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Recap / Breaking Bad S5 E1: "Live Free or Die"

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Season 5, Episode 01:

Live Free or Die
"Happy birthday, Mister Lambert."
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Michael Slovis
Air date: July 15, 2012

"We're done when I say we’re done."
Walter White

A disheveled man walks into a Denny's restaurant and orders some eggs, bacon, and hash browns for himself. When his meal is served, he breaks the bacon into a few pieces and arranges them into the number "52", for today is the fifty-second birthday of this man, Mr. Lambert.

It's not apparent to the staff working at Denny's, but "Mr. Lambert" is actually Walter White: older, rougher-looking, and in failing health. He has not come to this Denny's just for a warm meal, however: he is meeting with an arms dealer, Lawson, in the men's bathroom about a peculiar purchase. Lawson only requests that Walt guarantees him that the purchase won't cross the Mexican border; Walt in turn ensures him that it will never even leave town. After giving Lawson his money, and paying for his meal with a very generous $100 tip for the wait staff, Walt finds the car Lawson left for him and checks the trunk to see his purchase of an M60 machine gun.

Back in the present day: after Walter disposes of the materials used to build the bomb that killed Gus, along with the Lily of the Valley plant he used to poison Brock to turn Jesse against Gus, Skyler and Junior return home. Junior is excited that, with Gus' demise, Hank will be seen as a hero for investigating him. Skyler, however, is very wary of her husband, whom she realizes is the one responsible for Gus' death.

Walt's relief is short-lived, however, when he remembers that Gus had security cameras installed in the now-ruined superlab, which Hank and Gomez find in the rubble.

In Mexico, Mike, recovering from his gunshot wounds from the Juarez Cartel, is informed by Dr. Goodman of Gus' fate. Realizing what had happened, Mike high-tails it back to New Mexico to kill Walt. He finds Walt in the desert with Jesse, but before he can shoot him, Walt warns Mike about Gus' security cameras: if the DEA recovers the footage from the cameras, they would all be identified and arrested. Mike explains that Gus kept his surveillance footage on his laptop, which is now in an evidence locker at the Albuquerque police department.

A fierce debate is held between Walt and Mike on how to destroy the laptop. Walt suggests using a bomb (which he refers to as a "device"), but Mike finds the plan to be incredibly stupid and dangerous. Jesse, however, has an idea that might work: using a powerful magnet. They agree to lease an electromagnet from the junkyard that helped Walt and Jesse destroy the RV, powering the device with several car batteries in a moving van. A test of the magnet on another laptop proves successful: the powerful magnet fries the hard drive before sending it flying out of Jesse's hands and crashing against the van.

Meanwhile, Saul visits Skyler at the car wash to inform her that Ted Beneke was in an accident. He survived, but when Skyler visits him at a hospital, she is horrified to find him in a neck brace, paralyzed from the neck down. A terrified Ted promises her that, in spite of what happened to him, he would never tell anyone about her role in the accident.

That night, Walt, Jesse, and Mike infiltrate the APD's parking lot and bring their van with the electromagnet just outside next to the evidence room. When they activate the magnet, all computers in the police station go offline, setting off alarms. Walt, ignoring Jesse when he says they should leave, cranks the power on the magnet as high as it will go. In doing so, he gets the van stuck to the wall of the police station and sends everything in the evidence room, including Gus' laptop, crashing into the wall.

When the police go outside to investigate, they find the van and the magnet, but no one inside. Walt, Jesse, and Mike make their escape in Mike's car. As Jesse celebrates their success, Mike questions Walt as to the wisdom of potentially abandoning evidence tying them to the caper. Walt coolly explains that the van had no fingerprints on them, and nothing to tie them to the crime, but Mike remains unconvinced. He asks Walt how he knows the heist worked, and Walt replies, "Because I say so."

As the police pick through the ruins of the evidence room, noting that the laptop was destroyed, they find an old picture of Gus and his late friend and partner Max, on the back of which was a list of overseas banking account numbers revealed when the picture slipped out of the frame during the magnet heist...

Walt visits Saul's office, where Saul tries to justify why he helped Skyler give the bulk of Walt's money to Ted to pay off the IRS. Walt is unimpressed. Saul reprimands Walt for giving his wife such reckless free reign over his finances, particularly in regards to Ted Beneke, as he hands Walt the ricin capsule that he had Huell swipe from Jesse as part of his plan to frame Gus for Brock's poisoning. Saul is upset that Brock ended up in the hospital from the poisoning scheme; apparently Walt had not told him the full plan. Exasperated, Saul lambasts Walt, proclaiming "I'm done!" Walt, however, tells Saul "We're done when I say we're done.", and out of obligation, Saul relents.

Back at home, Walt finds Skyler, frightened of her husband. Walt tells her that he knows of what happened with Ted, and that he forgives her before hugging his fearful wife...

This episode provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Ted wasn't a good guy but he doesn't deserve to suffer in hospital like he does.
  • All for Nothing: The laptop with the security footage on was encrypted, and Gus is dead and therefore in no state to divulge the password, so there was no risk of the footage on it incriminating anyone - which means the evidence lock-up attack was for nothing. Further, not only does it not solve any existing problem, it creates an entirely new one, as the police discover details of Fring's offshore accounts. Then again, Walt and Jesse had no way of knowing this. Mike, however, likely should have known as seen under Idiot Ball.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Gomez states that the remains of the men in the ruins of the superlab couldn't be identified by their dental records because teeth do a "popcorn thing" when superheated. While teeth can pop when sufficiently heated, it would still be possible to use dental records to identify them based on tooth roots that would remain intact even if the teeth pop, as well as the structure of the jaw and sinuses.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: Lots of stuff with the electromagnet, but let's just go with the most obvious: you can't dial DC power up and down with an AC controller.
  • Avenging the Villain: Mike's first plan; he spends the entire episode restraining himself from going back to it.
  • Because I Said So: Walter settles the debate with Mike over the outcome of the magnets ploy with this.
  • Break the Haughty: Ted was a delusionally self-assured tax cheat who carried on an affair with Skyler and may or may not have tried to blackmail her for money to pay his debts and restart his business. In his final appearance, he's reduced to a crippled, terrified shell of his former self.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Jesse comes up with a plan to use a giant magnet.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mike, when Old Joe recommends him, Walt, and Jesse empty their pockets of any metal valuables as well as their credit cards so that they can still have "That plastic working come Miller Time" after testing the magnet.
    Mike: Y'know, I can see a number of possible outcomes to this thing, and not a single one of them involves Miller Time.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Jesse's plan with the magnet is a genuinely good one, but Walt, Mike, and Jesse clearly didn't think about the fact that they'd be activating a giant magnet attached to their van while next to a metal wall. The second they crank it to full power, the magnet turns the van onto its side to get to the wall and they're forced to abandon it.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Mike, who was out of commission in Mexico following Gus' coup against the cartel, learns that Gus was murdered during his absence and rushes back to make Walt pay for it.
  • Enemy Mine: The only reason Mike collaborates with Walter is because the APD seized Fring's laptop, possibly containing evidence that could implicate all three of them.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Ted isn't evil but he is a very selfish person and criminal. The only reason he doesn't rat on Walt or Skyler is fear for his family's safety.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Saul speaks in Skyler's defense at why she did what she did in the first place.
    • Saul is angered to learn that Walter poisoned Brock and used him to do it. He tries to cut off his business relationship with Walt there and then, as he feels that being made an accomplice in poisoning a child is crossing a line, and he only relents because Walt physically intimidates him into submission.
    • Mike calls out Walt for bombing the nursing home, complaining that he could have easily hurt innocent old people. He's similarly disgusted when he believes that Walt wants to blow up a police station as well.
    • Lawson is an illegal arms dealer, but he asks Walt's assurance that the M60 won't be crossing the border into Mexico before he sells it to him.note 
  • Flash Forward: The beginning plays off with an older Walter White eating at Denny's and talking business with another man.
  • Foreshadowing: Season five starts with a flashforward, giving a tantalizing glimpse of how the series will end.
  • Go Through Me: Jesse's ultimatum to Mike is that if Mike wants to kill Walt, he'll have to kill Jesse first.
  • Heroic BSoD: Skyler, upon seeing a paralyzed Ted in the hospital.
  • Hypocrite: Saul tries to explain why Skyler gave the money to Ted and emphasizes that he didn't notify Walter of this simply to avoid breaking his confidentiality rule. Walt is furious at this secrecy, though it doesn't occur to him how much his own secrecy had harmed the family. Walter accuses Saul of being hypocritical when using the word "ethically." Saul then reprimands Walt about the poisoning of Brock.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • In retrospect, after knowing of Mike's relationship with Madrigal Electromotive as explored in Better Call Saul, this applies to Mike himself: given as his role as security consultant, he would have consulted Gus on security measures regarding the camera feeds, and likely would have insisted on some level of encryption on any device receiving those feeds. Thus, when Walt confronts him about the security cameras in the superlab, Mike should have known that the laptop would have been encrypted, which is revealed in the next episode.
    • Also applies posthumously to Gus, why would you keep physical copies of the account numbers behind a photo instead of a more secure method of storage? Like say, that "encrypted" laptop that got destroyed?
  • Ignored Expert: Walt and Mike have a lengthy and heated discussion about how to destroy Gus' laptop, with Walt suggesting smuggling an explosive into the police station, and Mike pointing out that this would be extremely difficult and just kill innocent cops. Jesse, who evidently understands more about how computers work, realizes they just need to corrupt the hard drive rather than physically destroy the computer, but Walt and Mike are so busy arguing that they don't even pay attention to Jesse's suggestions until he raises his voice loud enough.
  • Insistent Terminology: No, Mike, Walt doesn't want to plant a bomb, he wants to plant an "incendiary device".
  • It Has Been an Honor: A subversion courtesy of Mike when he's about to get out of dodge.
    "Well... You know how they say 'it's been a pleasure'? [beat] "It hasn't."
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Saul's "río de caca" (river of shit).
  • Magnificent Bastard: Said by Hank in regards to Gus Fring:
  • Meaningful Echo: In a way, Ted's line to Skyler, "I tripped. I fell. That's all I know," echoes the line Jesse was coached by Mike to tell the cops after Jane's death: "I woke up, I found her. That's all I know."
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Walt and Jesse formulate a plan with Mike to use a powerful supermagnet to destroy a laptop belonging to Gus that has incriminating security footage of the three working for Gus' drug empire. The plan works, but in the ensuing chaos, they break a photo frame, revealing papers containing offshore bank accounts of people Gus paid to silence people involved in his business, plus an account set aside for Mike's granddaughter, which the DEA immediately seizes. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Gus saw fit to keep his laptop heavily encrypted, so the DEA couldn't find out what was on it anyway.
  • Nice to the Waiter: While it's indicated that Walt was only using the Denny's as a place to meet up for his arms deal, as he doesn't actually eat any of the breakfast he ordered (and got for free as his birthday meal), he nonetheless leaves a sizeable tip.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Despite Skyler blowing his money to save Ted from the IRS (mainly to cover her tracks of cooking his books), and unwittingly put the whole family at risk, Walter calmly informs her of his forgiveness and hugs her. Skyler's conflicted expression suggest that the moment is not all that sweet in that Walt downplays the fact that he put her in that position in the first place.
    • Walter also leaves a generous 100 dollar tip to the kind waitress, Lucy.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted by Mike, who is ready to go on one when he learns that Walt killed Gus, but is talked out of it by Jesse.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Mike's immediate plan when he discovers that Gus' laptop is already in police lockup.
    • Also Saul's plan when he finds Walt's recklessness too much for him, but Walt scares him into reconsidering.
  • Sour Supporter: Mike, Gus' loyal right-hand-man, is not at all pleased with being forced into an alliance with Gus' murderer.
  • Wham Episode: The episode begins with a flashforward, showing us Walt after an inevitable fall from grace, securing an M60 on his 52nd birthday with a new identity from New Hampshire. In the present, he realizes that Gus may have incriminating evidence on his laptop. He conducts a scheme to destroy it, but in the process reveals a more valuable clue to the DEA.

"I forgive you."