"Breaking Bad" -- "Say My Name": Don't Take Your Guns to Town
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"Breaking Bad" — "Say My Name": Don't Take Your Guns to Town

By Daniel Carlson | TV Reviews | August 27, 2012 | Comments ()


It can be easy to forget just how long Mike Ehrmantraut has been a part of "Breaking Bad." He showed up in the final episode of the second season as a cleaner sent by Saul to take care of the situation surrounding Jane's death, but he became so much more. He was hardly the show's moral center -- he was, still, a ruthless killer, a man who prized efficiency and loyalty over everything else -- but he had a certain kind of warped honor. Yes, he'd consider murdering a woman while her child was in the next room, but only if, you know, she upset him. (This is what passes for business ethics in the meth trade.) Mike became a kind of steady, guiding force, acting as a buffer between Walt and Gus and taking a shine to Jesse. And to see him die in a slump by the side of a river in the middle of New Mexico is sad and ugly, and a tragically perfect end for such a major player on the show. Because if nothing else, "Breaking Bad" is about the cold, unforgiving truth about the cost of living this kind of criminal life. Mike loved his granddaughter and had an enjoyably gruff charm, but he was still in the wrong line of work. No one really succeeds; they just live long enough to trick themselves into thinking they have, or can, before the end comes. And the end isn't grand or meaningful. It isn't a sacrifice for some lost love or a sign of deathbed recantation. It's quick and graceless. He didn't even get to say goodbye to his granddaughter.

Director Thomas Schnauz (who also wrote the episode) did some nice work with the final scenes, too. Walt's discovery of Mike's gun sealed the deal, but Schnauz milked the tension as long he could. Mike's speech excoriating Walt felt like the perfect catalyst, but Walt didn't act, and then we got that uneasy shot of Mike's back as he walked away. Schnauz knew we were waiting for gunfire, and he let it ride. When Mike drove off, there was the brief suggestion that maybe he'd be able to get away, but Walt's purposeful stride back to his own car ruled out any hope of compromise or escape. When Walt initially demanded the name's of Mike's crew, I found myself wondering why Walt didn't just ask Lydia. Then we learned why: Walt's killing of Mike needed to be that much more worthless and petty, driven wholly by anger. Sure, from a DEA standpoint, it closes a loop and maybe keeps Walt out of trouble a little longer, but Mike's an expert at ducking law enforcement, and Walt could easily contact Lydia if he wants to wipe out Mike's guys. No, the murder had to be hot-headed and awful. Walt could write off Gus's murder as one of necessity, but killing Mike? Not a chance.

In the moments after he pulled the trigger, though, Walt seemed able to actually realize the scope and pointlessness of what he'd done. These moments of true awareness are increasingly rare for him, now that he's able to toss his weight around. His bullying of the distributors in the opening scene showed how cocky he's become, demanding them to admit how much they know and envy him. He even took the same aggressive tone with Skylar when, after she asked about the tanker of methylamine, he told her to get back inside the car wash's office and go about her business. Walter, like every fool who came before him, believes his own hype. He's not just some punk. He's Heisenberg! He's the man who killed Gus Fring! Who is he to let some thug give him grief? Yet as soon as the deed was done, Walt saw how stupid it was. He'd bragged to Jesse that no one else would die now that they were "in control," and he stuck to it even when Jesse pointed out how often Walt had said this before and how, every time, it had turned out to be a lie. This is who Walt is now. This is what he's become. There will always be more deals to cut, more meth to cook, more men he can convince himself need killing. There's no stopping.

There is, though, a break in sight for us: There's only one more episode in this run, after which the show will return next year for its final eight episodes. I'm amazed every week at how quickly these hours pass, and I'm amazed again at how much has happened in just the past few weeks. I don't know what the show is building to for next week -- there's no epic quest like Walt's attempt to kill Gus -- but I have no doubt things will once again end explosively.

• I'd swear that was Lily of the Valley framed in the window between Walt and Skylar as they had dinner. I could be wrong.

• Walt and Jesse's fight over their disintegrating partnership was powerfully honest. I loved the scummy way Walt reeled Jesse in and instantly began to hammer him, even as he briefly appeared to regret what he was doing. And Jesse didn't want to give any ground, either, but he also wasn't just fighting for his money. There's more between them than just that, and his decision to walk away felt right. (It also helpfully cleared up the rest of the hour for Mike's story.) These guys have the ability to destroy each other, largely because each is the only person left to feel some positive emotion for the other.

• Mike's contention that Walt needed to retrieve his bug to avoid an impending DEA sweep felt a little thin. Not unreasonable -- Mike's hunches have been pretty golden, so it stands to reason his caution makes sense -- but it felt just a little too much like the writers couldn't cook up a good reason to get Walt back to Hank's office for him to overhear Gomez telling Hank about breaking down the lawyer to get to Mike. He had to hear it somewhere so he could call Mike and warn him, but I'm not sure his retrieving the bug made the most narrative sense. (It was also far less tense than the scene in which he initially planted it.) Still, it mostly worked.

• Schnauz has been a writer on the show for years, but this is his first time directing. Another of the show's strengths is that individual directors bring their own flair without overriding the show's basic visual language or patterns. Schnauz's use of unusual perspective shots, especially on the lawyer's arm as he stocked the safety deposit boxes, was in keeping with the show's history of unusual POV shots based on handheld objects. The entire show feels smoothly consistent that way.

• I don't care if Todd says he's sorry. I don't trust that guy.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I have to disagree with you on the killing of Mike. It was absolutely necessary for Walt to take him out since Mike wouldn't give up his nine guys. The lawyer is flipping on Mike. The lawyer will also give up the people that Mike is giving money to. The nine guys connect the meth with Fring and hence, Mike. Mike would have eventually had to turn on Walt or else the nine guys who he's shown nothing but loyalty to are going away for a long, long time. That just leaves one more loose end...

  • Artemis

    That's not how plea bargains work. Things you say to the cops/DA while negotiating for a plea can't be used against you. And there's no way those guys would agree to a plea where they only got favorable treatment if some other guy (Mike) also agreed to cooperate with the DEA. What Mike did or didn't do would have no effect on what happened to the people the DEA already had.

    If Walt hadn't done anything, some of the nine guys (the cops don't need all of them cooperating) would have gotten reduced sentences in exchange for implicating Mike. Walt might have been implicated by some of the nine who knew him, or by Lydia if the guys turned on her and she needed a bargaining chip (likely, IMO). But Mike would have gone down with his mouth shut, and Walt knew it.

    Walt at least had the good grace not to even try to rationalize murdering Mike by suggesting Mike would have turned on him. He said that he did it for the names of Mike's crew--names that Lydia had, and that a dead Mike wouldn't have been able to give him anyway. It was a wholly unnecessary death, and Walt knows it.

  • ed newman

    But wasn't that Walt's realization? That he could get the nine guys through Lydia and that Mike didn't have to die?
    Mike could have disappeared and not been a real threat to Walt. Walt basically agreed with Jesse in Saul's office that Mike would never rat. He was concerned with the nine guys only.

  • MikeRoorda

    Look, Dan, I owe you apology. I've been tough on you in the past when discussing the site wkth my friends. "It's good, but some of the reviewers are just elitist dicks." I'm sorry. I apologize. I was wrong. Your analysis, which sometimes I feel is cumbersome and academic, speaks to a deeper understanding of how films are made and what is intended by the makers. It takes a LOT of viewing and an education to be able to point out what you do and do it casually. I appreciate what you bring to the table, sir, even if it's not always presented in my favorite flavor.

  • I've heard that Breaking Bad only gets one use of the F word per season. Mike's note to the DEA last episode looked a little strange for blurring out the word. So I'm really glad they used it the way they did this episode.
    I've seen people commenting that Mike should have called Saul. Technically he did. It is somewhat questionable as to why Mike was involved with the other lawyer. But having Saul take care of the legacy payments would mean Saul would be in custody now. And that would suck. I liked Saul's drawer full of cell phones. All of them flip phones (the easier to break them, as is likely to happen). When this is all over, how about a Jesse and Saul spinoff? Huell can come too.

  • ed newman

    I believe they are able to use fuck more often than once per season.

    Gilligan has mentioned the possibility of a Saul spinoff. I'm not sure how serious he is, but he did put it out there.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I don't think Walt can really manage to hide this from Jesse. Maybe short-term, if he gets rid of the body, but there's no way Jesse doesn't eventually crack this one. At that point, I think he'll be ready to burn Walt, and I'm pretty sure Jesse's approach will be the DEA.

    I mean, they seem to be building this almost perfect situation for Jesse and Skylar to take Walt out the "right" way. In terms of what the DEA can prove, Jesse's virtually free of blood personally on his hands, especially since Walt all but confessed to Gale's murder to Skylar while his ego all but eliminated Jesse's role in it. Skylar and Jesse have been getting a relative ton of screentime together, and this week they seemed to be noticing that the other really wasn't all that comfortable with things. Together, they can pretty thoroughly trash Walt and secure immunity and witness protection for themselves. Skylar's played an active role in the laundering, but she's also manufactured a solid terrorized wife persona (in part because she is at least partially that) that'd help get her off even if the money launderers weren't immunity-favorites in the first place. Jesse's been cooking, and he's an accessory to a fuck-ton of bad stuff, but mostly he's personally clean of the worst, and can serve up Heisenberg and US southwestern meth distribution on a silver platter-- he's ideal dealing material, basically.

    Whatever else happens, I'm feeling like we're definitely looking at an eventual move by Skylar and Jesse along lines of just testifying against Walt. Neither of them is really equipped to take Walt on on his turf, where he's proven he can murder chem his way out of anything, but he's notably neglected to cover his ass from them just informing on him because he cannot conceive that they'd be willing to just come out as meth cooks and money launderers and hope for the best; his pride doesn't allow him to conceive of someone basically running for help.

  • Clitty Magoo

    Breaking Bad will not come close to New Mexico v. White. This isn't a crime procedural. It's a character study.

    I am concerned that at the time of Walt's demise I will have developed too much apathy toward him to care because of bullshit moves like killing mike... And being an emotionally manipulative dick for too long.

    I'd rather he go down in blaze than with a pathetic whimper. But he needs to fucking get got.

  • googergieger

    Walt is a master of words, manipulation, and the scariest and coldest logic imaginable. You put Walt up with a jury or across the desk from whoever hands out deals, Walt will out talk Jesse and Skyler. They can not out think him or out talk him. They can beat him, but it'd have to be selling him out to someone as big and bad as Walt is. Or, hire someone to kill him. Or kill them, themselves. Either together or independently of each other.

    I mean really. Walt logic. Not even as good as him, but basically it'd go down like this. Jesse killed Gale, is somewhat responsible for Jane's death, made a ton of meth, disposed of bodies, is the main source of income from his new ex druggy girlfriend and her kid, helped Todd get away with murder, etc..

    Skyler cooked the books for Walt and Ted, is responsible for Ted being crippled, her sister and brother in law took money from Walt for Hank's rehab, her brother in law would most certainly get fired, her sister would probably hate her, Walt Jr. would hate her and Walt, etc...

    Walt, Jesse, and Skyler have too much blood on their hands to walk away untouched. However Walt is enough the word smith and adaptable genius that he could certainly cut a deal and take care of all the loose ends he would need to, should it come to that. Jesse and/or Skyler would have a lot of variables to take care of to the point that it'd be impossible for us to actually believe them capable of doing.

  • ed newman

    It is also hard to reconcile Walt's 52nd birthday gun buying spree with Jesse or Skyler turning state's evidence. If either went to the feds that would mean that on his 52nd birthday Walt's on the run or he's out on bail. He was pretty casual for a guy on the lam and I don't think Mr. Gun Broker would touch him if he was out on bail for fear Walt was being watched.

  • My guess is that Todd ends up becoming the cook and cutting out Walt by strongarming him with his uncle's gang. Heisenberg intends to kill them all to get back his throne.

  • rebelparson

    Or he's headed to take out all of MIke's guys?

  • junierizzle

    I just saw it. Walt is definitely going down hard. I stopped rooting for the guy after he let Jane die, that's the name of Jesse's girl right? Anyway, Walt is starting to get hard to watch. Especially after he turned down 5 million dollars and a get out of jail free card. Maybe that plot device came in too early because honestly I thought it was a strectch to believe Walt would turn down All that money and a chance at having his family back. But Ill go along with it because the show has been so good. But that moment was the first time I felt that the writers dug themselves a whole and couldn't get out. So they. Said " I know, we'll say he really just wants to own his own empire because he lost out on one." Is it just me or was that too easy?

  • googergieger

    Was never really about his family. Always about his ego. Since the first episodes we see this.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I feel like it's mostly you. I think the Gray Matter stuff plays better in marathon viewing than it does over watching the seasons as they've come. In that context, Walt's pretty blistering bitterness at what he missed out on there would feel fresher, and more obviously inform a lot of his drive towards the greater power and money. It's been *forever* since he's been in this just to make sure his family was "sufficiently" cared for should he die, and Gray Matter/that desire for empire really helps to explain why he's pursued something so destructive for so long when he could've gotten what he initially said he wanted months ago. At one point, Walt probably could've just sold Gus the recipe and training of Gale, but that wasn't something that ever crossed his mind; he wanted in on the big time-- the power, not just the money.

    Also, with the conspicuous consumption he's indulging in, I think he can actually see how five million just wouldn't cut it for him now. It used to be the kind of money he wouldn't know what to do with, but now it's chump change. He's in the empire business both explicitly to have an empire, and because an empire's the only thing that'll support his greed now.

  • junierizzle

    That is true. I forget that this has only been a year in the show's time. The Grey Matter angle seem to come out of nowhere. I had completely forgotten about it. It stopped being about the money for Walt along time ago. It was enough that he wanted the power. I guess the Great Matter angle felt tacked on to me. It didn't really need it. Running an illegal operation isn't the same as being a part of a billion dollar company, like Jesse told him. It doesn't make sense that a man of Walt's intelligence would equate the two. Again, him being power-hungry was enough.

  • Brdkelli

    I couldn't help but wonder, if Mike could choose, would he want to simply "disappear" leaving his beloved granddaughter to think she was abandoned, or would he want Walt to leave him somewhere to found.

  • ed newman

    Mike situation was somewhat analogous to Lydia's earlier in the season. Mike chose to allow Lydia to live in part so that her daughter wouldn't have to wonder forever what happened to her mother. Here Mike had to make the same choice for himself and he made the opposite decision. He chose to disappear.

  • googergieger

    "he was, still, a ruthless killer"

    Nope. Quite the contrary actually. He killed, but never ruthlessly.

    "Yes, he’d consider murdering a woman while her child was in the next room, but only if, you know, she upset him."

    Nope. If she gave him a reason. I.E. no choice. He didn't want to kill her then and there, but I mean if she gave him no choice he would have done it. Then ultimately let the fact she was a woman and mother get in the way of him killing her all together.

    Walt thinks Jesse is his property. Originally I thought he hated the fact Jesse was walking away because it is something Walt can't do. Jesse is being the bigger man. However my cousin pointed out that isn't really in Walt's character, history, or petty nature. When Walt said, "we're done when I say we're done", to Saul. That applies to Jesse as well. It was more about Jesse leaving on his own terms, not on Walt's.

  • Kip Hackman

    It was good to see Walter emerge from behind Heisenberg for that moment down at the river. When he sold the Aztec, I had thought that Walter was gone and only Heisenberg remained, but I'm at least slightly pleased to be wrong. Part of what makes Cranston's performance so great is the transition from Walter to Heisenberg, how fast and how extreme that transition can be. Very much a Jekyll/Hyde thing and I love it.
    Todd is going to be trouble. He's too earnest, too eager to please, knows too much and too eager to gun innocents down. The little smile he gave the tarantula makes me think there's more darkness to Todd's character that will be revealed soon, and it wouldn't surprise me if he ends up hurting Walt's family in order to get rid of some witnesses.

  • MissAmynae

    Todd wrote the entire process down, and he knows too much. Not good. Our Landry's gonna be involved in the final spiral in a big way, methinks.

  • aroorda

    I've read a lot about how the lighting of the show is a large thematic device that the directors have used for the show. The house getting darker and darker as Walt descends into his evil business, use of shadows to show Walt as in the dark, etc. So it was telling that this episode had two strong uses of this, in th car wash a ton of use of the dark shadows they're all working in (particularly Skyler walking into the dark by herself - vamanos indeed,) and on the opposite end of the scale Walter briefly becoming Walter after shooting Mike.
    The way I read that scene, the sun brightly illuminates his face as we see his brief moment of clarity and horror at what he's done to Mike, and for a moment he stops being Heisenberg and is actually Walter again. I love this show and for me, it's already better than The Wire. Can't wait for the midseason finale

  • Guest

    Goddamn. This guy knows his shit.

  • chrisahl

    I love BB, but for my money it can't touch the Wire with a ten foot pole.

  • ee

    I hadn't really connected that consciously, good call. Being from ABQ/New Mexico it did kind of showcase the natural beauty you can find here, versus just showing beat down cityscape/dirt.

  • POINGjam

    Has anybody thought to look for parallels between Breaking Bad and Macbeth?

  • Ariana

    This was the first time Walt didn't need his hat to act as heisenberg, I think that really means something.

  • Green Lantern

    A couple of random thoughts:

    1) As I'm sure has already been discussed, Walt has officially "Broken Bad" by having Mike's contact acknowledge Walt as "Heisenberg". Old Walt is dead. Long live Heisenberg. And thus the downfall begins.

    2) LOVED the fact that they used The Monkees' "Goin' Down" during the cook montage between Todd and Walt. One of my favorite songs of theirs...


  • KV

    We'll still have to wait until the final episode; but the way it's been going, I'm having a sneaky feeling that "Breaking Bad" might overtake "The Wire" as the best TV drama.

  • danielrandkai

    Nope. I love "Breaking Bad" but some of the stuff is just so telegraphed, that it can't compare to "The Wire." Close, but no cigar. Very very close. Okay, maybe part of the cigar.

  • Chef Tournel

    I wouldn't say "telegraphed", it's just more obviously a constructed fiction than "The Wire". And while I really, really appreciate that show and accept it as the better piece of art, Breaking Bad is just waaay more entertaining, and that wins it some bonus points. All in all, apples & oranges.

  • The highlight for me was Walt singing a Destiny's Child classic.

  • Artemis

    I think you nailed what made Walt's murder of Mike so monumental: this was not the first avoidable death (there have been so, so many of those), but it's the first death that Walt can't rationalize to himself. Mike wasn't trying to kill or topple Walt; he was leaving town and removing himself from the equation. Even if he was found, he's not the kind of guy who flips and becomes a DEA witness. And there was another source for the information Walt wanted. Walt killed him because he was angry, and because he was proud, and because he never, ever felt that Mike respected him the way he needs to be respected -- and this time, unlike so many times before, Walt knows it.
    I think this murder is going to be one of the major moments in Walt's narrative arc. After so much bluster and rationalization, for the first time in many months he expresses some real regret for his actions in his last talk with Mike. But Walt is never comfortable admitting that Walt has done something wrong, so I see two possible paths this could lead him to. Does he try to convince himself--and those who will inevitably discover what happened--that this was a necessary crime? Or does he embrace this wholly voluntary murder and incorporate it into the legend of Heisenberg (you disrespect me, and this is what you get)? I suspect that he'll start down path one but turn quickly to the second route if challenged.
    And if I were him, I'd keep an eye on Todd. Once you know he's not in it for the money, it's only a matter of time before he starts chafing at being patronized and playing second fiddle to the big boss.

  • Stacey

    Incidentally, The Monkees "Goin' Down" meth montage FTW!

  • Green Lantern

    w00t! Another Monkees fan.

  • Stacey

    It's one of my favorite songs of theirs, as well. I've always wanted to try it at karaoke, except that, you know, it's hard.

    At any rate, my friends and I go to a local bar to watch Breaking Bad (since none of us have cable) and I literally cheered when the song started playing.

  • Green Lantern

    Oh it's TOTALLY hard. After all these years I've only really mastered the first verse.


    Maybe it goes without saying but the single dunk-splash in the river was Walt disposing of the gun that Mike had pulled in the end, right? there's no way he tosses the murder weapon. cops are bound to dredge that river, right? RIGHT!?!

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    What would it matter if he did? It's Mike's gun, is probably untraceable anyway and Mike presumably loaded it. If Walt's prints are on it (I think a pretty big if at this point-- he's got to be careful enough now), they're largely exterior and likely to be washed away before the cops get it. It's a dead end no matter where you put it.

    And you're assuming the cops will be looking, which assumes Mike will stay there. If Jesse isn't going to immediately know what Walt's done and move against him (and it's totally possible he will, of course), it's going to be an absolute requirement that Walt get rid of the body. No body, no one cares if there's a gun there.

  • dizzylucy

    Mike was a bad man who did many bad things, but darn it if I wasn't a little bit heartbroken to see him ask to die in peace and then slump over there, in the middle of nowhere. When he said he was out, I wanted him to have a shot at a normal life with his granddaughter, but knew it wouldn't happen. Hopefully it does for Jesse though.

  • Bert_McGurt

    So even Mike getting shot in Mexico was sort of a Chekov's Gun. Which I'm kind of sad about. I really wanted Mike to get away. Watching his internal debate about leaving his granddaughter at the park when the cops showed up was heartbreaking. And how is Jesse going to react once he finds out how Mike died?

    Narratively, I thought the episode was rather well bookended. At the beginning we see the most competent, prepared badass in all of Southwestern meth-dealing. A man who knows just what to say, and just how to time his words and deeds to get exactly what he wants. That's Walt when he has time to plan.

    But at the end we see what happens when Walt has no plan. When he lets his emotion and fear control his actions. It's a sign that for as far as he has come as a criminal kingpin, he's still got a lot of mistakes left to make.

    On a complete aside, was it me, or was Jesse giving some...odd looks to Skylar in the car wash? In any other series it'd be nothing, but I have to wonder what it means in this one.

  • Wednesday

    I think they're both wondering at the nature of the other's relationship with Walt. They each know too much, and are still tied to Walt by that knowledge. They're both scared and disgusted. If it were me, I'd want to know who else felt the same way.

  • Green Lantern

    Jesse's probably wondering what Skylar has to put up with at home. There were talks of last episode's dinner being awkwardly hilarious. That's an understatement.

  • mlb

    NEW MEXICO !!!! WE are part of the United States !!!!

  • Bert_McGurt

    Dude, relax. I was referring to the episode last year where Mike, Jesse, and Gus go down to visit the cartel, and Mike gets shot in the escape. They are most definitely in the non-US Mexico at that point.

  • CliffTorres

    Surprised it took this long for people to root against Walt.

  • NoPantsMcLane

    I have now officially gone from rooting for Walt to hating him. He can NOT kill Mike and get away with it!

  • Artemis

    Wait, you were still rooting for him to this point? How did you stay on his side through poisoning a child and terrorizing his wife and refusing to acknowledge he was endangering his family and double crossing Jesse and almost getting Jesse and Todd killed on the train and going on ego-trips about being the king of meth-making and refusing to take a 5 million dollar payout to exit the business with no consequences and etc.?

    I get rooting for the anti-hero to a point (I was rooting for Walt through the beginning of last season) but I think at some point "man this guy is badass" should become horror at what Walt has become. There's nothing admirable about his actions at this point; it's like watching a traffic accident where the guy driving a semi keeps his foot on the gas and cackles out the window to the cars he's running over that they should have gotten out of his way.

  • ed newman

    Walter White is the best example of someone you initially root for then come to loathe since Michael Corleone.

  • $27019454

    Tony Soprano. I rooted for him for about 2 episodes. Walter White...kind of the same thing. He talked down to people from the first episode. His superiority complex was loathsome from the first few episodes. As soon as it was clear he left Gray Matter under hinky circumstances with the wife of his partner, I was grossed out. I liked GUS better than I liked Walter, even.

    But I can't stop watching. The ultimate, slo-mo car wreck.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Well, at least since Michael Cera.

  • mex

    all the upvotes.

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