For as hectic as the action in Breaking Bad gets, it’s always been a show that’s been a slow burn. It takes its time setting up the pieces on the board, allowing situations to develop — seemingly in real time — before things begin to go haywire. Even early on in this shortened eight-episode run of Season 5, Part I, Vince Gilligan and company stuck to the usual script. The plodding, meticulous nature of the show allows for incidents like Todd shooting the boy at the end of last week’s episode to be all the more jaw-dropping.
But with “Buyout,” a lot of stuff goes down. It’s probably the busiest episode Breaking Bad has ever done, and my gut feeling is it is in part due to the rush-to-the-finish mentality to end this eight-episode run. They can call it a two-part season all they want, but it’s basically going to come down to two shortened seasons, with some sort of resolution or cliffhanger in a few weeks leading us to the final eight episodes next summer. The crew doesn’t have the typical 12- or 13-episodes to get their story in this year, so a more hurried feel to some of these installments was bound to be a slight issue.
That’s not to say that tonight’s episode wasn’t a fantastic hour of television. The frantic pace made for a thrilling, exhausting viewing experience, giving us plenty of emotional, desperate, and downright diabolical moments between Mike, Jesse, and Walt.
Despite the busy nature of the episode, the crux of the problem for the remainder of this season, and probably the rest of the series, lies in where the gang goes following the dead kid fiasco. After dealing with Todd (temporarily, at least), it’s back to business, with Walt and Jesse starting up with a new cook only a few days after hijacking the methylamine. With Jesse shaken up after seeing that the boy is being reported missing on the news, Walt gives him a fake pat on the back and sends him home early, only to continue working like nothing had even happened. Walt literally whistling while he works may have been a tad over the top, but at least the message was received loud and clear.
Even the unflappable Mike has been flapped by this latest fuck up. Mike’s one weakness is for his granddaughter and while at the park with his little girl, he flashes a subtle but very telling look that he cannot be apart of something that has turned so monstrous.
Which leads to the meeting Mike calls at the office, where he informs Walt that the DEA has a tail on him and he wants out. Walt not-so-sincerely wishes him well, relieved that Mike and his baggage (as Walt sees it) will be out of the picture, but then Jesse drops the news on Mr. White that he’s out too. Jesse and Mike have accepted a buyout for their share of the methylamine: $10 million dollars for 666 gallons of it, and they want Walt to come in on it, but he won’t even hear it. “You’ll be selling to my competitors for pennies on the dollar.” What Walt sees as pennies, Jesse sees as a way out, back to some semblance of a life — “It’s more money than I’ve ever seen, and when it comes down to it, are we in the meth business, or the money business?”
Of course, for Walt, it’s neither. It’s an Empire Business. It’s all or nothing. He wants to hear his name ring out in the streets. He wants to be feared and he wants to be a legend, no matter the cost. For a brief moment, it looked as though Walt was going to be able to continue his operation with his 333 gallons of methylamine, maybe with the whack job Todd stepping in as his new sidekick. But that plan is foiled when the guys from Phoenix Mike attempts to sell to sees through them. 666 gallons, two-thirds of a thousand, meaning they aren’t giving up the whole batch and that Fring’s blue meth is still out there. So there’s a new deal in place: $15 million for all 1,000 gallons or nothing.
As expected, Jesse coming to break the news to Walt that he needs to sell his share does not go well. Walt already accepted one buyout back in his days with Grey Matter, which is now worth more than 2 billion dollars. This isn’t the same, Jesse reminds Mr. White, and he’s right. But there’s no rationalizing with this man. His wife is waiting for him to die. He can no longer be with his kids. The meth business is all he has left. He is truly without fear for the first time, and he will go down guns-a-blazing if he has to. As a man who has nothing left to lose, it’s at least an understandable (if not completely irrational) conclusion. But to suck Jesse back in, the only person left who cares for him, is up there with the worst things he’s ever tried to pull.
Mike’s not one to roll over so easily, however. Walt tries to steal the barrel of methylamine from the office only to find Mike there waiting for him — “Come join me in the office. It’s not a request.” Mike stays with Walt all night in the hopes of getting him to turn on his share, collect his $5 million dollars, and allow everyone to walk away unscathed. But before he can proceed with the rest of his plan, he needs to get the DEA off his tail if only for a few hours (thanks to Saul’s half-hearted stalking and harassing of a senior citizen plea), but while he’s gone, Walt escapes from his handcuff to the radiator with some real MacGyver shit and takes off with the methylamine. Mike’s fuse has blown, and he’s ready to put a bullet in Walt’s brain once and for all, but yet again, we have Jesse begging for Mike to hear Mr. White out. That he has yet another plan that can allow both Mike and Jesse out with their money and Walt his share to cook with. Even with a cold killer’s pistol to his head, Walt’s never been more cool and confident. “Everybody wins,” he claims.
What Walt’s plan is remains to be seen, but it certainly can’t be as cut and dry as he makes it out to be. Maybe Todd’s shady uncle (who was randomly brought up earlier) has something to do with it, especially considering Todd disappeared for most of the episode.
Regardless of it’s minor flaws, “Buyout” pays off in more ways than it fails us. It may have rushed to the set up of the final two episodes this year, but now that we are there, the gut-punching chips can proceed to fall where they may. Walt is conniving, selfish, cold-hearted, and we can’t believe one word that comes out of his mouth. And perhaps worst of all, he has another master plan. Things are bad right now, and it’s bound to get even worse.
– It’s been said plenty of times before by people much smarter than me, but Breaking Bad can say so much in sequences where no one utters a word. Few scenes portray this theory better than tonight’s cold opening, where the Walt, Mike, and Jesse have to put the boy and his dirt bike into barrels.
– One big question that is sure to get answered before this season is out: Is Todd really a loose cannon, or simply a professional? I’m leaning towards the former, as is Jesse, gauging by that cold-cock he gave him. Big ups to Jesse Plemons, who holds his own against acting giants Cranston, Paul, and Banks.
– Hank and Gomie continue to monitor Mike’s every move, which is part of the reason Mike needs out of the operation. Not before he has a little fun with the guys though, leaving a “Fuck You” note under a park trashcan.
– Walt: “Did they follow you here?”
Mike: “No, I said I threw them. I would never come to the headquarters of our illegal meth operation dragging a bunch of cops. It would be unwise.”
– At one point Jesse questions Mike and I wrote in my notes, “Why would anyone ever ask Mike, ‘Are you sure?’ about anything?” Mike never makes mistakes, until he does, leaving Walt alone. There goes the perfect game.
– Something else meaningless I wrote in my notes: “I have a sneaking suspicion that something terrible is going to happen.” You have my permission to use those 12 words to describe Breaking Bad to your friends.
– The dinner scene, equal parts sweet, funny, cold, awkward, sad, terrifying. Not an easy task.
– Jesse visiting Walt at his home to try and convince him to get out was noticeably old school Breaking Bad. But I need to take back what I said a few weeks ago, that Walt still cares for Jesse even if it’s just a little bit. This might change in the future, but at this very moment, Jesse is just another person getting in Walt’s way.