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by Alison Willmore
August 20, 2012 4:01 PM
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On 'Breaking Bad,' Everyone Wants Out of the Meth Game But Walter White

Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad' Ursula Coyote/AMC
"Everybody wins," Walter White (Bryan Cranston) insists at the end of "Buyout," last night's episode of "Breaking Bad." He's about to propose a plan that the credits roll on before we can hear, but it seems safe to assume that everybody will not win, because nothing in the show comes without a price, and it's usually one that no one sees coming.

Like, say, the kid, that poor dirtbike-riding boy that eager beaver Todd (Jesse Plemons) shot dead at the end of last week's train robbing excursion. Everything in the heist went almost eerily well until that point, until the team's unexpected encounter with that young observer, to which Todd reacted just as he'd been told. "At the end of the day, it was him or us -- and I choose us," he argued to Walt, Jesse (Aaron Paul, particularly good this episode) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) at the start of this week's episode, sounding a lot like Walt in his early days, turning an incident around and around in his head until it could have only gone one way, the way it had to go. "Buyout" was a good example of why "Breaking Bad" can be so difficult to watch sometimes -- because it's not a show that takes the easy cut away, it's one that has us watch as the crew slowly disassembles the bike before readying another container with acid in which to dissolve the body.

Walt's had plenty of chances to walk away before -- all the reasons for which he got into the business have been stripped away, from the cancer to the general financial need to Gus to, finally, his family, now either gone or openly wishing for his death. And here, finally, he has the chance to net a solid amount of money -- $5 million -- and to walk away, and to allow Mike, who's had Hank and the DEA on his tail, and Jesse, who's exhausted and broken from having been party to killing a child, to do the same.

And he doesn't -- he fights tooth and nail, literally singing his skin for the chance to keep his business, and we see that not having anything to serve as an excuse has become Walt's new excuse. "This business is all I have left now -- it's all I have, and you want to take it away from me," he tells Jesse, who he makes sit through that miserable parody of a dinner with Skyler (Anna Gunn) and her giant glass of white wine and the green beans from Albertsons. It's clear, after this episode, that Walt will never run out of excuses and justifications for his involvement in meth, even without a good reason to keep on in a dangerous, illegal and destructive industry that's wrecking his life.

"Buyout" is also the first time Walt's really let Jesse into his home life -- what remains of it -- and what a difference from those early days when he juggled two cell phones and was paranoid about the very idea that his secret side gig might come in contact with his domestic universe.

Now Walt doesn't just invite Jesse in, he does so knowing that Sklyer will probably walk in on their meeting, and then he strong-arms both of them into sitting down to that awkward, angry meal, with no more pretense about caring what either wants. He tells Jesse about his kids being moved out of the house (in the typical victimized Walt fashion) and even shares a glimpse of that bubbling source of resentment at his heart, the certainty that he was bilked out of his share of the Gray Matter Technologies success and fortune, even though it was he who chose to leave.

"I look it up every week," Walt says, terribly and tragically, about Gray Matter's worth, summing up just how much acrimony he bears, how much the past still eats at him and how much he thinks he's owed. He's never going to quit, because he wants to prove he's the best at something, even if that something's making meth, and even if, as Jesse points out, a meth empire isn't really something to be proud of. And no matter how weary Mike and Jesse might be of the whole business, they seem to be tied to Walt and the methylamine (the business deal proposed by Mike's contact Declan (Louis Ferreira) turned out to be just as much about getting the blue meth off the market as it was about the chemical), and he's not going to let them go easily.

A bleak episode overall, though one with a few moments of levity -- like the parallel of Mike surveilling Hank (Dean Norris) and Steve (Steven Michael Quezada) as they attempt to do the same to him, even as it means he has to put up with Hank's thoughts on Miracle Whip versus mayo, and even as he realized that Hank was right and that he'd slip up one day. And while they're hardly light, the episode also featured a great moment each for Jesse and for Skyler -- the former when he listened to Walt whistling cheerily in the tent and realized how unaffected his partner was by the child murder they committed, and the latter when she came so close to telling Marie (Betsy Brandt) the truth about Walt, only to be confronted with the latest passive aggressive volley from her husband.

And as for Todd, there in the car with his eye swelling, looking at the tarantula that used to belong to the kid -- he looks like trouble just waiting to happen.

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2 Comments

  • brian | August 21, 2012 10:31 AMReply

    The only way I could see the three of them all winning is if Todd and his prison connect, or the dealers Mike met with, become a larger threat than Walt - something that binds Walt, Jesse, and Mike together for one last adventure.

    I almost feel like the Gray Matter story combined with Walt's amazing escape at the end of the episode were moments to pull back a little from Walt's descent, and perhaps take things in the other direction for a little while. But, we shall see!

  • keithmoonshead | August 20, 2012 4:17 PMReply

    One of my favorite acting moments in the episode was the look on Mike's face, sitting on the bench watching his granddaughter play in the tree. For the first-time, his generally pissed off countenance lacked that world-weary undercurrent, and he truly looked scared and angry that he's let this shit get so close to someone he loves. Jonathan Banks killing it killing it _killing it_ this season.