I’m awfully bummed that outside obligations prohibited me from reviewing last week’s “Buyout.” It was, for me, the highlight of the season so far. While “Live Free or Die” and “Dead Freight” provided the thrills, and “Fifty-One” offered sizable thematic weight, “Buyout” struck at the core of what makes Breaking Bad both so addictive and enjoyable as well as heart wrenching and morally despicable. There was the fallout from Todd’s snap decision, there was the end of an era for Walt and Jesse as a master pairing of meth chefs, and there was even the back comedy of Walt forcibly inviting Jesse to dinner where Skyler let it be known that she despises her husband.
And that is merely scratching the surface. There was the “Grey Matter” of Walt revealing another layer to his sociopathy, his obsession with the wealth and potential of the company he left. He resists the buyout by Mike’s contact Declan on principle because he has sold out his potential before. For $5,000 he squandered his share of an enterprise worth over $2 billion—he checks it weekly. He calls that money “his kid’s birthright,” reeking of entitlement. His intellectual prowess and inventive powers are boundless in his eyes. And to sell his portion of precursor would be to once again diminish his worth. He sums it up neatly to Jesse, saying that he is neither in the meth business nor the money business. He is in the empire business. He appeals to Jesse’s loyalty and guilt by confessing that his kids have been stripped from him, so all he has fought for is gone. All his has left is his reputation. All he can claim is his name.
This brings us to the newest addition(s) to badass line deliveries. When last we saw Walt, Mike had a gun pressed to his temple as Jesse pleaded he listen to Mr. White’s solution. After freeing himself once again with his Houdini-esque ingenuity, Walt concocted a plan to acquire the money that would have come to his partners in the deal, while maintaining all 1,000 gallons of methylamine. Sitting in the back of Mike’s ride as they roll through the desert, we’re made aware that Walt will be negotiating with Declan. He starts off boasting,”That 1,000 gallons is worth more in my hands than in yours, or anyone else’s for that matter.”
But without Mike on his team, he lacks distribution. He offers 35% of the take. Declan laughs off this lame proposal, but Walt embarrasses him by reminding him that his product is significantly inferior to his. While Walt can certify his meth as 99.1% pure, Declan’s hits 70% on a good day. Walt compares it to grade school T-ball versus the New York Yankees or tepid, off-brand, generic cola vs. Classic Coke. Declan thinks he’s schooling the old man when he tells him that if he wastes him right now, there’s no more Coke on the market. Walt jabs back, “Do you really wanna live in a world without Coca Cola?” Only Cranston can make that sound cool.
Declan is still unconvinced. He becomes an errand boy simply so junkies can get a better high. Walt schools him now with the argument that a better high means customers are willing to pay more for the classy crank. And a higher purity means a higher yield—higher profit margins. Statistic in his pocket, as always, Walt calculates that they would make $130 million with simply 35% of the haul. “You’ve got the greatest meth cook, no, the two greatest meth cooks in America right here.” As a finder’s fee for bringing them together, Mike will still receive his $5 million and Declan will make more than he ever would on his own. Declan asks astoundingly, “Who the hell are you?” Walt, supremely confident in that one thing he has left—his name—says, “You all know…say my name. I’m the man who killed Gus Fring.” Striking fear and shame into their hearts, Declan mutters, “Heisenberg.”
“You’re goddamn right.”
CHILLS. He was a freaking high school chemistry teacher just over a year ago. Now he has top-notch meth distributors submitting to his whims. As he argues to Jesse, he/they are the best at something, and that is nothing something to be trifled with, or tossed aside. He commands respect because his product speaks for itself. There’s only one reason he isn’t the undisputed kingpin. He undermines his underlings at every turn. Jesse has always felt like Mr. White has his back. He’s killed to protect him, and has now included him in his privileged class of meth cook extraordinaire. He counts Jesse as the second best meth cook there is. But he doesn’t respect his opinions. One being, the murder or endangerment of innocent children. As exemplified by Brock, Andrea’s son, Jesse has a soft spot for little ones. And when Walt sided with Todd in his justification of killing the dirt bike kid, and in “Buyout” when Walt whistled as he worked after seeing the boy’s picture on the news, Jesse saw that their values do not match up. Jesse has been willing to sully his soul often for the sake of lucrative ends, but Walt’s disregard for his pain and his discomfort with continuing has pushed him too far.
And now, Jesse has real reason to hate him. He killed the only other man who ever took him under the wing.
Back tracking to the episode content itself, after Declan and his crew have left, leaving $5 million in Mike’s trunk, Jesse pipes up about when he’ll get his share. Walt brushes it off with a “We’ll talk about it later.” Back at headquarters, Mike leaves with two parting thoughts—he’ll take care of the “legacy costs” and Walt needs to get rid of the bug. He means the device that has them listening in on his conversations, but who else thought of season three episode, “Fly?” In this seemingly inconsequential episode, Jesse and Walt spend the better part of the hour trying to stamp out a fly that could be contaminating their cook. Come to realize, the real bug is Walter and the secrets he has hidden from Jesse, a list that’s been piling up of late.
Jesse says goodbye to his second surrogate dad, hoping to see him around. Mike doubts it. I accounted that to him being skeptical that Jesse could escape Walt’s clutches. He’s got a hold on him that goes beyond business. With guilt, desperation, and money, Walt’s been able to reign Jesse in, and chain him to his side. With Mike, his other mentor, disposed of by his original mentor, will this liberate Jesse?
Turns out, Walt was concealing the methylamine at the car wash. Skyler, as she agreed, acted as the partner he needed. After backing the truck up to attach the tank, Jesse politely acknowledges Mrs. White, reading the decal on the side of the cab—Vamonos. She answers, “I wish.” Could the loyalties he’s deceitfully manufactured team up to bring him down? Both have had their moralities sacrificed in order to become Walter’s means to an increasingly infinite end. And both are trapped in a life they never imagined for themselves. After pestering her husband-by-necessity about any impending danger this tank’s contents could bring, she walks off in shadow and looks back. Is she reaching out?
At Craddock Marine Bank, Dan Wachsberger—the lawyer for “the nine” from a few episodes ago who escorted Mike to his “guys”—drops some bacon banana cookies (those could either be orgasmically good, or disgusting) off at a bank clerk’s desk. She’s delighted as she opens up the usual deposit boxes for him. We’re privileged to watch a dropoff of the “legacy costs.” But today he also opens 603, a bigger box that he fills to the brim and tops off with a letter addressed to “Kaylee on her 18th birthday.”
Mike parks in a deserted area to listen in on Hank. Gomie brings him good news that they have a warrant to search Mike’s home. Mike drops the laptop and a fair amount of his personal arsenal into a hole in the ground. Then he drops his car off at the airport where he’s stashing a bag in his trunk that includes cash, passports and a sidearm. Hank and the DEA pound on his door. Hank holds up the warrant to Mike’s face and Mike retorts, “If you want me to read that, I’m going to need my glasses.” They turn up nothing, to Hank’s dismay.
Walt prepares for another cook when Jesse arrives. Certain that he’s affirming his belief that Jesse couldn’t possibly leave him, he hands him a pair of gloves and suggest he start by cleaning the settling tank. Jesse insists they talk about his cut, but Walt is focused on how they can better their operation. He suggests they “double down” and Jesse run his own lab. But nothing has changed for him, he wants out.
Walt doesn’t seem to understand anyone being motivated by reasons outside of pride, financial gain or despair. The cancer that used to ravage his lungs has been replaced by a cancer in his heart. His ability to empathize has been compromised and while he ticks on, his soul has perished. He tries to pull Jesse back by appealing to pride first. He has the potential to be “the best.” But Jesse, frankly, just feels blessed to be alive. The world has never handed him anything. He’s not expecting talent and an affinity for chemistry to bring him riches. Walt grows Hulkish mad, trying to poke at his limited self-worth. “What have you got in your life, nothing, nobody…Video games and go-karts. And what about when you get tired of that?…And how soon will you go back to using again?” In the same conversation, Walt has gone from singing his praises, to calling him a sack of shit who wouldn’t be anything if he wasn’t his sidekick. His manipulation that was so masterful and subtle earlier in the season is now naked. And Jesse doesn’t like what he sees.
Walt sings yet another tune, relating to his ethical conundrum. “Look, I know how upset you are, about what happened to this boy. I am just as upset as you are.” Jesse calls out his bullshit, “Are you, really?” Enraged and offended, Walt yells at him and mocks the showy way he deals with grief—locking himself in his rooms and getting high.” With every breath, Walt changes the laws of moral calculus. For someone who respects the rules of science, and the precise order of chemistry, he sure doesn’t mind messing with others’ perceptions of right and wrong. Picking the scabs of his grief, he says, “I don’t know if you believe in a hell…but we’re pretty much going there, right? But I’m not gonna lie down till I get there.”
Grasping at straws, Walt insists no one else will get hurt, but finally his promises sound empty to Jesse as Walt hurls one last guilt bomb at him. “Why do you want this money? Isn’t it filthy blood money? I mean you’re so pure, you have such emotional depth. You shouldn’t touch that dirty money. I’ll save you from that, Jesse.” In case, you didn’t catch that, Walt just placed judgement on the validity of Jesse’s principles, and is threatening to stiff him if he doesn’t join up again. Jesse storms off triumphant, however, saying he won’t mind if he doesn’t get another cent, that’s on Walt. As his voice bellows, Walt pronounces that he won’t leave, because he gets nothing!
Walt loses Jesse not because of what Todd did, and not because Jesse doesn’t have the stomach for the meth industry anymore. Jesse left because while Mike and Jesse, even as they fueled the machine that crippled communities, they were looking out for others. Mike was saving up for Kaylee, Jesse was providing Andrea with a home. For Walter, it’s become an intricate fallacy that he has spurned society for his family. His “family” doesn’t exist. Skyler can’t stand to eat at the same table and his kids have been banished. His concept of fighting for “something” and gaining “nothing” have become distorted. While till the end Mike was worried about whether he owed “his guys” or his granddaughter, Walt is worried only about himself. And he expects that because he’s Heisenberg, others will worry that he hasn’t been compensated too. As an audience, we’ve watched Walt vanquish many enemies through sheer will and science. Now he intimidates those we care about with money, fear and guilt. There’s no Walter White to root for, only a Heisenberg to hate.
So who is our hero now? Could this antihero tale actually be a masquerade for a traditional cops and bad guys show, just told from the bad guy’s perspective? Maybe this is the story of how Hank saved Jesse and Skyler from untimely ends. Except sadly, he is being thwarted at every turn. On a conference call, his boss reduces his surveillance budget on Mike to zero. So he switches strategies. Since none of “the nine” are giving an inch, maybe they can press the lawyer they all share—Dan Wachsberg. Hmm, so it seems our hero is dipping his toe into unethical waters as well.
Walt suits up for what we believe is a solo cook. So when he begins to speak, we think he’s lonely, and creating an imaginary #2, but it’s revealed that Todd is there to take on the role of apprentice since he seems so eager. Todd is intimidated by the complex chemistry, but Walt has modest expectations of attention and application. “Goin’ Down” by the Monkees blares in the background as we enjoy the standard meth-making montage. Showing initiative, Todd studies his notes during their break. Ending their cook overwhelmed, Todd asks how he did and Walt feigns being pleased, but he’s encouraged that he’s so obedient. There’s just one issue. When they begin to talk money, Todd says he won’t negotiate until he understands it all. Another one not motivated by the dollar. A friend he can’t buy.
Lawyer Dan arrives at the bank with more sweets, cake pops with faces on them, but the clerk seems less impressed. As he is distributing the dough, Gomie appears in the doorway with a creepy grin. They’ve got him! Meanwhile, Walt tries to discuss work like a typical husband, but his wife leaves with her wine again. I burst out laughing at this attempt at normalcy.
Reaching in his bag of tricks, Walt goes for the waterworks with Hank again so he can snag the bug as he retrieves coffee. A side benefit of this visit? He happens to overhear Hank and Gomie discussing that Dan Wachsberger is going to flip on Mike. Is it contrived that Walt would be there for that conversation. Sure. Is it possible that they would discuss the case in earshot? Hell yeah, they don’t suspect Walt! But having the next series of events riding on coincidence does seem fishy. Is there no other way Mike could have been tipped off? Shoddy plotting, unfortunately doesn’t stop there. Yes, the conclusion has an awful emphasis on devastation, it could have sticked the landing more if the routine wasn’t as messy.
As Mike watches Kaylee swing freely, Dan calls him to meet. Mike is suspicious when he asks to meet with him at the park where he’s at. His suspicions are confirmed when Walt calls in a panic. Mike is able to slip away, but with tears in his eyes he has to abandon his granddaughter to avoid detection. Saul is furious that Mike used outside counsel—”Might as well consult the offices of Moe, Larry, and Schemp”—while Walt is mostly concerned about if “the nine” will flip now that their lawyer is compromised. Mike calls, and asks Saul to pick up his bag at the airport in order for him to make a swift getaway. Saul refuses for fear that the cops are already sitting on him since he is his representation. Jesse volunteers, but Mike won’t allow it. With Saul not budging, Walt is sent instead.
This is where plot contrivance REALLY rears it’s ugly head. For an episode I enjoyed immensely, this stuck in my craw and lessened its impact. Not only are Mike’s reasons for not sending Jesse not apparent, but we’re made to believe that those three are his ONLY options. He has no other contacts? Kaylee’s parents (his son and daughter-in-law) wouldn’t help? I say this only because it seems highly improbable that Mike would choose to trust Walt for any other reason than complete desperation. He was close, he needed to bolt, but I was not convinced that he was last resort.
While retrieving the bag, Walt spies the handgun inside. From that instance, I knew the inevitability. Then visibly, and audibly cried as I implored my TV not to show me the upcoming sequence of events. Mike is skipping stones when Walt rides up. Before he’ll hand him the bag, he wants the names of his guys. Mike won’t, so he rips the bag from his grip. Walt shouts sarcastically, “You’re welcome!” when he turns toward his car. Mike could have continued on, but he had to make something clear to this bastard. He berates him, “All this falling apart like this, is on you.” He further insults him by saying that if he had just shut his mouth and worked for Gus Fring, they’d be better off. They had everything they needed, it ran like clockwork. It was perfect and he had to blow it up. His pride and his ego made the DEA come knocking. If only he’d known his place.
That’s sort of a sore spot for Walt.
He grabs the gun and stomps toward Mike’s car. As Mike realizes it’s missing, Walt appears at the window. After shooting Mike in the gut, Heisenberg dissipates, and pure Walter appears. He’s nervous, uncertain, and scared. This was not a calculated move, this was a desperate ploy. Mike has rolled out of the car, and stumbled onto a rock where Walt finds him putting pressure on the wound with his pistol as it bleeds out. Looking discombobulated, and even regretful, Walt apologizes with a startling revelation. “I just realized Lydia has the names, I can just get them from her. I’m sorry, Mike…”
Looking out onto the river, Mike cuts him off. “Shut the fuck up, and let me die in peace.” Calm and cool till his last breath, Mike exits with nary a whimper, as he lived. And as Walt stares off, looking shocked by himself for the first time in a while, the sun freckles the water as a faint plop is heard.
The reason Walt’s actions here are so demoralizing is two-fold. Not only does he eliminate a character we as an audience have come to adore, but he does it for no reason. There’s no logic, no self-preservation. Mike was willing to ride off into the sunset, leaving Walt to his “empire.” While we justified Tony Soprano’s whackings as measures of exerting power and maintaining his wealth, Walt has forced us to lay to rest a man who truly embodies Walter’s early tenets of doing what you have to do to protect your loved ones. He stuck his neck out for anyone who needed him. And Walt bit the hand that fed him because that hand wouldn’t pat him on the back. I sincerely hope no one was rooting for Walter still, but now? There better be a rallying cry for his demise. I don’t care if it’s Hank, Jesse, or Skyler that ends him. No more ticking time bomb. The clock has run out on Walt. I can’t excuse or forgive his actions any longer. He’s the villain.
Jesse has the ammunition now. He knew Walt was spewing bullshit, but now he sees no one is safe. Skyler has known she has been unsafe for a while, only Hank has yet to see Walt for the monster he’s become after years of feeling scorned by the world. Walt may have a genuine grievance, that the talents of many are squandered by the system we’re forced to filter through. The winners are not always deserving, while the losers may be rejected geniuses. But what’s he doing, unleashing justice upon the guilty and the innocent so that he can realize his potential, is no short of terrorism. He’s prideful to the point that he’s playing God—judge, jury and executioner. Let’s hope Albuquerque rallies around the goateed, porkpie hat-donning face of evil.
So pour out some Miller for Mike Ehrmantraut, the cleaner who got his hands dirty, and killed only when necessary. Like Omar of “The Wire,” he had a code. And let’s hope Kaylee is set for life.