“Live free or die.” That’s the name of Breaking Bad’s fifth season premiere, and it’s also the official state motto of New Hampshire, which may or may not play a significant role in Walter White’s future. (I’ll get to that in just a minute.) But as we head into the show’s final season, it also suggests the two ways this series could end. Either Walt will disappear off the grid, possibly with help from Saul’s friend the “vacuum cleaner salesman,” and live like a free man, with or without his family. Or karma will finally catch up with him, and he’ll end up dead, either at the hands of an enemy, or at the mercy of cancer. (Did we see him coughing in that first scene, and taking pills?)
At Comic-Con last weekend, the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, hinted that he might prefer the latter choice. “Somebody said to me once, ‘Is it possible for Breaking Bad to have a happy ending?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Have you been watching?’ Perhaps the happy ending would be for him to die. He’s become so toxic and cancerous, maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to go.”
For now, though, Walt’s still alive and well. And this episode’s flash-forward opener suggests that he’ll stay that way for a while. When we first see Walt, he has just ordered bacon and eggs at Denny’s, and he’s busy arranging the bacon into the number “52,” to celebrate his 52nd birthday. (The fourth episode of this season is called “Fifty-One,” which is probably a nod to Walt’s 51st birthday, so he’ll likely survive another year.) It’s a trick he learned from Skyler, who arranged his bacon into a “50” to celebrate his 50th birthday in the show’s very first episode.
If this is Walt’s bittersweet attempt to recapture that moment, it’s also a sign of how much things have changed. When Walt first started selling meth, he was in it for the money, trying to protect his family and save them from crushing debt. Now, he’s got enough cash that Ted’s $622,000 check is just a small dent in his fortune, but he’s put his family in danger. And with Hank closing in on the truth behind his “business,” he couldn’t buy his freedom if he tried. So is he really better off now than he was two years ago? Is it better to be a rich man or a free man? Even his Denny’s waitress knows the answer. “Free is good,” she tells him. “Even if I was, like, rich. Free is always good.”
Of course, she’s actually talking about giving him a free breakfast. But their conversation brings up all sorts of larger questions anyway. Is Walt still in New Mexico at this point? When the waitress asks him how far he is from New Hampshire, and he replies that it’s a 30-hour drive. New Hampshire would be a little longer than that, so if he’s driving toward California, as the waitress suggests, he could be in Oklahoma, Kansas or Nebraska. But I’d bet on Texas, since his dealer makes him promise that his gun won’t cross the border. Still, there’s always the chance that he’s still in New Mexico and simply underestimated the length of the trip.
Also, if Walt’s using a fake I.D., why would he choose Lambert as his last name? As he’s leaving, the waitress calls out, “Happy birthday, Mr. Lambert!” Isn’t that Skyler’s maiden name? Why would he pick a false name, only to let it trace back to his real family?
Most important, who is that machine gun meant for? There’s no way Walt bought that thing to target just one man. It could take down a whole cartel. And anyone he knows—Jesse, Mike, Hank—could find himself standing down the bullets.
Maybe there’s another way to look at his options: Die, or live free—and kill everyone around you.
NEXT: “Yeah, bitch! Magnets!”