The bliss of Breaking Bad is when the hard work pays off, and "Say My Name" saw a number of subplots come to a head; particularly regarding Mike's (Jonathan Banks) involvement with the business, Walt's (Bryan Cranston) desire to take his empire up a level, Jesse's (Aaron Paul) hope to break free of this mess, and Hank's (Dean Norris) luck trying to tie-up the stalling Fring investigation. It was, as you'd expect from this show when it's in sight of a half-season finale, absolutely magnificent.
It opened with the first of three unforgettable scenes. This one unequivocally heralding the dominance of Walt's alter ego "Heisenberg" as a force to be reckoned with; taking charge of a meeting with the Phoenix cartel and convinced them to become his distributors for a 35% take of the profits, and replace the retiring Mike as a business partner in the process. We've seen Walt in many of these tense desert stand-offs before, with armed men assembled around parked cars making threats and talking tough, but Walt's usually the one gabbling for his life or on his knees begging for a second chance. How times have change. Walt's now the one in control, putting himself across with calm conviction and even exploiting the currency of his pseudonym "Heisenberg" to visibly unsettle people. This was also the first time he took public accountability for killing Gus Fring, which helped persuade his rivals that they shouldn't mess with him and accept what's clearly a fantastic offer of partnership. I had to laugh at the balls on Walt to even risk making Declan (Louis Ferreira) say his name aloud, just to underscore who's the boss.
Of course, this highpoint for Walt didn't last long, as "Say My Name" was mostly concerned with the unfortunate unravelling of Mike's plan to keep the nascent meth empire on-track. He's a character who has everything under control and a contingency plan for every eventuality, but sooner or later a weak-link is exposed. In Mike's case, it was his unassuming and jovial lawyer Dan Wachsberger (Chris Freihofer), the man responsible for paying off the nine arrested men who could blow the whole shebang if they spoke to the cops. Once Hank made the connection that their suspects are all being represented by Wachsberger, it wasn't long before a DEA surveillance team caught him in the act of stashing wads of cash in safety deposit boxes. And from there, Mike's time was up once Wachsberger flipped. Considering we haven't been given that many scenes between Mike and his young granddaughter Kaylee (Kaija Roze Bales) it was remarkable how gut-wrenching it was to see Mike put in the position of abandoning her at a playground once cops started to swarm the area. Great work from Banks in those scenes.
Mike's made a big impression since he first arrived as a nondescript "fixer" to clear up Jesse's apartment in season 2, and "Say My Name" gave him a suitably tragic exit. His relationship with Walt has always been bad, as he's the only character to recognise the danger of Walt's character flaws or those around him, so it was only right Mike should be undone by Walt. Arriving to hand Mike his "go bag" of emergency documents to flee the country, Walt simply couldn't stomach Mike's home truths as parting words, and shot Mike in the belly through the window of his car. Mike managed a short-lived getaway while injured, abandoning his car near a river, but was forced to sit on a riverbank and await his death.
A brilliant scene, with Walt stalking Mike through long reeds, ready to finish the job with Mike's own handgun, before realizing the job's already been done and Mike's bleeding out. I particularly enjoyed the visual of the gnome-like Mike sitting on the edge of that river (a symbol for the fluidity of life; commonly used as a transitional place between life and death). Walt remembering that he doesn't even need Mike to tell him the names of the men they're paying off, because he could just ask Lydia, was also a cruel twist. Walt's skill is being able to think through every possibility with utmost clarity, but I guess his mind was clouded because, subconsciously, he knew this was his one and only chance to kill Mike. Jesse and Saul (Bob Odenkirk) will have no reason to suspect Walt killed him, because the plan was for Mike to disappear without a trace, too. I guess this means Mike is, much like Jane, another of the people Jesse cared about who's been killed by Walt's actions, or inaction.
Elsewhere in the episode, I thought the confrontation between Walt and Jesse was a definite highlight—with Walt desperately trying to keep Jesse onside. He even offered him the chance to run his own cook. To Jesse's credit, he remained resolute, even turning his back on the millions he's owed just to escape being dragged down by Walt any longer. Knowing we still have a half-season to go, Jesse will most likely be back cooking before too long, but I'm not sure exactly why; unless money is more of a motivator for Jesse than he lets on. But for now, Walt has Todd (Jesse Plemons) as Jesse's replacement, who's surprisingly focused and determined to get the cooks right (even forgoing payment until he's proficient), so I wonder if Jesse's burned his bridges forever. It also speaks volumes about Walt; being open to working with a child-killing scum like Todd, despite claiming he's sickened and haunted by what Todd did. I guess he's not appalled enough to stop working, closely, with the guy.
It was also good to see Hank facing difficulties at work because he's focusing too much on what his superior believes is a dead investigation into Mike Ehrmantraut, and as the new ASAC he's not giving enough attention to his other responsibilities. Of course, now his hunch about tailing Wachsberger has paid off, maybe Hank will be given leeway again... but, with Mike now out of the picture, Hank's soon going to be back to square one unless he can get Mike's "nine men" to flip before, one assumes, Walt resumes paying them off with the help of Lydia and Saul.
Overall, "Say My Name" was remarkable television; terrific drama and white-knuckle tension, given voice through amazing performances and punchy surprises. Once again, things have changed completely since the premiere. Walt now has the beginnings of his drug empire in place, but must scramble to ensure the "legacy" of Fring's business doesn't bite him on the arse, especially now Mike's not around to take care of that end; Jesse's out of the meth business, perhaps for good; while Hank's undoubtedly going to be invigorated about his blue-meth crusade after being proven right about Mike. Oh, and Lydia may become a bigger factor on the show if she's the only thing keeping the DEA from sniffing out Walt as Fring's successor.
Truly incredible stuff, and there's still next week's mid-season finale to come.
written & directed by Thomas Schnauz / 26 August 2012 / AMC