Monday, August 20, 2012
BREAKING BAD 5.06 - "BUY OUT"
(This piece originally ran on Chud.com)
Our cold open this week is a spin on the “body disposal” sequence we’ve seen in many a crime movie/show over the years, including this one. But rather than a graphic dismembering of the kid’s body, we get a somber, methodical dismantling of his dirtbike.
I’m not sure why exactly the went this unusual route, other than to give it some sort of new twist, but I imagine that part of it was knowing that they couldn’t craft anything as visceral as the gross-out bathtub scene from episodes 2/3 of the first season or the murder and disposal of Victor in “Box Cutter”. It’s all for the best though, as it’s a beautifully shot, wonderfully moody scene, and while it would undoubtedly have been upsetting to see them handling the body of a dead child, just the sight of Walter setting out a barrel to receive his earthly remains was incredibly chilling, without showing anything that might draw the ire of the censors. My only small complaint is that I’d rather have had it cut out right there, instead of tacking on the short bit of Jesse decking Todd for trying to be nonchalant about the whole thing. I like when the cold opens are little conceptual pieces unto themselves, and that part felt like it could’ve kicked things off after the opening titles.
Todd actually appears very little after the conclusion of last week’s episode seemed to thrust him directly to the center of the story. But his dialogue is unwittingly pointed as he echoes justifications we’ve heard our guys use on their previous murders. “It was him or us, and I chose us” was exactly what Walt said about Gale, and of course it was only 2 weeks ago where Skyler was yelling at Walt that murder is not something you shrug off as “shit happens.” The guys do decide to keep Todd around, just for the sake of keeping a close eye on him, but then the whole operation promptly unravels in a way that makes it sort of moot.
I noticed a lot of people on the boards seem to be jumping to the conclusion that Todd is actually a complete psychopath who got off on killing the kid and kept the tarantula as a sort of trophy. While we haven’t gotten much of a look at his interior life, I think that judgment is way off. Because ultimately, this show is not about Todd. It’s about Walt and Jesse, and having his act be a fundamentally pragmatic one reflects more strongly on them and their chosen business. I look at the show, for all the depravity it depicts, as strongly moralistic overall, and I don’t think its been coy about negatively judging Walt’s actions for quite some time. I expect that to come into even sharper focus as things approach their end, and to have our guys suddenly playing off a serial killer obfuscates their moral culpability and removes some of the onus from them. If the guys’ mistake was to bring Jeffrey Dahmer on an Ocean’s 11-style heist, isn’t that a rather weak-ass statement on their overall choices compared to saying they created a situation where an impressionable but sane individual would contemplate the viability of murdering a child?
The episode jumps around quite a bit, so much that I’m not sure how I would grade it, if these were that sort of reviews. This was especially surprising to me as I thought the ending of the last episode was going to crystallize the overall seasonal arc. But while it did lead in a way to the band breaking up, the whole process was relatively cordial and professional, even when Mike was cuffing Walt to a radiator. The new head of the Phoenix organization could potentially be the sort of threat that Walt could address with an M-60, but for now all he’s trying to do is pay our guys $15 million.
While the episode jumps around a lot, it’s from strong scene to strong scene, so I liked it a whole lot despite feeling very much like a middle chapter rather than a self-contained story. We got a little of Skyler and Marie, in a sad but darkly funny exchange that started with Marie obliviously explaining how frazzled taking care of a teenager can make you, followed by the long-delayed reunion between Jesse and Skyler, who I believe have not shared a scene since the second episode of the series. The reunion is not so much joyous as excruciatingly awkward, with Skyler doing her best Lucille Bluth impression while she pounds wine and flaunts her lack of domestic effort. It’s great stuff, wrapped around some classic Cranston-monologuing about his history with Grey Matter and how he has nothing left but regrets and vague imperial ambitions for his meth operation.
All of which vocalizes what has been clear for a long time now, which is that Walt is not concerned at all with providing for his family anymore. Jesse even points out that the current offer on the table, which would allow for Walt to retire and safely bring his children home, is for over 7 times the amount he calculated he “needed” to leave for them before he quit. But Walt views the $5 million as nothing, as “selling out” (though Jesse notes that protecting the integrity of a meth operation is an inherently silly conceit), because he’s still filled with bitterness over how he gave up on the company he started as a young man. Those regrets are understandable at their core, but he takes them to ludicrous, delusional levels when he tells Jesse that he’s not in the meth business (which is a lie), or the money business (also known as just “business”), but the empire business (not an actual thing).
Ultimately, Jesse is so frustrated by Walt’s megalomania, and disturbed (in a goofily on-the-nose bit) by his nonchalant whistling while he works ten seconds after lamenting the death of the Sharp boy, that he decides to pull the ripcord even without his partner-in-crime/surrogate father. This is an encouraging sign, as Jesse has spent the season so far on the sidelines, caught between two increasingly different father figures. While the show has repeatedly reminded us that for all his kingpin swagger, Walt has failed to put away any meaningful cash reserves for his family, we have seen Mike repeatedly insist on providing for “his guys” in their time of need, to the point that he will hold his nose and partner up with a man he loathes to make sure they get what he has promised them. Yes, there is a strong element of self-preservation to that decision, but he is eventually willing to pay them all off out of his share of the methylamine profits, and even when angered, he doesn’t present it as a pragmatic necessity, but simply states that “this is what you do.” A man looks out for his own, rewards loyalty in kind, or at the very least, pays his debts.
Hopefully that’s the sort of man Jesse becomes, anyway, as it will be quietly devastating if after they’re gone we see that he has taken more after Mr. White’s psychological diet of preening and bullshit rationalizations than Mike’s quiet competence and steadfast providing for those in his familial or professional care. He looked like he was stepping in that direction for most of the episode, but at the end he seems to have backslid to the point that he convinces Mike to once again refrain from firing the gun he’s holding to Walt’s head and listen to his pitch, even though a few minutes earlier he was saying with complete accuracy and conviction that “the last thing I need to do is listen to you.”
We also get a little bit of Hank and a bit of Saul doing his typical, always fun, sleaze routine to round things out. I hope Saul and his horrendously clashing salmon-shirt, green-tie, sky-blue Wayfarer ribbon (still rocking it!) ensembles are more involved in the future, as he provides a flavor that none of the other combinations of characters can duplicate. And I’m optimistic that as Hank and the DEA clamp down harder on Mike, we’ll get just that. This half-season may be a bit structurally awkward for the show, but I fully expect some fireworks in the last two episodes to leave us breathlessly awaiting the final stretch in 2013.
Estimated Profits: +$62000
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale, Gus, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp
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.
Best Lie – Walt assures Jesse that in a year, year and a half, when they’re done cooking, there will be plenty of time for soul searching. Of course, only one of them is likely to live longer than that under the best of circumstances.
The Erlenmeyer Flask Is Mightier – Walt Macguyver’s an ersatz soddering iron out of an extension cord…
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – …so he can blowtorch his own arm halfway off and free himself from the radiator. Watching his skin turn black was stomach-turning.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15
We Are Done, Professionally – The whole episode is built around Mike and Jesse attempting to untangle themselves from the Heisenpire. Of course by the end Mike is holding a gun to Walt’s head, but no one really believes that he’ll use it and apparently we’re going to have another complicated scheme for them to work together on.
It’s The Little Things – Skyler’s expression when Marie asks how great she must feel after “coming clean” about Ted. “These are very green beans, Mrs. White.” I’m pretty sure they gave Aaron Paul a chair with a lowered seat for that dinner scene so that he would look more childlike sitting between between the two big parental figures in the foreground (and yammering on about how the image the packaging on his frozen dinners masks a less appetizing truth, while the couple stares stonily across the table at each other) . Walt carefully removing the watch he received from Jesse before roasting his wrist with the wires. The brief, completely dead-eyed glance Mike gives Saul after he describes him as a senior citizen. “I have never seen someone work so hard to not get 5 million dollars.”