Breaking Bad Review: "Buyout"
A Breaking Bad Review – More Poison In The Jar
One of the great accomplishments of Breaking Bad’s writers is that they never waste a word–the most unassuming lines are often bursting with subtext. Consider a scene near the end of this week’s episode: after placing a restraining order against the DEA for the “pain and suffering” that they have caused Mike, Saul explains to Hank that “Some hurts only show on the inside.” It might seem like just another funny Saulism, but the line subtly highlights one of Breaking Bad’s most important themes: the danger of pride. In “Buyout” we learn just how hurt Walt feels over the success of his former partners at Gray Matter–the company that he co-founded. He tells Jesse that he took a five thousand dollar buyout when he left, and the company is currently valued at two billion dollars. “I look it up every week,” he says, revealing the constant inner turmoil he feels regarding the situation. And it’s this anguish that clearly motivates his lust for power. It explains how a seemingly good man could justify his terrible crimes. It explains why, even when Jesse and Mike offer a reasonable way out, Walt refuses to take it. His pride is so damaged by the success of Gray Matter that the only way to rebuild himself is by building his own empire. Donna Bowman’s excellent Breaking Bad review in the AV Club argues that this aspect of his personality will prevent him from ever achieving enough success to stop. In Walt’s case, it’s precisely this hidden hurt that has made all the difference in shaping the terrible person he’s become.
The episode picks up right where we left off, after Todd’s killing of the boy on the dirt-bike who witnessed at least some of the great (methylamine) train robbery. Fortunately for him, this isn’t Walt and Jesse’s first disposing-of-a-body rodeo. Walt, Mike, and Todd meticulously disassemble the dirt-bike, placing the individual parts into a plastic barrel. When every part has been put in, they pour on the hydrofluoric acid to dissolve all the pieces. Once finished, Todd goes to fetch the boy’s body. They will, of course, dispose of him in the same way. Afterward, Todd joins Jesse, who has taken no part in the clean up, for a smoke. Todd tries to assuage Jesse’s obvious anger saying, “shit happens,” which is the wrong answer. Jesse punches him in the eye. The whole clean-up sequence is tragic and beautiful, wordlessly shot, and scored with a Twin Peaks-esque funerary synthesizer piece.
Next, the three men grill Todd over his decision to shoot the boy. Todd has all his bases covered: “We’d have no chance to catch him…No one was supposed to know…I was looking out for the team…He made us.” The last excuse seems particularly disingenuous, as it was unclear whether the boy even knew what he was looking at. Then the meth ring triumvirate send Todd off to discuss the matter without him in the room. Todd makes his last arguments to them before leaving: “My priority is this business.” It all reads like some psychotic job interview. Todd continually trying to prove his worth and loyalty, while Walt, Mike, and Jesse discuss whether or not he’ll keep his position in the organization. But it all feels absurd in the context of a murder. Jesse has no interest in keeping Todd around. Walt explains that they have three options, which is really just a rhetorical device he uses to convince everyone else of the decision he has already made. Walt attempted to pull this trick in “Full Measure,” when after killing his associates, he presented Gus with two options: kill me and stop production, or let this go and return focus to the business. Of course, Gus was too smart for it. This time there are three options: fire Todd (though he obviously knows too much), kill Todd (which no one wants to do), or keep Todd on the team. When presented this way, the choice is simple, and Mike and Walt, at least, are in agreement.
Todd walks out to his car to head home. Inside we see that he has kept the boy’s tarantula, which is still captive inside the mason jar. I argued in last week’s Breaking Bad review that the spider represents Lydia and Skyler’s captivity, and the danger that they pose to their captors. Both women present a real threat to the whole operation; they simply know too much. At this point, there is no good reason for Lydia not to flip to the DEA; and, Skyler outright wants Walt dead. Yet, no one seems to regard them as dangerous, much like the boy recklessly handling the tarantula. Walt naively believes he can keep control of the expanding web of his operation. And, here, we might read the decision to let Todd live as adding just that much more poison to the jar. Any one, or all of them, will surely play a part in Walt’s undoing.
In the next scene, we learn Mike is being tailed by the DEA. He leaves a note under a park bench where Gomez and another agent are watching him. Believing it’s a criminal communication, Gomez walks over and picks up the note. “Fuck You,” it says. Later he listens in on the bug in Hank’s office. Gomez tells Hank, “The guy’s a pro.” Hank responds, “Even pros make mistakes.” Mike’s been around the block enough to know that Hank’s right, and begins planning an exit strategy.
Skyler visits Marie, and we see the toll that her complicity in the drug business continues to take. The lid that Walt has shut on Skyler’s life has completely severed her relationship Marie. She cannot tell her any part of the truth. Marie does get Skyler to open up; and, she reveals, “There are things you just don’t know, that if you knew, you’d never speak to me again.” Marie, still believing Walt’s lie that Skyler is feeling guilty about her affair with Ted, attempts to comfort her. Skyler, realizing Marie still has no clue what’s going on, turns her anger back toward Walt. It’s the first time she has learned that he shared this information with Marie–another in his long line of betrayals. Marie attempts to comfort her, saying she’s thought about having affairs too, but it comes off as moral condescension. Walt’s making Marie and Hank believe that their domestic problems stem from Skyler’s dalliance with Ted may just be the straw that finally breaks her silence.
Later, we find Walt and Jesse taking a break from their latest cook. As they watch television, local news is reporting on the dirt-bike kid, who has been missing for four days. Jesse, still feeling tremendous guilt, is completely broken up. Walt tries to console him saying, “We’re self-sufficient now,” as if this were ample justification for murdering a child. Jesse is in tears, and Walt offers to finish up. But as he is leaving, Jesse notices something odd. Walt, back in the cook room, is whistling a happy tune–as if he didn’t have a care in the world and everything were going exactly to plan. Jesse pauses, incredulous. Here we see him beginning to have second thoughts about Walt, and plan his own exit strategy.
When Walt heads back to the office to drop off the new batch, he’s surprised to find Jesse and Mike having a back-room meeting. Mike invites Walt in. He explains the DEA are tailing him, and let’s Walt know that he’s out. Walt reverts to business-speak: “Well I’m sorry to see you go; I trust you’ll bring Jesse up to speed on distribution.” Then Jesse drops the bomb, “I’m out, too.” Jesse and Mike have come up with a plan to sell off the methylamine to meth distributors in Arizona, and offer to cut Walt in on the deal. He, of course, is having none of it, despite the five million they each stand to make. Walt will prefer to keep his one-third of methylamine and continue to cook. Unfortunately, Mike’s buyer, Declan, wants all of the methylamine, or none of it. Part of the appeal, for him, is increasing his market-share by taking Walt’s meth off the street. So Jesse must convince Walt to sell, and leave the business as well. Walt sees it as a weak move, and relates the story of Gray Matter. Jesse asks a good question: “Is a meth empire really something to be that proud of.” Skyler comes home to find Jesse and Walt talking. Jesse tries to leave, but Walt insists he stay for dinner. The dinner scene shows just how funny Breaking Bad can be. Jesse is forced to make all of the conversation, mostly small talk about the travesty of false advertising on frozen food packaging, as Skyler and Walt sit in angry silence. After Skyler leaves, Walt tells Jesse how she’s counting the days until his cancer comes back. He’s trying to explain that the business he started to provide for his family is all that he has left–the irony remains lost on him.
The next day, Walt tries to boost the methylamine from the office. Mike, always one step ahead, is waiting for him. He’s going through with the deal with or without Walt’s approval. When he has to leave for an appointment, he uses a zip tie to handcuff Walt to the furnace. Nothing is stopping this deal. Except, Walt, always scheming, is able to burn the zip tie off using the frayed end of a coffee maker cord (and burn his hand pretty badly in the process). When Mike returns, the methylamine is gone. Walt and Jesse are sitting in the office. Mike is in a rage, ready to kill Walt yet again (for the third time?). Jesse tells Mike that Walt has a plan where he keeps the methylamine and they still get their five million. “Everybody wins,” Walt assures. Somehow that seems doubtful.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Breaking Bad review of the episode “Buyout.” Please share your thoughts with me below in the “Comments” section. Also, check out Matt Zoller Seitz’ excellent Breaking Bad review in Vulture.
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Geek Smash Score: 92/100