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‘Breaking Bad’ Shows Us That Walt’s Idea of Winning is for Everyone Else to Lose

'Breaking Bad' Shows Us That Walt's Idea of Winning is for Everyone Else to Lose

“When I’m out, I’m out.”
     –Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks)

[Please note: As with all of our “Breaking Bad” pieces, this article contains spoilers for the most recent episode.]

The flashforward scene that kicked off this season, the one that found Walter White (Bryan Cranston) alone on his 52nd birthday in a diner buying a machine gun, is starting to look even darker given the direction this half-season, which ends next week, is taking. Maybe Walt isn’t by himself because no one wants to be around him anymore — he’s shown he has no trouble keeping people at his side in unwilling parodies of previous relationships.

Maybe they’re all dead.

Walt ended last week’s episode promising that he had an idea in which everybody wins, but by the end of the hour last night he’d both refused to give Jesse (Aaron Paul) his fair $5 million share in hopes that would make him stay and he’d shot and killed Mike for what he realized after the fact was no reason. Mike, the only genuinely competent lawbreaker in their group; Mike, who saw Walt so clearly — “You had to be the man” — while missing the very important detail that Walt’s not actually as smart as he thinks he is but is more ruthless, that he would kill a former partner out of wounded pride and impulsivity before realizing it wasn’t necessary. Mike, the actual criminal, has always had more respect for people than Walt, who to Jesse shares the key detail that he’s written off any hope of leading a good life, and is prepared to go up in flames.

It’s almost unbearably sad to see the meticulous, world-weary, deadpan Mike go, but “Say My Name” did provide an all-around great showcase for Banks in his character’s farewell. There was his rueful, knowing expression as Walt bargained with Declan (Louis Ferreira) for Mike’s buyout but not Jesse’s, and his last exchange with the younger man, including what turned out to be the all-too true words above. Then there was that uncharacteristic look of trapped desperation on his face as the police pulled up to the park and he hid behind the tree, realizing he’d never have a chance to say goodbye to his granddaughter — and his final, exasperated “shut the fuck up and let me die in peace” to Walt as he bled out on the riverbank, the last thing he had to listen to being Walt’s rare and terribly unhelpful confession that he’d made a mistake

Everything Walt touches goes to hell, and now he’s not only killed the only person who really knew what he was doing in the industry, he’s brought the methylamine back to his own cover business, hiding it in the car wash in a move that doesn’t bode well for Skyler’s (Anna Gunn) attempts to run the place in a semi-legit way. It’s exemplary of Walt’s warped take on their current “partnership” that he tells his troubled wife to go back to the office and that it’s better if she doesn’t know what’s in the tank, but later tries to chat with her about his new, eager-to-please assistant Todd (Jesse Plemons) over their microwaved dinners — he wants someone who’s willing to listen and be his confidant when he feels like it, and who’ll shut up and do as he says when he doesn’t.

It doesn’t bode well for Jesse’s attempted retirement, either. Not only does Walt completely fail to either flatter or threaten his partner into staying in a caustic conversation that finds the former pulling out all the stops and going on about the value of being the best at something, even if that something is making drugs, he won’t give Jesse what he’s owned, sneering that he’s going to save him from that “filthy blood money” that he’s obviously too good for. It was a notably awful Walt moment — though I’d pin his low point in the episode at his arrogantly, ignorantly telling Mike that unlike him, Walt can’t just run off because he’s “got a family” and people that depend on him  — and one that barely hid his desperation. As the cook with Todd showed, Walt doesn’t necessarily need Jesse, he’s just afraid of being alone in the business — afraid of the unfamiliar, as much as he’s got the bravado to bargain with distributors from Phoenix and to compare himself in metaphors to the New York Yankees and Coca-Cola. Blue meth — as American as apple pie and a good day’s work.

A heartbreaker of an episode — one that’s the directorial debut of the show’s writer/producer Thomas Schnauz, who also wrote the script. Next week’s installment closes out the half-season, after which point the show will be on hiatus until 2013 — and there’s are many things in motion for this summer finale. Walt’s going to have to feed Jesse a lie about what happened to Mike, whether he pretends that the man made it safely away or died at the hands of someone else. He’s going to have to get info on Mike’s nine guys from Lydia (Laura Fraser), and aren’t those two a partnership of doom? And he’s going to have to figure out how to keep them quiet, probably by force, since Hank (Dean Norris) and the DEA are closer than ever. Here’s hoping he goes to Todd, with his connections and his ambition — and here’s hoping Todd eventually turns on him when he’s no longer necessary. Walt really deserves it.

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