Ok this is your final warning. I am going to review the first four episodes of Breaking Bad and you are going to either read it or not read it but you can no longer blame me because I am taking every measure I can to warn your about spoilers. So if you read beyond the end of the bolded section of this article it’s on you.
Hubris, Greed and Mike. These are the three major components of the first three episodes of the final season.
In an ominous cold opening scene to the season, we see Walt with a full head of hair and much more haggard. Time has past, Walt is 52*, Walt is taking medication and we can assume he may no longer been in remission from lung cancer. In this scene we see Walt under an alias, and he is buying an assult rifle from the unnamed gunrunner from season three (played by Deadwood alum Jim Beaver). Where does this scene leave us? We immediately know there has been a reckoning and another coming reckoning. But how did Walt get to where he is in that opening?
If Walt had been a high school english teacher he would have known that the belief that one is untouchable will lead to ones demise. At the same time if Walt had been a high school english teacher he would have been a horrible meth cook. Walt’s arrogance has been on full display in the first three episodes. He trusts that Jesse will back him against the possibility of Mike trying to kill him. He is reckless during the police evidence room caper and actually ends up screwing himself, but mostly Mike in the long run.** He believes that he can just walk back into a relationship with Skyler and have her take him back without any repercussions. Gilligan and his writing staff are leading Walt down a path of destruction but at what point will all this hubris become a liability? It seems like it is not an if but a when kind of situation.
In the first three episodes we see greed as a secondary motivator for Walt. I feel like it will become more of a thematic through-line as the final season moves along but we begin to see it in the second episode where Walt does not hesitate to follow up the police evidence room caper with reforming a criminal organization to fill the vacuum left by the defacing of Gus Fring. He and Jesse enlist Mike who protests the offer of partnership by essentially call out Walt on his greed and arrogance. Walt considered himself in the hole though he doesn’t look at his cancer remission as a win, or the business he purchased or the condo he owns. He even has the gall to tell Skylar that he doesn’t want to sell his condo because of the state of the real estate market. Mike only agree to the partnership when he finds out that his financial situation was not as sunny as it once was due to the RICO statues.
In episode three we see Walt’s greed hit a different level. After an episode of logistics and cooking we see Mike make a very visual representation of the division of money and the expenses which the three partners incurred. Walt obviously doesn’t like the size of his stack of money and after Mike removes a considerable amount for “legacy costs” Walt’s greed is really shown. Mike paying Gus’ former employees to keep their silence is a savvy move but Walt’s greed blinds him to the big picture. In the next few episodes how many other big picture items will Walt miss because he is only looking at his bottom line?
Mike the cleaner has turned out to be more than a cleaner as we have seen in the last few seasons. But it is now apparent that the former police officer is much more than what he seemed. He is a businessman, he is ultra connected in organized crime and he is almost unflappable. The only things that seem to really bother him is Walt’s recklessness and Hank nipping at his heels. We see Mike in a scene as a doding grandfather, juxtaposed with a scene where he uses his granddaughter’s toy as a distraction for a murder.
Jonathan Banks is angling for an emmy with this performance as Mike just as we say Giancarlo Esposito’s work last season as Gus Fring. Mike is the most deadpan wildcard in the history of crime drama. Like Gus he seems omniscient at times, he gets one up on pretty much everyone. At what point does Mike and Walt’s tension come to a head? And will Mike play a roll in Walt’s future wreckage? Either way the character of Mike Emmentraut may be one of the most interesting and well acted characters in the entire series. I am excited to see where he goes.
I can’t wait to see the rest of season five of Breaking Bad. Stay tunes for more reviews and musings.
*Two years away from the first episode of the first season.
**Had Walt just used the magnet to erase the laptop’s hard drive he would have never broken the picture frame which contained the off-shore bank accounts. Mind you Mike would never join he and Jesse has those accounts not been uncovered.