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‘Breaking Bad’ premieres Sunday with Walter White hitting new low

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) Jesse Pinkman (AarPaul) - Breaking Bad - Gallery - PhoCredit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) - Breaking Bad - Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

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‘BREAKING BAD’ ★★★★

9 p.m. Sunday, AMC, with repeats at 10:37 p.m. and 12:09 a.m. Monday

For Dish Network subscribers, viewers can register at amctv.com/breakingbad4dish to watch
a live streaming of the premiere. It is a one-time only event.

Updated: August 15, 2012 6:04AM



When we last saw Walter White, the terminal milquetoast turned meth-made man in the season four finale of “Breaking Bad,” the camera lingered over a lily of the valley plant in his backyard as Danger Mouse’s “Black,” with these chilling lines, drifted in on the soundtrack: “Until you travel to that place you can’t come back/Where the last pain is gone, and all that’s left is black.”

At that moment, “Breaking Bad” followers realized that Walt had finally and irreparably crossed the center line on the road to perdition. In past episodes, he’s tried to excuse his misdeeds — drug manufacturing, emotional and physical abuse, money laundering and even murder — by rationalizing that as a terminal cancer victim, he’s just trying to provide for and save his family: wife Skyler, son Walt Jr., baby Holly and surrogate son Jesse. Now he has stretched his Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means strategy to the moral breaking point.

Even after eradicating nem­esis Gus Fring (Mr. Los Pollos Hermanos) and retired drug-cartel enforcer Tio (“Ding!”) in last season’s brutally brilliant “Face Off,” Walt stoops to a new low. Series creator Vince Gilligan calls it “Walt’s deepest, darkest secret”: “There’s no bigger reveal than the fact that Walt would poison a child [with lily of the valley berries],” he told Hitflix.com. “That truly makes him no better than Gus.”

Walt of course doesn’t see it that way. Standing on the hospital grounds where he just snuffed out The Chicken Man, he calmly tells Skyler over the phone: “I won.”

But what exactly did he win? He has scored the ultimate Pyrrhic vic­tory, as we learn in the season five pre­miere “Live Free or Die” (at 9 p.m. Sunday on AMC), which more than maintains the series’ record of excellence. Hardly religious, even he must know of Mark 8:36: For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

Gilligan gives us a newly emboldened Walt determined to survive by his own rules. As flawlessly por­trayed by three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, he’s a study in subtle malice. The glint in his eyes, the squaring off of his once slumped shoulders, the tilt of his Heisenberg hat all indicate that he’s now the Man. When unscrupulous mouthpiece Saul (the always pitch-perfect Bob Odenkirk) starts to whine, Walt coldly cuts him off: “We’re done when I say we’re done.”

Firmly back in the fold, Jesse (Aaron Paul, who deserves another Emmy) again proves to be the show’s moral compass — as well as a shrewd problem solver.

Previously forgiving Walt his transgressions, friends and family now display alarm. After hearing of Gus’ fate, a horrified Skyler tells her husband: “I’m scared.”

“Of what?” Walt responds.

“You.”

With scenes like these, “Live Free or Die” (written by Gilligan) skillfully ratchets up the tension. Amid the suspense, he sprinkles in madcap lunacy worthy of the Three Stooges.

Though the Chicken Man has been fried, the meth-making duo’s troubles aren’t over. As Walt and an accomplice bicker over how to recover incriminating evidence from the police, Jesse keeps blurting out: “Magnets! Magnets! MAGNETS!”

It leads to a scene of utter hilarity, with Walt, Jesse and a third party (who shall remain nameless for now) giving Moe, Larry and Curly a run for their money.

Back in the car, after pulling off their caper, Walt once again signals the power shift that has turned him into his alter ego Heisenberg for good. “How do we know it worked?” Jesse asks.

“Because I say so.”



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