Before that shocking, heart-wrenching final image from last season — the Lily of the Valley plant in Walter's backyard that confirmed that he had indeed poisoned Brock — we heard the recklessly confident Mr. White speak the following words to his wife: "It's over. We're safe. I won." Within the first few quiet moments of this season's premiere, we know that this was never going to be the case. Walt, just like everyone else who comes to power in the disgusting drug business, will always have a target on his back. Just without many powerful allies (unlike the dearly departed Gus Fring, who had cartel help), Walt's target is bigger than most.
After viewing tonight's excellent premiere, which deals with post-Gus clean-up as well as the overall theme of shifting power, I think the question throughout this season will be whether or not fans (or Jesse, or Skyler) would mind if that target was hit. Walt hasn't been that bumbling, lovable high school chemistry teacher for some time now. The transformation from Chips to Scarface is almost complete, as even his own wife, the one he got into the business to provide for, is afraid of the man now. ("I forgive you?" Is he serious?)
To further remind us that absolutely nothing has changed — that Walt is just as in danger/dangerous as ever — season 5 opens with a diner scene, just like the end of season 4's spectacular "Box Cutter." Only this time, Jesse is nowhere to be found. Walt is alone with his oodles of money, and a fake ID that suggests a man on the run. His depressed demeanor and abundant facial hair tell us that significant time has gone by since Fring's murder, (Producer Vince Gilligan specified during Comic-Con that it's eleven months), and the ginormous gun he purchased tells us that Walt has someone on his back. Who is that someone, now that Fring has been eliminated? Mike? Hank? Some cartel? Dare I say it — Jesse? I'm wondering if Bad is going to use a Lost-ian flash-forward tactic between future, on-the-run Walt and present, covering-up-his-mess Walt this season. Either way, it will be interesting to see just how he gets to this sad, lonely place he was always destined to go.
But we won't find out anytime soon, as the rest of the episode takes us back to the events immediately following Gus' untimely demise. As Walt temporarily enjoys his victory and clears his home of any evidence, (including the aforementioned Lily of the Valley plant, natch), the brilliant and seemingly re-invigorated Hank explores the ruins of the exploded underground meth-lab. There he finds the intrusive cameras that Walt once used to plead for his life — those cameras had to be watched by someone, and Hank and co. quickly locate the evidence-heavy laptop that Gus left behind.
Thankfully, Walt and Jesse enlist Mike's help in their plot to retrieve the goods from the heavily guarded evidence locker. In case you'd forgotten, we hadn't heard from Mike since he was injured during that ill-fated trip to Mexico last season. Well, he seems (err, seemed) to be doing just fine — the eternally zen family man looked very happy feeding his chickens until he received the unfortunate news that Walt had screwed things up, again. When Walt and Jesse show up to plead for his help, Mike is more than ready to put a well-deserved bullet into Walt's fat bald head. Interestingly, he stands down when Jesse gets in the way, and seems utterly exasperated at Jesse's continuing devotion to Walt. He, unlike Jesse, is fully aware of the fact that Walt doesn't have his partner's best interests in mind. The thing is — did Gus? Did Mike and Gus have Jesse's back the whole time? "Do you even know what you've done?" Mike asks Walt's duped friend, referring to Gus' murder. "Oh, Jesse. Jesus. What is it with you guys?"
I'm with Mike on this one — what is it with those guys? How long will it take Jesse to finally realize that Walt is directly responsible for everything bad that has happened to him over the last few years? How long will it take him to realize that he's never had any power in their operation? Hopefully not long, as Walt's next course of action unwittingly leads to another clue in the Fring investigation. After the boys (and Mike) construct some sort of giant magnet ("Yeah bitch! Magnets!" says Jesse) to zap the information out of the laptop, they take it to the wall outside the evidence room so they can do the deed and scram without ever leaving their truck. The problem is, Walt's growing cockiness keeps them on the scene much longer than necessary, as he insists on getting the magnet to its max voltage despite the looming threat of getting caught. They are forced to leave the truck behind when the magnet's force knocks it over, and while the laptop is successfully erased, a new clue is also unearthed — a shattered photo of Gus reveals his secret Cayman Islands bank account. Who knows what this account will reveal, but I'd put money from my New Jersey-based bank account on the fact that it won't be good for Walt and Jesse.
As Mike, Walt and Jesse flee the scene, Mike asks Walt a very pointed question: Was the job done well? Walter says yes, with his only explanation being, "Because I say so." Walt/Heisenberg's ego is now completely out of control, which makes the scenes involving his immediate family even more powerful. First, we see that Walt Jr. is beginning to see Hank, and not Walt, as a hero. Walt naturally ignores this, but he won't be able to ignore Skyler's growing discomfort for long.
You see, over in equally important B-plot land, Skyler is grappling with the concept of being feared. After Saul informs her that Ted is still alive, she visits him in the hospital to express her condolences. The thing is, from the moment she arrives Ted seems more paralyzed by his fear than from his injuries. Before Skyler gets the chance to speak, Ted nervously promises her that he will never tell anyone what happened that day — the day that Saul sent over some thugs on the White family's behalf. Skyler nods in agreement, but it's obvious that this was not the kind of interaction that she was expecting, and that she still feels morally conflicted about Saul's actions. Skyler, honey — if you're going to be Carmela Soprano, you're going to have to get those hands dirty.
When Skyler returns home to her doting husband later that evening, she is turned off and completely distracted by what happened with Ted. Walt, who has just returned from a heated meeting with Saul (where he insisted that all White-family decisions must be approved by him — not Skyler), hugs her and says "I forgive you." That's right — he forgives her for making a decision without him. Let's just ignore Heisenberg's countless mistakes that could have taken Skyler, Walt, Walt Jr., Holly, Hank, or Marie's lives. At this moment, the look on Skyler's face says it all — she knows that Walt has officially left the building, and if she wants to stay in this sick, twisted picture, she'll have to be there with Heisenberg. And that's a pretty hard pill to swallow.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: AMC]