BREAKING BAD 5.01 ‘Live Free or Die’

Walt and Jesse turn to an estranged ally for help in recovering evidence against them as Hank and the DEA close in on Gus' empire.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Live Free or Die"

Writer: Vince Gilligan

Director: Michael Slovis

Previously on "Breaking Bad":

Episode 4.13 'Face Off'


In a flashfoward,  Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is alone on his birthday in a Denny's while sporting a dramatically different appearance and a fake name. He meets a man named Lawson (Jim Beaver) and he receives a pair of keys in exchange for an envelope of cash. Outside, Walt removes something from the trunk of his car and finds the car that Lawson left for him… with a M60 machine gun and several rounds of ammunition in the trunk. Back in the present, Walt's wife Skyler White (Anna Gunn) speaks with him over the phone about the explosive demise of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito); which is being covered extensively by the local media.

When Skyler asks Walt if he had anything to do with Gus' death, he simply says "I won." Disquieted, Skyler hangs up the phone. Later, Walt begins getting rid of the evidence that he made the bomb that killed Gus. And on further reflection, he also removes the potted plant, Lily of the Valley which he used to poison Brock in order to turn Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) against Gus. Shortly thereafter, Skyler and Walt Jr. (R.J. Mitte) arrive home with Walt's infant daughter as well. While Walt Jr. excitedly tells his father about what happened to Gus and the way that Walt's brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris) knew he was a drug kingpin, Skyler gives Walt the cold shoulder

Walt confronts his wife in the bedroom and she admits that she is relieved that he is alive… and scared of him. After Skyler leaves him alone, Walt takes a moment and realizes that he overlooked something important. In the charred remains of the super lab, Hank is almost at a loss for words about what he sees. But he does spot the remains of the security cameras which Gus used to spy on Walt and Jesse. In Mexico, a recovering Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) feeds the chickens until he learns that Gus has been killed. Soon after, Mike begins speeding towards the U.S. border and he is stopped by an oncoming car.

When Walt and Jesse get out of the other car, Mike instantly pulls a gun on Walt and threatens to kill him for what he did to Gus. However, Jesse is able to get Mike to stand down long enough for Walt to remind him that Gus' security cameras may have implicated them all if the police ever find the footage. Mike tells them that the camera feed was saved to a lap top in Gus' office at Los Pollos Hermanos. At Jesse's insistence, Mike relents and joins them in the car. But at the same time, Hank is in Gus' office as the laptop is entered into evidence. Sometime later, Mike pretends to be a postal investigator over the phone and he learns that the computer in question is now in the police evidence room.

Mike decides to leave the country on the spot, but Walt tries to get information out of him that would allow them to break in and retrieve the computer. Mike incredulously points out how well guarded the police evidence room is and he gets increasingly in Walt's face for even suggesting this course of action. But it is Jesse who comes up with the idea to use magnets to destroy the info on Gus' computer without even getting inside the building. Thus, the unlikely trio head over to Old Joe (Larry Hankin) in the junkyard and convince him to part with one of his industrial magnets that is primarily used to move cars.

Meanwhile, Skyler pays a visit to her lawyer, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) before he begins to relate that Kuby (Bill Burr) and Huell (Lavell Crawford) inadvertently led to the seemingly fatal injuries suffered by Skyler's former boss and lover, Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins). As Skyler steels herself for the news of Ted's demise, Saul tells her that Ted is awake and that she may soon be visited by the police if he talks. Back at the junkyard, the magnet has been installed into an old U-Haul truck as Walt and Jesse conduct an experiment to see if the plan can work. The magnet erases Jesse's laptop computer and then destroys it.

Impressed, Walt asks Old Joe to double the power to the device. In the hospital, Skyler is horrified to see that Ted is so badly injured that he is in a halo neck brace that is secured to his head. Before Skyler can apologize, Ted quickly tells her that he didn't tell the police anything and that they think it was simply an accident. Ted also promises to never breathe a word of this to anyone and Skyler simply says "good" in response. Later that night, Mike goes to the police station and expertly disables the first security camera and the electric security fence, allowing Walt and Jesse to enter in the truck.

Eventually, Walt and Jesse make their way through the parking lot until they are right outside of the evidence room. As Walt activates the magnet, the officer in charge of the evidence room begins to notice the strange behavior of the metal objects in the room. His computer shuts down before he checks the room and sees metal objects flying towards the wall. As the alarm sounds, Walt turns up the magnet to full power and tips the truck towards the building. But as the police rush outside of the building, Walt and Jesse are already gone. In the car with Mike, Jesse is elated at their success, but Mike still isn't sure that the evidence left behind in the truck won't implicate them.

Walt arrogantly says that Mike should trust that it is taken care of simply because he said so. The following day, the cops go through the evidence room one item at a time. Gus' laptop is indeed destroyed, but one of his photos in a frame now reveals a foreign bank account number hidden behind the photo. In Saul's office, Walt is definitely not amused as he listens to Saul explain the Ted Beneke situation, particularly the part about Skyler using Walt's money to bail out Beneke. When Walt begins mocking Saul derisively, Saul angrily produces the ricin cigarette that Huell lifted from Jesse and he seems genuinely upset that Brock ended up in the hospital due to Walt's actions.

Saul attempts to cut his ties to Walt, but Walt intimidates him into backing down. Later, Walt arrives home and finds his wife in the bedroom. Skyler says that Ted won't talk and she is taken aback when Walt leans in for a hug and tells her that he forgives her. But the look on Skyler's face is unmistakably an expression of dread.


When "Breaking Bad" isn't coming out with new episodes, it's sometimes easy to forget just how good this series is. "Live Free or Die" served as a welcome reminder.

The fifth season kicked off with some intriguing questions about Walt's future. This season has been promoted with the idea that Walt will essentially be the new Gus… or rather, the new drug kingpin of New Mexico. And yet Walt is seemingly already doomed for a fall and he will apparently be on the run without his family. If the police were after Walt, I doubt that he'd be buying high caliber machine guns to fend them off instead of simply trying to flee. That suggests that whomever Walt is hiding from represents a significant threat from the criminal underworld that Walt can't simply evade or outsmart.

In a way, I was a little disappointed that the episode so overtly explained that Walt was responsible for Brock's poisoning, as it seemed pretty clear from last season's final episodes how the ricin cigarette was lifted from Jesse and where Walt found the inspiration. The only unanswered question is how Walt managed to poison Brock without leaving a trail that Jesse could eventually discover. At this point, only Saul knows the truth… and when Saul is the voice of moral outrage then you know that Walt is really far gone.

It's a little hypocritical of Skyler to fear Walt and his actions after she seemed to embrace the idea of laundering his dirty drug money through the car wash. But it's not an entirely unreasonable reaction, especially if you recall the way that Skyler took Walt's "I am the one who knocks" speech last season. Walt is a very arrogant man and he can't seem to resist building himself up as a master criminal through his boasts to Skyler. As an audience, we see that Walt's words are simply self-aggrandizing and that he constantly has moments of intense desperation and fear. But Skyler doesn't see that side of him. All she sees is a stranger in her bedroom who has left several dead bodies in his wake.

The heist elements in this episode were enormously fun and Walt's plan felt plausible within the world of the story. The evidence room sequence was a stand out moment and the tipping of the truck was really hilarious. Bringing Mike back into the mix was also a smart play, but I don't know how the series will justify his continued presence given the way that he openly despises and wants to kill Walt. However, it was refreshing that Walt didn't even bother to deny having planted the bomb that killed Gus nor did Mike even consider the possibility that someone from the cartel got their revenge on Gus instead of Walt.

While Hank had a significantly smaller role in this episode, his silence in the super lab spoke volumes. Hank knew he was right all along, but even he was surprised by the scale of Gus' operation. He's proven himself to be an adept investigator and given enough time he may very well be the one who unmasks Walt as "Heisenberg." After going through so much to save his brother-in-law from Gus, would Walt have Hank killed to protect his secrets?

Almost certainly, if it came to that. This is not the same Walter White we once knew.