Breaking Bad: A Trio No More

Warning: Do not read if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, Season 5 Ep. 7 – “Say My Name”.

“You and your pride and your ego. You just had to be the man. If you’d known your place, we’d all be fine right now” –Mike

This season was billed as Walt’s rise to drug kingpin and while he is certainly doing everything in his power to claw his way up that ladder, its only one episode away from the halfway mark and already things are falling apart. Walt prides himself on his brains and relies on his intellect to guide him though this increasingly sordid maze, but as the stakes keep getting higher his once merely irritating trait (his hubris) has become his tragic flaw. As he gains power, inch by inch, and is not met with the accolades he believes he deserves he continues to act on emotion and creates more trouble than necessary. He is desperate for respect, but instead of doing anything to earn it he has resorted to demanding it via threats and intimidation. The schoolyard bully tactic, if you will, but while fear may look the same as respect to someone as blinded as Walt; it only ensures more dissent and eventual chaos.

He told Jesse there would be no more deaths, now that they were in control, things would run smoothly and no one would get hurt. I think he believed that. I think he believes that he is the consummate professional, the only one who understands how to run this as pure business and the only one who can succeed at the level he wants to succeed. Of course a few hours later Walt was killing the only real professional on his crew and destroying any chance of his own success. And I think he realized that.

There have been a lot of devastating incidents depicted in Breaking Bad history (with a top contender airing just two weeks ago), but for me the last hours of Mike Ehrmentraut’s life will go down as one of the most heartbreaking moments in TV.  Mike was everything Walt fancies himself to be; smart, professional and above all else, a family man. Mike worked only to provide for his granddaughter and to keep himself safe. When it came down to it, he made the choice he told Lydia he would. Faced with a possible police shoot out and letting his granddaughter believe he had abandoned her, he chose the latter. And if that shot of him taking one last look at Kaylee wasn’t poignant enough, he had to have it thrown back in his face by Walt who is self-absorbed enough to believe that he is the only one with a family to protect.

Mike was in the business of protecting himself and those he cared about and Walt’s complete lack of caution and unimaginable arrogance did nothing to endear him to Mike. He never gave Walt the respect Walt feels he deserves and now he has paid the ultimate price. The final devastation is that this murder seems to have wakened Walt to what he is doing. For the first time Walt showed real emotion and real fear at what he had done.  Whether it is because he fears he won’t be able to cope without Mike’s guiding hand (which he won’t) or whether it is a culmination of everything leading up to this point is immaterial. For the first time he saw that he acted without thinking everything through and he made the wrong choice. “I just realized,” he told a dying Mike, “Lydia has the names.” Though it was an honest moment of realization it served more to twist the knife in Mike’s fatal wound; telling him his death was pointless. But at least Mike got to go out with a last line befitting his character, “Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace.” And he did.

It seems Mike’s murder was a crime of passion, a spur of the moment reaction to Mike’s insistence on ignoring Walt’s perceived power. I think there was a lot more that went into that decision. First, he took the gun which suggests he expected a confrontation of some kind and at least didn’t want Mike armed. I think Walt’s real reason for killing Mike was Jesse. It’s clear that Walt’s power is inconsequential if it doesn’t include power over Jesse. Mike has always had more respect for Jesse than Walt (I think he respected Jesse’s heart and genuinely wanted to help the kid out). Watching Mike give Jesse the goodbye he hadn’t been deemed worthy of coupled with Jesse’s insistence to break good threatened Walt in a way the DEA never could. Walt has already lost his real family and he is determined to keep control of his surrogate son (which Todd is clearly no replacement for) no matter the cost.

When Walt and his two captive amigos met with the rival drug ring in the desert Walt revealed that is “brilliant” plan was to convince the Arizona gang to sell his meth for him, thus giving him his distribution and providing an out for Mike.  I really wish we could have heard how he sold this plan to Jesse, because the way it was laid out in the desert left no room to imagine a scenario where everyone got what they wanted; only Walt and Mike were benefitting from that deal. And yet it was Jesse who championed it to save Walt’s life.

However he manipulated Jesse into buying it, it’s likely the last manipulation. The truth Jesse has been slowly grasping for the last few episodes is fully realized and Jesse is firm in his conviction to get out.  The look he shared with Skyler at the car wash said it all, he sees they are in the same predicament; trapped by Walt, and just like her Jesse is determined to get out.

Walt tried every tactic he could to get Jesse to stay; flattery, threats against his sobriety and even guilt (“Isn’t it filthy, bloody money?”), but none of it worked. Jesse doesn’t even care if he gets paid, he just wants away from Walt. Of course that is looking even more impossible now that Mike is dead and the nine men are no longer being paid off. Jesse may want out, but I doubt he’s willing to go as far as prison to get it.

And what about Walt? Has this new shock been enough to change his mind about his kingpin aspirations? And did he really think this deal with Arizona was providing that? He told Jesse everything was safe because they were the ones in charge, but working with the other ring hardly makes him in charge. He’ll be their cook just like he was Fring’s. Yes, he holds the methylamine, but he would be completely reliant on them to actually make any money.  It doesn’t seem like a brilliant plan at all, more like a futile attempt of man unwilling to admit he’s drowning.

And now there are nine men no longer getting paid for their silence. The only way to keep them quiet is to find another way to pay them off (unlikely with the police now aware of that situation) or to kill them.  For someone who prides himself on control, Walt’s leaving an awful lot of bodies behind.

– Devin Mainville

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