Breaking Bad Roundtable 5.1: Live Free or Die
1. What are your thoughts on the flash forward cold open and the first scenes of the episode?
Dave: You expect it for Breaking Bad at this point and like everything the show does, it’s done well. As we can see, Walt will soon be in a pretty bad spot. Like always, he’s never really given a chance to relax. In a Season billed as “All Hail the King” I found it interesting that they show that he will certainly be falling sooner than later. Sepinwall talks about how the opening reminds him of The Sopranos. Did anyone else sense this? I only watched the last episode of that show so maybe that’s why it went completely over my head.
Burner: I find myself conflicted over that M-60. On the one hand you’ve got that old Checkov saw about not putting a gun on stage unless you intend to shoot it but on the other to see Walt actually fire that M-60 would be over the top, Tony Montana style ridiculousness. I’ll go a long way with this show but I’m not sure I can go as far as Walt laying down a hail of bullets with a Vietnam Era machine gun.
Chas: Last episode Walt detonated a bomb in a nursing home. Why do I care that he has a big gun now? I didn’t feel like the M-60 was a dramatic reveal. Anyone assuming he was going to become a drug lord could predict he’s going to have to bring in some heavy armament. The best thing about this scene was getting to see my boy Jim Beaver sell him the gun.
Kevin: Sepinwall was referring to the feeling that someone was going to come through the door to kill Walt, like you felt in the diner scene with Tony. I actually thought the same thing, but obviously that wasn’t a concern since the big softy Elsworth came strolling in. In regards to the flash forward, I’m a big fan of that (R.I.P. Lost) and I thought it worked well here to set the stage for the final season. Though I am with Burner – Machine Gun Walt seems a bit far-fetched. He had enough trouble with a tiny pistol a season or two ago.
Dave: Kevin, we went over this in the first roundtable. Lost sucks.
2. This episode was pretty standard fare for the show. After the big events at the end of Season 4, “Live Free or Die” basically boiled down to Walt figuring out how to destroy the laptop with the video evidence of them cooking meth. What are your thoughts on the caper in the episode?
Dave: I thought it was pretty cool. Bizarro-Kramer offered some good laughs and I think Jesse’s reaction when the laptop was destroyed, “yeah bitch! Magnets!” Was my favorite comedic line in the episode.
Burner: I’m always a fan of a good caper so I enjoyed this quite a bit. They get the gang back together, tinker around, come up with an elaborate plan, and execute it after overcoming an unexpected set back (van, meet wall). Classic caper beat for beat. Jesse and Mike have a slew of great lines along the way too.
Chas: This gets me back to my argument about how Walt really isn’t that smart. He makes stupid decisions constantly like turning the magnet to full blast and flipping the truck. Walt is a poser.
Kevin: I enjoyed it, especially the camera shot of Walt and Mike arguing about how to blow up the evidence room while Jessie, blurred in the background, kept saying “hey guys, what about a magnet?” Also, did anyone else wonder why the laptop was a big concern? Is it really believable that Gus would have kept video of them cooking meth? Especially when he knew the cops were sniffing around?
3. One of the secondary plots revolved around Skyler as she was confronted with Ted’s accident and her role in not only that but Gus’ death too. Did you find her convincing or terrible?
Dave: The reviews I read were mixed but overall I found her pretty terrible. I just don’t think she’s that strong of an actor to handle all this character requires. She basically spends the episode looking off into space and acting sad. I wish she was laying in bed with bolts screwed into her head.
Burner: Agreed. She’s frightened, she’s being all cold and bad ass, she’s horrified, she’s cashing in. Just pick a damn disposition.
Chas: I fast forward through anything with Skylar sans Walt. The next time I watch a scene focusing on Skylar it will be slo-mo DVR of her being killed. Although, I said in the pre-show roundtable I did want Ted to die again. It looks like i might actually get hte opportunity to see him murdered in his hospital bed *fingers crossed*
Kevin: I was indifferent about her. I thought she sold the terrified/full of guilt/”oh shit, he thinks i’m a bad ass so I gotta say something menacing!” scene with Ted well enough. But yeah, generally speaking she’s pretty terrible, as is the character.
4. What were some of your thoughts on the other secondary characters in this episode? Mike, Walt Jr., and Hank all played various roles in the opener.
Dave: Mike is amazing and stole every scene he was in. Walt Jr. on the other hand is pretty terrible, although necessary to advance the motivation behind Walt’s egomania. Hank had a pretty small part but it seems more and more obvious that he’ll lead the charge to find out about Walt.
Burner: I’m beginning to hope that a good portion of this season involves Hank, newly reborn super cop, chasing Walt and Jesse in places that are not the ABQ. That way we can just avoid Skyler and Walt Jr all together. Mike killed it as usual but I worry about his longevity. I felt a bit like the writers were taking this opportunity to bust out all their stockpiled Mike One-liners before they kill him off.
Chas: Agree with Burner and Dave on all fronts. I’m a little confused as to why Mike wanted to straight up murder Walt. Did I miss the scene where they established Mike and Gus had a deeper relationship? Maybe I skipped it as I fast forwarded through the Skylar scenes.
Kevin: I’d imagine Mike was pissed off because he had a pretty good thing going with Gus and Walt screwed it all up. What’s worse is that his buddy Jesse continues to buy into Walt’s craziness. Hank’s scene resulted in me wanting more investigation stuff. The show should be 49% Walt/Jesse/Mike, 49% Hank/investigation, 2% everyone else.
5. Even though we started the episode with the flash forward knowing that things are about to go all sorts of wrong for Walt, we end the episode with him on top of the world. What are your thoughts on Walt enjoying his time as king, at least for the time being.
Dave: Knowing that this won’t last enhanced my enjoyment of it. I think it’ll be great to see him become so much of dick that he starts destroying everything around him. Plus we got the those two awesome lines, “We’re done when we say we’re done,” and “Because I said so.”
Burner: What is it? “Pride cometh before the fall?” Walt’s ego and need for recognition will likely be his undoing. At this point the Mexican cartel has been wiped out and then Gus right there after. This will likely leave Walt thinking he deserves to be the new meth king of the southwest and that entitlement will lead to his downfall.
Chas: Why are we so convinced that he’s hit rock bottom in the flash forward? Couldn’t that just be him turning his meth operation up to 11? Also, to reiterate, I think Walt’s downfall will come from his terrible decision making and not his entitlement. I’m having a real hard time buying him as a badass and it’s starting to hurt my enjoyment of the show. Him ponying up to Saul and telling him “we’re done when we say we’re done”? Not buying it. I’m convinced Saul could beat up Walt when it came down to it. Walt’s a fake heavy at this point and it’s as obvious as the bandage draped across his nose.
Kevin: His “because I said so” line to Mike and Jesse and the line to Saul were ridiculous. I never question the acting/direction in this show, but the thing with Saul made me laugh and think of Christian Bale’s Batman voice. His transition from nervous, fearful, bumbling science teacher turned meth dealer (still that way in the finale last season) to stone-faced, Rambo-style criminal is a bit sudden. Yeah, I get the slow progression from Walt to Heizenberg and the fact that he just took out Gus so he’s riding high with confidence. But they’re making him into a caricature of a drug kingpin. I disagree with Chas re: the smart thing. I don’t understand that comment at all. The whole episode was about a problem that a normal person could not have fixed. Yet he did it and saved himself yet again. Before the season started I thought his pride would be his downfall. I think just about every reviewer/commentator out there referenced Walt’s hubris in this episode, culminating with the “I forgive you” line to Skylar at the end.
6. Overall what are your thoughts on the first episode of the season?
Dave: I thought it was great. Like I said they needed to slow it down a bit, but that’s fine. You need some room to breathe between the big moments in the show. I’m just happy I’m watching this and not The Killing.
Burner: I enjoyed it. I think it was a good way to get back into the show, hit some of the themes, let us know where everyone is, remind us it can be quick and funny, not just dark and violent. I’m looking forward to seeing the consequences of the power vacuum that’s just been created.
Chas: It was serviceable. They did a solid job getting us up to speed, level setting where all the characters are at and then gave us the Great Magnet Caper. My favorite bit was the irony of the magnet caper unveiling more evidence. Very nice!
Kevin: Solid. Got me back into the Breaking Bad world, gave us a direction of where the show is going, and had the little bits of humor/drama/smarts that make the show great. Take out two lines and the episode would have been fantastic.