It was a given that Walt’s reign as The King was going to be a short one. This is, after all, Breaking Bad, the show where nothing good ever happens. But even knowing full well that things were bound to go south in a very short amount of time, it’s still a wonder to watch the chaos unfold. Every meticulous, painful, and heartbreaking minute of it.
What makes “Say My Name” one of the series’ all-time great episodes is that, in one single hour of television, we get to witness to complete devolution of Walter White.
Maybe Walt hasn’t been building towards absolute power from the start, but once he took on the Heisenberg persona and started throwing around terrifying catchphrases like “Stay out of my territory,” and “I am the one who knocks,” he’s longed for that moment where his contemporaries bow down to him and anoint him the chosen one. By using Jesse and Mike as pawns in his game, he gets a face-to-face meeting with Declan and the crew that planned to buy the methylamine, and though they don’t take him seriously at first, he chooses his words ever so carefully — as Walt is want to do — to slowly revel that he’s the man they cannot mess with, that he’s the one who knocks.
“You know. You all know exactly who I am. Say my name. I’m the cook. I’m the man that killed Gus Fring. Now, say my name.”
“You’re God damn right.”
In yet another fantastic cold opener, we get Walt reaching his career apex. Finally, someone has acknowledged his greatness. Finally, he knows his name will ring out in the streets and that not only his actions, but his words alone can strike fear in people. But that moment is as close as Walt becomes to being The King. After ruthlessly luring Jesse back into the operation without his consent, Jesse stands up to the man he once admired and now fears. At first, Walt promises that after Jesse helps him get started, he will pay him his $5 million and let him walk, but while we’ve known that Walt has been using Jesse as his personal marionette for some time now, Jesse finally sees through Mr. White for who he truly is. He puts his foot down. He’s out. It doesn’t matter that Walt tries one last guilt trip, telling him that he’s a nobody who will probably go back to using. It doesn’t even matter that Walt refuses to pay him his share. Enough is enough, and Jesse walks out.
It’s a moment that makes you want to stand up and cheer if you didn’t already know that Jesse would just as quickly get sucked back in. Just like when we think Mike is in the clear, ready to leave millions to his granddaughter, pay off his legacy costs, and fly off somewhere so far away the DEA won’t bother to look. But of course, nothing is that simple in this show. Pesky Hank is still on the case, and after connecting Mike to the shady lawyer who’s been dropping his money off in safety deposit boxes, he finally has Mike right where he wants him.
Walt overhears the news that the lawyer is about to flip on Mike while he’s debugging Hank’s office and calls Mike to warn him that they are closing in, but it’s too late. The cops have the park surrounded, and Mike can’t even call out to his granddaughter before he vanishes, leaving Kaylee wondering where her granddad went, a scene mirroring the fear Mike saw on Lydia earlier this season, that her daughter would think she abandoned her is she were to die.
Mike escapes the situation but needs help collecting his “go bag,” which Walt volunteers to retrieve. He meets Mike out in the boonies with the bag, but wants the names of Mike’s guys in exchange so Walt can do something with them. And for one last time, Walt and Mike have it out. Mike knows that even if Walt does get the names of his legacy guys that he cannot escape his eventual downfall. The man who always has a plan can’t wiggle his way out of this mess, and the only way to escape it is to disappear. They had a good thing with Fring. It was perfect and everyone had their place, and Walt had to go blow it up with his pride and his ego. Even as Mike wrestles away his bag from Walt, Heisenberg is only thinking about is whether or not he gets a thank you in exchange.
Though Walt has vowed several times in the past few episodes that no more people would get hurt under his watch, in the moment, his hubris takes over. Mike has wronged him, and he must pay. He is, after all, The King now. With the gun he stole out of Mike’s bag, Walt (rather cowardly) shoots Mike through his car window while he’s not looking. Even with a few gun shot wounds, Mike shows his Batman-like skills of escape one last time, but he can’t make it very far — just down the hill, where he perches up on a stump looking out onto the water. A clearly flustered Walt realizes that he could have just as easily gotten the names from Lydia, and that his act was all for naught. And Mike answers with a brilliant line that we all wish we could utter to the false prophet: “Shut the fuck up, and let me die in peace.”
There’s one question I keep coming back to year after year with Breaking Bad: Why do I put myself through this? Our protagonist is anything but a hero, and because of him, bad things continue to happen to good people. Don’t we watch TV as an escape? To find pleasure and satisfaction? But no matter how twisted up inside you get after an episode, you can’t help but feel captivated by how the show has arrived here. A cautionary tale. A Shakespearean tragedy. The story of Walter White — however dour and gut-wrenching — will be one not soon forgotten.
– RIP Mike Ehrmantraut. A true solider. An old pro. An amateur ninja. Jonathan Banks will be missed. Give him all the Emmys.
– Everyone else’s meth vs. Walt’s meth – “Grade school tee-ball versus the New York Yankees.”
– Skyler’s presence in this episode was nothing more than to show her complete disapproval of everything. I mean, I get it, really, but she doesn’t need to be so cold to Jesse, right? It’s Jesse! He called her Mrs. White!
– Some of Mike’s last words to Jesse, his quasi-protege: “Kid, just look out for yourself.” Speaking of which, how is Jesse going to react to another body going down, especially one he became so close to? Maybe it’s time for Jesse to step up and be the hero that the show desperately needs.
– Todd is Walt’s new assistant cook. Always the consummate professional, Todd refuses to talk money with Walt until he learns all the ins and outs of the job. Seriously, I can’t make a read on this guy. Especially now that the fan is covered in shit, I have no idea how his character will be utilized from here out.
– Next week is the Season 5, Part I finale. What do you think will happen? Will Walt take Mike’s parting words of advice and get out of dodge? Will Walt manipulate Jesse once again concerning Mike’s death, and will he take the bait? What kind of cliffhanger are we in for? Will I have a nervous breakdown? Stay tuned.