We open this week, not with a stylized tone poem, but with a BB mainstay: some gangsters meet in the desert to talk business and why they should/shouldn’t murder Walter White. The outcome of this meeting is not really in question; not only is it beginning of the episode, but we have half a season to go and Declan is too new to the scene to pose a serious threat to any of the regulars. Which is not to say that 10 episodes from now he won’t have Jesse cooking meth at gunpoint, necessitating the intervention of Walt and a little friend.
At first I felt like we’re supposed to view this as a triumphant exercise of our hero’s power, exactly the kind of scene that those who were frustrated with Walter’s backsliding from the badass Heisenberg persona for the majority of seasons 3 and 4. These are the people who hate Skyler for being a wet blanket that prevents Walt from pursuing his kingpin destiny. The thing that many of the Skyler/Carmela/Rita Morgan haters don’t seem to understand is how boring the kingpin business would get without the tension between it and the more grounded, domestic side of the character. Heisenberg is ascendant throughout the scene, dominating Declan at each turn and forcing him to kiss the ring before he’s actually delivered anything. But was it as exciting as any one of the similar meetings with Gus, where Walt had to carefully, gingerly lay out the arguments for keeping him and his partner alive?
Not to me, but I also found it hard to enjoy the scene on a power trip level because I thought Walt did a terrible job of selling himself. He pumps up himself and his partner and product, which is fine, but he also spends a ton of time running down this crime boss in front of his underlings, which one should always be careful about. He compares him to a tee-ball team to his Yankees, then launches directly into a second, superfluous metaphor about how the blue meth is classic coke. “Would you really want to live in a world without Coca-Cola?” is his counter to the obvious question of why this crew shouldn’t leave him in the desert to die. Fuck Yes I do, if I produce and distribute of RC Cola.
But anyway, this works, as it must, even after Walt makes the pointlessly humiliating demand that Declan name him as the boogieman of the Southwest meth trade. This is good for the rest of the season, as my primary concern about the season so far is that after the premiere there was no pressing need for the characters to make any of the decisions they’ve been making outside of their own greed and pride. Now that they have a quota to meet again to avoid the ire of dangerous people, there will be more pressure on them to rob the next proverbial train immediately (whereas if they weren’t ready in “Dead Freight”, they could’ve waited for next week’s train just as easily). I know to some extent the characters bringing all of these problems on themselves is the point, but those external threats crank up the intensity which was always the most impressive thing about the show to me.
Anyway, the opening scene is a rare case where I thought to myself “it’s a good thing you’re the protagonist of this TV show, Walt, because a real gangster would feel obligated to react violently to being talked down to so openly in front of his underlings, even if the deal being offered was a great one.” But he is, so we’re off to the episode proper with Mike ready to retire, which seeing as this is a crime story, was the equivalent of putting a black hood on his head. I tried to convince myself that he would make it out of the hour briefly, but then his lawyer had to go ahead and joke about how he was going to need a second deposit box for his granddaughter (you FOOL!! Don’t you know anything about dramatic irony???), I started saying my goodbyes.
But before we get to that, let’s do a drive-by on the other characters we check in with this week.
Our one scene with Saul (and the writers really need to check with the FDA if they think that meets a growing audience’s daily Saul requirements) is brief but typically delightful. Calling the other attorney a “clown”, worming his way out of making the bag hand off himself, his drawer full of burners, and of course a quick shot of that majestic inflatable Lady Liberty on his roof. I cherish our time together, counselor.
Potentially ominous foreshadowing: when Hank is serving the search warrant on Mike is watching a scene in The Big Heat where characters muse about what happens when a cop shoots himself. Later, when leaving the faux-distraught Walt in his office, he mimes shooting himself in the head. Man, I hope I’m reading too much into this.
Todd has really made it now. He may not be Antoine Lavoisier, but he does get to take part in a stylized meth cooking montage, complete with a time-lapse exterior capper. Congratulations, guy, that means you have officially made it in Breaking Bad terms. You can now look forward to short, miserable stint as Mr. White’s lab assistant, most likely followed up by a horrible death at his hands. Mazel tov?
Walt and Jesse’s argument about the latter leaving the business felt a little rote, but no matter how many times we’ve seen a variation on it the actors are still tearing into the material like the pros they are, and I liked that Walt explicitly appealed to the pride of being the best at something (even if that thing is horrible). It’s been implicit to his motivation for a long time, and Jesse’s, who Mr. White is correct in pointing out that he doesn’t have much else going on or licit skills to fall back on. But it’s not clear whether it will be enough to keep him on board this time. Because his brief, awkward interaction with Skyler at the car wash indicates a growing understanding that their situations are more similar than he would’ve thought. I’m betting we’ll be seeing those two work together more before the end. Whether it will be to clean up a mess Walt has made or actively plotting against him remains to be seen. Maybe the former leading into the latter?
I also like that after all of the largely abstract talk about the kids safety for the last 6 episodes, Skyler quickly points out, with only the vaguest understanding of the context, that Walt’s deal with the Phoenix crew is bringing a real threat closer to their door. This is another reason I think it might have been better to introduce them and the deal earlier, so that crucial point of contention between them would not have seemed so hypothetical while they were having those arguments.
First off, beautiful. Just a gorgeously shot sequence in a wonderful location. This was Breaking Bad by way of Barry Lyndon, and I would’ve been impressed even if I watched it on mute. Second, a lot of people seem to have a problem with Mike letting Walt do the handoff, but I’m fine with it. I think the argument against having Saul do it holds water, and Mike doesn’t want to risk dragging Jesse down with him, but he doesn’t give a rat’s ass if Walt gets himself caught and probably doesn’t mind the last chance to give him a piece of his mind.
Walt doesn’t wear his Heisenberg hat when meeting and shooting Mike, which I think is an important touch. Because while on one level, this is him getting rid of the biggest thorn in his side in a way that he could easily get away with, but it actually comes across as a crumbling of his badass kingpin persona. In his meeting with Declan, he is calm, still, purposeful. When he scurries off screen to grab the gun and shoot Mike, he looks petulant, and mortified after he pulls the trigger. Heisenberg would never apologize to the man he just shot, but it was actually Walter who pulled the trigger. Because Walter doesn’t like to be compared to Gus Fring, and he really, really hates being told to know his place. This made me rethink the opening a bit, because if that is supposed to be Heisenberg at his most overweening, and the threads on the porkpie hat are going to be rapidly unraveling, it plays differently. I still think it cuts off Declan’s credibility as a character at the knees, but at least the stupid aspects of Walt’s speech are knowingly unnecessary.
“I just realized Lydia has the names, I can get them from her.” What a macabre punchline to the biggest character death the show has done so far (Gus was huge, but he was also squarely an antagonist in a way that rendered his death further within the bounds of convention). What a strange show whose major character deaths even have punchlines.
RIP, Mike The Cleaner. I have a feeling things will only get messier without you around. Particularly for your 9 guys and their families.
Estimated Profits: + $62000
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets.
Sequences To Make Hitchcock Proud – Walt meets Mike to hand off the bag and demand 9 names, with everything cranked up a notch by the pointed shot of the revolver in the bag that preceded it.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “You’re goddamn right I am.”
Best Lie – Hank promises his boss that he will not have Mike tailed anymore, but says nothing about tailing his lawyer.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15. The kid has been absent from several episodes now, to no one I have encountered’s consternation. People may loathe Skyler, but no one even cares about Flynn.
We Are Done, Professionally – Mike officially retires, even dumping an arsenal that would make Nico Bellic jealous down a well. Jesse tries to follow him, but we didn’t really think that would happen, did we?
It’s The Little Things – Cufflink Cam! The giant goofy smile on Gomey’s face when he busts the lawyer. The smash cut from Skyler walking away from the dinner table to Walt giving an even more historionic performance than before in Hank’s office. “If you want me to read that, I’m going to need my glasses” – Mike could out-deadpan a slab of frozen beef.