by Alex Greenberger
“We’re done when I say we’re done,” says Walter to a very perturbed (and understandably so) Saul in a particularly tense confrontation towards the end of “Live Free or Die,” the premiere of “Breaking Bad’s” fifth and final season. The scene reads as something of a torture sequence, and it’s a really interesting one at that, since lines like the one I’ve quoted above are the ones typically said by the torturer. And since Walt is the torturer in this situation, and since the torturer is almost never the protagonist in any TV show, this scene is a strong deviation from any norms previously set forth by the neo-noir genre.
But then again, when has “Breaking Bad” ever been a show to adhere to the accepted standards for television? It is a show that, season by season, continues to shock time and again with its theatrical cliffhangers and intense questions of morality, and it’s safe to say that the fifth season of “Breaking Bad” is still unlike anything else on TV. Sequences like the aforementioned one in Saul’s office seem to be substantial proof that this season will push Walt beyond the limits of an anti-hero and make our beloved (and I mean that sarcastically) protagonist into a full-fledged, hard-hearted villain.
I suppose there are still some questions of whether or not Walt has broken bad, and it truly does seem that Vince Gilligan knows no stopping point when it comes to demonizing his main character. But Bryan Cranston’s wicked demeanor upon the delivery of the line “We’re done when I say we’re done” makes me think that Walt hasn’t broken bad yet. I’m truly afraid to know what breaking bad is exactly, and this is an especially insidious problem, since I can’t figure out where exactly this final season is headed. I’m anxious to know why Walt is exchanging money for some sort of device in a Denny’s in some unspecified time in the future. And I haven’t a clue what it all means. I’m wondering if Walt has maybe turned into some sort of kingpin, since “Live Free or Die” makes use of quite a few trunk shots, which are visual signatures of Quentin Tarantino. As the director of “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs,” Tarantino is clearly a fan of gangster films. It’s not even the first time “Breaking Bad” has borrowed from Tarantino (see the final few shots of “Salud,” which are repeated in this episode, for more evidence), and I’m beginning to think that it’s not totally far-fetched for Walt to end up with a similar fate as Mr. White in “Reservoir Dogs”—a dead gangster.
It’s easy to go on and on about Walt and his fate, but I really need to talk about how good “Live Free or Die” was, too. The fifth season’s premiere is particularly masterful at switching tones in a matter of seconds. The episode ranges from scenes with an immensely eerie tone (Hank’s investigation of the burnt meth lab begins to feel strangely like a horror film at a certain point), while others are heart-poundingly suspenseful. The sequence involving the magnets and Gus’ computer in the evidence room (thankfully) seems to go on forever because it is so taut. Gilligan’s genre-hopping gives the show its wonderful, unique take on neo-noir, and it looks to only be getting better in the fifth season.
There are, of course, many subplots—Mike is back, Ted is alive—and many more to come—Jesse is going to have to somehow find out about Walt’s crimes against him over the past few seasons—but “Breaking Bad” is about Walt more than ever right now. Walt has, as I said before, surpassed the word “anti-hero” at this point, and it seems that it’s only downhill from here. He seems to hope he will live free, but the only solution to all this, to me, is that he will die.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.