*SPOILERS AHEAD: I summarize, to the best of my abilities, the first eight episodes of Season 5 of Breaking Bad. You've been warned.*
Standing in the desert, a shirt from the waist up, briefs from the waist down. Gun in hand, pointed at a distant yet approaching siren. Sweat dripping from his face. He decides to end it all. Sticks the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Nothing. Silence. The safety is on. His life spared by his own stupidity.
This was Walter White, barely a foot in the door of drug dealing, ready to take his own life in exchange for being caught with two (presumed) dead bodies in the back of a run-down RV. That Walter White is dead. He no longer exists. His cancer is in remission. His head is shaved. His closest ally is a former student that has alternately wanted him dead or alive on more than one occasion. His wife despises him. He killed his former boss. He poisoned an innocent child. Like never before, Walter White's life is a runaway train.
And as he makes perfectly clear, nothing stops this train.
Season Five picks up shortly after the events of the 4th season finale. In "Live Free or Die", Walt contends with an unexpected wrinkle in his post-Gus plans: the laptop used by Gus has been seized by the police. Knowing that video surveillance is on that laptop, incriminating himself and Jesse, they concoct a plan with an angry Mike to destroy the evidence completely. Problem is: how do you break into the evidence room? Jesse creates an idea that's almost too stupid but somehow genius: a giant magnet. Did it work? Is everything OK? Yes. Why? "Because I say so", Walt boasts to a skeptical Mike and Jesse.
In "Madrigal", the head of the fast foot operations for Madrigal, the parent company to Los Pollos Hermanos, kills himself. Lydia (a twitchy, nerve-wracked Laura Fraser), an American Madrigal executive, meets with Mike after this troubling development and asks him to kill off eleven of Gus's men before they start talking to the authorities. Mike assures her these hand-picked men will stay quiet after being compensated, but when he's questioned by Hank and Gomez, he discovers the bank accounts have been frozen, stopping payments for the eleven cohorts as well as taking away the dough Mike had saved for his granddaughter. A chord has been struck.
Before this, Walt and Jesse propose a new operation to Mike but only if they find some methlyamine to cook. Mike's initial refusal changes after learning his money is gone, but when he's called to Duane Chow's, Gus's own methylamine supplier, he soon realizes Lydia has moved down the list to find a new man for the job. Duane is dead, but not before Mike turns the tables on the turncoat, one of his men, and offs him. His plans to kill Lydia are temporarily halted in order to secure methylamine for Walt's operation. He's in. He needs the money for nine other men and his granddaughter, and he knows, against better judgment, Walt can get it.
"Hazard Pay" is the beginning of Vamanos Pest, Walt and Jesse's new roaming plan for cooking meth. Several locales are visited but none hit the spot for Walt, who decides they need to re-work their RV idea: always keep moving. They start using infested homes for the operation, entering the premises with Vamanos Pest, a pest-control company happy to turn the other way for a little compensation. There's no central home for every cook. It's perfect. Not so perfect is the first time the money is divided among them: much of the earnings go to Mike's nine men and himself, leaving low six-figures for Walt and Jesse. A pittance in Walt's eyes. He reluctantly accepts this new deal to incorporate hazard pay for Mike's men, but hints to Jesse that Mike may need to go sooner rather than later.
One year after the milestone birthday celebration, "Fifty-One" shows the drastically different lives Walt and Skyler are now living. Walter, completely immersed in his Heisenberg side, the side he's always had in him, is completely unsympathetic towards his crumbling, frightened, disgusted wife. When she accepted the idea of laundering the money, she didn't see the dark side of drug dealing. She didn't see death. She didn't see the monster that had been living with her. She didn't see the Walter White that was capable of killing another human being. That was capable of blowing up part of a retirement facility, just to "win" the fight against Gus Fring. She didn't see the danger he posed to their children.
Skyler suffers a breakdown with Hank and Marie present, descending into their icy swimming pool, submerged as Walt jumps in to save her. She tells Walt that she's sent the children to stay with Hank and Marie for the time-being, away from the danger of him. A tense back-and-forth climaxes with a sad admission that she can only wait now until his cancer comes back and finally kills him. Inititally fazed, Walter later shows Skyler the thoughtful gift someone had given him, a watch, but the point is not the gift itself, the point is that the person who gave it to him, Jesse, had also wanted him dead not too long ago, but he has since changed his mind, and so will Skyler.
After discovering one of Lydia's methylamine barrels had a tracking device installed, Walt, Jesse and Mike threaten to kill her but soon find out via Walt's bugs placed in Hank's office that the trackers didn't come from her. After facing death for a second time, she promises that she can provide an ocean of methylamine: from a freight train. How exactly will our rag-tag crew rob a train? The appropriately-named "Dead Freight" takes us on that journey. Walt and Jesse perfect the plan, with no planned bloodshed and two 1000-gallon tanks buried in the ground: one empty and one filled with water to replace the stolen methylamine. Todd, a Vamanos Pest employee, is enlisted for help. Miraculously, the plan goes off without a hitch. Success.
Except one boy on a dirt bike who watches as the crew celebrate. There's no telling how much he's seen or who he'll tell. The audience tell themselves that. The characters tell themselves that. Before anyone can properly react, Todd pulls out a gun and kills the boy, as a horrified Jesse and dead-faced Walter look on in disbelief. Everyone had contingency plans in place, but none involved killing an innocent child.
After careful consideration, and the DEA following him, Mike decides he can't keep going with Walt, and neither can Jesse who decides he can't continue to support their plan. Mike and Jesse decide to sell their share of the methylamine to a Phoenix competitor, for $5 million each. But Declan, the competitor, doesn't want 66% of their take. He wants everything. He wants the blue meth to vanish. Of course, Walter will not agree to the plan. He has too much invested. He sold his share in Gray Matter Technology for $5000. It's now worth $2 billion. When asked if he's in the drug business or the money business by Jesse, he admits to neither: he's in the empire business.
Breaking Bad is brilliant at balancing the heavy, dark world of drug dealing with the awkward. In "Buyout", Walt invites Jesse to stay for dinner with him and Skyler. It's a first for everyone. The two people who represent so many similar yet so many different ties to Walter White. Aaron Paul excels as Jesse here, spouting off about microwave lasagna to a hate-filled Skyler. Needless to say, it's probably the first and last dinner party for these three.
Mike suspects Walt is planning on taking the methylamine and ties him up in their office while he meets with the DEA. When he comes back, Walt has broken free and hid the entire supply. Mike threatens to kill Walt until Jesse assures him of Walt's plan that will keep everyone happy.
As Walt says, "Everybody wins."
Once the trio meet with Declan and his crew, Walt has orders of his own: he and Jesse will continue to cook, the Phoenix competitors will distribute it, and Mike gets the $5 million he wants to get out. But as the walls start closing in on Mike and the DEA gets as close as ever to putting him away, he gets rid of everything incriminating and readies himself to leave, at least for a while. But one last trip to the park with his granddaughter ends in heartbreak as the police cover the area, leaving Mike no choice but to leave without saying goodbye to her. He packs up what he needs to leave, and just needs someone to bring him his bag with money, a passport and a gun. Walt agrees to the job and meets with Mike, but not before demanding to get the names of Mike's nine men so he can take care of them personally. Mike refuses, unloading his pent-up rage on Walt, reasoning that he should have kept a good thing going with Gus, but instead, he had to let his ego get the upper hand and effectively screwed everything and everyone in the process. Basically, Gus was the mastermind. Walt is a wannabe. Mike goes to leave, as does Walt, but Walt quickly storms back to Mike's car, gun in hand, and shoots Mike in the stomach.
The events of one year have led to this moment. That fateful day in the desert, a gun in his hand, willing to kill himself to spare the alternative, has led Walter White to his true personality: Heisenberg. Walter White is not just dead, he never truly existed. He is only a character Heisenberg has portrayed for fifty years. And now, Heisenberg has killed Mike, not for any other reason except that he was willing to stand up to him and not take orders. There is no justifiable reason to kill Mike. He is steadfast in his loyalty. He would never bring Walt down. And in his loyalty to his nine guys, Mike ends up dead. But not before Walt choke out an apology, realizing he could have gotten the names from Lydia and spared Mike's life. Mike, in one last act of defiance, stands up to Walt and begs him to "shut the fuck up and let me die in peace". Quietly, he sits there, then falls over as Walt looks on.
In the half-season's final episode, "Gliding Over All", Walt gets the names of the nine men from Lydia. She, in exchange, offers to expand the business internationally, hoping for her own life to be saved. Walt agrees and gathers a gang of truly bad men, headed by Todd's uncle, to have the deaths of all nine men (and the lawyer) occur in three separate prisons in two minutes. Somehow, someway, Walt gets it done. Loose ends are tied. But how many more loose ends are exposed?
The timeline skips ahead drastically, by months, as the business seems to be pushing towards a finish. Skyler pleads with Walt to stop. How much more money does he need? Reluctantly, he sees it may be time to hang up his meth-cooking gear once and for all. Get out while you still can. Walt finally gives Jesse his share of their money. It seems life is returning to some sense of normalcy for the Whites. Until one fateful lunch by the pool tears apart the loosely-wrapped life of Walter.
After enjoying their time together, Hank excuses himself to the bathroom, where he searches for something to read while using the can. Fate finds a way of driving Hank to this exact moment where he finally discovers the identity of Heisenberg. He opens a book of poetry by Walt Whitman. He doesn't just open it, he starts at the very beginning, to the nicely-worded dedication to its recipient: "To my other favorite W.W. It's an honour working with you. Fondly, G.B."
Only Breaking Bad can have the single-most pivotal moment occur while someone's on the toilet.
Hank doesn't need anyone to crack this code. Gale Boetticher, from beyond the grave, has finally exposed Walter White for the monster he is. In an earlier episode, a wisely-placed camera shot focused on Walter holding his signature Heisenberg hat, a lone string parting in the fabric. It was a symbol for Walt's life. The string was coming apart, and no matter how much Walter tries to tie everything back up, it's all going to come apart. It's no longer a question of if, but when.
Once upon a time, Walter proclaimed to Jesse that all he had in the world was the seven grand he gave him to buy an RV, and his family. Now, Walt has more money than he can spend, but no family that will appreciate it. Everything has changed. But that doesn't stop Walt. Nothing stops this train. Come hell or high water, Heisenberg will get what he wants.
No words spoken on this show have been less true.