"Breaking Bad": Mike blows it

Exit strategies go very, very wrong as "Breaking Bad" takes a dramatic turn


Erik Nelson
August 20, 2012 7:55AM (UTC)

In which Our Hero speeds by the Last Exit on the Highway To Hell, and we learn a new reason for his haste in passing.

Vince Gilligan has admitted that he and his writers view writing “Breaking Bad” as a game of Vulcan three-dimensional chess. If so, last week’s “Dead Freight” was a sacrifice move, that allowed all of the pieces to arrange on that game board in precisely the right fashion. Make no mistake. The precision and plotting of “Buy-Out” redeems the excesses of “Dead Freight,” and (almost) makes that last move worthwhile. Last week’s overblown heist plot turns in on itself in “Buy-Out.” Something is not pulled off, but rather, an attempt is made to pull out, in this case, via a brilliant exit strategy that would clearly allow all of our players to escape with their lives and a nice pocket o’ change. What could possibly go wrong? Of course.

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Walter.

The rollercoaster of doom crests the top and begins its final 10-episode plunge into the darkness.

First things first. Our teaser frames the by-now familiar “Breaking Bad” “Ritual of Disposal,” as the murdered child’s motorcycle is almost lovingly dismantled, and placed in the sacramental low-density polyethylene container of hydrofluoric acid. And then, in a horrific moment in a series redolent with them, a second barrel is prepared...

A perfunctory debate about the fate of “Ricky Hitler” then plays out, with Walter obviously taking the path of least resistance, with Mike actually voting along with him to keep Ricky on the “team.” I would expect that Ricky’s uncle’s prison connections will be spoken of again, as they are mentioned repeatedly in a bit of over-telegraphing. To button the scene, Jesse Plemons channels his inner-Landry when he pulls out the tarantula in the bottle. Again, check your appointment book, and file that detail along with the location of that ricin in the wall outlet.

We then visit Agent Gomez and sidekick as they watch Mike playing with his granddaughter. You can step on Mike’s blue suede shoes, but do not violate the sanctity of that precious relationship. Taking a cue from the Hector Salamanca school of DEA shorthand, Mike expresses his concerns about said surveillance. The words were blurred by AMC, but I do believe I got the message.

Another excruciating chapter in the ongoing Torture of Skyler White, as she struggles to have a real moment with her sister. Do I detect the smell of burning martyr? Once again, Marie mentions how much she and Hank would love to keep Holly, and once again, Walter’s cover story of the affair with Ted holds. And once again, a door to escape is opened, just a crack, and then the imperatives of reality push it shut.

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Then, we learn the details of Mike’s exit strategy, He has it all worked it out perfectly, with each moving part perfectly oiled. Sell the 1,000 gallons of methylamine to their biggest competitors, pay everyone off who needs paying off, cauterize any chance of further violence, and walk away with $5 million dollars, all in the 24-hour window that he has expertly carved out from DEA surveillance. We of course know that somehow, Walter will come up with new and inventive reasons for Mike to further want him dead. But first, we are treated to one of the greatest scenes of agonizing small talk in a series that revels in them. Jesse, meeting Skyler for the first time since she threatened him in mid-henchman disposal in Season One, is invited to the dinner from hell. Channeling his inner Seinfeld, we get one of the great “don’t you just hate” monologues, and yes, I agree, scabby lasagna never does look as good as the box art. In another great “I.F.D.” moment, the War Of The Whites reaches a new plateau of mutual loathing, as Skyler takes the rest of the bottle of wine back into her lair. Poor Walter. Poor Skyler. And poor would-be marriage counselor Jesse. But at least he got some fresh green Albertson beans.

Back to the quest to Get Out Of Jail Free. This is where I checked my watch. Not because I was bored, but because as is the case in the best of “Breaking Bad,” I couldn’t take much more of the suspense. The Stockholm Syndrome envelops us, just as the Pete Best Syndrome envelopes Walter. At the same time we are praying that for once, just once, Walter does the right thing, we understand and empathize with a shiny new reason why he won’t. Grey Matters. The $5,000 dollars that Walter was given has metastasized into a $2.16 billion (as of last Friday, but who’s counting?) empire. Here we learn that this Original Sin is what has been had riding Walter into bludgeoning all of his best instincts. Or, at least this is Walter’s latest excuse for himself. Who knows? And the real brilliance of “Breaking Bad” is that when this sin is revealed, it all makes perfect sense, and in some way, almost excuses Walter his multiple transgressions. Almost.

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God help us, we now root for Walter as he gnaws his way out of the trap by creating a mini-welding torch, another chapter of Film Noir Mr. Wizard that ranks with building the nuts and bolts “Crystal Ship” battery for ingenuity and grace under pressure. Just imagine all the bright young minds out there who are paying extra close attention in chemistry class. Brrrr. Thanks to this applied science, Mike’s perfect exit strategy falls apart, and Walter snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. The episode closes with “Mr. White” about to blurt out another catastrophically corrupting scheme to his partners.

My second favorite roller coaster in the world, on the Santa Monica Pier, always stops after the first ride, to allow any nervous passengers to disembark. The bored teenager at the controls asks if anyone wants off. In my experience, no one ever exits before the last part of the ride continues.

Random notes and miscellaneous observations.

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* Todd aka Ricky Hitler, aka Landry, exhibiting that he has seen way too many movies, when he talks about the “mission” failing, and looking out for the “team.”

* Simulated caviar, made out of kelp? I want me some.

* Walter, whistling while he works, as Jesse realizes the utter selfishness of the man he’d like to revere. And if this is Bryan Cranston whistling, well done, Maestro. A nice jazzy blues, perfectly in character.

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* The tense face-off between the Phoenix Gang and Mike and Jesse. The “666” coincidence of the goods they have for sale is duly noted. And “Fring Blue” officially goes down with Owsley Acid in the drug pantheon.

* Skyler’s disheveled hair when she comes home to find Walter and Jesse. She’s beginning to take on the aura of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” – as she walks precariously on the edge of madness.

* As always, I love everything about Saul Goodman. And whoever came up with the line (and I’d like to think it was Bob Odenkirk) that Hank has a “hard-on of Uncle Miltie proportions” for Mike, well done. Well done.

* Does anyone feel that Jesse got back on the Crime Train just a little too easily after the catastrophic murder of the child witness? I don’t think punching Ricky Hitler is enough catharsis. I was fully expecting him to send out some new RSVPs for his permanent floating meth party. To be continued, I guess.

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* Now, last thought. Is there any reason why Mike didn’t just kill Walter, break out the low-density polyethylene container of hydrofluoric acid and boil his problems away? Any? Instead, he chains him to the radiator. Other than Mike’s residual affection for Jesse, and perhaps his desire not to get into the “tying-off-loose-ends-business” -- logic, and Mike’s character, might dictate a different approach.


Erik Nelson

MORE FROM Erik Nelson


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