Sunday, September 02, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Say My Name"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Jon: Okay, first things first. This episode will be etched in my memory forever. I've never thought I could be so moved by a television show. But, OMG, you guys! Bacon-banana cookies? GOOD LAWRD, those sound delicious! How have I lived life for this long and never been mentally stimulated by such wonderment?!?! Oh, yeah. There was that other thing -- our favorite hitman, Mike, went to the big meth lab in the sky (c'mon, there's a freaking spoiler warning right at the top; don't complain). More about that in a bit.

Mike and I have talking a lot these past few weeks about just how downright unlikable Walter White has become this season. He's manipulated Jesse for his own gains at every turn. He seems not to have anything beyond superficial remorse for the death of the young 14-year-old dirtbike kid two episodes past.
He's essentially imprisoned Skyler in their home. He made poor Saul cower in fear in his own awesome office! And while blowing up a druglord of the level of Gustavo Fring is easily viewed as a triumph on Walt's part, firing a gut shot at an unsuspecting man in moment of blind fury is hardly anything to gloat over.

But in my view, his impromptu assassination of Mike Ehrmantraut was not when Walt blossomed into a straight-up villain. No, that happened during the cold open of this very episode, as he brazenly battled wits in a desert showdown with Declan, the Phoenix-based meth dealer we met last week and who was illustrated to be anything but a pushover (all that was missing was a backing score from Ennio Morricone). That was not Declan going up against Walter White, however. As he made clear to everyone present, Walt was in full-blown Hiesenberg mode. And what made this edition of his Hiesenberg persona so interesting was he wasn't wearing his patented black porkpie hat, which I believe was a first. In earlier seasons, Walt has don the hat whenever he needed an extra little spark to psych himself up through whatever crazy situation he was diving into. This season he's been wearing it much more frequently, often while doing little more than strolling in or out of the lab to get his cook on. In other words he's basically been master physicist Hiesenberg more often than cancer survivor Walt White lately. And now he's become so comfortable in that guise, he no longer requires the porkpie hat to thrust himself into character. He is Hiesenberg now, pure villain. And with LowBrowMedia's roots being a comic book review site, I'd argue that he's now transformed himself into a supervillain. We've seen what that manic mentality has wrought when Mike pushed him too far. There's no telling what atrocity he commits next. And I sincerely doubt he'll be using that massive machine gun we got a glimpse of in the cold open of the season premiere for good. It shall be interesting what unfolds next.

Anyway, plenty of other stuff happened in "Say My Name," but I think you'll find Mike C's recap of events below to be plenty thorough in this post and I'd really just like to get back to Mike E. It was a tragic, furious end to an existence predicated upon detailed planning, calculated action and measured patience, but you'll go up in flames if you allow a supernova like Walt soar into your orbit. Admittedly, Mike's ending was a little obvious once Walt peered into Mike's go-bag and found the gun, but that final sequence was so expertly executed, I have no complaints on how events unfolded. It was beautifully filmed, near-perfect send-off for a beloved character. His blunt one-liners and usually stoic demeanor were a welcome presence any time he appeared on screen ever since. Jonathan Banks' performance of the hitman for hire was masterful ever since we were introduced to him at the tail end of season 2, but I'm not sure he had a more powerful moment on the show than when he had to decide between leaving his granddaughter alone on the playground in order to save himself from assured doom.

RIP, Mr. Ehrmantraut. Breaking Bad won't be the same without you.

Mike: Now, here's what I thought!  I'll more or less keep it sequential:

- So, that was Walt's big plan?  Actually, it was a pretty good one.  Using pure ballsy chutzpah, and costing him only 35% of the take, Walt took care of the business end so he can focus on the science and cooking and manipulation and lying.  After all, Mike's retirement was impending, and they needed a new business partner.  (Little did we know that the aforementioned retirement was going to be so permanent.  Well, we had suspicions at least.)  And Mike even got a severance package to help keep the Gus Fring Nine out of the DEA office confessional for at least a little while longer.  If I were Walt, I'd be careful not to play the "I killed Gus" card too often, or else he's going to find himself with an identical target on his back.  He'll probably need some pretty heavy artillery to back himself up in that kind of situation, huh?

- Walt being so dismissive of Jesse at every turn this episode was just awful.  For one thing, Jesse is the closest thing that he has to a friend -- that is to say, he is a good friend to Walt, not the other way around.  If you allow a friend's girlfriend to choke to death, guilt them into breaking up with their next girlfriend, force them to kill, and otherwise constantly put their life and livelihood at risk.  Jesse, to a dangerous degree, has forgiven Walt every time he has pushed his luck too far.  After all, we need to remember that Jesse's family has disowned him, especially after the whole buying his aunt's house out from under them thing.  So, his heartfelt, familial respect for "Mr. White" and "Mrs. White" as well is one of the only assets that Walt has to work with these days.  But as is typical for Walt, there is a line, and he pushes Jesse right past that like when be brushes aside Jesse's wishes to get out of the meth business one too many times.  What could possibly bring them back together?  It doesn't take long.  It's probably the only thing that could do it, and that's Mike Ehrmantraut needing something.

- But first, how about that burgeoning meth chef, Todd?  I knew that Walt either can't or won't cook alone.  And by all appearances, Todd seems to be an eager, bright young man who has a good head for the amphetamine biz.  He even refuses to be paid until he gets it right!  Walt is eating this up, and even tries to share his delight with this new team-up at the dinner table with Skyler.  (She leaves the table in the middle of his sentence, huge glass of wine in tow.)  I keep going back to Todd's comment last week about his relative in prison for some reason, though.  It was probably nothing, but really, Walt doesn't even know this kid.  He's only training him because he has no partners left.  They didn't come up through chemistry class together like he and Jesse.  Todd doesn't have a firmly developed criminal code like Mike.  He's a cipher so far.  A cipher with a little notepad that contains the instructions on how to cook 99% pure blue meth.  We'll see if Todd ends up helping or hurting Walt in the end.  For now, though, he's been extremely useful in at least three situations that I can think of.

- I'm loving that every time we listen in to Hank's office bug, he's dealing with the boring minutiae of high-level police work that isn't often glorified -- filling out forms, making fundraiser calls, griping about food.  It was too bad that Walt had to pull the weepy brother-in-law act again and remove the tap from the office.  At which point he witnesses something that is probably the beginning of the end: Gomie telling Hank that they flipped Mike's lawyer.

- Losing millions of dollars to the DEA once has got to sting.  Twice, though?  OUCH!

- Jon's covered Mike's death pretty well already.  I'll just say this -- Mike was dead the moment he threw his hat in the ring with Walt.  At first it was definitely for a better cause, but as time went on, he had to know that he was just digging his own grave.  I guess this can be a lesson for all of us.  Especially when embarking upon criminal avenues, but also in other situations too, I guess, stay true to your hard-fought and long-held principles or that piece of garbage you aligned yourself with will put a bullet in your gut and leave you to die semi-peacefully along a river.

- Walt stalking back into the frame and across the screen, gun in hand, towards Mike's car was pathetic but also chilling.  These are not the actions of a criminal mastermind.  These are the actions of a child who has not gotten their way.  There aren't too many drug lords out there who engage in this type of behavior.  The reason for that is, they are all either in jail or dead in the desert somewhere.

- I am fascinated to see Walt's followup to this in next week's finale.  Will he take responsibility for what he has done?  Probably not.  But did he have an actual self-realization at the water's edge?  I'm sure he'll find some way to top his actions this week.  Either way, we are going to have a really unhappy Jesse on our hands.  Perhaps we will see a Jesse/Skyler team-up as a result.  Only one way to tell -- see you next week!

Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"
Week 3 - "Hazard Pay"
Week 4 - "Fifty-One"
Week 5 - "Dead Freight"
Week 6 - "Buyout"


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