Written by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)

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The beginning of the end is here. We're entering the home stretch for AMC's measured, pulpy, and altogether brilliant Breaking Bad. Last night's fifth season premiere, "Live Free or Die," marked the beginning of the first half of the show's final season (the last half will air in 2013), and it did not disappoint.

Loose Ends

Breaking Bad is a very process-oriented show, chronicling every small step in Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) transformation from hapless high school chemistry teacher to drug kingpin with the same detail he applies to his meth-cooking recipe. So even though the last third of season 4 hit the gas pedal pretty hard, the pace reset last night. Anyone expecting this season to begin with Walt already at the head of his own operation should recalibrate immediately.

We actually pick up exactly where we left off last summer. After cleaning up the mess from constructing the bomb that killed Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), concocted in his family kitchen, and trashing the evidence of his heinous Brock poisoning, Walt celebrates his grim victory with a drink. Until he realizes he's not done cleaning up just yet.

Even though he and Jesse (Aaron Paul) burned the Super Lab, there's still the matter of the camera feed Gus installed to keep them in line, the contents of which can put them both, plus Mike (Jonathan Banks), away for life. Let's just get this minor complaint out of the way now: As fun as it was to watch Mike participate in one of Walter's hare-brained Bill Nye/MacGyver-inspired schemes, we don't buy for a second that he wouldn't just waste Walter on sight and handle his own business. Walt just blew his boss's face off and put him in the unemployment line. Mike's been depicted as too loyal to let Walter breathe after that.

The aforementioned scheme involves getting to Gus's laptop, which has already been bagged and tagged, before the cops view it. While Mike and Walt butt heads, Jesse's idiotic suggestion to swipe it with a magnet gives Walt the bright idea to use a giant magnet to remotely wipe the drive. In true Walt-Jesse fashion, they succeed by the skin of their teeth.

Better Off Ted

Any shreds of innocence that Skyler White (Anna Gunn) retained are long gone now, as her conscience is once again put through the wringer when she learns what happened to one-time lover Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) after she sent Saul's goons through his house.

When Saul (Bob Odenkirk) first revealed that Ted actually survived his Elmore Leonard-esque "death," we were ready to call foul on a retcon that robbed the series of one its most memorable, darkly comic moments. And then we saw Ted in the hospital. One of the major themes of the series is showing the devastating ripple effects of Walt's actions, and now Skyler has her own slice of guilt on her soul.

"Scared of what?" "Of you."

Walter has always had an ego, and the more wins he racks up the more dangerous, reckless and cocky he becomes. His victory over the indomitable Gus Fring seems to have moved him that much further towards becoming a completely closed off, cold kingpin.

"Because I say so." - Walt to Mike
"We're not done, until I say we're done." - Walt to Saul
"I forgive you." - Walt to Skyler

Those three exchanges each add up to a Walter White who's becoming as scary and imposing as the man he just took down. He's talking reckless to a man who, just a few days ago, he was scared shitless of; he's threatening Saul, without whom he surely would've been dead or in jail by this point; and he's got Skyler so shook that she fearfully tells him Ted isn't a threat because she doesn't know what this new Walt might do if he even thinks he is.

Live Free Or Die, Indeed

Ninety-five percent of the episode would have you think Walt is well on his way to taking Gus's vacant spot on the throne. But the mysterious teaser suggests otherwise.

In what, given his full shock of hair, must at least be a few months after the present day events, Walter is apparently alone, living under an assumed name, and returning to Albuquerque from New Hampshire. Gone is the prideful cocky demeanor, and his health suggests a turn for the worse.

He's at a Denny's to do a covert deal with Lawson (Jim Beaver), the same illegal weapon man that sold him his .38 last season. And he purchases one gnarly-ass machine gun. Whose lawn is Walter planning to bring the drama to? Much like the second season's continuous flash forwards to the plane crash, we're sure there will be periodic check-ins to fill in the blanks as we go along.

Great start to the season, albeit not as visually striking as say, Gus and his box cutter or The Cousins crawling to the shrine.

Things To Consider

- Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) Breakfast Report: N/A

- You'll remember the hilarious junkyard owner as the same guy who helped Walt and Jesse get rid of the RV in the excellent third season episode "Sunset."

- We've enjoyed watching Hank (Dean Norris) break the Fring case thus far, but his discoveries are starting to stretch believability. In the season 4 finale, he figured out where the lab entrance was in like two seconds because of the extra amps on the breaker box. And now, in last night's episode, he instantly deduces the existence of the camera feed.

- The magnet attack on the APD evidence locker inadvertently points the cops toward a new lead, possibly a money trail, originally hidden behind a picture of Gus and his old partner Max.

- Future Theory: Is Walt on the run from Jesse, having finally discovered the role his teacher played in both Jane's death and Brock's poisoning?

Written by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)

Follow @ComplexPopCult