About halfway through last night’s “Say My Name,” I wrote in my notes, “That’s the biggest mistake Walter White will ever make.”
Turns out I was proven pretty wrong just a half hour later.
The first mistake was Walter’s dismissal of Jesse, his partner through all of this and probably the one person on earth that still had some faith in him. The conversation in the lab showed just how untethered from reality Walter is right now. When his usual emotional manipulation of Jesse failed, and his protegé still wanted out, Walter panicked and started debasing him. No rational mind could think that lecturing Jesse about how little he has in his life would convince him to stay in the cooking business, especially given that Walter is the primary reason Jesse has nothing else in his life.
Jesse isn’t nearly as stupid as Walter thinks he is — something he begins to piece together when he tries to teach Todd how to cook. When you’ve isolated yourself from everyone who’s ever cared about you and everyone who can possibly help you if you’re in trouble, it’s generally not a great idea to antagonize the one person whom you’ve come to rely on.
Betraying Jesse could come back to bite Walter in any number of ways:
- Jesse could flip on Walter, if not to the DEA then to one of his growing number of enemies
- Walter now has to rely far too heavily on Crazy Landry on both the cooking and business end
- Jesse has long served as Walter’s safety valve; manipulating him has gotten him out of trouble countless times
- Most obviously, not having someone watching his back could prove to be critical
Of course, those concerns were rendered somewhat irrelevant when Walter up and killed Mike. Not that his treatment of Jesse won’t eventually hurt him, but that’s not his foremost concern any longer.
I really thought Mike was the one character who was going to slip quietly away into the desert. He couldn’t get away clean because no one can on this show — hence that brutal scene at the park when Mike processed that he’d never see or speak to his granddaughter again. But I don’t think he was going to become a casualty.
Then, Walter White completely lost his shit. Every other crime Walter committed, no matter how immoral, came from a place of cold logic.
Poisoning Brock was essential to freeing himself from Gus. Killing Gus was essential to staying alive. Letting Jane die was monstrous, but helped bring Jesse to a place where Walter need him to be. Keeping Todd in the fold after killing that spider kid was the smart move from a criminal enterprise perspective. Killing Mike was an out-of-control crime of passion that will not benefit Walter in any way.
Mike has always claimed that Walter was a danger to everyone he worked with because of his recklessness. Ultimately, it took his own demise to prove him absolutely correct. Walter blew it, and he knows he blew it. You can see the panic taking over as he finds Mike by the creek and realizes the enormity and the irrevocability of what he’s done. Walter is completely alone now and there is no more cleaner to help him deal with his enemies.
He may have bitten off more than he can chew with his new partner, Declan. Mike’s “guys” are flipping and someone is bound to lead Hank to the real Heisenberg. Todd seems like a legitimate psychopath. There are too many loose ends that Walter hasn’t tied up. And now he’s a cold-blooded murderer.
Breaking Bad excels at setting us up then pulling the rug out from under us. And the emotional distance between the first scene, with Heisenberg mentally dominating Declan and crew and seeming ascendant once more, and the last scene, with Walter looking on in horror as Mike dies by a quiet creek, is vast and stunning.
“Say My Name” seems to be controversial with some critics, who decry the plot machinations that led to Walter and Mike’s final confrontation, even while admiring the beauty of the scene itself. There’s no doubt the series hasn’t been showing their work as much this season, from never explaining the mechanics of how Walter poisoned Brock to not showing how Walter got the methylamine to the car wash to not fully making us understand why Mike would allow Walter to bring him his go bag. They’re jumping straight to the answer and fudging some of the details.
This isn’t necessarily a new issue for Breaking Bad. In a recap of season 4’s “Problem Dog,” I wrote:
This is the second or third time this season that the show has had some trouble making a plot jump, in terms of the believability of the way the characters would act or think. I don’t think it’s a significant problem for Breaking Bad, though, for two reasons:
1) The leaps themselves aren’t so difficult to believe as to be impossible…[snip]…Neither story point is utterly outside the realm of possibility.
2) The show’s so fucking good that I’m not sure it would matter even if the plot made suspension of disbelief impossible.
And that’s basically still true. When we think back on season four, we don’t think about minor gaps in logic or the occasional plot contrivance. We think about the symphony-like building of tension, the incredible moments and the gripping climax. I think the same will be true of season five. I would prefer that the show take its time and explain itself a little more, but these missed details aren’t causing me to enjoy Breaking Bad any less.
This is also where the structure of the final season is becoming a bit of a nagging problem. A 16-episode season split into two halves of equal length just doesn’t seem like a good fit for the series, and Vince Gilligan appears to be trying to force the narrative into an odd shape to fit the strange structure. Again, not a huge deal, but something that’s standing between this show and perfection.
Plus, how upset could I possibly get with an episode in which Walter White compares himself to the New York Yankees? Not very. Not very upset. (Even if he looks more like Kevin Youkilis than any Bronx Bomber.)
What’s Up With Hank’s Mineral Collection?
I’d like to think that Hank used it to soothe himself after getting dressed down by his superior. But that’s pure conjecture.
Is Skyler Still the Worst?
Goddamnit, I just don’t know anymore! Again this week, Skyler was kind of not bad. Jesse saw his future in her face and that’s a valuable service. And her behavior at the car wash made sense in character and was completely understandable. Not sure what’s going on here. They’re probably just setting us up for another major about-face in the mid-season finale. So again I am going to say that the answer is “probably.” Probably, Skyler is still the worst. Doubts are creeping in, though.