Why, hello, Mr. White, it is nice to see you again. I had to wait a full 48 hours since finishing season 4 of Breaking Bad on Friday night, and that was a long enough wait for me. Last night the first episode in the final season of the series premiered, and while it was a bit light on the action, we got a true follow-up and look into the new life of Walter White.
Before I begin, I would like to make a general note how incredible season four was. Ironically, in the beginning I found it to be a bit slow and was worried the show might be losing some steam and then the sixth episode hit and I couldn't stop watching…literally. The way they inter-wove the events that were happening and kept you guessing was amazing, and any series that can provide such shocking twists and turns, means that it should go down as one of the greatest series in television history. It's not just the stories; it is the way in which they tell them, and the use of the camera, color and everything available to them to make the show more impactful. Just to note one: the incredible few moments after Walt goes down to the basement to get the money for he and his family to escape and realizes that it is almost gone. He then lays on his back (almost breaking the fourth wall) framed by the opening in the floor, and the camera then begins to pull out, giving the illusion of him sinking deeper and deeper in a hole and almost makes it feel as if he is being buried underground. It is one of the most brilliant and haunting scenes I can remember in a long time. This brings me to last night's premiere, and while it was a really great episode it definitely felt like it was a bit slow on the action as we really got a a look at the aftermath of Season Four and where it has left all of the characters.
Before we get to that, let's take a look at the opening scene. Breaking Bad is an interesting series because, as I mentioned before, they use many cinematic devices and really any form of storytelling that is available to them. Last night's episode began with a scene that we can tell was a flash forward as Walt’s hair has grown back, he has some new glasses and he is sitting alone in a Denny's on what may or may not be his actual real birthday. This moment also allows us to know that for one reason or another he is operating under a new name and that he actually has a driver's license with the new info on it. However, the most interesting part about this scene is the haggard, worried and almost melancholic look on Walt's face. At the end of last season we saw him in a much different place. At that point he had finally defeated (and by defeated I mean killed) Gus Fring and declared to Skyler "I won" and seems as if he believes he has truly and finally saved his and his family's lives.
Because the scene was left fairly cryptic, we don't really know why or what has led Walt to this depressing place. The show has used this device in the past, (most notably throughout the entire season 2 showing the plane crash); however I believe there was a specific reason they did it in this episode. Going into this season, much of the publicity has been about how Walter White is now "the king" and turns into more of a drug kingpin than a sickly chemistry teacher who has to sell drugs to get by. Throughout the whole episode, we also get much of that same indication. Walt's ego has gone through the roof as all of his plans (and pretty horrible ones at that) have worked and he feels like he is in the clear and can conquer the world. Yet, with the opening scene the entire time watching, we have this little image in the back of our heads reminding us that isn't really true or how things will end up. It is likely that something or someone might just take Walt down, yet this is done very effectively as we don't really know anything as to why, how, or even who makes that come true and there are many scenarios that could play. The first few that come to mind: Jesse finds out about how Walt hurt the only people he cared about, Hank finally discovers who his brother-in-law really is, the company that funded Gus comes back to get him - yet in no way does this scene ruin or even really tell anything in terms of story, which makes me think it is there more for character development than a plot device. This is especially true as what the scene does do is remind us as we watch that this state of pride and happiness will likely not last for Walt, and this serves several purposes. First of all, it will create a sense of uneasiness throughout the whole season. We will always be wondering, "Is this the thing that is going to make Walt need a big ol' huge gun?" or is this the moment that things go wrong for him and lead him to the diner and Denny's.
Secondly, I believe it functioned as a way to keep us remembering that Walt is a flawed person and character. One of the premises of the show is the fact that this guy got into drugs because he felt it was the only way to save his family. This then has corrupted him and turned him into what is a pretty awful man. It seems like this season that could just keep getting worse, however because we have the image of the diner scene, we know not everything works out for him. He might still be powerful in the drug world, and perhaps even that is what the gun is for, but there are going to be some big changes in his life if that is true. I personally appreciated this very much, because I want to know that we are still going to see Walt struggle in some ways in this world, even if I do enjoy this respite from the drama with him being able to enjoy being "King Walt".
Another thing noted in this scene…. the cough and the pills. I began to notice Walt's coughing return very intermittently at the end of season four, and as they opened this last season with another subtle reference, I think we can expect Walt's cancer to return at some point this season, if not already.
Beyond the opening scene, we then pick up exactly where season four left off and begin to explore the aftermath of the death of Gus Fring. I must say, I am a bit saddened by his death, as I believe that he was one of the best and most brilliant characters on the show, both in terms of acting and character. The way that he could show his emotion with just one subtle movement of his hand or eyes was incredible and I really hope Giancarlo Esposito is recognized with an award of some sort.
In the second scene, we see Walt in his home cleaning up the materials he used to make the bomb, and just while he is about to be proud of himself, he remembers the Lily of the Valley plant in his backyard. When he stops to drink a bit of scotch and be proud of himself (again) he remembers one more thing, and this one will be much harder to clean up. However, this sequence of "almost" errors makes me wonder if they are setting up the moment that there is something else that Walt forgot, or something that he doesn't even know about. It also indicates the juxtaposition of the character of Walt as oftentimes he believes that he is a man who thinks of everything and has it all figured out, but really when looking at it, he makes a lot of mistakes. In fact, it is his ego and cockiness that oftentimes gets him into trouble, because he won't allow anyone else to help him or believe that he could miss anything. I have to believe at some point, there will probably be something huge that he overlooks and whether that is what leads him to the Denny's or something else, we will have to wait to see, but I feel like something is coming.
Then we move on to the rest of the episode which takes on the tone of exploring relationships and where Walt stands with almost everyone in his life. When his family returns we see the excitement that Walt Jr. has about the entire incident, but more than anything, the fact that his Uncle Hank was investigating Gus Fring without anybody knowing it and was right about his involvement with the drug trafficking. The interesting moment comes when it looks as if Walt becomes jealous of his son's admiration of his Uncle. Rather than be worried or thinking about the fact that Hank was and still is looking in to his activities with Gus, he is jealous of the fact that his son isn't admiring him for all of the hard work he has just done to protect his family. It is almost as if when Walt "won" this battle that he has forgotten that he is the one who involved his entire family in this mess in the first place and just wants them to appreciate him for saving them.
Not being able to get this from Walt Jr, he then marches into his bedroom and goes and looks for validation from Skyler and is highly upset when he doesn't get it from her either. So what does he do? That's right, he exerts his power over her and makes sure that she knows that she should be looking up to him and be proud of him for protecting their family. However, the look on Skyler's face makes it seem like for almost the first time she is realizing how awful of a person Walt can be and how truly terrified she should be of him. I also wonder if Skyler has finally realized how big Walt has become in this world, if he was able to take down one of the biggest dealers of meth. Then there is the moment that Walter hugs Skyler and says "I forgive you" and let's her know that he isn't mad that she gave all the money to Ted. It is this moment that shows his complete disregard for her emotions and feelings and what she has had to go through to help clean up his mess, and it was chilling. I also thought the dynamic with Skyler was interesting when she went to go visit Ted in the hospital. Beyond being sorry for being responsible for the state he was in, I wonder if some of her tears are shed for the fact that she left him and actually stayed with Walt and her one possibility of escape truly is gone.
Another relationship dynamic I found fascinating was the interaction that happens between Mike, Walt and Jesse when they first meet on the desert road. Throughout the series we have seen Jesse and Walt developing a father/son like relationship; however at the beginning of last season there seemed to be a shift in that. A rift began forming between the two of them, and Mike instead began taking on this role. He was the one to pull Jesse out of his drug-infested hole and help him get clean and sober again. Walt did not even pay attention to Jesse other than to ask him to help him kill Gus and only got upset and suspicious of him when he wouldn't do that. We always knew that Jesse was protective of Walt because he wouldn't let Gus get rid of him, but when looking at him emotionally, he recently had a much stronger bond with Mike. That is why it was fascinating to see the three of them come together at a point – and in a scene that looked as if it was going to be Mike and Walt playing chicken on a desert road as their cars drove straight at each other. However, during the confrontation, we see where Jesse's true allegiance lies and that is with Mr. White. It was fascinating to see the subtle movement of Mike's face drop as Jesse stepped in front of Walt preventing Mike from shooting him and truly declaring where his allegiance lies. I must say, I felt a bit disappointed as well, because I love the relationship between Walt and Jesse, but Mike is the one who actually would probably end up protecting him.
We yet again see this dynamic with Walt asserting his power over Mike in the scene after the caper where Mike questions how they know that the magnet really worked and wiped the computer. Walt doesn't know. In fact, he has no idea if it worked or not, yet he blindly states, "It worked." It is almost as if he has to prove to Mike how smart he is and how much power he has that he doesn't even stop to consider the fact this could not be true. I wouldn't be surprised if it is this hardcore ego that could end up being Walt's ultimate downfall.
So, at the end of the episode we have gotten a status update but are left wondering where the story is going in this final season and there are so many questions. I think one of my biggest questions is what will Walt do next and has he really thought things through? He might have defeated Gus Fring, but has he thought about the fact that there is probably no way that Gus had been working on his own? Many of the evidence that Hank discovered links Gus to a larger German corporation and I wonder how much danger Walt and his family will be in when they find out that he has killed one of their own. Mike actually seems to allude to this when he first sees him and asks, "Do you have any idea what you have done?" Beyond being upset about Gus' death, I sensed there was much more to this statement than it might seem. However, if the show keeps up its trend of how they tell stories throughout the season, it might be awhile before we get there as one of the most amazing things about the series is the way in which it begins quietly, with a lot of set-up and not too many "exciting" things that happen, and then boom– all of a sudden it is like you are on Mr. White's Wild Ride. Overall, this episode was one of the set-up episodes, yet I know it made me super excited to go on this next, and last (weep), journey with some of the best characters on television.
What did you guys think? Did you like this first episode?