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

By Daniel Carlson | TV | August 20, 2012 |

By Daniel Carlson | TV | August 20, 2012 |

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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