TV Review: “Breaking Bad” Episode 1 – “Live Free or Die”

Written by Devin Barnes July 19, 2012

“Breaking Bad’s” eagerly anticipated fifth season premiere harkens back to the show’s earlier days, in which Walt and Jesse put their heads together to solve impossible problems. It’s chock-ablock with those darkly comedic “yeah Mr. White, yeah science” moments, making it a radical departure from the unbearably tense fourth season opener. This is appropriate, as “Breaking Bad” is not a show that needlessly shocks the audience, but instead depicts the slow devolution of Walter White’s moral compass.

“Live Free Or Die” picks up immediately where the astonishing “Face Off” left off, in the aftermath of Gustavo Fring’s murder. Walter is quick to remove the incriminating lily of the valley plant from his backyard, expecting a warm, heartfelt reunion with his wife and son. Walter Jr., ignorant as ever, gives the malevolent Walter a jovial greeting, but Skyler’s reservations creep through her frightened eyes in Anna Gunn’s increasingly convincing portrayal of a woman overwhelmed with the notion of who her husband has become.

The episode’s primary crisis kicks into high gear with Walt’s astute observation that Gus recorded everything in the superlab, which is now little more than charred remains beneath a laundromat. The ever-determined Hank Schrader seizes Gustavo’s laptop as evidence, which, if examined, will lead to Walt, Jesse and Mike being indicted as criminals. Walter, being a maestro of harebrained schemes, hatches an elaborate plan to remove the evidence, with help from the reluctant Mike and unexpectedly intelligent Jesse.

No, really. I’m doing all this for my family.

“Live Free or Die” is decidedly comedic in tone, showcasing writer Vince Gilligan’s panache for throwaway one-liners in a show littered with some of the most gruelingly dark storylines ever seen on network television. But the focal point of the series remains the character of Walter White, and the lengths to which he will go to preserve what he considers ethically justified. Walt did what many deemed unthinkable last season, but the slow, gnawing disintegration of his morality continues in “Live Free or Die,” particularly in his arrogant proclamation “Because I Say So” and the tense, oddly cringe-inducing moment in which Walt edges towards Skyler, hugs her and whispers “I forgive you” (this from a man who poisoned a kid and blew up a nursing home).  And don’t get me started on his intimidation tactics in Saul’s office.

Gilligan views Walter White as a man overwhelmed by ego, continually justifying drug distribution, manipulation and violence under the pretense that it serves a noble purpose. Is this the same meek, cancer-stricken chemistry teacher we met at the show’s outset? Has he always been this treacherous, and was merely unaware of it prior to the diagnosis? How much “badder” can Walter White get? “Live Free or Die” is an excellent premiere and “Breaking Bad” remains a marvel.

My Rating: 8/10

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