For the past four seasons of Breaking Bad the two leads, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), have cooked mountainous amounts of meth, found themselves in the most dangerous situations, and been continually a stone’s throw away from being caught. There have now been five episodes aired of Season Five and many may be wondering how the show is continuing after the adrenaline-fuelled fourth season. Beware; spoilers follow from here on in...
Season Four was perhaps the most thrilling of all seasons so far. It included a villain so smart and devious that bets on his demise were never confident ones. Even when Gustavo Fring’s semi-skeletal body walked out of an explosion, there was a brief moment where you thought, “oh no, he made it”. Obviously that was not the case and the “chicken man” finally met his match with Walt’s chemical bomb triggered at the bell-flicking fingers of his old nemesis, Hector Salamanca. In the last 40 minutes of Season Four, nails were chewed off and seat edges were firmly sat on. There was no better way to end the show than Walt’s gruff statement, “It’s over. I won”. The announcement of a fifth series came as a shock to many, though with expected elation. Confusion was expected, however, as Walt and Jesse parted ways at the end of Season Four as they had both metaphorically and literally burned their bridges toward their lab.
The show’s creator Vince Gilligan is not a foolish man and any queries that flooded the forums of various web pages over the next steps in the story were clearly scrutinised by the man himself. Unlike something like Lost, Gilligan knows where he’s taking the programme. This is made apparent by the start of the fifth season with a flash forward to Walt on his 52nd birthday, eating alone in a diner, with a head of hair and a scruffy beard. We have come to expect this type of chronology for Breaking Bad and the first image of Season One and Two were of things to come (in narrative terms); it always made for great TV, looking forward to that moment and wondering how it may come about. We wait with pure excitement as to why Gilligan’s Mr. White is out on his birthday shopping for a huge gun.
Returning to the present, we start off with some exposition that links the past season’s events to the current day. Hank is still surveying the ashen interior of the old lab when he comes across the camera that stalked Walt and Jesse throughout their time in the lab. For the memory of said CCTV he locates Fring’s laptop – this everyday item becoming the focus of episode one. Walt’s plan to tie up all loose ends of Fring’s death means retrieving, or destroying, that laptop. The Italian Job-style ploy involves buying a huge magnet, driving it into the police lot and turning its dial up to 11 to yank the computer up against the evidence room wall, thus completely destroying it. He finds help from Jesse and Mike, who has now returned from hospital and, perhaps unconvincingly, teamed up with Walt and Jesse.
Meanwhile, Skyler and Saul are worrying about financial and judicial issues which are not as interesting as they have been in the past few seasons, but still highlight the genius writing that interconnects these stories so meticulously. Saul is bullied by Walt about getting back into business and, in a frightening finale to the episode, you see Skyler facing a similar issue with Walt clearly putting on a new mask to pretend that they’re one happy family. Walt caressing Skyler is quite harrowing; she stands there frightened at her husband’s ability to take complete control and adjust any aspect of his indefinite personality to suit.
Episode Two begins with a Germanic man taste-tasting a range of sauces. We can gather that this Mr Schuler is some way connected to Gus due to the fast-food condiments. His later suicide validates that thought all the more, with the police and Mike turning their attention to the co-conspirator. The ghost of Gus still lives on throughout the world of Breaking Bad and carries through to Walt and Jesse searching for the poisoned cigarette that Jesse believed Walt used to kill Broc (Jesse’s girlfriend’s son). Upon recovering it/finding where Walt cunningly placed it Jesse breaks down in tears, apologising for almost killing Walt over the matter. Long ago, Jesse’s character was to be axed yet Gilligan and co kept him on due to Paul’s acting. With Paul nervously weeping over his “mistake” it proves that the creators did right by having Aaron Paul as an integral part of the show.
The masterminds behind the show’s choice of character and casting are never undermined and the increasingly important figure of Mike (superbly played by Jonathan Banks) serves to illuminate the point further. His cool approach to killing and organised crime is, like Walt’s Machiavellian mind-set, devilishly intriguing and entertaining. Up till now in the show, Mike has ran errands for Gus and helped Walt and Jesse out on occasion. After Schuler’s death and the assassinations of other Fring associates, Mike needs to work hard on not having any information leaked; in completing this task he has to spend a lot of money and so asks one of Schuler’s known acquaintances whether there is still Methylamine available. When the woman answers “Maybe”, Mike realises that there is still a chance to make some money. What is more, with DEA breathing down his neck and seizing his assets, he must embrace the White-Pinkman alliance and get to work with them.
This brings us nicely to Episode Three - the one where they get back to work. Gilligan inventive as ever, has the idea of setting up the lab ingeniously brought about. Saul is working hard under Walt’s demands to find a place for them to cook safely to which he brings them to various venues. The last and deciding place is a rundown warehouse that acts as a home for their equipment – the cooking is to be done in currently-fumigated houses. Every time a house is need of a bug-bomb, and fully tented for safety, the pair will carry out their cook, turn on the poison and leave no trace behind. Seeing the now-classic cooking montage brings a smile to your face instantly; Mr. White and Jesse back doing what they do best is a truly great sight to see. Their pay at the end whittles down to a few thousand, which an irritated Walt takes up with Mike. The pay has to be separated to all of Mike’s men doing what they need to do to keep things under wraps but it’s something Walt cannot rest easy on. The episode ends with Walt and Jesse discussing the cut and Jesse is thinking more optimistically with the “no owners” having to watch them. Walt, on the other hand, wonders how with all the “liberties” Victor (one of Gus’s henchmen) took that led to his death, how he and Jesse did not suffer the same fate. Certainly, by the end with Gus they were close to joining Victor but perhaps some of the positive outweighed the negative with Gus’ operation. In any case, Walt’s head is clearly devoted to the idea of business tactics and it cements the notion that Season Five will be just as cleverly crafted as the past four seasons.
By Piers McCarthy
By Piers McCarthy