Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.
-American General John Stark, 1809
We start the final season with a barely recognizable Walt; one who has clearly lost the delriously unmistakable Heisenberg swag we last saw him with. He’s alone, he’s despondent, and he’s giving his Denny’s server more attitude than an overly bratty ninth-grade girl gives her parents when they don’t let her go out out with that senior with the sweet ride.
At this Denny’s, Heisenberg appears to be a shell of his former self. He’s experiencing some sort of identity crisis, something that’s represented on multiple levels. Not only does he suddenly look like a failed New England poet, but his driver’s license now reads “Lambert” from New Hampshire. The state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die,” but this “Lambert” barely seems to be living. Something has clearly happened, and there’s some steps that clearly need to be retraced.
We’re then brought back to the end of Season 4. Skylar is again horrified by Walt, and what he’s capable of. Their relationship, which had made great strides over the past season, seems to have regressed back to when Walt initially spilled the crystallized blue beans. Skylar looks at him as a barely recognizable monster, going as far as to say that she's actually scared of him. Walt, who had poured himself a celebratory drink to honor the greatness that is himself, is left to toast to the man in the mirror. A reflection which the original Walter White--the modest high school chemistry teacher who wanted nothing more than to provide for his family--would barely recognize.
The episode proceeds to tie up a number of loose ends. Hank is slowly getting back on his feet, S’all Goodman enters the picture, and Mike returns from his Mexican siesta. We also learn the fate of tax evasion extraordinaire Ted Beneke. (If you recall, he tripped and fell running away from Saul and Skylar’s goon squad, leaving his fate unknown.) The fact that he’s sticking around suggests that he still has some sort of role left to play, but for the time being, that particular plot is overshadowed by the video evidence that can destroy them all (but obviously won’t because we still have 15 episodes left.)
I won’t delve into the intricacies of Walt, Jesse, and Mike’s Operation Kill All Evidence, but the point is that as always, science continues to do its thing. We’re once again reminded that the results of science are always calculable. This of course, is in tremendous contrast to the show’s personal relationships, many of which have been shot to death and then some. The fact that Walt and Mike are forced to work together is kind of like telling a Ohio State fans they suddenly have to root for Desmond Howard. Their mutual distrust and philosophical disagreements seem to be beyond repair. The two are now being held together by their only common bond, Jesse, who somehow has emerged as the rational one. When Walt and Mike began to argue about the feasibility of the plan to destroy Gus’s laptop, Pinkman dissolves the polarizing web of complication with a simple magnetic solution (bitch).
The rest of the episode is dominated by a Walt that we’ve seen glimpses of--the Hulkish side of him whose unprecedented brilliance and unchecked ego make him capable of Fringing psychotic sh*t--but a Walt that has never completely overshadowed his decidedly principled “my family is number one” worldview. The Magneto plot at the DEA’s evidence facility worked only “because Walt said so,” Saul is only done when Walt "says he’s done, and O' Great Heisenberg concludes the episode by absolving Skylar of all her sins. We also learn for certain that it was Walt who poisoned Brock. The primary takeaway from the season premier is that rooting for Walt is becoming not only impossible, but its becoming--as Vince Gilligan brilliantly alluded to during Walt’s climactic conversation with Saul--unethical.
Slowly but surely, Walt is proving that death is certainly not the worst of all evils. Rather it’s something so ominously terrible, we’re all a little bit afraid to find out.
Jesse Pinkman “Bitch” Count: We will (obviously) be counting how many times Jesse Pinkman says the word “bitch” throughout the season. After the first episode, the count is at two. Both were celebratory "bitch" usages.
Random Observation of the Night: Solid usage of that CÎROC commercial featuring Jesse partying with Diddy and the gang. Wonder how he got all that money.
Relationship to Watch: Walt and Skylar. One of the reasons Walt began to regain Skylar’s trust during season four was because she now saw Walt’s operation through an illegality she was familiar with--cooking books. But after the Fring incident, she’s reminded that while Skylar sees green, Walt sometimes sees red. With this ideological rift now between them, Walt may as well be a Baltimore gangster who wants them corners.