what looks like a miserable and perhaps muddled Walt, removed some time from the events at the end of season 4. His hair is longer; he’s sporting a scraggly face. He’s not in NM, he’s in NH, and he’s using an alias.
After a shady transaction in a diner bathroom with some black marketer, Walt takes us to a car in a parking lot and uses the keys he just bought off the gentleman to pop the trunk; we learn the reason for his deceits in an earlier conversation with a diner waitress: one big motherf’n Godzilla of a Gatling-type gun (I’m sure someone out there can correct me on exactly what kind of flesh-ripper that was). I think it’s safe to say Walt will have to go to some extreme measures in this final season.
When we see Walt next, we’ve reset to the proper timeline following the events of season 4. Skyler has just learned about Gus’ death and Walt’s obvious involvement in it. A bald Walt is serving himself a drink, enjoying this victory over his nemesis. He’s disposed of all the bomb and poison and meth-making materials and a sense of reprieve has settled over him. Then he remembers. Those damn cameras.
Those damn cameras that Gus had installed to monitor Walt — you remember, the ones he defiantly flipped off. They were connected to something; tapes, maybe a hard drive that captured all their faces: Walt, Jesse and Mike.
Walt’s concern is justifiable. Just as we see him realize the one thing he left unsettled, Hank discovers the remains of a burned surveillance camera in Gus’ incinerated super lab.
This is when Mike gets the word. Gus is dead and Walt, the man behind it. A meeting is set up. Only it doesn’t turn out to be the traditional kind of meeting. It turns into a game of vehicular chicken — on a deserted stretch of orange, desert road — between Mike and Walt. An intervening Jesse, insistent on their cooperation, only stops Mike from putting a bullet in Walt on the notion that they need each other to procure and destroy Gus’ computer’s hard-drive for the sake of their continued freedom. Mike reluctantly agrees to go along with the notion.
Next, we see Skyler receiving news from Saul that Ted is still alive, but apparently crippled in a hospital. When we see him he is just that, and worse: He looks like a chemo patient (ironic, huh?) with a neck halo. He tells her he won’t say a word. He’ll keep his mouth shut about the money and the fact that she sent goons to his house to extort him. She says, “Good.” Like a boss.
So Jesse’s plan — I know, he actually has a plan — is to use a high-powered magnet to destroy Gus’ hard-drive from outside of an ABQ police station evidence room.
Despite Mike’s insistence that the plan won’t work, it actually does seem to, except for the fact that the truck they used to house and transport the magnet gets sucked over by the magnet's force and wedged against the station’s outside wall. Jesse and Walt had to escape the scene by foot.
After the caper, Mike is driving with Jesse and Walt — in the back seat — when Mike asks how he can be sure the hard drive was destroyed. They never actually made it into the room to see the destruction. Walt responded like a vehemently confident king: “Because I said so.”
In the rearview mirror, Mike’s eyes briefly glazed over with admiration. A smirk cracked in the corner of his mouth.
Walt becomes even more vehement; when he confronts Saul about not notifying him of Skyler’s plan to give Ted the money he worked so hard for, Saul says he’s had enough. Walt poisoning a kid and putting him in the hospital — last season — was the kind of reprehensible activity too heavy for him to participate in anymore.
How does Walt respond to Saul’s attempted resignation? He stalks him into a corner and chillingly growls, “We’re done when I say we’re done.”
With Walt finally back home and alone with Skyler, he tells her he forgives her for her cheating ways. They embrace, and a sense of sinister insincerity fills the air.
This episode, “Live Free or Die,” is an ideological departure from season 4, where we saw many relationships — Jesse and Walt, Walt and Gus, Gus and the entire Mexican mafia — rip and tear at the seams. But in this episode, unity was the name of the game. Jesse, Walt and Mike are a trio bound together by a common goal as we see them all in a car together at the end, rather content. The feeling is that a partnership is on the horizon, despite Mike’s insistence on “getting out of Dodge.”
And speaking of Mike, actor Jonathan Banks plays the character with such a smug criminality. He couldn’t play a more jaded and grizzled veteran of the industrial espionage — like world of black market pharmaceuticals; utilizing timely eye-rolls and perfectly placed harrumphs. Banks has mastered the character and it’s no surprise he took up much of this episode’s screen-time. Here’s to more of that. And next Sunday couldn’t come any sooner.
Below are my thoughts as I watched the premiere ...
BREAKING BAD SEASON 5 PREMIERE LIVE BLOG:
11:09: Aaaaaand, that’s it for the live-blog portion of this programming. Thanks for listening to me rant on this season 5 episode. BUT ... stay tuned for a full-episode analysis following shortly in this space.
11:03: It’s season 5, and if you’ve kept up this far, chances are you won’t need a 30-sec promo to sell you on the next episode. You’ve already got that s**t set on your DVR.
11:00: Skyler has always been my least favorite character, but she’s certainly much more sympathetic. We'll now onto the preview of next week after these credits? No? Huh? No preview of next week's episode. That's new. Maybe that's even for the better. I hate previews that give away too much, anyway.
10:57: Wow. Walt’s slow gait when he’s pissed and/or serious is getting more and more threatening. Chilling.
10:48: “Because, I said so.” Walt is a straight O.G triple O.G. now. That look Mike just flashed him said: I dig your swag, Walt.
10:45: Every time Mike does some sort of nefarious activity, he does it with this jaded harrumphing; it gets me every time.
10:40: Magnet Guy says "Artificial hips?" Walt gestures towards Mike. Brilliant.
10:37: Just an aside…I lived in ABQ for a year. Meth wasn’t this entertaining. Especially when a meth-head peed on my feet. Actually, that was kind of funny. Then not.
10:33: Gus was great at managing a meth empire, but I wonder if his chicken at Pollo Loco was any good...
10:31: Jesse has a good idea? And it doesn’t involve snorting cankers of meth and standing-off two armed thugs?
10:28: Is there anything Mike isn’t capable of? Even his phone manners are outstanding. BTW, this episode so far is The Mike Show…I’m ok with that.
10:22: Mike makes my pants tight. From gun-shot victim to playing “chicken” on a stretch of desert road with intentions of murder on his mind.
10:15: Skylar should be scared of Walt…he straps bombs to old cripples in wheelchairs.
10:11:Take a drink, you deserve it…or maybe get rid of that plant first…good idea.
10:10: Now it seems we’re right back to where we were when season 4 ended. Bald Walt is my favorite Walt.
10:07: Walt just got a very big gun. And he has a good amount of hair on his head. Is this a while after his successful take-down of Gus? And why does Walt look terrible? Answer these questions now, Gilligan!
9:59: Uno minuto!! Mas Walt White! Just practicing my Spanish. The show is in NM, ya know.
9:52: Our official Season 5 premiere is only 8 minutes away! Is Walt the new Gus? Will Mike go back to killing for dealers? Is Jesse ever going to stop putting stuff up his nose? We’re almost there!