The guy is reportedly a comedian and confessed to being drunk and tripping on shrooms during this shoot. Handled himself remarkably well.
In what has been an awesome season thus far, even by Breaking Bad standards, it’s hard not to feel disappointment with “Buyout,” the sixth and latest episode. It had nothing to do with the acting and more to do with the fact that it felt like the show was trying to push too much into a single episode. Because the first eight part mini-season culminates in just two weeks, it seemed like Vince Gilligan and company wanted to rush through some issues so that we can get to a climax soon. I’m not complaining. I personally can’t wait for a showdown or an ultra lavish purchase to take place, but for a show like Breaking Bad that is usually so methodical with the details, it didn’t feel right.
The episode opens with the crew cleaning up the mess brought about by Landry in last week’s “Dead Freight.” Without a single word being uttered, the crew disposes of the dirt bike and dead boy. The cleaning solution of choice is hydrofluoric acid which the guys are more than familiar with. It’s a sad look at just how far into hell these souls have gone. The whole process is mechanical. They know exactly what to do and exactly how to go about it in the fastest way possible. There is no wasted effort in the whole sequence. Walt and Jesse have come a long way since that first acid bath incident. While well executed, this is the kind of event that used to have an impact for several episodes, whereas now it only takes an opening sequence.
The DEA is then watching Mike watching his daughter play at a local park. The two agents are taking the whole event way too seriously and easily fall for Mike’s prank of leaving a note under the trash can. The agents go into a frenzy believing he’s just made a drop of the product. In reality Mike delivers a simple note. A simple four letter word is involved. It’s all pretty hilarious. It reveals two key things though. The DEA is getting zealous in their pursuit of Mike but also that Mike is extremely aware of this fact.
At their latest cook, Walt and Jesse kick back after completing another batch. Because Jesse still has a soul, he flips over to the local news where they are discussing the missing boy. Walt launches into yet another monologue where he convinces Jesse that they’re not really monsters and yet again Jesse seems to buy it. I have to admit even I am impressed with Walt’s acting abilities these days. Unfortunately for him, he blows the whole charade by immediately delivering a whistling concerto just moments after consoling Jesse. It’s very clear that Walt doesn’t much care for anything but dominating the drug business anymore. Jesse may finally be opening up to that possibility after catching him doing his best seven dwarfs impression.
And then things got really, really rushed. Mike and Jesse arrive early to the weekly meeting of the partners and when Walt gets there they tell him they’re retiring. They have a buyer in Arizona who will pay $15 million for their methylamine. This is the kind of decision that usually would take episodes and episodes to build up but here it happens matter-of-factly in a couple of seconds. Walt isn’t pleased but tells them they can do what they want but he will push on with his third of the stolen chemicals.
Mike later has Saul pull off what might be his last funny stunt of the series. While there is no doubt that we all love the crooked lawyer, there might not be a place for his relief and humor in Walt’s personal vision of hell. Saul provides Mike with a 24-hour window to avoid tails by actually filing a restraining order against the DEA on behalf of his client. It’s then when we meet the meth king of Phoenix, named Declan. He proves to be wise in making it very clear that he isn’t just buying the methylamine, he’s buying to have Heisenberg’s blue off the streets. One condition is made though: it’s all the methylamine or no deal.
The best extended scene of this particular episode takes place when Jesse goes over to Walt’s house to try to convince him to take the buyout. As is mentioned many times in the last weeks, the lighting (or: lack of) at the house is beyond ridiculous at this point and is becoming so blatant that it’s worth exploring. Breaking Bad might have made it very clear that they intend to create a suburban New Mexico version of Scarface, but the lighting at the house is a very clear tribute to a very different organized crime drama. I’m of course talking about The Godfather trilogy. Take a moment and watch this brief interview clip where the cinematographer Gordon Willis explains his use of lighting in the movies:
Further research reveals that the lighting is clear nod to the darkness of the characters. Michael and Vito in particular are almost always shot in dark settings when discussing matters of the family business. And thus the inspiration for the White household’s lack of interior lighting. You may remember in the movies that Michael was once a dapper war hero full of optimism about life and marriage with Kay. He originally made a point of saying he would never join his father’s business. He eventually turned to the dark side though just like Walt. And hell, why not even throw in a Scarface reference while they’re at it by having Walt sinking deep into his chair and a glass of Whiskey while explaining himself. It’s very reminiscent of a coked out Tony Montana sitting behind his desk as everything crumbles around him.
Jesse is shocked when Skyler then returns home and Walt refuses to allow him to leave without eating dinner. There are so many ulterior meanings going on at the dinner scene, it’s hard to keep track. First you have Jesse standing in as a surrogate son. Next you have Walt and Skyler seated on opposite ends of the table, clearly at odds with one another. And on and on it goes. Jesse, helpless in the uncomfortable silence of the married couple, attempts to mumble his way through the experience before Skyler ends the dinner by putting Walt in his place and retiring with her wine. Only after her departure does Walt reveal to Jesse that he really has nothing left besides the meth empire. His wife hates him and willingly admits she is waiting for cancer to come back and kill him.
Armed with the knowledge that his potential future business is about to be cut by two-thirds, Walt attempts a heist of the methylamine from partnership HQ. Mike of course is way too smart for such a misguided attempt and catches him in the act. He then forces him to sit there all night and uses an industrial tie to chain Walt to the radiator while he steps out to take care of something. Walt then shows his most animalistic side in a daring escape. He uses an electrical cord to melt the tie, severely burning and scarring (!) the flesh on his wrist in the process. He seems unfazed by it all though and proceeds to steal the goods.
The episode culminates with Mike having to be convinced not to kill Walt upon discovery of the theft. Walt makes a daring promise to him and Jesse that: “everybody wins.” It’s hard not to believe that “everybody loses” when dealing with something as cancerous as Walt though. The next episode should be outstanding now that the rest of these plot points were dealt with, but it definitely came at a cost to this episode.
1. “Is a meth empire really something to be that proud of?” -Jesse to Walt (in trying to convince Walt to take the buyout)
2. “Jesse, you asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.” – Walt to Jesse (in explaining his rational for refusing the buyout)
3. “My wife is waiting for me to die. This business is all I have left now … And you want to take it away from me.” -Walt to Jesse (telling the truth)
1. The dinner
2. Walt’s escape from the industrial tie
3. The evidence disposal in the beginning sequence
*SPOILER ALERT, DO NOT WATCH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE ENDING OF THE LATEST BREAKING BAD EPISODE*
I laughed, a lot. Not sure what that says about me.
Immediately prior to Breaking Bad‘s coming on TV last night, AMC was showing Goodfellas. I found this fitting because 1) Walter White is building his own resume in the conversation for best gangster ever depicted in television/film and 2) because the movie ends with the main character Henry Hill becoming self-aware of the audience and addressing them in a monologue. This device, called meta reference, is clever and unique and it’s basically akin to a wrestler breaking down the fabled “fourth wall.” Watch it here, in case you’ve forgotten it or somehow have yet to see the movie:
I bring this up because I can’t remember a show ever having characters that seem so self aware of the audience. The list of meta references in Breaking Bad is piling up a startling rate right now, so much so that I can’t help but feel that Vince Gilligan and company are developing a new genre of television fiction that will become increasingly popular in years to come. This of course was first experimented with by the cast and crew of ABC’s Lost which used the internet and message boards as a way to shape (and sometimes, salvage) the direction of the show. Breaking Bad is perfecting the art.
How else to explain the show’s insistence on visiting familiar settings in this show like Walt Jr. only being involved in breakfast scenes, or the show clearly admitting it knows why people were critical of Skyler’s character, or Walt’s laughably invincible SUV? And that’s just in this episode. This meta referencing is worthy of an entire discussion all together (which I might just have to tackle later this week), but onto the episode itself…
“Fifty-One” opens with Walt and Walt Jr. again picking up his Pontiac Aztek from the mechanic after the latest round of repairs. Upon finding his infamous black Heisenberg hat in the backseat, Walt promptly sells the thing for fifty bucks in a show of arrogance only then outdone by his purchase of not one but two new muscle cars, including a replica of the orange Dodge Challenger that was purchased once before for Jr. and later fire bombed. The whole sideshow leaves the men morphing into pigs and mom without a parking spot for her humble wagon. It’s worth noting that the black hat is a staple of Walt’s wardrobe now rather than something he dons as a disguise. Transformation complete.
The pig metaphor is then thrown directly into the viewer’s face at breakfast when Skyler fails to shape the bacon into a “51” on Walt’s plate, a tradition from back at Walt’s 50th birthday in an earlier season. It’s again referenced in the teaser from the beginning of this season in which Walt shapes them into a “52” on his plate at Denny’s. The depiction of men as pigs is reinforced when the two White men treat Skyler like a servant and force her to make the bacon shape herself while they watch on and smirk. Skyler somehow is able to get the last laugh though when she steals a larger piece of bacon off Jr.’s plate to complete the “1” on Walt’s plate. So many meanings, such a good scene.
The continued revisiting of scenes like the White family breakfast is never more apparent than this one and is used to show just how polluted the family is now. What was once the symbol of safety and health for the Whites is now extremely ugly and uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, Hank is on such a role since returning to the DEA that he is awarded a promotion as the head of the Albuquerque field office. The scene shows the remarkable maturity of Hank’s character since the cocky agent we first met at the beginning of season one. It’s a parallel to Carver on The Wire in which both characters start to realize that their arrogant first instincts aren’t always right and that the best approach usually involves taking in as much information as possible to come to reasoned conclusions. Good on Hank. Given the logical nature of Breaking Bad as a series, it seems more and more that it will be him who first outs Walt as a drug lord.
What happened next will likely be one of the “I-should-have-seen-the-signs” moments for Hank after Walt’s empire lays in ruin. Skyler organizes a get together to celebrate Walt’s birthday, if it can even be called celebrating, with Hank and Marie as the only invited guests. As the four sit on the back patio discussing how much their lives have changed over the past year, a memorable scenes develops.
Walt launches into a disgusting monologue about his life over the past year in which those who are unaware (Hank and Marie) think he’s talking about overcoming cancer while those who are aware (Walt, Skyler, and the audience) know he’s actually referencing his rise to drug lord. Skyler can’t take it and seemingly tries to drown herself in the back pool. It’s beautifully shot so that Walt’s back is facing Skyler as it all unfolds and he’s 100% unaware of the damage going on behind him. Blatant metaphor number 485 of the episode.
Whether this plunge was meant to signify a cry for help or a symbolic attempt at washing away sins doesn’t really matter. The haunting shot of Skyler floating in the water refusing to save herself will not be forgotten.
Business must go on though. Mike and Lydia are forced intro improvising after the DEA picks up another one of the 11 members of their former crew. Lydia is so distraught over the state of affairs in her life that she can’t even wear matching shoes to work. She then hatches a plan to try to get out of the game. When Jesse arrives to secure the latest barrel of methylene, Lydia plants a fake tracking device on the barrel and points it out to Jesse. Mike quickly sniffs out the BS move at a meeting of the partners at which it is decided that business goes on, no matter what the cost. Whether this references Lydia surviving a Mike assassination attempt yet again or facing death soon remains to be seen.
The episode will best be remembered though for the confrontation between Walt and Skyler after the pool incident. In that spat, Skyler reveals that she will no longer let their children into the house while Walt is still there. She demonstrates an awareness that she is beyond saving but that she will do whatever it takes to keep her children out of the mess. Walt attempts to mock her failed logic by using his superior brain power, and only then is he made aware of her real plan. She’s going to wait out his inevitable death from cancer. It was probably the best-ever scene for Skyler in the series history and very reminiscent of the scene in Godfather II where Kay reveals to Michael Corleone that she had an abortion to prevent him from continuing to spread his evil seed on the earth. Powerful, to say the least.
Although she seems to be right that the cancer will return, it no longer seems that she’ll be the one to bring down the empire. Her mental state is too unstable and the bacon trick seems to reveal that she won’t be around for Walt’s 52nd birthday.
Walt clearly is the personification of cancer at this point. He pollutes, uses, destroys, and disposes of every person he comes in contact with, so much so that the only logical conclusion is death. Unlike more minor forms, there is no chemotherapy or radiation treatment to temper the cancer that is Walter White though.
And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the show’s incredible amount of references towards famous mob scenes in television and film. Whether this was a great conspiracy (AMC ran a “Mob Week” theme the past seven days) or a grand coincidence is unknown as of now. However, it was hard not to recall that famous scene with Kay and Michael from Godfather II I already mentioned. Additionally, the pink Cadillac scene from Goodfellas (the muscle cars in this episode), the plethora of Scarface nods, and even the fade to black at the end of this episode which obviously seems to be a reference to the notorious ending of Sopranos.
Like the ticking on Walt’s new watch from Jesse, everything is coming to an end, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t happen like the explosion of a bomb as Mike predicted.
Best Scene(s): 1. The confrontation between Walt and Skyler
2. The pool scene
Best Quote(s): 1. “For the cancer to come back.” -Skyler to Walt (revealing what she’s waiting for and her plan to defeat Walt and save their children)
2. “He changed his mind about me, Skyler. And so will you.” -Walt to Skyler (explaining the watch gift he received from Jesse, not realizing he can’t control Skyler’s mind like he does Jesse’s)
3. “But then someone, or something, would come through for me.” -Walt to Hank and Marie (in the double meaning scene at the pool)
Fans of Breaking Bad are aware that the show’s famous pitch line is that they’re going to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface. It’s with avid curiosity then that many have started to look for references that Walter White is in fact turning into Tony Montana. While season five’s premier “Live Free Or Die” gave a subtle reference with a future Walt purchasing a massive machine gun reminiscent of Montana’s, episode three decided to be completely blatant. Skyler White is awakened from an afternoon nap by machine gun fire from Scarface’s most famous scene, playing a slight meta trick on the viewer. She heads into the living room to find her family watching the film. While walking away Skyler hears Walt tell Walter Jr. that, “everyone dies in this movie.” It’s likely the most cringe-inducing foreshadowing in the series history.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you how it got there though. This is Breaking Bad, afterall. Every element that’s responsible for “getting there” must be explained.
“Hazard Pay” begins with a lawyer going to visit one of his clients in prison. Immediately it becomes apparent that he’s brought Mike with him, telling the guard that it’s his own personal paralegal. They’re brought into a room while Mike discusses his business plan with the inmate. The lawyer intentionally tunes out the conversation with an iPod. Mike ensures the man that old promises will be kept. Keep that in mind.
The episode heads back to the White household which at this point may as well be renamed to the Black household given the poisonous relationship of the married couple. The set crew is making a very intentional attempt to give the house less lighting, an obvious tell that the happiness of the house has packed it’s bag and skipped town, something the Whites should have done a long time ago.
Skyler finds Walt moving his things back into the house, without her consent, and she realizes how helpless she is to stop the monster of a man that used to be her husband.
Moving back to business, Walt, Jesse, Mike and Saul set out to find a new place in which they can conceal their operation. It’s a classic scene in which each of the characters is free to exhibit their personality quirks. Saul cracks bad jokes about how uncomfortable he is. Mike speaks little but is keenly aware of his surroundings. Walt lets everyone know how smart he is by dismissing each of the potential cook sites with the precision of a master scientist. And Jesse proves that he’s way more intelligent than anyone in the operation gives him credit for, while hilariously swiping a free tortilla.
Walt eventually hatches what seems right now to be a brilliant plan whereby the new trio will cook at houses that are being treated for pest control. Logistics are coordinated and later they’re introduced to the pest controllers which just so happen to include Landry from Friday Night Lights. As if I needed another reason to love this show. It seems Landry dropped out of Rice and is now working as a member of the pest crew that fronts for a burglary operation. Matt Saracen’s grandma would be so disappointed.
After a successful cook, Walt and Jesse sit down for what can only be described as a father-son talk in which the former advises the latter on relationships. Although his advice to Jesse is true and based on experience, it’s so very clear that Walt is toying with his young accomplice again, implying that he needs to get out of the only healthy relationship he’s ever had. It’s also an eerily similar shot to a scene earlier in the episode when Walt is forced to share a couch with Andrea’s son Brock that he poisoned last season.
Back to Skyler now. Mrs. White is quite simply caving under the stress of their new life. At a lunch with her sister, she has a complete mental breakdown in which she breaks the New Mexico state record for most times saying “shut up” in succession. While she does bear some responsibility at this point, it’s hard not to feel for Skyler. Many a critic has pointed out that one of the most satisfying endings for the show would be if it was her who ends Walt’s reign of terror by turning state’s witness, rather than the equally expected shootout death. A radical decision like a suicide can’t be ruled out either.
It’s after all of this that the most tense scene takes place. The fruits of doing business aren’t as plentiful as Walter White originally calculated. Everyone in the supply chain must be compensated, only there’s bunches more people this go around, given that none of the trio have a fast food chain to cover their distribution network. Mike also reveals to his partners that he’ll be compensating the infamous 11 who had their nest eggs seized by the US government last week. And thus begins the first of what will surely be many stare downs between the two gigantic egos of White, Pinkman, and Ehrmantraut LLP. Jesse is so broken by the two father figures fighting that he offers to cover all the costs himself.
While the gesture does soften the mood, Walt is clearly pissed that Jesse didn’t take his side. He ends the episode comparing the now deceased Victor to Icarus of Greek mythology fame. The intention of this parable is as of yet unclear and no one can really agree what it means. There seems to be only two potential meanings though. The first is that Walt is trying to plant a seed inside Jesse that Mike will need to go, somewhere down the line. The other possibility is that Walt is pretty much telling Jesse to never cross him in public again, less he also go the way of Victor (which, if you need reminding, was to have Gus Fring slit his throat).
Walt’s ego is so bruised by the betrayal that he doesn’t even notice Jesse attempting to talk out his emotions after breaking up with Andrea, based on Walt’s advice on the couch. Seems like this was a huge miscalculation by Walt, which will surely have severe repercussions down the road.
A rather tame episode that was all about setting up what is to come. The viewer by now trusts Gilligan with what he’s doing, but as a whole “Hazard Pay” can only be described as a time filler.
Best Quote(s): 1. “I think everyone dies in this movie.” -Walt to Walt Jr. (while watching Scarface, a possible reference to the White family’s future)
2. “Shut up, Shut Up, SHUT UP….” -Skyler to Marie (while having a nervous breakdown)
3. “Yes, he handles the business. And I handle him.” – Walt to Saul (about his new partnership with Mike and also as a potential foreshadowing)
4. “Just because you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.” -Mike to Walt (and yes I realize I mistakenly included this last week, my apologies)
Best Scene(s): 1. Skyler’s panic attack
2. Walt’s couch scene with Jesse
3. The distribution of the cash to the three partners
Let’s say hypothetically that you’re an aspiring filmmaker. Then let’s say that whatever college you attend has an entire course devoted to the art of making a successful television episode. There is no doubt that at some point in class significant time would be devoted to the art of how to begin an episode. It is at this time that your professor would introduce you to Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and the way in which he has nailed the opening scene down to a precise and beautiful science.
The second episode, titled “Madrigal” begins with a seemingly harmless police investigation taking place in what we can only assume is somewhere located in Germany. A desk photograph and a shocking bathroom scene later we learn that the man in question was an accomplice of former New Mexico meth lord Gus Fring. Rather than face the repercussions of his decision to participate in the drug game, the German commits suicide in his posh executive bathroom, using no less than a defibrillator. Irony, one of Breaking Bad’s many favorite devices. It’s a beautiful sequence.
As mentioned last week, Breaking Bad is allergic to leaving plot points unexplained. Thus, a lot of time is spent in this episode cleaning up the loose ends. The matter of the ricin cigarette is put to rest. Walt partakes in a false strip search of Jesse’s home where they ultimately discover that the infamous robot vacuum is where Walt has chosen to plant the fake evidence. In addition to making a false cigarette to fool Jesse, Walt has chosen to keep the real ricin by stashing it away in his bedroom whereby he literally and figuratively poisons the place that he and Skyler sleep at night (kudos to Andy Greenwald at Grantland for pointing that out). In another great scene that shows just how cruel Walter White has become, he consoles Jesse after a mental breakdown upon discovery of the cigarette. It’s obvious that Jesse is now completely and utterly devoted to Walt. He’ll likely follow him to whatever end Walt faces (this is the author weeping for poor Jesse).
The fallout also reveals that despite getting rid of the computer last week, the magnet plot opened up a huge world of hell for the associates of Gus Fring’s former drug ring. All of their money is now frozen by the US government and only Mike was wise enough not to dip into his accounts, in addition to placing it in his granddaughter’s name. The DEA now has a list of the entire operation, all because of Walt’s seemingly harmless decision to crank up the juice on the magnet. Yet another hazardous chemical reaction in a long series of them dating back to the first season.
The DEA brings in each of the associates one-by-one and Hank basically tells them they can either give up everyone involved or go down with the already sunken ship. Mike, being the stoic former cop that he is, refuses to bite on any of Hank’s tactics in the interrogation room, despite realizing that his granddaughter’s nest egg is now gone forever. His sarcasm, dry wit, and cool head completely steal the episode. From this point forward we should just refer to “Madrigal” as “The Mike Episode.”