Breaking Bad: Empire State of Mind

Warning: Do not read if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad season 5, Ep. 6 – “Buyout”.

“But is a meth empire really somthing to be proud of?” – Jesse

Anyone holding onto the idea that Walt still has any semblance of good motives has officially lost their argument.  No more beating around the bush, Walt has laid it out himself and no one can have any question about the man he has become. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The teaser for this week featured the now all too familiar decomposing process. The highway robbers (minus Jesse) set to work dismantling a small dirt bike and placing it into the sinister white barrel. Todd returned to the dirt in the truck and after some digging uncovered a small hand. Walt prepared the next barrel.  Thankfully we cut there to Jesse, waiting outside having a cigarette. Todd tried to make nice, but that didn’t work out to well. Jesse has consistently had a problem with children being killed (as most people should) and his reaction to his own killing of an adult affected him deeply, so faced with Todd’s reaction to killing a child mere hours earlier, a sociopathic “shit happens”, Jesse did what everyone else wanted to; punched him in the face. (Side Note: Is Todd going to end up being the craziest person in this operation? There’s certainly some stiff competition, but his response to killing an unarmed kid is disturbing. I understand his reasoning that he acted in the best interest of the company, but shouldn’t there still be some remorse? And taking the kid’s spider as a trophy? Chilling.)

So the Rogaine Trio met to discuss what to do about Todd. As I suspected Walt and Mike, while unhappy with the process, understood the result was beneficial and where therefore more lenient with Todd. Jesse wanted nothing more to do with “Ricky Hitler”, but was outvoted. So the kid killer will remain on the payroll, but demoted back to pest control. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Walt and Jesse got straight to work using the stolen methylamine, but were interrupted by a news story on a missing child, Drew Sharp, last seen riding his dirt bike into the desert. Jesse was shaken all over again and Walt resumed his role of father figure, comforting him and telling him to take the rest of the day off. But Jesse stayed just long enough to hear Walt happily whistling as he cooked. This season has been all about Jesse slowly seeing the real Mr. White and this was a lovely last glimpse before the big reveal later in the episode. It also gave him enough reason to take a late night meeting with Mike.

Upon arriving back at the secret lair to drop off the batch Walt found his two partners having a meeting without him, never a good sign. Mike called him back and broke the news; he was out. Thanks to is ever present DEA shadow, his involvement was endangering everyone. Walt tried his best (i.e. not at all) to seem sad to see him go, but you knew all he could see was the dollar signs coming his way with a 50% share and no more legacy costs. But then Jesse dropped his bomb; he’s out too. It was only a matter of time and if Walt was paying attention to anything other than himself he would have seen that this lifestyle was taking its toll on Jesse, but he wasn’t so instead he was blindsided and felt betrayed.

But this wasn’t just a cut and run option, Mike had a plan (because he wouldn’t be Mike if he didn’t). He had a contact that was willing to pay $10 million for Mike and Jesse’s shares of the methylamine. Jesse invited Walt to take the same offer, a clean $5 million each and they could all just walk away. It’s a great offer, so of course Walt scoffed at it. Mike didn’t seem surprised.

Undeterred, Jesse and Mike met with the contact out in the desert. The drug lord was smart, as you would have to be to become a successful kingpin, and quickly deduced that there was more methylamine not being sold. He made it clear the deal was contingent on the Heisenberg Blue being discontinued. So once again Walt’s greed will take down everyone else.

Jesse made the first attempt of convincing Walt with a soft sell. He thought he could reason with his mentor, a longtime supporter of logic. He was very wrong and the scene that followed laid out what this show is really about.  Jesse reminded Walt that he had originally gotten into this business to make $737,000 dollars and then walk away. And now here he is being offered $5 million and turning it down.  It’s certainly enough to take care of his medical bills as well as secure a future for his children and Jesse, who still believed those were the things Walt cared about, couldn’t understand why he would ignore this out.

Then Walt gave Jesse (and us) a little backstory that explained so much.  He told the story of Gray Matter, a name we haven’t heard in three seasons, but that immediately brought to mind his substantially rich friend and his wife who is Walt’s ex-girlfriend. The previous mentions of this company have told us that Walt was jealous and uncomfortable with his friend and former flame and now we know why. Walt and his friend started Gray Matter together, Walt even named it. Then he left, though he didn’t comment on why just “something happened”, and took a $5,000 buyout. At the time it seemed like a lot of money, that he was making a good choice for his family. And now? The company is worth billions. With a B. He checks its worth every week.

And there it is, the real reason Walter White ventured down this path, dragging everyone he knew along with him. He told Jesse  “I sold my son’s birthright for a few month’s rent”. So perhaps this is how he rationalized it as still being about his family, but it wasn’t. Gray Matter represents more than just a missed opportunity; it’s a missed life. He looked at his former partner, in his giant house, with his lavish parties and saw the life he could have had. Walt can’t stand that his life is average. He must make the world see his brilliance, to respect his intellect and envy his life or it was all just a waste.  And if he couldn’t find that level of success the legitimate way, this would have to do.  The ends justify the means.

Just as that truth was sinking in for Jesse, Skyler came home. At first she seemed shocked that an obvious “work” associate of Walt’s was in her home, but it soon faded to indifference and Jesse was strong armed into the one of the most awkward family dinners I’ve ever seen (it might have been first, but I’d just seen Killer Joe).  Jesse was solely responsible for providing conversation and boy did he try, however it was mostly a monologue about the lies of frozen food while Skyler drowned herself in a wine bottle and Walt worked on his silent intimidation tactics. After Skyler’s less then graceful exit Walt laid it out; his children are gone, his wife wants him dead and the “business” is all he has left. He’s not taking the buyout this time.

Time for the hard sell.  Mike caught Walt trying to steal the methylamine and kept him sequestered in the office all night. Come morning he had some business to attend to (getting 24 hour window of no surveillance so he could make the methylamine deal and give us a much needed Saul scene) so he zip tied Walt to a radiator. But a zip tie is no match for Heisenberg and Walt managed to escape. Science! When Mike returned the methylamine was gone and he was ready to kill Walt. Very ready. Walt didn’t seemed fazed and Jesse urgently insisted that Walt had a plan (doesn’t he always) that would get everyone what they wanted so Mike let him live. He had no choice but to hear him out. Because everyone wins in the empire business; just ask Gus Fring.

– Devin Mainville

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