The key line in this week’s episode of Breaking Bad was probably Hank’s retort when his DEA partner said that Jonathan Banks’ Mike was a “pro.” Even pros makes mistakes, said Dean Norris’ Hank, and that was not only true within the context of the episode, but also of the people behind the camera this week, since I’m of the opinion that while the hour had a number of moments that furthered the pleasure to be taken from Walter White’s increasingly complex, morally bankrupt empire-building and built to a terrific climax, this edition – as is inevitable in even a superb series – also contained a few of Breaking Bad’s less effective moments.
This would now be your SPOILER ALERT.
The excruciating opening moments of the episode titled “Buyout” – the slightly slowed-down, eerie-music-soundtracked, dismantling and destruction of the dirt bike, followed by the glimpse of fingers belonging, we learned, to 14 year old Drew Sharp – was a bruisingly beautiful beginning that brought back the full horror of what happened at the end of last week’s edition, and set up an hour of conflicting emotions, plans, and actions by Bryan Cranston’s Walt, Aaron Paul’s Jesse, and Mike.
The best stuff this week was the material that dealt with Mike and Jesse wanting to split from Walt, to walk away with five million bucks each by selling the stolen methylamine. The desert-sun meeting that Mike and Jesse had with clever buzzard “Declan”; the self-righteous speechifying Walt gave for wanting no part of this; the call-back to the season-one “Gray Matter” episode; the line, “I’m in the empire business”: All excellent, appalling, engrossing.
I also thoroughly enjoyed yet another awkward take-out dinner scene at the White residence. Poor Jesse, reduced to trying to make polite small talk as Walt and Skyler shot dagger eyes at each other. And Paul’s delivery of Jesse’s line when Walt told him, “You know my kids are gone” – “Thank God” – was marvelous.
And I was glad to witness that fine little scene stolen by Bob Odenkirk’s Saul, gamely trying to stave off the DEA’s stake-outs, peaking with the always old-school-pop-culture lawyer telling Mike, “Schrader’s hard-on for you just grew to Uncle Miltie proportions.”
But there were three moments I didn’t find especially effective in this episode, significant enough to take me out of the drama as it occurred.
1. Any viewer who’s seen any sort of police stake-out scene probably guessed well before the DEA agent reached the trash can that Mike had tumbled to the agents tailing him and would have left that up-yours note. Similarly, a bit later, Walt is far too sly and self-conscious to have allowed himself to start whistling merrily – to be overheard by Jesse – so soon after trying to convince Jesse that he, too, feels pain and guilt over the killing of the boy.
2. You don’t leave Walter White handcuffed to a radiator and not expect him to use his guile and his science-teacher knowledge to get himself free. Mike, you’d think by now, would know this.
3. Todd. Sorry, I have as much love for Jesse Plemons as any of you, but this character’s continued presence isn’t really adding up to me. In the opening scenes, Todd’s remarks to Jessie could, I suppose, be believable if we’re meant to think that Todd is a sociopath, feeling no remorse (despite his rather feeble assertions of same, he would “do it again”), that he was incapable of reading the clear signs that Jesse did not want to talk about the boy’s death. Of the three options Walt enumerated for dealing with Todd, I thought the obvious vote – for Walt and Mike, at least – was number two. If any death would be acceptable to Jesse (and to the credit of the character, I’m not sure even this would be true) it would have been the “disposal” of Todd, which might also serve to cut off someone who, with his poor judgment and ties to an uncle in prison, is trouble that Scarface Walt would not want to keep close to himself.
I hope – I almost trust – that Breaking Bad has something in store for the use of the Todd character that will mollify my misgivings.
And I freely, happily, admit I have absolutely no idea what Walt’s new plan is so that “everybody wins.” But given the gorgeously shot close-up of Bryan Cranston’s Satanic glance, uttering those words with a gun to his head, it’s got to be a good one.