Breaking Bad Recap: “Live Free or Die”

Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Walter (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad's season five premiere, "Live Free or Die."
Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Walter (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad’s season five premiere, “Live Free or Die.” (photo by Ursula Coyote/AMC)

Season 5, Episode 1: “Live Free Or Die”

Purity level: 85%

I’ve got some bad news for Breaking Bad fans: it’s the beginning of the end. With just 15 episodes left (seven more this year, and the remaining eight airing next summer), the most riveting, critically acclaimed series currently on TV is winding down. Not that you could tell from last night’s premiere. If anything, it feels like the show is ratcheting up the tension and dread. The AMC series was never known for filler; every character, every storyline, every desperate act shown in the past four seasons has somehow contributed to Walter White’s transformation from a sniveling, cancer-riddled school teacher just trying to scrape up some money to leave behind for his family into a power-hungry, ruthless kingpin. But the premiere boasts the laser focus and breakneck pace of a late-season episode. It seems to serve as a warning to the audience: strap in, it’s going to be a wild ride to the end.

The episode picks up minutes after last season’s explosive finale, with Walter declaring he had “won” his war against druglord Gus Fring thanks to the help of a homemade IED and a poisonous plant. First though, we’re treated to one of the show’s signature season premiere flash-forward openers. But this teaser is a lot more telling than a floating teddy bear in a pool. Future Walter is at diner, celebrating his 52nd birthday by placing his bacon in the shape of a 5 and a 2 (a sly nod to the series’ opening moments, when his then-happy wife Skylar presented him with a birthday breakfast to celebrate his 50th). Except now he’s no longer surrounded by a loving family; he’s on the run, pretending to be from New Hampshire and buying guns from shady dudes in restaurant washrooms.

Back in the present, Walter’s jubilation over his Gus triumph is cut short when he realizes he missed one crucial detail: his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank. With his hunch that philanthropist Gus was really a big bad drug dealer proven right, the DEA super-agent is now investigating Gus’ belongings, which include a laptop containing hundreds of hours of surveillance footage showing Walter and Jesse cooking meth. The pair, along with Gus’ former deputy Mike, reluctantly join forces and set out on an exhilarating mission to erase the laptop with a giant magnet (complete with a hilarious callback to Jesse’s famous “Yeah, science!” line). One toasted laptop later, Walter has the option of simply walking away from the drug trade (as his sleazy lawyer, Saul, advises). But he’s finally gotten a taste of what it’s like to be the king; there’s no giving up the crown now.

“Who’s Bad?” Index:

Walter: This week’s premiere silences any lingering questions about who will take over Gus’ role as this season’s baddie. “We’re done when I say we’re done” might not have the same ring to it as “I’m the one who knocks,” but the implication is the same: Heisenberg lives. 8 blue crystals out of 10.

Jesse: Poor Jesse. Our favourite hapless screw-up (who has slowly emerged as the show’s moral centre) still can’t reconcile his vision of “Mr. White” with reality. This week, Jesse is caught in the middle (literally) of a power struggle between his two father figures, and predictably sides with Walter over Mike. We’re counting down the days until Jesse finally discovers what his beloved mentor did to Jane and Brock. Until then, he remains Walter’s “bitch.” 7 blue crystals out of 10.

Mike: The laconic hitman returns from Mexico with a desire to avenge his dearly departed boss, but ends up helping Walter and Jesse erase the laptop. He may be temporarily on board with the new arrangement, but Mike is smart enough to know that Walter’s grasp of the situation is about as solid as those puffs of smoke in the show’s title sequence. 6 blue crystals out of 10.

Skylar: Sure, she was cool with being a crime-boss’s wife when it was limited to the familiar trappings of money laundering, but Skylar’s only beginning to realize the extent of her husband’s monstrous descent. Her guilt over Ted’s condition and her freaked-out expression when Walter calmly utters his twistedly ironic, “I forgive you” suggests she’s not quite as willing to break bad as her husband. 5 blue crystals out of 10.

Hank: After a rough season which saw him bedridden from a bloody cartel attack and ridiculed by his DEA coworkers, Hank’s back on top, having had his suspicions about Gus Fring proven correct. With Gus out of the way, we’re betting Hank becomes Walter’s biggest adversary. It’s only a matter of time before Hank realizes his milquetoast brother-in-law is really the great Heisenberg he’s been hunting for all along. 2 blue crystals out of 10.

Walter Jr.: This kid may not be breaking bad yet, but just wait until he finds out his dad will be enjoying breakfast foods without him a year from now. The nerve! 0 blue crystals out of 10.

(This story originally appeared on

Jen McDonnell is an entertainment freelancer and social media specialist. She put her celeb stalking skills to good use as managing editor of Likes: pop culture, celebrity dirt, guilty pleasure TV, George Clooney, cheese. Dislikes: people who use 'begs the question' incorrectly. Follow Jen on Twitter @jen_mcdonnell. Follow Jen

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