By John Keegan and Henry Tran
Walt's audacious murder of Gus Fring in last season's finale guaranteed his family's safety. After all, the drug kingpin threatened to kill everyone close to Walt and Walt couldn't allow that to happen. With Gus out of the way, though, the transformation of Walt from meek chemistry teacher to "Heisenberg" is now complete.
For a man who declared simply that he "won", just breathing a sigh of relief that he's no longer in danger isn't enough. Heisenberg doesn't live in fear. He instills fear in those around him. The great thing about this episode was that this was Walt's new demeanor throughout. I suspect that these first eight episodes of the final season will embody Walt's mindset here. His ego needs to constantly be fed and it's going to coincide with his rise to power and dominance. He is so sure of himself that he knows a plan he largely devised will work, simply because everything else has before.
"Pride goeth before the fall," as the common saying goes, and Walt is certainly living up to that principle. We know he will eventually fall because of the premiere's non-sequitor teaser, where Walt looks different and has an alias along with a persistent cough and none of the bravado that is present throughout the rest of the episode. It's sure to be interesting to see how the hero becomes the villain and what the consequences of Walt's actions will be through the rest of the series' run.
It starts with Walt's family in the aftermath of the news that Gus is dead. We get two markedly different reactions from Walt, Jr. and Skyler. Since Walt thinks of himself as a hero in his own story, he expects a hero's welcome. Instead, Walt, Jr. can't stop raving about the TV coverage of Gus' death and how Uncle Hank intimidated him to that explosive end at Casa Tranquila. Obviously, Walt can't tell his own son what actually happened, but that seems like a time bomb waiting to go off. Skyler is a completely different case. She's terrified of Walt, and legitimately so given that he pretty much admitted to murdering Gus in cold blood.
It's played that way in all of their interactions throughout the episode. Walt seems really upset that he doesn't get his due from his ex-wife for all that he did to keep everyone safe. Of course, Skyler has other problems, namely in dealing with the guilt of putting Ted in the hospital due to a serious head injury. Previously thought to be dead, it makes the scene in the hospital and the sight of Ted in that halo all the more shocking. He probably won't have much of a physical presence in the series, but his involvement with Skyler and her "gift" of $622,000 of Walt's money to Ted is sure to be a thorn in Walt's side from now on.
Fear of reprisal runs rampant throughout the episode. Ted fears Skyler now, especially given the people she associates with and the ease with which she came up with the money to cover his crimes. When Walt finds out about the money, he physically intimidates Saul, which demonstrates how far from the "good guy" Walt has become. Here's a man who months ago was scrambling just to keep his head. That's not happening with Gus out of the way. He believes in his own myth now, that he can do no wrong, and that everyone else should fall right in line.
The thing is, it seems that Jesse is the only person who falls in line with Walt's thinking. Even as Gus is now gone, he leaves a lot of things to be taken care of in his wake. Walt remembers the security camera in the superlab and asks a newly recovered Mike where Gus could have kept the surveillance footage. What I loved about this episode was how Mike was the constant source of reason, even in the wake of all this criminal activity. He knows that just being around Walt and his crazy plans is going to end badly, and so is always telling Jesse to get as far away from Walt as he possibly can. If we are to believe what we saw in the teaser, things either have ended badly between Walt and Jesse or they are on the way to ending badly.
The plan to erase the laptop was something I'd consider unfeasible (though I'd imagine Vince Gilligan and the writers tried it to make sure it was reasonably plausible), but it made for a fun sequence. Walt's idea to throw in an extra set of batteries to make sure the laptop was erased feeds into the idea that he just isn't aware of his own limits now. For a moment, I thought Walt and Jesse were going to get caught by the police after the truck tipped over.
Walt is so sure the plan worked that he can't conceive of any other problems. That had to give Jesse, Walt's most ardent supporter, some pause. Only, Walt's plan led to the police discovering something they hadn't seen before: a Cayman Islands bank account Gus hid from everyone. It's probably how he's been bankrolling his entire operation since the beginning. That is going to come back to bite Walt and company.
It might seem like this review was only focusing on the good stuff while ignoring the minor nitpicks that keep it from being its usual outstanding self. This premiere does have some minor flaws, though. Compared to "Box Cutter", this premiere lacks the bold and shocking events that defined that episode. It was much more quiet. Outside of the shocking sight of Ted in a halo, his storyline is weaker in comparison to what occurs with Walt and Jesse and Mike. Since Skyler is attached to Ted's storyline, she doesn't get much to do beyond acting terrified of Walt. I imagine there's much more in store for Skyler in the future, but for now, she's still the reactive character she's usually been through the run of the series.
There is no tangible indication of how we get from where Walt is now to where he is in the flash-forward teaser. Since the audience knows that's the future (distant or near?), it's going to rob the show of any suspense whenever Walt is put in another dangerous situation where his life is threatened. The mystery is still present though (What would Walt have to do that requires a giant machine gun?) and it's still going to be a fun ride to get to that point. It's just mesmerizing to watch as Walt seemingly stalks his prey. What will be the next outlet for his still-building anger? It makes the most sense that the first half of this season will chronicle Walt's rise to power while the second half will show his fall from grace. Then again, "Breaking Bad" has consistently defied normal expectations for a television show so I am almost sure that I am wrong about that. This is a very good start.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth. a partner site of SciFi Vision. Henry Tran is Critical Myth's reviewer for Breaking Bad.