"Breaking Bad" -- "Buyout": Cash on the Barrelhead

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"Breaking Bad" — "Buyout": Cash on the Barrelhead

By Daniel Carlson | TV Reviews | August 20, 2012 | Comments ()


Baltimore's homicide police would talk about "true victims": those men and women, boys and girls, who weren't involved with any of the criminal enterprises that claim so many other lives. These deaths bring with them an additional pain brought on by their senselessness. These people didn't ask to be involved in anything bad, and they certainly didn't go looking for it. They simply walked through the wrong spot at the wrong moment, and that was that.

The cold open of "Buyout" underscored the ugly, unconscionable nature of what Todd did by killing Drew, who did nothing wrong but still died for it. The horror of this thing will not go away, and even Walter wasn't able to hide from the black-hearted nature of what had happened. There was an instant in the cold open, as he disassembled and melted down the motorbike with Todd and Mike, where Walt's eyes reflected the sadness and grief he was feeling over what had happened and the role he'd played in it. It was quick as lightning, and Walt's later equivocations and cold logic made it seem as if he'd found a way to distance himself a little from the murder, to look at it in academic terms as a problem to solve. But it happened. Walt has killed or allowed to be killed a number of people who all put themselves in the game, from street-level dealers to people like Jane who had the temerity to stand up to him. This is different, though. This is deep-down wrong, and there's no changing it. "Breaking Bad" has always been fantastic not merely at documenting the consequences of its characters actions, but at showing how long those consequences last. Every step on the road has been a point of no return. This is the latest and worst, but it won't be the last.

Jesse was finally able to give voice to the question we've all been asking: Why doesn't Walter just walk away? The chance to take a $5 million buyout is an amazing one, and it's more money than either of them ever dreamed of making when they started. (Jesse was even able to remind Walt the precise amount -- $737,000 -- the older man said he'd need to get away clean.) Walt's reasoning was predictably thin and petty, but at least he was honest about caring more about building an empire than making money or even selling meth. Walt's always been driven by pride and fear, and though the series' first two season might feel like they played out in the distant past, his dealings with Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz about their attempt to pay for his chemo only happened a year ago in the show's narrative. That's long enough to be believably out of contact, especially with the way things went down with Walt lying to Skylar about the level of Gretchen's involvement with his treatment, but not so long that the whole Gray Matter thing wouldn't still be weighing on Walt's mind. And to establish that he regularly checks the company's worth is a believable way to underscore his resentment and his childish need to prove (even if only to himself) that he can do better on his own than he ever could have with help.

The script dug into all this with grace and ease, though. Walt's spiel to Jesse about Gray Matter didn't feel like a "Let's catch people up" moment, but a real outpouring of his jealousy and desire. Credit Gennifer Hutchison for that, as well as the appropriately towering "I'm in the empire business" line. Colin Bucksey did a great job directing, too. I loved the way he kept everything tightly framed on Walter, Jesse, and Mike during their first confrontation about the buyout, then cut to a fantastic wide shot from above when Mike said "I'm out" and turned his back. We saw them all as a group, but also as disparate parts of a machine that was no longer functioning. And damn if I didn't curse the screen when the episode ended. I wanted to know Walter's plan. I wanted to know what awful measure he was willing to sink to now just to keep his business and his methylamine from falling into a competitor's hands. There are only two more episodes this season. I've already got withdrawal.

Best comedic moment: Jesse's heartbreaking attempts at small talk around the dinner table. There's always a frisson that comes with seeing characters who don't normally spend time together share the screen, and seeing Jesse sitting at dinner between Walter and Skylar was at once hilarious and weird. Bucksey knew he had some wiggle room to play for laughs, too, as with Jesse's nervous reach for his water glass after Skylar mentioned her affair. It doesn't sound that funny, but "Breaking Bad" has a different metric for humor.

• Walt says that their thousand gallons of methylamine will run out in 12 to 18 months. I wonder if the cold open to "Live Free or Die" showed him arming himself for some future chemical heist?

• The way Walt got right back to work after seeing the news bulletin for the missing kid -- and whistled while he did it -- says it all. As does Jesse's horrified reaction to the scene.

• "Shit happens, huh?" Absolutely the most disgusting and atrocious thing Todd could've said. Unbelievable. Things will not end well for him. I'm amazed that Jesse didn't do more than just hit him. It felt right for the murder to push Jesse over the edge, though. He's been willing to stick with Walt so far just to keep their enterprise going, but he's also growing less comfortable with what it means to actually be in this business. While Walt has written off the growing body count as a troubling but unavoidable operational cost, Jesse has taken each death to heart. Instead of simply shutting down, he actively wants out. Yet by the end, Jesse's willing to hear Walt out, which must mean Walt's come up with a compelling plan. Then again, Jesse's always the peacemaker, so maybe he just wants to make sure Walt and Mike walk away happy.

• At this point, I'd be more surprised if Holly didn't end up living with Hank and Marie. Emo McGee Walt Jr. can go sulk in a studio apartment off campus.

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

  • AlwaysConfused

    Best moment for me was Jesse calling Todd Ricky Hitler.
    I want so much for Jesse to survive this mess. But I'm not optimistic.

  • googergieger

    Opening really gave off a shell shocked feeling. Going through the motions. Business as usual. Anyways, the episode should finally put an end to the, "Skyler fears Walt. Skyler has been terrorized by Walt. Etc." camp. The Second Marrie mentions the affair, Skyler goes from, "Won't somebody please think of the children!", to "is that how Walt wants to play this?".

    I told you all. From her show to get the kids out. To her "plans" being shot down by Walt. To her waiting for the cancer and smoking in his face. That isn't fear. Skyler and Walt are in a constant struggle for their petty brand of power. Skyler would rather pay Ted off with Walt's money then mention it to Walt, who would either do the same thing or come up with another solution. In order to save face. Skyler would rather go after a car wash she could run and get for pennies on a dollar from a man that insulted her then let one of Saul's guys and Walt run a laser tag place. Walt would rather strip down naked and walk in a grocery store then let anyone think anything else or let people onto his drug game, because it isn't on his terms. Etc. Both are horrible people. Both are stubborn and prideful people. Both are insane when it comes down to those emotions. Walt is finally honest about who and what he is though. It isn't about the money. It is about the empire. It is about the fact that they are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars and anything less than that isn't worth it. Walt has been through too much and thinks he is worth too much, to settle for anything less than that.

    Anyways, next week. I think Walt is going to strike a deal with the other dealers. He'll "work" for them and make the blue meth. They can sell his blue meth in their territories, and he can keep selling his in his territory. They all share the profits? Or maybe Walt talks them into letting him become a full blown partner. They get their hands on the best meth and expand their territory. Walt moves up in the world. Jesse and Mike get their money. "Everybody wins".

    Anywhoots, was talking about how I'd like this show to end the other day and how I wouldn't mind it ending with Walt in witness protection. Everyone around him dead. Maybe the cancer back? In the end Walt would "win" but we would be mortified at what he considers a win. We would think it wasn't worth it. He is alone and dying. He would say, "fuck you it was worth it".

  • Ted Zancha

    What a fantastic episode. I too was chilled by the cold open. It was nice to have funny Pinkman back.

    Over at the AV Club, there are some pretty interesting theories on a motif from last nights episode. I think at least three times there was mention of a product that looked good but did not hold good quality (the green beans, the caviar mentioned on the television before the news report, and bad meth). This could play in to Walt's plan.

  • Interesting, I didn't catch that but now that you mention it, Jesse was also going on about frozen dinners. How the pictures look so good on the box but once you nuke them the lasagne is all scabby.

  • John G.

    Every episode that does not feature "flynn" is a good one.

  • cinemaniac

    Glad I'm not the only one who cussed at the TV when it ended. This was an excellent episode. Although I have to say I don't think anyone's giving Todd enough notice. (As I said below in a reply) I took him taking the Tarantula as him keeping a trophy of his kill. I think he's a sick son of a bitch and he's going to not only take Mike's place as the business man, but also cause a ton of problems for Walt. Whatever happens with him though, I think he's a much bigger part of the picture than everyone is assuming.

  • googergieger

    I've been saying for a good while he is going to be Walt's Mike. Walt needs someone to do the dirty work and Todd wants in on that life style.

  • WhoMe?NoPG!

    Good recap DC, but I don't think you give enough weight to the Gray Matter reveal. For several seasons we've been left to wonder exactly what Walt's main motivation is. It seemed like any reasonable person would have walked away at so many points. Even now, with the chance at a $5m payday, Walt refuses to walk away. Why? Because $5M is pennies on the dollar? No, because Walt legitimately believes that he should be a billionaire right now. He's believed it every day for nearly 2 decades. He reads the stock price every day. He sold his son's birthright for a few months rent. He will not let that happen again. Never. Walt isn't motivated as much by greed as he is by destiny. Remember his throwaway line many seasons back that he was highly overqualified as a chemistry teacher? This drives him insane, motivates him to prove to the world that he's every bit as brilliant as a billionaire scientist/businessman he thinks he should have been. Now he's out to prove to everyone that Walt H. White will not be bought out, he will fulfill his destiny and rule an empire, even if it isn't the empire he once conceived of.

  • Bert_McGurt

    We still don't know what caused Walt to leave Gray Matter in the first place, do we? That thread has been hanging since season one. What if Walt's plan has been revenge all along? That he wants to ruin Gretchen and Elliott for whatever happened that forced him out?
    Walt's an elite, world-class chemist, after all. For him to take a mere $5000 buyout, and then take a middling (to him) job as a severely underpaid high school science teacher tells me that the transgression must have been pretty major. Otherwise, why not a legal fight for a higher payout, like shares, or a percentage of profits? And why isn't he working at a major pharmaceutical company, or even a university?
    Maybe Walt's been this bad the whole time.

  • WhoMe?NoPG!

    Well we know Walt used to bang Gretchen, and now she's married to Elliott, so I'm pretty sure that in-between something happened that is related to why Walt took the buyout. As for whether Walt has been this bad the whole time: I think it is safe to assume that Walt has always been a monster.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Yeah, we know they used to be together, but their breakup alone wouldn't prevent Walt from getting a higher-profile and better-paying job than high school teacher. Unless it was more than just a simple breakup.

    The "something" that happened must have been pretty awful, and probably Walt's fault. Something they'd have exposed if Walt took them to court, or that would have been found out if he wound up in a high-level position elsewhere. I'm thinking that whatever it was, it was an early indication of, if not the start of Walt's monstrousness.

  • ed newman

    You have to remember that when Walt left, Grey Matter was a nothing start-up. It was likely in the red and had nothing but a few ideas which to that point no one outside the company was all that excited about. It was stupid to sell out for five grand but considering the net value of the company was probably very negative it might have been a pretty generous cash payout. It was dumb not to keep a stake, regardless of the reasons for leaving, but Walt was hurt and I'm sure broken after "losing" to his good friend and partner. We know how Walt reacts to losing now, but then?...

  • 5eba88

    That spider will be the death of a character, there is no way that the director showed that for no reason other than foreshadowing

  • cinemaniac

    I took it as Todd keeping a trophy of his kill, signaling that he's a sicker son of a bitch than any of them know

  • WhoMe?NoPG!

    Well, except that tarantulas aren't even remotely venomous enough to kill someone.

  • John G.

    but it could "kill someone" because it's evidence from the murder scene, the only evidence that survived.

  • ed newman

    Hardly convincing evidence. A spider that the kid found that day that nobody else even knew he had? In an ordinary looking jar? Even if it managed to have fingerprints all over it, Todd says he found it out in the desert. With no body or bike or motive it is hard to see how that could really be much of a problem.

  • WhoMe?NoPG!

    as evidence, it's pretty useless. I agree with Cinemaniac- it was a trophy. Todd presented his case to Walt/Mike/Jesse that he had no other option and he was really broken up about killing a kid. The look on his face when he revealed his trophy told a different story- the guy wants to kill, and he seems to enjoy it.

  • That silent opening got to me like I was right there doing the deed with them. Ugh.

    Well, this is it. Just about everyone wants Walt dead now--Skyler, Mike, the competition. And how long will Jesse stay on his side? This is also the point where Walt makes progressively bigger mistakes on the way to his downfall. I have this funny feeling that Walt's plan is different from whatever he tells Mike and Jesse, and that he'll end up shooting the buyers--if their bossman shows up.

    Mark my words, that spider is coming back.

  • Maybe Todd does end up being killed...by whomever...and in the scuffle the jar gets broken, boom! Tarantula breaks free and ends up taking out Saul or Marie or Walt Jr.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Yes! I was wondering what happened to the spider until Todd pulled it out in his car.

  • Groundloop

    Agreed about the opening. That was some cold and clinical shit there.

    I don't know when Jesse will turn, but I have a feeling the signal it happened will be when he doesn't call Walt "Mr. White" anymore.

    That, or he'll shoot Walt in the face. It could go either way.

  • Benderman

    I thought this was the last we were going to see of Mike. Once Walt escaped I was waiting for Mike to come back and get shot by Todd. Glad that hasn't happened...yet.

  • logan

    Hey Dan I'm just gonna tell ya straight up I am stealing "Emo McGee".

  • Bert_McGurt

    Good lord did I laugh at that dinner scene. Watching Jesse try to make small talk with Skylar was priceless. Especially since, if I recall correctly, the last time Jesse was in Walter's house, he had a gun to his head. Though maybe it's notable that in both cases the visit happened just after a kid was harmed due to Walt's empire-building.

    I don't think it's a stretch to say that this show has done a better job of transitioning character roles than any other show in TV. Who'd have figured that Jesse would wind up as the hero of the series?

    Based on the short teaser scene that AMC showed after the episode, it looks like Walt's going to try to cut a deal with Mike's contact. Whether that means a partnership, selling both the recipe and the methylamine, or a mega-cook...I guess we'll find out.

  • Groundloop

    I must have a gif of Jesse awkwardly shoveling a forkful of green beans (with slivered almonds and lemon), into his mouth after Skyler leaves the table.

    Another awesome episode to be sure, but I thought Walt whistling while he worked was a bit too on the nose. Not that he'd do it, but I feel like that scene would have worked better if he had waited for Jesse to leave the house, and Jesse came back because he forgot his phone or something. I'm picking nits here, but the end of that scene just didn't seem right to me.

    (Edit): Jesse eating beans gif? Jesse eating beans gif:


  • my immediate thoughts as I watched that scene, too, was that it would make for an outstanding GIF. Thank you, Internet, for turning me into such a lame creature

  • Artemis

    I think Jesse did come back because he forgot to leave his yellow jumpsuit. He had the suit balled up in his hand and put it on the coffee table when he paused at the whistling.

  • Groundloop

    I knew he left the room to get changed out of his chem suit, buy I got the impression that the door was in the direction he was walking when his phone rang. I don't have a DVR so I have no (legal) way to check that out until the Blu-rays come out.

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