Breaking Bad 5.06: Buyout

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Monday following a new episode of “Breaking Bad.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game. 

The Aftermath: Bikes, Bodies, and Hydrofluoric Acid

Alright, we’ve got to talk about the cold open, again. Everything about it was fantastic: the near complete lack of dialogue paired with that ominous music, the methodical way Walter, Todd, and Mike, go about decomposing the bike (and the body), all of it. But that’s not really what I want to discuss.

Rather, let’s think about what it says about the quality of the show and the way it has shaped the thinking of its viewers that we don’t need dialogue explaining what’s going on. This week’s “Story Sync” tells us that the young boy’s body is the fifth dissolved in hydrofluoric acid thus far. The first time Walt and Jesse did it, after Walt strangled Krazy-8 way back in the first season, they spent nearly a whole episode weighing their options and ultimately completing their task. At that point, killing and disposing of a human being was still something of a big deal for Walter, and as a result, the viewer. Now, not so much. The guys weren’t so adept at the task back then either, recall Jesse making the mistake of putting aside the plastic bins because he had a perfectly good bathtub. We all know how that ended.

Now, in much the same way the gang (minus Jesse) efficiently and meticulously go about the process of permanent evidence disposal, almost as if it’s routine, we watch them fully expecting and understanding their actions. There is no need for explanation. The fact is at this point, it is routine. That is just what they have to do. They know it, so we know it. They have no qualms with it, so neither do we.

Moving on. When Todd attempts to justify his actions, he says, “It was him or us, and I chose us.” The line was eerily and intentionally reminiscent of what Walt said to justify killing Gale: “When it comes down to you and me versus him… it’s gonna be him.”

Walter, Mike, and Jesse then vote on what to do with Todd. For perhaps the first time ever, Walt and Mike agree on something, and it’s Jesse who’s left out in the cold. It’s decided that the man who will now be forever known as “Ricky Hitler” will be kept close, because they don’t want to pour acid over yet another body nor pay him off and hope he keeps everything to himself. That’s probably a good decision given that when Todd gets in his car, we see he’s held onto a creepy souvenir.

At first, I couldn’t figure out the significance of showing Todd looking at the tarantula in the jar. My first thought was it was meant to show that despite his seemingly nonchalant attitude, Todd really does feel sorry for killing the boy. Perhaps that is part of it, but a show like “Breaking Bad” doesn’t waste a single moment of screen time, and Todd already voiced what I believed to be genuine regret (not necessarily for the murder itself, but for being put in that unfortunate but necessary position). Then it hit me. In a missing person investigation, one of the first things the authorities will do is collect the boy’s prints (likely from his home), so they have something to work with. The old jar o’ spider has the victim’s prints as well as Todd’s, and maybe even another member of the crew as well. That’s my guess anyway. There’s a reason for using a method of complete destruction of any and all evidence. But this time it wasn’t allmthe evidence, and that’s got to have some kind of significance later on.

There is no Walter White. There is only Heisenberg.

This whole season, well, the whole series really, has been about the transformation of “mild-mannered” Walter White into the meth kingpin Heisenberg. This week, we got another piece of a puzzle we didn’t even know we were building, or a glimpse into the psyche of what really drives Walter White.

When Jesse comes to his home, Walter tells him (and us) a bit about his past at Grey Matter. It seems he took a $5000 buyout from the company he named and co-founded, which is now worth “billions, with a b.” Walter now checks Grey Matter’s stock value weekly, still haunted by the decision he made to “sell his childrens’ birthright.”

Part of what made us root for Walter in the beginning was the feeling that despite all the horrible things he was doing, it was for a good cause, or at least out of self-preservation. He was a good man who got a bad rap. Then he got cancer, and as Jesse points out, he wanted to cook meth in order to secure $737,000, which would set up his family for life.

But this new information puts things in a different light and helps explain why Walt tries “so hard to not make five million dollars.” As well his describing that amount as “nothing” and “pennies on the dollar.” And, of course, why he works with an almost animal instinct to burn off his handcuff, steal the methylamine, and calmly tell Mike that everybody can win, you know, with a gun to his head.

At the very least, Heisenberg is no longer working for the well-being of his family, and it puts into question if Walter White ever was. This is a man driven primarily by arrogance and jealousy. Where before he could hide it, it has now consumed every facet of his life. As he tells Jesse at the dinner table, his children are gone and his wife is counting down the days until his cancer returns, “This business is all I have let now. And you want to take it away from me.”

By taking the Grey Matter buyout, Walter gave up the opportunity to prove to the world what he’s known all along: that he’s just plain better than the rest of us. In the pilot, Walt saw the tremendous amount of money to be made by cooking meth during the news report on Hank’s bust. With his introduction to Gus Fring, he saw just how far one can go in the meth business, and learned some lessons about how to get there. There’s no way Walter will take the buyout, to make that same mistake twice. While it seems Mike has forgotten his own advice about “half measures” (how many times has he had a gun to Walt’s head now?), Walt has not. He’s going to make himself forget Grey Matter ever existed. He’s going to make all the money there is to be made. But I believe he has simply come too far. All the money in the world wouldn’t satisfy Heisenberg, and that’s why he’ll go out with the bang that was hinted at in this season’s first scene.

A Few Extra Bits:

I can’t say I’m certain what Walt’s plan is going to be. How can everybody win? He’ll cook by himself and then pay off his partners? But they want their money and they want out. Now. There’s no time for such things. Based on some small hints in this episode, listed below, I’m thinking the plan might have something to do with putting out fake blue meth.

-Over the wire, Mike overhears Hank going about his new responsibilities at the DEA. One of his conversations is about the difference between mayonnaise and its imitation, Miracle Whip.

-The TV report just prior to the one about the boy Todd shot was about a caviar knock-off made of kelp.

-Jesse’s lines about frozen lasagna during the (hilariously uncomfortable) dinner scene. The food never looks like it does on the box. “It’s like yo, whatever happened to truth in advertising?”

One last thing: after that news report, Walt tells Jesse that he’s lost sleep over the boy’s death and tells Jesse to go home, saying he will finish the cook on his own. When Jesse returns downstairs Walt is whistling a startlingly upbeat tune, and you can almost see the gears in Jesse’s head start turning. Walt doesn’t care about the dead child. What else has he lied about? Maybe his mind even goes back to his original (and ultimately correct) suspicions that Walt poisoned Brock. Then there’s the imagery, standing outside of the tent listening to Walt whistle, Jesse is quite literally on the outside looking in.

Watch the cast and crew go inside “Buyout” below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.