Caution: Some slight spoilage below but nothing too bad, I promise.
If viewers thought Walter White had learned his lesson and would spend Season 5 quietly knitting by the pool, they were sadly mistaken. Unlike the fourth season, which picked up right where the third left off, Season 5 began with a flash forward to a slightly disheveled Walt (with hair!) sitting alone in a Denny's when the arms dealer he worked with last season shows up to sell him a car and an M60. There's a flash of the New Hampshire license plate on the car he's been using which features the state motto "Live Free or Die" -- the title of this week's episode.
He gives a long hard look at his new toy before tossing a duffel bag into the trunk and shutting the lid, launching us back to the moments right after the death of my beloved Gus Fring. In that one look I almost thought the Walt we've grown to love was kicking around in there somewhere. Is he weary of this chaotic life? Are the tiny pangs of his conscience causing him to regret his actions over the past year? None of that gets answered as we go back to right after the explosion and Walt, Jesse and Mike set out to recover Gus' laptop which contains incriminating evidence against them.
Once the laptop problem's been solved, Walt pays a visit to his lawyer, Saul Goodman, played to perfection by Bob Odenkirk, and gone is the cowering Walt, the fearful Walt -- the Walt full of explanations for his actions. When he backs Saul up against the wall, physically intimidating him and refusing to accept his resignation, Walt's become a man who's comfortable with using his anger to get what he wants. This new ability to instill fear in others brought on by the horrific acts he committed last season to save the lives of his loved ones reaches new lows (highs? I'm not even sure anymore) when he returns home from the meeting to a visibly shaken Skyler. His manipulative embrace while whispering "I forgive you" in her ear, sent chills down my spine. Whether Skyler in fact betrayed him by giving money to Beneke to keep him from being audited isn't the point. He's not just forgiving her for giving money to a former lover -- he's forgiving her for committing any sort of infraction against him -- making it very clear that he's not a man she should so lightly cross in the future.
It's this new and by no means improved Walt that show-runner Vince Gilligan recently discussed in Rolling Stone that was almost heartbreaking to watch last night. Yes, he's a total badass, and yes we can relish in that and enjoy it -- but what of his humanity? When Walt first began cooking it was in an attempt to provide for a family he feared he wouldn't be around to see grow up, but in eliminating the threat of Gus Fring, has Walter White become the new man to fear?
Read my full take on Breaking Bad's Season 5 premiere at the Donnybrook Writing Academy!